One question I am often asked is how I go about formulating the creative elements for a prospective music video. I guess the best way of answering this is by citing a recent example.
Röyksopp’s latest album, ‘Senior’ arrives only a year after their previous album ‘Junior’ – Röyksopp sees the two albums as opposites, stating that their most recent musical work is the “introvert and darker sibling, who lives in the attic” – With this in mind, I set about making a video promo that compliments their opening track from the new album, “…And the Forest Began to Sing.” First thing I do is listen to how the artists describes the track, or their album. These cues are useful to know as the mood of the visual imagery should match that in some way.
The piece I am doing this time is an ‘intro’ track, i.e. it’s the first track on the album. The rules are slightly different here. When directors make a music video for an artist’s introductory track, it’s often useful to bear that in mind as the music is intended to introduce the album, so too should the video reflect that. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, just that it should effectively ‘touch the brim of the hat and incline the head’ in acknowledgment. Just as the music track is setting the tone for the rest of the album, so too should its video compliment.
Not all albums have an introductory track. But in this example, Röyksopp’s first track on the album has all the hallmarks of an introductory track, (besides it being the first piece). For a start, its length is just 1:49 (the others often run into 7:00+). Even the title of the track is significantly different to the others. So now that we have established it’s an intro track, how did I go into planning with this artist’s music promo?
It’s pre-production planning stage, and my first starting points are going to look something like these:
1. I need to reflect the mood of the music and match the motion picture to it (as all music videos must do).
2. The piece is instrumental (no vocals), so I need to reflect its title in the subject matter (literally or figuratively).
3. I need to find a way to visually acknowledge this as an intro track in a subtle way without making it all about that.
Now that I have these points in my head, I switch on my ipod and walk for miles and miles listening to the same track over and over about 100 times minimum. At this point, the story has pretty much forumated in my head frame by frame. Some directors like to make good looking images to music for their videos without need for story, but mine are always very story focused.
For this track, I would describe the instrumental as pretty sombre, but mildly upbeat. I found it a little menacing and dark in a subtle way, but eerie to a large extent. My interpretation of this mood reflects Röyksopp’s intention, so that matches at least (singing from the same hymn sheet is recommended, by the way!). The next point is subject matter. ‘…And the Forest Began to Sing’ is pretty damned direct and I’m not going to interpret ‘forest’ in any figurative or paradoxical way. In fact, I plan on doing the opposite by being quite literal with it. After all, there’s not many ways you can make a forest sing!
Which brings me to the final point, how to visually acknowledge this as an intro track. To get this, I go back and research Röyksopp’s recent work history. Although the two albums were recorded together, their album ‘Junior’ was released last year and ‘Senior’ this year. They are connected. So this intro can be some kind of transformation from Junior to Senior. Perhaps boy to man? What if the forest were singing and a boy transforms into an older man? That would be perfect, but how to do that?
To formulate the visual images, I have to ask myself these kinds of questions, like ‘what physically sings in a forest’ and find answers that can be interpreted visually – A cricket. Then follow a logical course – Boy sees a cricket singing, the forest comes alive, boy hugs a tree, boy becomes an integral part of the forest which sings and he undergoes a transformation, boy is now a man. It’s only by doing this that I can formulate something that is visually possible, within the scope of the budget, that looks good and follows the original brief.
The final version as you see above was shot entirely on a Canon 5D Mark II mounted on a Steadicam Merlin for most of the shots (although put on sticks for some). The idea was to keep the camera free, but create smooth shots. The lens I used most was the Zeiss 35mm f/2 T* Distagon. A beautiful lens with the perfect rendition for this kind of fairy-tale imagery. It has a slight greenish tinge to it and has a beautiful bokeh wide open. I also used a Nikon 50mm f1.2 with a 10X close-up lens attached for the macro shots (cricket, flowers, boy’s eye) and the excellent Canon 14mm f/2.8 EF L lens for the super wide shot at the end. I used a different lens and colour map for the final shots with the ‘senior’ character to displace it against the fairytale imagery with the boy.
The cricket shot was an exceptionally difficult shot to get up close. I was literally millimetres away from it. I somehow managed to find a ‘tame’ cricket that seemed rather intent on stardom. All shots were taken on location at the same tiny forest in southern Spain.
Post production was in After Affects and Premiere CS5. Trapcode Particular was used to bring the forest alive with musical notes and flowery petals. The wounds on the boy during his transformation were an altogether different technique which took a while to create and track.
Hope you liked this post. If you have any questions, feel free to ask below!