MAKING MY FIRST MUSIC VIDEO
I met Lyrah (Kathleen Warner) on twitter. Honestly I forgot when exactly. She thought my videos were cool and I liked her music. She asked if I’d be down to direct a video. I’m not sure if she knew I hadn’t made one before, but I said yes. My skills directing product and brand videos could translate right? Plus I have friends that have made music videos and I occasionally volunteered for WDMV which connected me with plenty of talented directors I could ask for advice. Plus there’s always YouTube right?
We had our first official meeting about this video on November 9th 2019. The single and video dropped last week on March 18th 2020. Hella great response so far. It made it to COLORSXSTUDIOS Song of the Day, was featured in the Nightcap Apple Music playlist and the best part – friends and strangers have told us so many nice things. Also as of writing this, zero dislikes on YouTube. Now that I’ve said it though someone will probably just dislike it out of spite. Oh well.
We started with a meetup in NYC to talk about the project and outlined the details on Dropbox Paper. We started with her overall aesthetic, vibe of the song, and narrative in the lyrics. Over the next couple of weeks we added moodboards, references, and outlined a storyboard based on the lyrics. Also iMessage. Hella ideas and references exchanged back and forth. I was a lil afraid but just went for it and asked lots of questions and showed her things I found interesting. This helped us narrow things down for the video and get on the same page. Even though we never worked with each other before this we understood how to project manage the hell out of this because of our respective professional experience. Then we settled on a date in LA for the shoot and worked backwards from there.
I have to mention a lot of music videos don’t operate on this long of a timeline. I heard if Gucci Mane has a song Wednesday night he wants a video for then the video will be done and out Saturday night. This was a completely indie production between me and the artist Lyrah so we made up our own process and rules. Also we both worked our respective jobs while making this project happen.
In hindsight our storyboard was very ambitious. We had two different worlds, choreography, freestyles, scenes with extras, performance scenes, and several locations we wanted to shoot in. Also styling, props, make-up, art direction for everything. All in one day. I’d like to think I was optimistic and planning well but perhaps there was more naivety and a big ass cup of Dunning-Kruger effect.
Since Lyrah already had the song recorded I found references from movies and other music videos that generally fit the storyboard and put it together. This served as our template for making the video.
My brother’s name is Green – yes we are named after colors. I enlisted his help in making the choreography for after the chorus. He’s hella dope, just check out his Instagram or Tik-Tok. He can move. He filmed himself doing all 3 parts and then cut it together and did hella masking to plan out the blocking. What a pro.
The crew would be myself, my brother and my friend Carl. Green worked with and for a lot of YouTubers in LA so he knew how to operate on set. My friend Carl also came on as DP and gaffer. I met him partying in Hong Kong during study abroad almost 10 years ago. I don’t know why but I remember he had a bowtie and suspenders on. He’s the only one that actually went to film school and that made a huge difference on set. My friend John also showed up to take BTS pics and hang. He’s the one to thank for the beautiful non-iPhone images you get to look at while reading this.
Green and I visited the apartment where we’d be shooting on Friday afternoon. Did a proper walk-through, took notes, took reference shots and everything. Green also taught Lyrah the choreo at this time. We felt pretty good about how it would come to life the next day but my mistake was focusing mostly on the camera placement and the space. And believing that everything would be swift and easy because of the animatic.
I resisted getting crazy with cameras and lights and stuck with what I knew how to best use. This was very difficult. I want to be cool on set with an Arri my dudes. But that is selfish and dumb! We had to move quickly and efficiently throughout the day and the Sony A7SII would be perfect for that. And since I was editing on an older machine – I needed to keep the files light.
For lights we rented a set of Aputure lights on Sharegrid. I didn’t even realize at the time but it was from Casey MacBeth who is occassionally on the IndyMogul channel. We had a funny exchange about the Snydercut and I pretended to know what it was and googled it later.
To finalize the look we used a Black Pro-Mist ¼ to add just a bit of dreaminess of softness to the video.
Again I kept equipment as minimal as possible since Green and I would be the ones loading and unloading this. I almost ditched the Ronin-S but it was marginal so kept that thang on me too.
We had a pretty tight schedule. I thought 30 minutes to an hour was enough for each scene we wanted. I was wrong. So very wrong. We had 4 scenes planned near golden hour with hella setups. In December. Looking back I’d slap myself for planning this schedule. Also this is why a producer and AD is important. They help make sure you can actually execute your vision within the time and budget alloted. My mistake among many others was not accounting for rehearsals, multiple takes, moving lights, and that all multiplies and compounds.
8:30am Arrive / Unload
9:00am Lighting tests / Choreo practice
10:30am Closeups with leads
11:30am Piano solo
12:00pm Dancers arrive / rehearsals
1:00pm Choreo Part I (wide, medium, detail, and gimbal)
3:00pm Dancers wrap / Extras Arrive
4:00pm Oner shot for opening scene, party reality/dream flip scene with extras
5:00pm Silhouette performance shots against sunset
6:30pm Fightclub ending shot
Surprisingly we did sort of stick to this schedule but we moved the morning shots to evening ended later around 9. Filming is more physically and mentally taxing than other creative pursuits I’ve done. Later in the day your brain starts to turn to mash potatoes. As director I need to avoid this because everyone looks to you to make the decisions on what happens next.
Our first shot would be the dancing so we set that up first. We decided to shoot against the windows looking out because that was more interesting than looking inwards. The apartment had very little furniture since the tenants were moving out soon.
Carl rigged the small HD to my Ronin with a cardellini and a knuckle. We used this for the dance freestyles and the oner opening shot. Great workout. Highly recommend.
I operated the camera for most of the day and we were tight on the schedule so I forgot to take more BTS photos after this.
For this scene we wanted to recreate something like a scene from Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love. The characters lean against a shared wall as the camera pans across. This was my way of achieving that. The tough part being there wasn’t one wall we could do this on. I shot Lyrah here and then Evan in a similar room down the hall. I horizontally flipped Evan in post and added a wall then keyframed it all to move smoothly.
In the master bedroom we noticed this beautiful wallpaper and it made the perfect backdrop for this scene. Maybe next time we’d move everyone 2-3 feet away from the wall to avoid shadows, but still one of my favorite shots. Very happy with it and people seemed to love it too.
I got home and before falling asleep I thought about every single mistake I made that day and worried we didn’t get enough. I thought about additional shots we could get if we had another day. Luckily someone invented “pickups” so this is what we did. Lyrah was still in town until Sunday too. We met again that Wednesday to film more performances before and during golden hour. She performed the chorus in each shot and sang the verses. This gave us plenty of options in the edit. For future shoots I’d also get some mise en scene shots or silent acting to cut in as well.
Here’s one of our setups from that day.
The animatic did provide a template but when I put the pieces together it just felt like it did not click into place and turn into a beautiful giant Voltron. Did I overplan it? Did I not plan enough? I thought this was going to be the easy part. It was not. This became a new and difficult puzzle to crack. Lyrah – bless her, was extremely patient. We killed some of the scenes we originally planned on having. We cut up the choreo and mixed it with freestyles. We did what we had to do to get the video to where it is now.
I sent every iteration to friends and my brother Green. They assured me each time it was good and getting better. I wasn’t sure. We finally went through 20+ iterations and felt like we got to a good place and ready to release. I had asked my friend John Liwag his opinion on the edit a few weeks earlier but I knew he was swamped with work so he didn’t send notes. But with this final one we asked him one more time. He disappeared for a few hours with it and came back with something so fire.
He took it to the next level. Another drop for me in the “don’t do everything yourself” bucket. He knew what I was going for and what I wanted to do but just took it all further.
I did do the final color on this and let me tell you in Premiere it is extremely difficult because I had a gamma and contrast shift. Also I had done something mysterious in v20 (on the right where the colors just looked absolutely perfect to us in this scene. I spent 5+ hours trying to get the highlights and everything to match. I tried going through auto-save files. I couldn’t find out how this one looked so different. At one point I almost just gave up and was going to take a clip from the exported v20 and slice it over that part. Then after more tinkering with magentas, highlights, and curves, I got it.
Once we finalized the video it was smooth sailing. From there Lyrah worked on interviews and PR for the release of the single and video. We locked in March 18th and started to promote it on our respective channels. Do we make memes? What about challenges? We thought of a lot of different things but just kept it simple in the end. Here’s the video.
Now I can’t wait to do it all over again but better. Much better.