Music video shooting tips

I have been working real hard for the past few weeks on a music video we shot for one of my friend. I shot a few clips for him in the past (the single camera on tripod kind of thing) but this time, he wanted something more. Since I am always up for a new challenge and I was totally naive about the amount of time it would take to shoot the clip, I accepted.

While the whole thing could have been done in a weekend under perfect circumstances (and a bit more experience and preparations), we did a few mistakes that really made it harder to do the edit.

Since I am the kind of guy who loves to show my errors in front of thousands of people, I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of all the things I learned so it could help anyone who would be crazy enough to start the same endeavor!

Note: a lot of these tips are targeted at people crazy enough to do clips which require lip sync. If you can keep the images and the music separated, things will be much easier.

Planning

Having a plan in your head is good, but not enough. Music video are all about timing and if you dont want to end up with blanks in your sequence that you wont know how to fill, make sure you have a storyboard covering the whole clip! In my case, I totally forgot to get something to cover the bridge section of the song, 32 seconds of nothingness… I guess it is good to stir creativity.

Syncing

If you can find a clip concept where you can get away with lip syncing, do it! It is a huge time sink. That being said, in the case you have to show the singer actually singing, here are a few pointers:

  • Shoot with as many camera as you can (see below)
  • Prepare a MP3 version of the song with a very loud and short BEEP at the start and end.
  • Use an electronic slate to sync the various camera together (in case because the audio is not never perfect)
  • dont start editing until you have trimmed and synced all your clips

Shooting

Bring as many camera as you can! In our case, we only had 2 5DMrkII and I wish we had at least one more. The more coverage you have of each sequence, the easier it will be once you are in the edit room. For Traumatic Head Injury, I decided to focus mostly on the head so we shot a few versions with a close up cam on Jon face (using a 100mm Macro and 24-70L2.8) and the other camera right on top of him. Here is a picture of the ghetto setup we had.

The shooting settings were f4 to 5.6, 1/50 sec at between ISO 800 and 1600. Shooting with a wider aperture would have been asking for trouble since it was already hard to manage the depth of field. I would strongly advice you to use zooms when working in tight spaces since they make framing so much easier.

Framing

Don’t capture the singer lips unless you have too. This way, you can reuse sequences in other part of the clip and no one will ever notice. Also, in a multicam setup, make sure there is a significant change in the point of view from one cam to the other, else it just feels weird when jumping points of view.

Lighting

We shot the clip with minimal gear. We only had two cameras, two tripods, a slider and three lenses (50mm, 24-70L & 100macro) but no lights. Fortunately, the surgery lights were quite good but I wish we had a few more to put at the back of the ‘surgeon’ to have a nice outline. Actually, if there was one piece of gear that I would have rented for this shoot, it would have been a few small spot lights, preferably LED to not eat the place too much.

Location / preparation

Location is important. We had access to a surgery room and I think it really contributes to the feel of the clip. I wish we could have used more of it. For example, I wish we had a shot of the stretcher coming in the surgery room for the intro sequence, or as a dreamy sequence in the bridge section.

Unfortunately, all these good ideas are worthless if you can’t execute them! So make sure you visit the location a few days before and give yourself enough time to come up with concepts and shots.

Consistency

If you are going to shoot multiple take of a scene, make sure everyone does the same thing every time. And if you see the singing head at the same time, make sure the actions always happen at the same time. This may sound obvious but it is so hard to execute perfectly. We had a lot of issues with this for our clip, so much that maybe 40% of the footage was unusable because of a lack of consistency.

The solution (that I figured afterward) is to have someone narrating the actions as they are coming while watching the initial shot on a laptop.

Editing

My first idea was to assemble all my clips as a single multi-clip in FCP and cut from there. Unfortunately, it did not work, my machine was not able to manage the 16 simultaneous HD sequences, even with a RAID-0 of 2 VelociRaptor. My next approach was to create small resolution proxies but, there again, 16 feeds were too much so I gave up and stacked all the sequences in the timeline and cut from there. If anyone has advices regarding this, I would love to hear from you!

What I would have done differently?

Lots of things, but the one thing that hurt me the most which I could not fix once in the edit room was the lack of coverage of some parts of the song. At the beginning of the clip, I am forced to cut on the beat while I know (as most of my friend told me) that it would have been better to be off beat for a few cuts to increase intensity and expectations.

Unfortunately, I couldnt because I would not have had enough footage to make each shot look different. This is why getting coverage is important and you can never have enough cameras filming at once! Never!

Conclusion

I have shot films, wedding video, travel and corporate video and let me tell you: music video are the hardest! If you are getting paid to to it, make sure you allocate 2-3x more time for edits and don’t sell yourself short. I am sure there is a lot of money to be made shooting music video with HDSLR, but that is something I will leave for others!

The result

Here is the first minute of the clip. The current grading is a place holder, made under a minute in Magic Bullet Mojo, until the final style is applied.

About Tommy

Photography allows me to be what I want to be, to be where I want to be, and to do what I want to do ... I'm not professional photographer and I don't need a title, I love to take photographs and that is what I do, I love to learn and I always try to do it better ...
  • http://kwabenastudio.com kwabena

    Nice of you to share your experience. I am new to video and this whole ‘preparation’ side of video sometimes gets me confused (since I am mostly trying to figure out things on my own) … so thanks once again for sharing.

  • http://images.tuffer.com Tuffer

    Perfect timing. I am in the planning stages of doing an HDSLR music video for next month.

  • http://vimeo.com/channels/desilva Daniel

    I think job well done!
    It’s a hard job to tackle, we all know what we want in our head and its really a lot of planning to get to it.

    I would read “From stills to motion” 10-20 times and watch the DVD that comes with it! Thats what I’ve been doing for ages gearing up and getting ready to shoot a music video next month with 3 7D’s, a bunch of lights, car mounts, Zoom h4n, shoulder rigs, tripods, motorized pocket dolly, every L lens to 70-200 2.8 etc!

    This was most helpful!

    Thanks again,

    when im done I will share it with you, it will also appear on my vimeo channel vimeo.com/channels/desilva

  • Rene

    I just gave it a shot and recorded a music video for a friend, I learned on the fly, so the good thing about this expierience was that, I now have an idea how much time and effort it actually takes to do this. Also working alone sucks. I would probably ask a friend to help for my next attempt. Many mistakes were made, but thats not neccessarily a bad thing, since I actually know what I need to do for my next project. I used 1 canon 5d mark ii, 28mm pentax screw mount prime, 135mm pentax prime, canon 70-200mm L glass, and a bunch of accessories which included a mini slider some home made aluminum and pvc rigs. My only problem now is trying to figure out how to edit all this footage, Im learning how to do this just by reading and watching video tutorials. using the adobe premiere pro cs5. Thanks for this post.

    • admin

      I agree, the editing part is the hardest for us (photographer turning into videographers) because we cant translate much of our skill set. It requires a lot of practice and a lot of feedback from everyone around you!

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