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What Makes the Best Music Video Director?

  • Tai Campbell
  • 24 Jul, 2015

"What makes a good Music Video Director?" A question asked by so many artists and labels.
What should I look for?”, “What should I look out for?” Short questions but good questions. 
Your music deserves the best video and to get the best video you need the right Director.

WHO’S YOUR GUY (OR GAL)?
If you asked 1000 film video makers this question you’d get 1000 different answers. I’ll try and make my comments as general as possible (although when it comes to personal experience I’m afraid I’ll have to be very objective). So you want your music to connect to as many people as possible? You want to get your message to get across?  You want to know what makes a good Music Video Director?  I’d have to start with…

CREATIVITY
It all begins with creativity. If you’re not creative then you shouldn’t be a Director and unfortunately is something that can’t be taught to just anyone. A video Director needs to have creativity coming out of their pores. When meeting creative people a good tell is when they are able to elaborate from a small point; it could be a point in a song or a point an artist makes, they may not always hit home BUT their ability to think of things related to you is a real talent.

Creativity also allows an individual to interpret a music video. If someone hears the lyrics and creates a video that is basically a visual description of the song then they haven’t really interpreted the song - with the exception of Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’ Directed by Demitri Basil which is an ironic take on this approach.

Creativity enables the music video director to find elements of the lyrics, elements of the song, elements of the theme and elements of the artist to interpret them in ways that unlock a one of a kind Music Video.

KNOWING THE MEDIUM
Has someone who doesn’t listen to music ever made a good song? Has someone who doesn’t watch movies ever made a good film? The answer to both these questions is: probably no. The best Music Video Directors are aware of the medium. This doesn’t mean copying, what it means is being aware of what’s hot, what’s whack, what’s retro. If an artist has an idea for a music video that’s been done before, then a good Director will want to go a different direction. Now I’m not afraid to cliché shame rappers, regardless of how talented they are, who ask for a music video with a nice car and a pretty model. Problem with that is it’s been done to death and knowing the medium helps avoid creative pitfalls like this or put a fresh spin on them.

One of the most immediately useful benefits of medium awareness is references. As a music video Director; few things make a meeting with a client (or potential client) go smoothly like the ability to reel off visual references. Why? Simple. Film is a visual medium and Directors have to find ways of testing the waters by finding images from their head and putting them in yours. You want to feature a semi relevant ballroom dance piece? Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran have done that recently. You want a found footage video based in the 90s? Chase and Status’ video would make a good reference. How about a music video that includes multiple animation formats? 2Pac has one of those. Colour schemes, visual themes, lighting styles, shot types, editing can all be referenced easily if the Director knows the medium.

PASSION
What excites a Director? What ignites a fire inside of them? The more answers a Creative Director has for these questions the better but for the sake of this article the answers should really be music and film. Now that doesn’t mean a video Director should love every genre, in fact it’s best they have their preference, it means their influences and approaches are different. Coming from someone who is a Director there’s nothing quite like hearing a track and instantly clicking with it; loving the music and having a river of ideas flow through you. Coming from someone who’s a Director there’s nothing like hearing a track and not connecting to the music. The best ideas emanate from a passion for the track.

Loving music isn’t enough though; a Director Film maker has to love the visual medium that is film. The love of film sparks the Director’s need to visualise the music. Now I know this sounds like spiritual hippy dippy mumbo jumbo but there is definitely something magical about being inspired by a song then using that to create something – that’s the person you want to Direct your music video.

CINELITERACY
Unfortunately I did not coin this term and if I did you wouldn’t hear the end of it. Now this shouldn’t be confused with visual metaphors or hidden meaning. Cineliteracy is simply the term used to describe the way film is used to communicate. We all understand cineliteracy, you may not be aware of it but you do. What a talented Director can do is use the language that is cinema to communicate their message, their story. Through tools like camera movement, shot type, lighting style and editing pace a Director can create anticipation, excitement, affection. You name it, cineliteracy can create it.

You want your video to it the right notes? Then look for a Director who has a good command of cineliteracy.

ONCE THE CAMERAS START ROLLING…
So you’ve met a fine Director who’s completely won you over with their knowledge, passion and creativity BUT the skills of a Director run deeper. Sometimes their mettle is really shown in how they handle a shoot on the day.

LEADERSHIP
Call me theatrical but I’d compare a Music video Director on a set to the Captain on a ship. Things need to be in motion at all times be it rehearsing for a take, communicating with the video production crew or planning the next shot. The Director needs to lead. The right information fed to the right people so everyone knows what they need to do, staying at least one step ahead of the shoot and communicating with the talent should be the driving force of the shoot and if the Creative Director is able to lead then the day will run all the smoother.

NOT JUST CALLING THE SHOTS
Okay. Here’s where a great concept can fall apart. You’ve got a great idea, the right video production crew; the cameras are rolling…only the Director is focused too much on the shot to give the talent/actors/extras the correct direction. The right type of performance will enhance a music video 10 fold and it is SO important that attention is given to it. Is this a high energy shot? Maybe something reflective? Sombre, angry, loving? Directing the performance (articulately I might add) is the indicator of a skilled Director.

WHO ALSO EDITS
Sorry to those who aren’t skilled in the world of Premiere, Final Cut and Avid but a good Director knows how to edit. Why? Sure they’re different jobs that are sometimes performed by different people but a Director should be able to edit in their head while filming. Two shots won’t match? We’ll add another one. The pace from one scene doesn’t carry over? Just have to adjust the pace of the next shot. Knowing how to edit means that the Creative Director understands how the pieces will come together as it’s happening, it ensures you’ll have everything you need to make the perfect Music Video.

STRONG YET FLEXIBLE
A Director should have a clear vision and stick to it, it’s how they get what they intended and how you as an artist get what you planned. But, say the shoot’s in full swing, things are going well when all of a sudden inspiration hits! It’s not planned but it could be amazing. What should the Director do? Well if it’s possible and there’s time then absolutely film it! On the flip side say a shot just isn’t working; it could be set up time, new found lack of relevance to the video or time to get it right vs time you actually have to film it then maybe it’s time to cut it. Now this is never an easy decision to make but if your Director is switched on to what they need then they will (sometimes grudgingly) accept when it’s time to start cutting. As an artist; don’t fret, a Director should always be open to anything that will enhance the music video. Stern yet malleable.

Whew! Okay I know you only asked “What makes a good Music Video Director?” but the truth is many things do. It’s all about the specifics that suit you, what specifics you value. Yeah there’s a lot here but there’s a lot to what makes a good Director. So why don’t you see what’s important to you?

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 August 2016 11:45
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