The music video is a medium that allows for a huge range in terms of creativity and production value. Take for example, the vast difference between Sinead O’Connor’s extremely minimalist video for “Nothing Compares To You” and the $10.7 million Michael Jackson video “Scream” which required a spaceship set. This ability to work with virtually any concept for a music video has always appealed to directors. Well known directors including Michel Gondry, David Fincher, and Antoine Fuqua are just some of the top film directors who began with music videos. Unfortunately, this wide range of possibilities also makes it difficult to provide a set of universal rules concerning the creation of music videos. For this article, we have focused on providing shooting advice for a studio setup featuring either the performer and / or dancers. Below we outline the Director of Photography at Bold Content’s advice for filming music videos.
Choosing a Lighting Set-up
The first thing to do when planning your lighting set-up is to find out what equipment is available at the location or studio where you will be filming. Larger studios have a lot of resources and will most likely be able to meet your needs. However, in many smaller studios, they only have 1 or 2K lights available, so you must be prepared to bring in what you need or work with what is at your disposal. Knowing what you want and that it is feasible to set it up will allow you to be properly prepared for the shoot and make the most of your time.
One type of light that is commonly available in large studios are space lights. They are usually hung from the ceiling at various heights depending on the desired intensity and will often be diffused, creating a soft, ambient light in the studio. This light acts as a good base that can be used alone or with more intense or coloured lights layered on top. Space lights are ideal for lighting setups with a main singer and several dancers because lighting each person in the group individually is quite complex and muddle.
It is best to hang around 4 space lights, depending on the shoot, at an equal distance from each other. This way everyone in the shot has the same exposure. Although you may consider having the lead lit a bit brighter. For this, you would want to use diffused power lights or 1 or 2K lights so they get a bit more light without additional harsh shadows. With this direct set-up, a bit more creativity would come from the backdrops or costumes.
If you want to do creative lighting you could add colour gels or use an entirely different set-up. For example, you could place two very powerful lights on either side of a dancer. It is a simple set-up, but it would create an interesting rim of light in the shot.
Decisions for music videos often do happen before filming. However, they can simply be general ideas that may change as the shoot goes on. For instance, you should go into filming knowing the setups and desired lighting, but you will most likely need to adjust it the day of as you familiarize yourself with what is available and encounter issues. This is the case especially if you are on location as you will need to see what the weather is doing and adapt.
Make sure to have a plan before going into a shoot; you can add creative elements, but do not rely on them because you need to be able to change at any given point. Always have a shop list because then you have the choice to follow it or deviate from it when you get to the shoot.
What to Shoot
It is often a good idea to have the talent perform the song and dance the whole way through while you film it. This gives you a lot of content that you can cut back to if need be while making the final product and provides an opportunity to try different types of shots.
It is key to remember that with a music video, you are highlighting the music and how the video works with the music is of the utmost importance. You may get some very aesthetic shots, but if they do not complement the music and the concept, it will not be useful to the video.
Syncing the Video with Music
When shooting a music video, it is important that a sound system is available on location or in the studio so the singer can sing along in time with the track. Without the track playing, you will run into timing issues between the footage and the song in the editing process.
Be mindful when filming for music videos at different speeds. Should you choose to film in slow-mo at 50 frames or 100 frames, you will need to adjust the speed of the track during filming. If they are singing the song at the original tempo during the shoot, and you slow it down afterward, the video and song will be out of sync. You would need to speed up the song to about twice the speed so that when you play it back, it will be in sync with the song at its original tempo.
Tips For Working With Performers
With a music video, you may have dance sequences that can take hours to shoot, so you must keep in mind the well being of the performers. Make sure you allow them time to take breaks for to avoid decreasing their energy levels and focus. If for any reason lighting or the camera set-up needs to be changed or adjusted, this is a good time to allot a break to the talent.
Also bear in mind that you will not always get the exact take you have in mind. If you continually repeat a sequence in order to get that ‘perfect take’ the performers may become tired and frustrated. In a situation like this, it is best to move on because the footage you got is usually enough or it can be covered by a different shot in the final edit. It is important to acknowledge the performers are doing strenuous work and to keep them from exhausting themselves to guarantee their best work.
View a behind the scenes video from one of our DP’s projects:
And see the final product below: