How Directors, DPs, Colorists and Post Houses Nurture Creativity as Budgets Spiral Downward

The music video industry thrives on beats, sex appeal , and shockingly
vivid imagery. Long-standing careers in rock and roll have been built
on a savvy opening salvo of MTV content, and established artists look
to muusic video creatives to help devise visuals that define
generations of youth culture. So working on these clips gives you
street cred, keeps you young, and provides killer clips for your demo
reel. Is there a cooler job to be found anywhere in the world?

Well, there have been better times to be in music
videos. Budgets have
lately headed downhill, as the ongoing industry-wide recession drains
record company coffers. That makes it difficult, helmers say, to
continue making videos that depict an artist in the best possible
light. In other words, Beyoncà© isn't getting any less sexy, but her
videos are getting less expensive.

"Two or three years ago, music videos were very lucrative," recalls
Craig Fanning, the impresario behind FM Rocks, home to top-shelf
director Bryan Barber (OutKast, Missy Elliott) and Jake Nava ( Beyonce,
Kelis), among others. "But when the downloading really started hitting
and everybody started realizing how bad it was, everyone went into
shell-shock mode." Here's how bad it's gotten: three or four years ago,
Fanning says, a top director would get three videos a month with
budgets north of $750,000. Today, a hot director is lucky to see that
many big-budget spots in an entire year. Outside the high end, the
picture may be even more grim. Directors Film & Video interviewed
for this story estimate that today's budgets are anywhere from one-half
to one-third, or even less, what they were just a few years ago.
If labels run the risk of devaluing their most important properties-
their artists- by cheaping out on video budgets, top-shelf music video
directors, DPs, FX artists and colorists are learning to make do with
what's available to them. From veterans like Jake Nava, who
kick-started Beyoncà©'s solo career with a trio of clips that drew on
European fashion photography to redefine American glam, to newcomers
like Patrick Daughters, who deployed antique Panavision lenses to show
the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs in a whole new light, the current generation is
working overtime to feed the twin masters of commerce and creativity.
Here's a look at some premier innovators in the field, who tell us how
they keep the music (television) playing.
Jake Nava, Director
Recent Credits: Beyoncà© featuring Jay-Z "Crazy in Love"; Kelis, "Milkshake"; Kylie Minogue, "Red Blooded Woman"
On editing: The editing process is the time when we become most
musical. We're obviously working on an Avid, which is very similar to
Pro Tools, and we are able to time our shots and time our edits
perfectly to the music and use certain shots and certain images to
reflect particular musical themes. We can assign a visual theme to a
musical theme and in that way get closer to bringing the music to life.
If the track is quite frenetic and funky, chances are the images will
be and the editing will be as well. Sometimes it's important to leave a
shot long enough for people to see it clearly. Hopefully the quality of
the shots is high enough that you're not trying to obscure it in flashy
editing technique.
On lipstick: It's a question of trying to infuse the image with soul by
focusing on every detail. I really do have 20-minute conversations with
the make-up artist about how to do the lipstick. Some filmmakers may
find that nauseatingly superficial and boring, but I reckon it's really
important what your lead character's lips look like, whether they're a
singer or a film star. If anything from art department to styling to
make-up to hair and choreography is lacking, it's going to look bad,
and you've only got yourself to blame.
The line between sexy and smutty: Kelis manages to really throw it in
your face and yet not seem cheap. That's a fine line. "Milkshake" was a
remake of a Paul Hunter video, and Paul Hunter is a brilliant director
whose work is more consistent in style and quite polished. But Kelis
didn't like that video. I think she wanted a video that had a little
bit of rawness to it. It became clear to me that, like her dress sense,
this video was an opportunity to not be like everyone else. So: low
contrast, high grain, lots of smoke. Those three things alone are
totally out of season in American music video. And yet I put them all
into the Kelis video and everyone really likes it.
Getting grainy: We did end up shooting "Milkshake" on 35, after I had
been telling people we should shoot on 16 because it would be more
grainy. We were looking to make it really grainy. My quote in the
telecine session for that video was "more milky," meaning more
low-contrast. The graders tell me they call it a "print look," meaning
you're emulating the kind of look you would look for if you were going
to project the picture, which in general is a slightly more sensitive,
low-contrast, more photographic approach. I wouldn't say I'm trying to
get a print look, but I'm trying to get a look that I like that doesn't
look like other things.
" If anything from art department to styling to make-up to hair and
choreography is lacking, it's going to look bad, and you've only got
yourself to blame."
On budgets: I really genuinely wish the budgets were twice what they
are, because no matter what level you work at, you get frustrated by
having doors shut in your face. There are doors that are not open when
you're working on $500,000 as opposed to $1,000,000. It's a bit
ridiculous that anyone should spend that much money, but it's really
true. Beyoncà© was frustrated on the last job by how little time we had
to film each scene, and you don't want frustrated artists. It's not
necessarily that you need a bigger set or you need more extras. It
might be prep time, or sometimes the size of your lighting package. But
the place where you feel it the most is shooting time.
On Steadicam: I'm a great fan of the Steadicam, especially for dancing.
Christopher Doyle, who shot Chungking Express, said that before he
shoots anything, he drinks a bottle of whiskey and dances with the
characters. I'd say the Steadicam allows you to dance with the action,
whether it's real dancing or just the blocking of an action scene. You
can be responsive to what you're seeing in a way that you can't be with
a dolly and tracks. If it's Beyoncà© doing some amazing bit of dancing
that's really sassy and entertaining, you want to capture it, make sure
you can see it. You want to move with it and make people feel part of
Feature film ambitions: As I read scripts, I'm still working out
whether I'm going to end up making a feature film that, in its wildest
dreams, will become either a) a blockbuster or b) cult. My favorite
films are Quadrophenia, La Haine, City of God, The Warriors, and The
Long Good Friday
. Those are the kinds of things that I'd like to see,
the kinds of references I'd like to be relevant to my first script, as
opposed to mainstream urban movies. Films like Bulletproof Monk and
Torque don't do much for me personally. But when I saw City of God it
made me excited to even be in a business where I pick up film cameras.
That was a film that had something really important to say, said it in
a new way and it moved me. Memento moved me recently. Mind you, I quite
like Pirates of the Caribbean as well. I just think that with music
video you make a music video and you work on it all-in for a month or
whatever, but you make a movie and you're working on it for two years
of your life. You need to live with that work and be really proud of it
in a long-term sense.
Sophie Muller, Director
Recent Credits: Nelly Furtado, "Try"; The Distillers, "The Hunger"; No Doubt, "Underneath it All"; Dolly Parton, "I'm Gone"
On the artist as inspiration: I love music, but most of my ideas come
from the artist rather than the song. I don't hear the lyrics until
about the sixth listen. If you hear, "I walked along the beach," you
don't want to see someone walking along the beach. That's the worst.
On getting work: I've never written a treatment and gotten a job. If
[the agency] says, "We'd like you to make the video, here's the artist,
talk to them," then it seems to work. But [not sending in treatments]
is probably why I didn't work for years. Each person is too individual-
I try to be open-minded and not have presumptions about people, to get
them to say how they think they will be most comfortable. Sometimes it
doesn't work- I talk to an artist, there's no chemistry, I don't get
any ideas, and I think "uh-oh." But usually I can tell immediately
through a phone call whether I'm going to be creative or not.
On process: I remember the first time I did a storyboard- by the time I
got to the fourth board, I just went, "Oh, I don't want to do this." I
like being spontaneous. If you're too specific about scripts, you're
tied down to what you've come up with, and I find that boring. I leave
myself room to try new things. Luckily, I usually pull it off.
On technique: I probably drive my DPs mad because I'm always telling
them where to put the lights. I only like to light from the front, so
that people's faces are well-lit. I don't like side lighting. I want to
be able to see expressions. My happiest area is in the experimental
field. I went to film school. I was given two rolls of film for a year.
You have to make every frame last. Even now, I'm kind of like, "Turn
the camera off!"
On effects: I'm not that interested or good at highly technicalized
things- I'm very, sort of, female in that way- I haven't got a clue
about special effects. When I've tried it, it's been a disaster. I get
bored when I watch effects-driven videos, though, because I miss the
central, core performance. How much FX can you watch? It's just not my
cup of tea.
On her newest technique: In the Nelly Furtado video " Try," it's
archive footage and film we shot projected, rather than actual built
sets. I went through a period using back projection. When Hitchcock had
people traveling in a car, he'd use back projection for outside the
car. It's cheap and it's beautiful. The reason Hitchcock did it was to
make people look good, so that the actor wouldn't be outside with a red
nose. He'd have the actor looking amazing and immaculate. So there's a
combination of glamour and telling the story. There's so many different
ways to use an image behind a person that I've just started. It's a
fantastic way of doing whatever you like in the confines of a studio.
On budgets: The last video I made was with [ artist ] Mindy Smith.
[Because of the budget] I knew the idea couldn't have art direction,
couldn't have extras, and we just did it with simple atmospheric
lighting, and a location. It's a video I'm really proud of. There's a
lot you can do with a light, a person and a camera. It's very easy to
make an amazing video for $800,000- you can create a huge magic world.
But if you have nothing, then you've got to say, "All right, we'll put
the light there, and I'll move the lights here, and wear this color
T-shirt rather than that one against this color wall…"- you're
constantly testing yourself. It's a very simple thing, music, and so
videos sometimes don't need to be as extravagant as they are.
"You can make people hear things in a song that they wouldn't necessarily hear by the way you edit."
On who she admires: Whenever I see a Mark Romanek video, I sort of want
to kill myself- everything he does is brilliant. I saw his new Jay-Z
video [ "99 Problems" ], and my mouth literally fell open. Ninety-nine
percent of videos are rubbish. They're formulaic. You need a bit of
sex, some nice clothes, and it has to be well shot. But then you see
one of his videos, and you say, "Oh my God, that's what you can do with
a video!"
On editing: I always edit my own work. I edit on an Avid. Obviously a
lot of directors sit with an editor and basically edit their video, but
they don't actually use the technology. I find that too frustrating. I
was always thinking, "Oh, one frame this way!" In the end, I just
pushed them aside and taught myself how to edit. You can make people
hear things in a song that they wouldn't necessarily hear by the way
you edit.
Dave Meyers, Director
Recent Credits: N.E.R.D., "She Wants To Move"; Jay-Z "Dirt Off Your
Shoulder"; Ludacris, "Stand Up"; Missy Elliott, "Pass That Dutch"
On inspiration: I adapt the soul of the song to things I'm interested
in and going through in my life, and, when possible, I try to get in
touch with the artist and hear what they're going through in their
life. The next layer is looking at where the artist should go. Some
artists that are fabulous might need to do something real and honest.
Others that have always been honest, might need to do something
fabulous. I endlessly sit at my computer and try out different ideas.
I'm inspired by all forms of media. Pictures, movies, my own
experiences in life. I just create a mishmash of my vision and then I
articulate it into a treatment.
"Movies are so high-falutin, but we're all more trained in post capacities."
On budgets: Smaller budgets have absolutely been a reality. But the
vanity hasn't gone down. I'm still paying top-dollar for the glam
squads. I've payed $100,000 to 200,000 for the glam squad and then had
a $300,000 production budget. The budgets haven't gotten to a point
where I can't exercise a vision at all. I've found that with the trust
factor of my name and my sense of articulation, I can shoot half as
much film as I used to. I only shoot one or two takes and the little
bit of the song that I want. Some artists just don't move fast, so I
can't apply that strategy. In that case the budget crunch becomes very
difficult, but usually with those artists, their budgets are a lot
higher. They might have come from a million to $700,000 whereas most
others come from $600,000 down to $300,000. A-list artists doing
$150,000 videos- that's a readjustment. I think Ludacris' last video
was $70,000. And it was good. I love this time. It's a great time to
shake out the nonsense. It allows for new opportunity and new voices,
and allows for the old voices to be reinvigorated with new challenges.
Everybody's adapting and it makes for a really interesting time.
On Post: I love post. I like working with the creatives at the visual
houses, where they get the same thrill I get out of creating
fantastical places and funny gags and manipulating reality. I'm a Star
Wars kid. I've been one of the first ones in the theater when any sort
of effects extravaganza comes out. Because some directors shy away from
effects, it's been a place where I've found individuality and a
specific stamp within videos. It's my playground. If I want to pull
someone's head off, I just figure it out and then convince the artist.
I've built up a resume where the effects have looked good, so artists
trust me when I want to do something in CG. It actually makes you more
informed than a lot of movie directors who never get the chance to play
around with effects. It's a funny thing. Movies are so highfalutin, but
we're all more trained in post capacities.
On happy mistakes: Videos are very forgiving. When you make a mistake,
sometimes you can just not tell anybody and they might embrace it as
something great. If you make a bad mistake, as long as your artist
looks good people might not even register it as a bad video. I've
always felt that music videos are like a paid film school. It gets you
ready for the world.
On editing: My editor is my college freshman roommate, Chris David. I
stuffed him into the editing position when we got out of college, so he
learned his craft as I learned mine. I keep him so busy that he's
probably worked with one other director in eight years. We're
creatively in sync, we complete each other's sentences, and we have the
familiarity and friendship that goes back to college. I haven't had the
need to be obsessive in the edit because he's so strong.
On who he admires: The most consistent names that come to mind are Tim
Burton and Steven Spielberg. They continually intrigue me and excite me
on all levels. Spike Lee played a big part in my life when he was doing
Do The Right Thing and Crooklyn. I read all his books and learned
filmmaking and some of the politics. Within videos, everyone has hit or
misses, but the only video director that has consistently been
interesting to me is Mark Romanek.
What's exciting: What I'm most excited about nowadays is Radical Music,
a satellite to Radical Media. I'm trying to create a director-friendly
company that's not so driven by greed and money and more championed by
creative talent. I'm on the phone daily, making suggestions on how we
can better the environment so that young directors can grow. One of our
breakout videos was Chris Milk's "All Falls Down" by Kanye West. Now
Chris is getting all sort of tracks sent to him from all the right
artists. I feel proud that there was a creative guy that wasn't getting
jobs, and we put the right support structure around him and now he's
off in Australia shooting a Jet video. It's great.
Patrick Daughters, Director
Recent Credits: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Maps" and "Date With the Night"; The
Rapture, "Love Is All"; The Secret Machines, "Nowhere Again"
The right connections: While I was in school, I made a few good
friends, and one of them ended up forming a band. We had always talked
about my doing a music video for her band, and when that finally came
to fruition it ended up being the [Yeah Yeah Yeahs'] "Maps" video.
Low-tech effects: I bought this Bolex camera on eBay, and the pin that
holds the film flush [in the gate] comes loose. I think I figured out
how to make it come loose. That's how you get the effect [from the Yeah
Yeah Yeahs' "Date With the Night" ]. It provided us, in editing, with
an easier way to structure the images against the structure of the song.
A treatment for "Maps": The only way I knew how to describe the idea
for "Maps" was to describe the angles from shot to shot and what I
intended to effect through certain camera moves. It was very precise,
but the hard concept, the kernel of the idea, is not something you can
reduce. It's just footage of them playing, but it's a bit of a
video-in-a-video, and it's also a moving performance. Above all, it was
just treated as though it were a scene from a film. In the end it
panders a little bit to the emotional quality of the song, during the
driving part where you have the shutter effect happening. But it was
intended to feel a bit more restrained, a bit less of a sale. The one
thing I was watching a lot right before we did "Maps" was [ Jean-Luc ]
Godard's A Woman is a Woman. You can see the reference quite pointedly
when the color changes, actually. That was the genesis of the idea.
The right equipment: We used 30-year-old Panavision lenses for Maps."
There's something about them. The newer lenses tend to be a lot more
crisp. We shot anamorphic 35mm because we wanted to get those very
dramatic and romantic flares. When you blast light into the lens, the
image gets ghosted with whatever color the light is, so you see that
very clearly in certain moments. Also, there's a ton of drag
horizontally using those lenses, and the image has this tooth that's
not a hyper-glossy quality. I attribute all of that to my DP, Sean Kim,
who did an amazing job. He always does. We discuss everything in great
detail beforehand. He suggested using those lenses and described to me
very accurately what they would do and how they would render certain
light flares. Getting the effects in camera is definitely my
preference. I don't really like post flares, although when it comes
down to it it's hard to tell the difference.
"We shot anamorphic 35mm because we wanted to get those very dramatic and romantic flares."
On inspiration: The end sequence from The Secret Machines' "Nowhere
Again" was actually inspired by an artist named Pierre Huyghe, who won
the Hugo Boss prize a couple of years ago. He has this amazing
installation piece about two modern monolithic apartment buildings in
the suburbs of Paris talking to each other. If we'd had a lot more
money, we would have shown it from considerably more dramatic angles.
We wanted to do a helicopter shot that tracked down the length of the
city avenue, and you saw the whole city start to come alive. But
obviously that's a different scale.
Other people's videos: I liked the last couple of videos that Michel
Gondry did. I liked that Gary Jules video [ "Mad World" ] a lot, and
then the Steriogram video [ "Walkie Talkie Man" ] I thought was really
good. Mark Romanek is a really quality technician. His work always
looks amazing and the cutting's really nice. It's really well-paced.
Some of the things he's done I haven't liked as much, but the Johnny
Cash video [ "Hurt" ] might be the best video I've ever seen. It's rare
to be moved by a commercial for a song, but, my goodness, that video
was so good. And the use of the archival footage was brilliant. It was
perfectly executed. Everything was really in line.
On budgets: I hate to say it, but I feel like I kind of missed the
golden age of the music video. I'm not sure if that's entirely true,
and things obviously happen in a cyclical way, but at the present time
there is a lot of lament. I hear it from people in crew and people in
production and all across the board. I think it's directly related to
the music industry's economic crisis right now. In that regard it makes
sense to me. But I think people are in a state of panic, too. There's a
lot of industry consolidation going on, and it doesn't make for the
most confident environment creatively.
Brett Simon, Director
Recent Projects: Hoobastank, "The Reason"; Polarbear, "Belly"; The Killers, "Somebody Told Me"
On Editing: The editing is where my heart can be broken. It's very
intimate: just me and my laptop sharing secrets, making discoveries,
drinking wine. I get possessive of the cut. I have to remind myself
that this isn't a monogamous relationship- that there's a band, a
label, and TV censors who want to fool around with my edit, and that
they are entitled to do so. There is something to be said about letting
go, about getting some distance from the material. I understand that
and, at the same time, I cling to my director's cuts and pretend they
are the only versions out there.
"Limits are inspiring but you have to recognize them. There's nothing
worse than a low-budget video that's all gussied up and pretending to
be posh."
On experimentation: I'm a toy junkie. There's not a place in the
production or post process that doesn't catch my interest. I play a
lot. I build cameras and lenses. I like to break things. I spend too
much time alone messing around with my computer, but this is where I
discover a lot of my techniques for videos. I'm building up a little
arsenal of techniques that I'm dying to try out. One in particular- I
know it would be my best video. I just need to find the right band. I'd
tell you [about it], but I already have nightmares that someone else
will discover it. [ Simon collaborated with founding Jane's Addiction
bassist Eric Avery on a solo project where the whole video, called
"Belly" consists of scanned images of the musician's face.] There was a
lot of trust between Eric and I. We went into production not fully
knowing what we were doing. Eric had to lie perfectly still inside this
cardboard box I built for him; he was very patient. We had to learn the
language of the scanner as we were making the video. We figured out all
of these in-camera effects. Eric made "sound waves" by tapping his
fingers against the glass as the scanner light passed over him. There
is no Photoshop in the whole video.
On budgets: I entered the industry after the glory days of big budgets.
I was already used to doing a lot with very little. Limits are
inspiring but you have to recognize them. There's nothing worse than a
low-budget video that's all gussied up and pretending to be posh. The
best low-budget videos trade in slickness for authenticity. They can't
use the expensive toys, so they build their own. Roman Coppola's
Phoenix video [ "Funky Squaredance" ] is a good example.
On who he admires: Michel Gondry keeps outdoing himself. He has a
playfulness and purity of spirit that restores my sense of awe. So many
directors have made careers out of holding a mirror to other bits of
culture. Gondry's work doesn't seem to reference anything outside
itself. It just is. His videos inspire me and also make me want to call
it quits.
Christopher Soos, Director
Recent Credits: The Cure, "The End of the World"; Christina Aguilera,
"Fighter"; Mary J. Blige, "No More Drama"; The Strokes, "Reptilia"
On the field: I always felt close to the music video genre. The
commercial thing can be a wonderful experience, but it's hard to stand
out in that genre. We're not in Europe, the creative direction has
nothing to do with the Cannes advertising festival, and there's not too
many Jonathan Glazers out there with carte blanche creatives. You're
rarely involved with a campaign that's trying to break barriers. Music
videos, on the other hand, have this pretense that they're constantly
trying to push the envelope. But at the end of the day we're all
pushing product. Sometimes the bands are the clients, and sometimes the
record labels- more often these days. Creative freedom is completely
dependent on who's calling the shots; in other words, who's allowing
the director to do their job?
On creative freedom: If you're expected to be free in the adult
playground of visionary brilliance, if the band, the director, the
money people, and the owner of the production company are expecting you
to come up with the craziest shit that blows MTV away, you feel that
vibe. You and the director play, hopefully people get it, and voila!
Cool visual stuff that sells product, wins awards and makes heads turn.
Great! The best projects are the ones you know going in are full of
creative freedom, knowing the project has the potential to be killer-
wicked director, cool track, good crew, nice budget- you're going to
invest a lot of time. Whether it be tons of pre-production, plenty of
days to shoot, and getting involved with post- color-correction,
talking to the editor, or throwing your two cents to the FX stuff. It's
all part of the ideal music environment. The DP's role on paper is
basically a person with a light meter who shows up for the shoot. The
real life is a sort of definable chaos whose answers aren't always
"I want dripping, wet-paint celluloid. That DV thing is cool, but
nothing is going to take away the emotional response I have with film."
In the colorist's suite: On commercials I work very closely with my
colorist in L.A. for dailies. On music videos, I'm never more than a
back-seat driver, letting the director call the shots. Going into the
session, both the director and I know what the look is. Hopefully the
relationship with the colorist is a creative one, so finding the look
in your head is not just a technical driving session, but an artistic
mutual understanding of the project.
On the elements of style: Back in the 90s everybody worked the
swing-and-tilt look to the max. Before I got sick of it, I thought I'd
loosen the look up by disabling the mechanism from the confining
brackets the front element is designed around, with the Arri 435
in-camera ramping and beveled glass hovering in front of the lens. It
allowed me to break up the image, play with jerky in-camera speed
changes as defined by musical cues, and turn straight photography into
herky-jerky Jell-o lensing. It was a reaction to the norms of the time.
I can't touch those techniques today, but I've always been a fan of
in-camera trickery. I recently shot a Cure video with Robert Smith
playing a stop-motion character in some mental fantasy land. The
concept called for classic stop-motion techniques, but in order to
match the look with performance and other stop-motion type looks, I had
to resort to camera shutter angle and frame rate and half-speed
performance techniques to pull it off. Relying on post for everything
is a bad idea. Know your camera. Understand the medium. Don't rely on
other people to solve all your creative problems.
On the anamorphic myth: I love anamorphic lenses. They frame landscapes
like a Romantic 19th century painter. The added bonus is a must-have
letterbox for TV, hooray, with characteristic low depth of field. It's
a portrait look with lots of compositional width. Close-focus
anamorphic primos are easy to light and have good minimum focus
characteristics, so don't be fooled by the myth of anamorphic lensing.
It's easy.
On the passing of an era: The 90s allowed much more creative freedom
all around. Young directors and DPs were asked to experiment. Everyone
seemed to want something different, and it was en vogue to challenge
and compete, with new DPs trying to out-do the others with crazier
gizmos, lenses and in-camera stuff: learning electronics, or buying
copper piping and plastic sheets to build rigs to warp the image.
On HD: I hate Star Wars HD cinema. And film stocks competing with HD by
looking more and more like digital? Ouch, I hate that. I want dripping,
wet-paint celluloid. The DV thing is cool, but nothing is going to take
away the emotional response I have with film. I love technology and I
love independence, but the two are still a distant second to my
relationship with the dream, the emotion, the painterly quality of
film. I love the saxophone sound. Now the digital saxophone also sounds
great. That transition took a while, a good 20 years. Maybe digital in
the visual medium will take the same amount of time. Let's talk in the
year 2020.
Andymac, Creative Director CreoCollective ( Santa Monica)
Company Credits: N.E.R.D., "She Wants To Move"; Jay-Z, "Dirt Off Your
Shoulder"; Kings of Leon, "Molly's Chambers"; Shania Twain, "Ka-Ching"
Visualizing the shoot: [N.E.R.D.'s] "She Wants to Move" came in really
fast. We had one meeting, and they weren't sure how many FX shots
they'd need- they said maybe 60, but it ended up being, like, 160. They
could only shoot so many people and they wanted this big environment,
but they didn't have the designs. So we got a couple of artists to do
concept art and paint up visualizations from Dave Meyers' very simple
storyboard frames. Whatever they painted, we knew they could apply the
same textures to the 3D models in the end. That really helped, because
he's a very busy man. We started previsualizing these renders and took
them to him before the shoot, and he liked that. He shaped the form of
how we saw it. Some things we had misinterpreted, and some things he
was surprised by the scope of. "You mean we can go bigger?" So it
solved some of the problems involved in [figuring out] what we were
about to shoot.
Green-screen routines: The biggest problem [on this shoot] was the
green screen. Quite often, when production companies are hiring
materials, sometimes they do deals. Well, there are a couple of
companies in town that have really bad quality blue and green screens.
They've had mud on them and some are torn. They're film blue screens,
and they're chroma-key screens instead of the modern digital greens.
And every single green and blue that they had was a different color.
When we all arrived they were already built and stretched, and they
were huge, and they were all different colors. So even though we had a
process screen up there, they were all so varied in their color and
quality that it was going to be difficult to key. And also they started
to bring out smoke machines out and flashing lights- a few things we
hadn't talked about that would raise a few flags as far as compositing
goes. They were on a fast track, and they said, "Hey, we always have
flashing lights and smoke. It's a music video!" And I was like, " Yeah,
I forgot. Sorry."
Staying in 2D: There would have been too many CG environments in the
video to render for every camera angle, and also whenever they changed
the edit, each element would have to be re-rendered. So we did a CG
background. Imagine a big donut going around the camera. It was as if
the camera was locked off, but the action of people dancing was
continuous wherever the camera was pointing. So we rendered 100 frames
looking one way, then turned the CG camera and did another 100 frames.
We went all the way around, just like spokes on a wheel, and wound up
with eight plates pointing in every direction. When you brought them
into the Inferno, you could tile them together, and wherever you panned
the camera in the composite, it would appear as if you were doing a
nodal rotation. The perspective was always correct, and everywhere you
looked there were interactive lights, people were dancing, and you
didn't see any seams.
"I got into supervising on set, just so I could work with jobs that had
a higher production value. And the money all goes on the screen."
"FX by design": When I first got into post-production, people would
come to meetings and say, "How do I do this blue-screen job?", and then
they'd leave and shoot it unsupervised. They'd come back and of course
it would be all wrong, because they didn't know [any better]. And it
was such a waste, spending the whole budget just fixing technical
problems. So I got into supervising on set, just so I could work with
jobs that had a higher production value. When you're fixing stuff [in
post], you feel like you've got all this power, these creative tools,
and you end up just going in and taking out sandbags that were
accidentally left in. It feels like such a waste. So it's FX by design.
You're part of the production process, and you get involved and show
them where you can save them money, and, from your experience, which
effects will look best in the end. And the money all goes on the screen.
Dave Hussey, Colorist Company 3 ( Santa Monica)
Recent Projects: Beyonce featuring Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love"; Outkast, "Hey Ya!"; Linkin Park, "Faint"
On the evolution of telecine: I've been a colorist for over 20 years.
t's been fun to watch telecine evolve. At the beginning, the equipment
we used was fairly mediocre. The telecines were analog. The transfers
seemed noisy and the colors unnatural. DPs were never completely happy
about how the look of their film translated to video. In the early 80s,
some of us worked on Ranks, which had a tendency to drift as you were
color-correcting if the room temperature wasn't consistent. We had no
secondary color-correction and sometimes you could work all day and the
computer would fail and you could lose all your work. Now, we often
work using Spirit telecines that use CCD technology. I could put up a
film from a project I worked on six months previous and it would still
look the same. Da Vinci has improved an amazing amount since the 80s,
as well. We have an incredible amount of control over the look of the
film. Since our telecine systems are so stable, now we are able to do
all the color-correction first, and then an assistant can record the
footage overnight [as opposed to recording and correcting
simultaneously due to color drift]. This enables the colorist and
clients to do the bulk of the creative work before they become tired.
Directors can't stay through a 16-hour session- now they can set the
looks for the job and leave, knowing that what they want will end up
accurately recorded to tape. Colorists can now do one job per day and
one more during the evening, with both projects being recorded at
night. We can fit more jobs in, which makes our clients happy.
"The colorist/DP relationship was adversarial. Now it is 100 percent
different. DPs appreciate how much we can add to the look of the film."
On shrinking budgets: Budgets have shrunk significantly in the last
couple of years, but expectations from the record companies and artists
have not. Colorists have felt pressure to get the jobs completed as
quickly as possible to keep projects on budget.
On HD: Most of my jobs are done in 525 resolution. MTV has not asked
for hi-def masters as of yet. It's just a matter of time before we
transition to HD. More and more consumers are purchasing HD televisions
and dish systems. Working in HD is much more interesting for a
colorist. The look of film telecined to HD is amazing- it brings out
the quality of film. On the down side it also brings out bad lighting,
bad makeup, and cheap-looking sets. When you are working on a project
that will be viewed in HD, you have to elevate your effort in every
way. NTSC has a tendency to fuzz things out a bit and you can get away
with a little more. In HD, you can't. Beauty work will be greatly
increased by HD. You can see every pore, every small defect in the skin.
On Collaboration: The colorist/director relationship is essential.
Sometimes I have directors come to the session with very specific
references from photographs, paintings or other films. Other times the
director will say, "Let's just play with the look of the film for a
while and find something cool." In earlier years, mostly due to the
equipment limitations, the colorist/DP relationship was adversarial.
Now it is 100 percent different. DPs appreciate how much we can add to
the look of the film. On a set that is behind schedule, they can spend
a little less time lighting, knowing that we can enhance shadows or
highlight an area instead of spending expensive production time to add
a light. I think most DPs would acknowledge that they learn an
incredible amount when they come to telecine. They can see what
lighting worked and what didn't before it has been tweaked digitally.
Also, as anyone who has been to telecine will tell you, it's a great
place to decompress after a long shoot. The telecine is where the
post-mortem to the shoot usually occurs. It's the place where the
director can finally chuckle over how Bob the Steadicam guy slipped and
fell into the pool in the middle of the artist's best performance or
catch up on what other directors have been working on or just finally
have a decent meal sitting down.
On Early Involvement: I think for any colorist it is worthwhile to
visit sets every now and then. It reminds me that it's not just another
roll of film I have on the telecine. It's the work of many talented
craftsmen who have worked incredibly hard to bring the project
together. I have never walked away from a set not feeling impressed by
how much everyone gives and how hard they work.