Luke Bather - 27th Nov 2015

In early November, the business of music video creativity was given full scrutinity at the second all-day MusicVidFest conference at the BFI Southbank, with a host of top music video professionals offering insights and opinions on the big issues, and How To Get Ahead In Music Videos.

The day started with Dougal Wilson talking about how he made some of his best-loved videos, and an experienced panel discussing the fine art of video treatment-writing. Then it continued with Sony Music's hugely experienced head of music video Mike O'Keefe giving the conference keynote speech, a Cinematography Masterclass with top DoPs Steve Annis and Adam Scarth (above), and then a discussion about the potential impact of future technologies, in particular VR, on the medium with experts in that field. 

Session 3: Mike O’Keefe's keynote speech

As VP, Creative at Sony Music UK, head of the label's music video commissioning department , and a survivor of the music industry’s hedonistic years, Mike O’Keefe has a few stories to share. Or at least he would if he could remember them. But as he himself will tell you “nobody remembers the 90s”. 

Mike’s keynote speech covered the scope of the music video industry then and now, and looking into the future, delivered with a humorous bent and a quite masterful use of stock photos.

He encouraged commissioners and directors in the room to treat the brief as the floor, not the ceiling.

It boiled down to this: Music Video in the 90s was a war of egos. Costs were irrelevant, directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were bigger household names than the artists they were making the videos for and everyone was game for taking risks. Mike uses one of his favourite videos as an example - Teardrop by Massive Attack – stating that if somebody pitched the idea of a foetus singing along to the song today they’d be told ‘no’ almost instantly. There’s less room today for labels to be able to make mistakes, and thus creativity has had to suffer.

In terms of the modern-day commissioning process, he turned the focus away from directors and in on the commissioners themselves stating the brief that commissioners send out to directors is the most important thing, but also the thing that’s most often wrong. He encouraged commissioners and directors in the room to treat the brief as the floor, not the ceiling. Using it as a starting block rather than an end-goal will create much better collaborations between labels, artists and directors.

Looking to the future, Mike says videos are having a renaissance in popularity and creativity. And whilst budgets probably won’t get any bigger any time soon, there’s still a lot of hope for new directors as long as they’re open to embracing artists who are much more visually aware, the possibilities of streaming services beyond YouTube and “using God as your Art Director” to create breathtaking visuals using the world around you as your location.

Session 4: Cinematography Masterclass

Panellists:
Steve Annis - DOP
Adam Scarth - DOP
Moderator:
Ed Sayers - Straight 8

This was a short, but fantastic and insightful look into shooting music videos and the processes that a DOP considers when carving out a career for themselves. In a day that had been very director-centric thus far, it was incredibly refreshing to hear the panel talk from a purely visual standpoint about the way they translated ideas into beautiful shots.

One of the big takeaways from this talk was the steadfast assurance that it’s still possible to shoot on film. The audience was treated to some beautiful work shot on 35mm by both Adam and Steve, after which both of them reiterated the notion that directors, DOPs, commissioners and producers alike should all embrace choice when it comes to choosing a shooting format.

We learned that there’s certainly no set path to becoming a successful DOP and that sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and shoot some ideas, take some risks and forget about making money.

Steve Annis made the point that sometimes you need to invest in yourself. That can mean refusing to be paid a full rate on low budget work if you think that money could be spent on getting equipment to make the shoot (and subsequent showreel footage) incredible. To truly grow as an artist in the music video format, this is almost essential.

Session 5: Technology and Music Videos

Panellists:
Chris McKeeman - Rushes
Steve Hallema - WildVreemd
Soloman Rogers - RWD
Mike Jones - Marshmallow Laser Feast
Moderator:
Laura Swinton - LBB Online

This was a talk dominated by one thing: VR. (Or if you’re a purist, it was dominated by two things: 360 Video, and Virtual Reality - or ‘True VR’ as it was referred to). The audience was given a showcase of VR and 360 goodness - which was admittedly a little strange to see on a big screen being controlled by someone else.

The discussion centred around the application of these two technological new kids into the world of music videos, crediting Bjork’s recent installation at MoMA as a driving force behind the spike in popularity of the form. There were examples of both live action and animation applications, and both provided very different results. Animation has the scope to create worlds whereas live action is being approached with a theatrical mindset as opposed to a cinematic one.

There were many questions raised - some bordering on the philosophical. What is the audience’s role in a video like this? The action unfurls around them as they progress and choose their own frame, but they remain passive for the most part. Could this be used to trigger intimacies that are erstwhile dreamt of in a music video context?

Honestly, the reaction in the room was mixed. With a set of technologies so new and unfamiliar, a lot of commissioners and producers simply didn’t know the mechanics enough to know what to do with a VR music video. As the key in promo right now is to have as wide a reach as possible, would creating a video that you need to buy hundreds of pounds of accessories for be too exclusionary at this point?

The creators on the panel insist that with YouTube’s support of 360 video for phones and browsers that this is well within the reach. But only time will tell.

NEXT: Post Production seminar; "Let's Make Lots Of Money!", and Question Time

Luke Bather - 27th Nov 2015

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