I have struggled both as a Production Assistant and now as a New Media Filmmaker with two distinct genres of film-making. The Commercial Video vs the Music Video genres. You may be surprised at just how different these two sides of the same coin are. Not only in technical and budgetary aspects, but also in the culture and the temperament of the people who make up the crews. Music Video crews tend to be younger, more insecure about their careers and less discipline on set. Mostly due to the lower budgets, the normal 12 hour shoot day can easily go into double (16 hours), triple (20 hours), or quadruple time (24 hours), without any guarantee of additional compensation. I know that sounds insane to folks who haven’t worked on film sets, but if you’re working in a non-union position especially as a PA on a set, you get paid a day rate and get treated more like an intern than a professional. (Don’t think I didn’t fight it, I actually tried to organize a PA union. lol.)
When I first started freelancing in the 90′s as a Production Assistant in the Music Video world I thought the verbal abuse exhibited on many of these sets was par for the course in regards to film-making as a whole. It wasn’t until I got my first taste of a big budget Commercial gig that I realized just how insane the Music Video world was. Suddenly people weren’t screaming at each other, egos weren’t being flexed at every turn, and things were run with a more professional approach than they were on Music Video sets. There were rarely any double days and on the occasion we ran into double time there was an 80% chance you would get compensated for it. But what really resonated with me was the fact that for the most part people were actually saying please for this, and thank you for that. It’s amazing how far those simple words can go even in the most stress-full situations. I am like John Travolta in the Pulp Fiction “Bonnie” scene when it comes to the word please.
However both genres have positive and negative aspects that need to be considered. The Music Video world is a creative persons playground, on the other hand the Commercial world is mostly devoid of it. The lack of creativity exhibited on 90% of these commercial shoots was mind boggling. However on Music Videos I’ve worked with the likes of Diane Martel, Brett Ratner, Hype Williams, Sophie Muller, and dozens of other well known music video directors, and on those projects there was rarely a lack of creativity.
Fast forward to the present day. Here I am a filmmaker myself albeit in the even lower budget genre of New Media. Allot of things are different but allot of things are the same. In the Old Media environment you learn right away that the Music Video lies at the bottom of a filmmaking hierarchy list that is topped by the Hollywood Feature. Back then most directors didn’t want to get labeled with the “music video director” tag. It’s a tag that even the most talented Music Video directors like Hype Williams find difficult to shake. On the other hand if you had a reputation as a decent feature filmmaker the Commercial world welcomes you with open arms into their fraternity.
These days largely due to the Internet and DSLR technology the Music Video is experiencing a renaissance and finding a new audience. The budgets are smaller than Old Media budgets but so are the required resources. As a result New Media film-making has taken on the characteristics of the photography world. I also worked as a Production Assistant on dozens of photography sets and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I found that 99% of the gigs were cush by any standard. I also got the opportunity to work on sets with the likes of David LaChapelle, Terry Richardson and many more talented and creative artists. The laid back sets nurtured a more creative and communicative environment that kept everyone’s spirits high, and made the production experience more enjoyable for everyone. Too often there is this misconception that creative people are screaming ego-maniacs. This is the stuff of Hollywood and makes for great drama. Some are some aren’t, it has little to do with their creativity.
What is very exciting about New Media for me is that it is evolving into something that resembles the photography culture. Old Media producers will probably never be able to let go of the perks and rules that have developed over decades. Nor will they be able to make the experience of producing films as enjoyable as a smaller more intimate crew can. And that is the beauty of what we are doing in new media. We have a blank slate, a new beginning and we have the power to shape this landscape into our own vision. Personally I try to make the creative experience on my sets enjoyable even in the most stress-full time crunched situations. Sometimes all that takes is a please or a thank you.
So to answer the question “To Music Video Or Not To Music Video…” If you can take the positive aspects of a small crew setting and make it an enjoyable experience for all involved I say Yes! I think if I ever get offered the huge budgets offered to Old Media productions I will use what is absolutely necessary for the production and pocket the rest. Labels you have been forewarned.
Next Friday: Feedback, who do you tune it out.
Trevor “Trevz” Bayack is a Brooklyn-born filmmaker who approaches his web pieces as mini documentaries. Recognized as a member of the 2008 URB magazine Next 100 for pioneering the “video blog” Trevz continually makes his pieces shorter, sharper and ever more shareable” Follow our twitter feed for more.