Music videos are fun projects if you know what you're doing.
This post was written by Mitchell Abraham.
Countless artists release music videos daily, but this one is slightly different. I spent two years working on it (on and off). 90 percent of it was shot on location with just one other person, and I handled all post-production myself (editing, color, VFX). You're probably thinking, "Why the hell would anyone do that?" Before I answer, if you haven't already, watch the video and read on if you're curious.
I often wondered if my time and effort would be worth it. But what I gained was invaluable: an opportunity to learn about every aspect of filmmaking, which is essential when directing a team of talented individuals on more significant projects.
These lessons now guide me as I embark on my next project: a sci-fi heist feature film I've written and am currently in development. In this article, I'll share some insights and advice I wish I'd known before I began. But remember, at some point, you have to take the plunge.
Concept and Inspiration–Have An Idea You Believe In
The music video's concept was born from the imagination of my younger brother, Robert Abraham. He pitched me a surreal video concept for Cozey: a spaceman lured through a jungle by a floating diamond, hypnotized into removing his suit, and eventually finding himself trapped in a spiderweb, singing catatonically. It perfectly complemented the song's themes of seduction and vulnerability.
While the story evolved and became far more complex, Rob's core concept remained consistent throughout
I was all in. However, nothing balloons budgets in movies like science fiction. You're asking for things to get out of hand. Initially, I knew very little about VFX, so there were already limitations with what I could accomplish in post. All in all, we needed to find landscapes as untouched by humans in appearance as possible. That was made even more challenging by our lack of outside funding and reliance on my car for transportation.
I want to emphasize that while we did some insane things while making this video, it wasn't just for visual spectacle. You’ve got to have a story you’re truly passionate about. The idea of making something look "cool" won't sustain you when you're on the verge of heat exhaustion, blacking out in the dunes from wearing a hermetically sealed suit in 100+ heat (true story). We did what we had to because the story demanded it, given our limited resources and the challenge of being a two-member crew.
That being said, we did get some pretty cool shots.
We had just over a month for pre-production before we needed to begin shooting. A large portion of that time was dedicated to building props.
Truth be told, I'm not particularly skilled with my hands. I can barely assemble furniture even with clear instructions. However, the props I created for the shoot were surprisingly durable. Don't be afraid to start making stuff. My favorite films are usually those with a tactile nature, so embrace imperfection. It's okay if you're not a pro at arts & crafts.
Take the red diamond as an example. I used resin and two pyramid molds from Amazon to create two hollow pieces. I molded a keyring inside one piece so I could thread fishing line through the top of the other, connecting the two halves and allowing me to suspend it from a cable cam we used to float it through the jungle. Flex those creative muscles, and you'll be amazed at what you can develop in a pinch.
Production–Work with the Best and Do Your Research
At the beginning of Platoon, William Dafoe removes multiple items from an exhausted Charlie Sheen's pack and says, "You're humpin’ too much stuff, troop. You don't need half this shit."
When you have a small crew, stay light on your feet.
For four months, it was just Zach Ostapchenko and me on location (Zach originally joined as the cinematographer). After setting up each shot, Zach had to operate the camera alone. To simplify his job, we used equipment he could manage single-handedly. We opted for a Blackmagic Pocket 4K, a Rokinon Cine DS lens set, and a Pocket Jib/Dana Dolly. Mobility was crucial, with equipment often being hauled miles through the jungle, up mountains, and across the dunes. On top of that, a significant number of shots needed to be filmed at magic hour.
Ultimately, what matters most is what's in front of the camera.
Do your research and prepare for the unexpected. Location shooting is unpredictable, so always plan for the worst-case scenario. The dunes were particularly tough, as we'd often drive miles without seeing another person. I learned about adequately deflating tires, using recovery boards, satellite phones for emergencies, packing essentials like shovels, sunscreen, water, pop-up tents, air pumps, ice vests to prevent me overheating in the suit, blankets for warmth if stranded, protecting the camera from fine dust, and so much more.
The list was extensive.
I deliberately practiced getting out of tricky situations early on by getting stuck near the road before venturing far off the beaten path.
Before starting your project and diving into editing, thoroughly vet your settings and color management. I managed to get around 90% of my settings right, but a few mistakes came back to haunt me later. Scour YouTube and forums for horror stories ahead of time.
I used Davinci Resolve/Fusion for editing, color grading, and visual effects in the project.
It's fantastic software. If you haven't already, check it out. Before shooting, I read a ton and watched numerous compositing videos to ensure I captured footage correctly for VFX work in post-production.
While VFX was challenging, color grading proved to be even tougher. A ton of hand roto work was necessary, so don't be afraid to put in the effort to achieve the results you're after. I'm not an expert at either, and I have tremendous respect for anyone who works in either field. Also, if you use Fusion, make sure to download Reactor. I found that late in the game, and it's incredible what people have contributed to that.
We focused heavily on restraint, deliberately avoiding specific camera techniques to emphasize pivotal story moments and maintaining a steady flow of reveals. We ensured the first time we used slow motion was when I encountered the red diamond to help accentuate my entranced state.
We also gradually revealed my face during the singing shots, starting with tight close-ups and slowly pulling back over the duration. These things may seem rather subtle to fret over, but when you're relying entirely on visual storytelling, at some point, you've got to be willing to get a little heady about it.
Summing It All Up
There were numerous occasions where I questioned everything I was doing, but I had a plan and a story I believed in to lean on whenever doubts arose. I'm incredibly proud of what we accomplished and am deeply grateful to everyone who helped me complete this project.
It's not about the budget or the gear. It's about telling a story that resonates with you and, hopefully, your audience.
People want to see passion on the screen and don't mind suspending their disbelief when watching something they feel is genuine. Dream big, get scrappy, and most importantly, have some fun along the way.
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