Hindsights:001: A Project Breakdown Series: "Villains"
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Since this blog thing is still fairly new to me, I thought about getting down to what I really want this blog to do for others as well as myself:
To talk about my experiences and what I learned from them, in hopes that any reader can learn from my mistakes and small successes in the workplace and personal life.
I'll walk through different parts of the process & what should've been done differently and at the end of the post - I'll summarize the Hindsights I've made from this project.
If you haven't seen the music video yet, I'd encourage you to view it before reading the rest of this post so you know what I'm referring too.
Project Title: Villains
Genre: Dance Music Video
Pre-Pro: Dec-Feb = 3 Months
Production Date: Early Feb 16'
Shooting Days = 1
Hours: 12 hour day
Post: Editorial: Feb - May
Post: VFX: May - Early Sept
Release: Mid Sept
Total Timeline = 10 Months
I scrolled across a music video on social media and fell in love with this look I saw. I was inspired to create a new project where I could aim to achieve a similar look. Though I wasn’t sure of the context yet, I knew Orlando Crawford - the dancer and I had been wanting to collab again and this might be the one to get experimental with.
Upon discussing different dances he had prepared and songs, we soon agreed to use "Villains" by Thai Beats. The song inspired the idea of envisioning the dancer force pushing people into slow motion or freezing time so that he can keep dancing? I then did my best to form a small visual story around that question, wrote maybe 2 drafts, and never looked back.
Unfortunately just because I had a cool idea and wanted to match a shot, doesn't mean that's a solid foundation to base a long music video on. The quality of a music video to begin with stems back to its originality of story or the concept in the first place, not fancy visuals. So it's imperative to know if the concept is any good in the first place through critique.
However I thought in order to get the vision as close to reality, that means I'd have to be in control completely. I moved forward as Director/Producer & Editor. There's a phrase, "Don't have too many cooks in the kitchen", but I mean at least get more than just yourself so what you cook doesn't deflate like gluten-free banana bread.
Hindsight: Always be willing to bring people on who you can trust to fulfill large roles in your project. You can't put it all on your shoulders. You can ask for help!
Mentors & Advice
One thing I did was approach my mentor Ben Drickey, who's a great director/DP & owner of Torchwerks, a content creation studio in Omaha, NE. I talked with him early on about my idea & the reference image. He helped walk me through how it was lit, what I'd need and made recommendations for rigs and watts for it to be pulled off
One thing he touched on was that it really takes a whole crew to come around the vision and prepping on my end as the director is ultimately key and then communicating that to the crew is what'll make it go smoothly and achieve your goal.
Hindsight: Do your homework, and come prepared.
For all my technical folks out there - to achieve the look at the bass drops / slow motion: Ben showed me how I'd have to shoot two shots static over each other - one at 24FPS and one at 96FPS. After making sure the characters don't overlap each other you can crop out the others and let the middle stay in 24 but the outside be in 96.
You also need to account for getting more light for the 96FPS - 2 stops more than your 24fps shot just to match the two together (below)
The location I originally hoped for had everything I wanted; the height, the dark curtains, and a grid to rig to. However, we couldn't get permission unfortunately and had to go with Option B: My old HighSchool TV Studio. We'd end up hanging a ton of duvetyne and go as high as we could with the goal post rig. "That'll do donkey, That'll do." - we said.
Our set dec was particularly lacking as well as our costumes. I took it upon myself to also fulfill these roles and the project suffered because of it.
This bts photo showcases the duve taped all over the walls, and our lovely school tables - (not a great substitute for hospital beds)
Hindsight - Art Department is absolutely critical asset to any production and increases production value - it's worth the investment to have designated crew members even if it's ultra-low-budget. Since I was the Art Department & A lot of other hats - That's wearing too many!
We heeded my mentor's advice, taking the Joker 5600K 800watt with softbox attached ( 1/2 grid diffusion) We goal posted it with two baby stands and 12ft cut of speed-rail. For kickers/ backlights we had two 2x2 Tungsten Kino Bulbs for backlights or kickers to get more punch and dimension to the doctors moving on either side of the operating table. The Color Temp mismatch wasn't desired but we didn't have daylight bulbs.
We ended up at some point being 3 hours behind - due to my lack of prep, lack of rehearsal with talent, and lack of good communication with my dept heads. Shortly after this project, I learned that directing was not my strong suit, no matter if I had tons of control or less control - and that's okay! I later learned I'm much better sticking directly behind the camera as a cinematographer.
After we wrapped out, we felt like we conquered the beast but it definitely was taxing on all of us. We returned the gear and I began editing away over the next few weeks.
Syncing everything wasn’t very complicated, but I soon realized the lack of coverage was evident and I have shot myself in the foot.... again.
The editing process soon became complicated....
At the time I wasn't even aware of proxies, so with the 5K r3d footage trying to playback at 1/4 quality - it wasn't fun. After a handful of weeks, the first rough draft was done but fairly felt like it was awful. I got some close friends' advice on the edit - learning my lesson from the pre-pro finally. A couple of drafts and constructive criticisms later I locked the edit and moved forward.
I knew I needed help for the VFX so before summer began, I approached VFX Artist Benjamin Hartzell - a sophomore at our film school. We discussed just how big of a project this was and how to achieve it and planning our file organization system remotely.
We utilized box.com for cloud storage & created a google drive spreadsheet for tracking our progress with all the shots and screen replacements. We came up with a color-coding system for all the shots that needed to be done or how close they were.
Even still, it soon became a cluster with versions after versions, notes after notes. Finding files, replacing files, continuity errors. A nightmare.
By May a lot of introductory roto/screen replacement work was complete thanks to two other VFX Artists brought on. Ben was working remotely from Seattle so our communication soon moved to email chains and things got messy and hard to track with updated files and versions. After so many months it was clear the mess of a project was something Ben & I could barely navigate.
It didn't help that Adobe Premiere crashed maybe a hundred times or more throughout this project.
Hindsight: Follow file-naming conventions from the very beginning of the pre-production process and follow-through throughout the entire project. Date and version it, and streamline your conventions
Don't email files, just put them on whatever cloud service you have.
In Summary: Top Hindsights
1. Seek a mentor's advice or peer's advice.
Actually heed the wisdom they give to you. Write it down and really ask yourself if you are applying their advice. It takes a village to create a great film/music video. They can help you get out of the weeds in the first place.
2. Don't wear too many hats.
Trust other people with your idea and let them contribute - your film will be better because of it. You're not superman.
3. Prepare, Do your homework, Prep like crazy
If you don't you will waste money, gear, everyone's time if you finally get to the shoot, and you are the reason why it's not going so great. If you don't know what work needs to be done, look back to #1.
4. Stay Organized
From the beginning. From script drafts, to shot list drafts, paperwork into hard drives, backups, working remote, etc. Color Code. The system only works if you stick to it.
I failed a lot of my way through this project and thus learned a lot about myself as a creative, my strengths and weaknesses, and had a lot of takeaways moving on after this one. I hope you can remember these 4 Key lessons from what I failed from.
If you made it this far, or just skipped to the end to view the summary, I appreciate you taking the time to come check this post out. I really do hope that through my honesty, the lessons I struggled to learn can be made clear to you, and help you avoid pitfalls in future creative endeavors.
Share this post with someone who needs to hear it! Have a great weekend! Don't forget to ask for help ;)
Have a music video idea you want to bring to life with visuals? Contact me and let's get in touch!