Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Anatomy Of A Music Video - Common "The Light"

People always ask what the process is when I shoot a video, and I figured rather than answer all of those people individually, it's so much easier to put it here...

It starts with your production company rep talking to the label's VIDEO COMMISSIONER about any upcoming tracks they have. *(If you are not signed, try emailing an on-line copy of your reel to the commissioners of all the labels with a cover letter and be persistent, call them all the time, let them know you know how to shoot things on a budget - It's much harder now, but 12 years ago, it's how I started out).

The commissioner then sends you the song, you write a TREATMENT - a 2 -4  page document about what you would do if you got the job. What is the basic storyline? Visual style? Wardrobe? Art-Direction? Visual references - photos embedded in the document are always helpful to let the label see exactly what you're thinking.

In the case of "The Light," the basic idea was: We're in a room where everything is seen in close-up, all the things that tell us who Common is - from the music he listens to, to objects left by the woman he loves, images of her in close-up as if this is how she exists in his mind, and then as we gradually widen out, by the end, we realize they are both - and have been, in the same room the whole time.

From there we went through the process of BUDGETING - making sure it would all work for the amount the label was willing to spend, HIRING CREW, including: The lovely Ashaka Givens as STYLIST (www.ashakagivens.com) & Lorraine West making his and Erykah's jewelry (http://www.lovetashawest.blogspot.com/), our DP (John Perez), PLAYBACK/SOUND - Eternal Polk (www.id-egosuperego.com - also a brilliant editor and filmmaker in his own right), Kasema Caines (http://inspiringpause.blogspot.com/) was his personal manager... Obviously there were many more crew positions like AD, 2nd AD, PA's, Camera Assistants, etc... I only posted the people it was easy to find in case you have an upcoming project and wanted to locate them.

I had a few meetings with Common to walk him through everything I was doing and make sure it truly felt like him (so much so that half of the objects we shot in close up came from either his or Erykah's house), and then it was shoot day.

We used a brownstone in Harlem that had a lot of texture so that even if you can't always see it in the frame, you can feel it in the environment.

As always there was a time crunch - where we weren't sure we would get it all done, a fight - when Common thought I wouldn't get around to the things he wanted in the video (I explained that to make sure we got everything we had to follow a schedule that just happened to start with set ups that were my ideas because it made it easier to move around the house, and then we made up). We lit many of the scenes with dozens and dozens of candles off screen - and nothing else. This would have been impossible if we were shooting wide shots, but worked perfectly in close up.

There was that perfect moment when you look through the lens and find that everything feels exactly the way you wanted it to - i.e. Erykah Badu being one of the most perfect faces one can capture on film.

And then the day was over, the film was processed and it was on to the telecine. Tim Masick, now at CO3 in NY did the transfer - a process which changes EVERYTHING. You can saturate the colors more, or pull them back, brighten whites, enhance contrast, enrich the blacks, make the image warmer - or cooler... etc...

And then on to the edit. We intentionally did a very slow edit to create the feeling of someone who enjoys all of these private moments in his life, so in each shot - we lingered. The label inevitably wanted the cut to be faster (more MTV!), I talked to Common - he agreed with me, and suddenly we had the edit we wanted.

It is still an all time favorite.


  1. one of my all time faves, too! love your work.

  2. very nice. One of my personal favorites. Thanks again for sharing the process with everyone. You rock!

  3. A classic -- like all your vids. Simply timeless. Can't wait to see what you do next!

  4. Love, absolutely Love working with you!!! :)