Video Makers In Action
The making of a rock video promo
Musicians all over the world are now becoming actively engaged in making promo videos. Indeed the song as a sound-only commercial venture may in the future become something like folk music: remembered, researched, performed live, but no longer holding the power it enjoyed before the advent of compositions incorporating visuals.
Although record companies are using the promo video mainly as a medium for advertising singles, the musicians and the film director can create an object of great interest out of the (often quite high) budget allotted by the label.
Making a successful video promo is dependent on many factors, not least of which is the understanding that paying a little more for people who know their job and can go about it efficiently is something rarely less than amply rewarded. Co-operation is a key word in video production. In the past musicians have been reluctant to make artistic compromises when in front of the camera, but this attitude is changing as people come to realise that they ignore the advice of experienced professionals at their peril.
Many of said professionals have formed video production companies whose sole function in life is to make promo films for record companies and similar clients. One such organisation is Lindsey Clennell Productions of (Contact Details). Clennell is a director of some repute, with over 300 promo videos under his belt. Three recent productions to come out of his stable The Members' 'Working Girl', The Stranglers' highly successful 'Golden Brown', and The Electric Light Orchestra's 'Secret Messages', still to be released as I write this.
It's interesting to look at this last production in more detail. To begin with, there were two pre-production meetings between ELO's Jeff Lynne, Jet Records, and Lindsey Clennell Productions. Here the initial exchange of ideas took place, and a budget of £15,000 (slightly higher than average) was agreed upon. Formal contracts are still a relative rarity in this field and the production unit started work with nothing more than a simple gentleman's agreement.
Two days were devoted to organising such things as camera hire, casting, and locations. The set was designed by two young women, Lucy Seiger and Theresa Bizarre. Together they composed a portfolio of projects and ideas and it was on the evidence of this that they were chosen by the film's Producer, Anne-Marie Mackay, to design a simple set consisting of fragile-looking nomadic tents.
'Secret Messages' was the girls' first video venture, and the same can be said for make-up artist Penny Smith, whose previous experience lay in opera (with Glyndebourne), theatre and magazines. She did, however, study for six months with a specialist film artist. Her suppliers for 'Secret Messages' were Charles Fox, Chanel (who help sponsor her by giving her new make-up to test), and Make-Up a la Carte, who as their name suggests will supply just about any requirement to order.
All cameramen used by Clennell are members of ACTT (the technical operators' union), and although the majority of those on the 'Secret Messages' project were self-employed, there was still a great sense of comradeship between them. As was pointed out to me on several occasions, an experienced lighting cameraman is an essential prerequisite for a successful film, Tony Manda being used for this particular promo. He used a trusty ARRI 16 SLR throughout the proceedings.
Camera work is one area of video production where formal training at a recognised school or college is essential. This may in part account for the high standard of visual images produced by this country.
One cameraman with just this sort of background is Richard Taylor of RB Television. He too owns an ARRI 16 as well as a BVP 330 camera. These can cost in the region of £30,000 each complete with a full set of lenses. First on Richard's agenda for each new project is the Production Meeting, where he is briefed by the Director and, as a result of this briefing, can begin to choose which lenses are likely to be required. Being a lighting cameraman means that he will also set the lighting necessary as well as perhaps taking charge of generator-hire should these be required for location working.
Lindsey Clennell uses 16mm film for all video work. While this guarantees a superior quality of image over 8mm or video tape, it is extremely expensive at around £300 for 400ft. Seeing as perhaps five or six times this amount may be used on a typical promo, film costs can form a fair percentage of the overall budget for the video.
After two days' shooting the ELO film was edited and some initial effects added. The film was then transferred to one-inch video tape at Research Recording Limited, a specialist post-production company. More complex effects (eg. chroma-key, digital optics) are also added at this stage, and post-production is typically the most lengthy task in the making of a video, taking perhaps a week for three minutes of film.
Equipment in use at Research Recording includes a Rank Cintel MkIII telecine transfer machine incorporating a Digigrade computer-controlled grading system to maintain consistent quality. Graphics are also handled by a computer, in the shape of the Via Video System One. Before too many semi-pro or amateur musicians start getting excited at the prospect of editing at a post-production house, it should be pointed out that an hour's work at Research Recording can cost as much as £600.