Four Secrets for Shooting a Compelling Music Video on a Tight Budget

As a music video filmmaker, the juggling of tight budgets is a regular occurrence. Emerging artists often survive on a shoestring, so commissioning a music video director for their latest release is often their largest cost in their marketing campaign. Once a concept is decided, it then becomes my job to provide high production value for my client. Using one of my latest projects, "Youth Club - Sorry," as an example, here are the four secrets that will help create compelling music videos.

Choose Cost Effective Gear

I was once a photographer with aspirations of shooting video. The camera that helped my bring this dream to life was the Panasonic GH4. There are so many great things to say about this camera, but from a videographer's standpoint, the headlines are:

  • Shooting up to 96 fps at 1080p and 30 fps in 4K.

  • HDMI output giving the possibility to shoot to a 10-bit recorder like the Blackmagic Video Assist (this is my setup).

  • Wide and varied Micro Four Thirds lens options, including terrific adapters like the Zhongyi Lens Turbo.

  • The price. Retailing at under $1,300, it’s incredible value for money.

Of course, you can always rent cameras and gear for shoot days, but by investing in your own kit, you create the freedom and time to master your own gear. The GH4 will soon be replaced by the GH5, which we’ve only seen a few (but very promising) public announcements of, but when it hits the market and you’re looking for bang for your buck, look no further.

Over the last five years, there has been a revolution in video equipment that is available to the regular consumer without breaking the bank, and DJI are at the forefront of this. I own 3 pieces of DJI equipment that would have set me back 10 times more in 2011 than what they did; all of them provide my clients with incredible production value. The DJI Ronin-M is a really great fit for the GH4 and incorporating Steadicam shots, especially when shooting in slow motion to give videos a touch of gloss that wouldn’t be possible handheld.

I didn’t use a drone for this shoot since it was a studio-based video, but their drones really are incredible pieces of kit in terms of production value at the prices they are selling them for, even the entry level model. A word of caution, in the UK, a license is required to use drones commercially, so please check your local regulations before you start including drone footage in your paid work. And possibly my favorite piece of DJI kit is the Osmo. You are limited with the bit rate on the entry level model, but the opportunity to capture some extremely adventurous scenes as a one-man crew is second to none in my opinion.

Be Intentional

It would be easy to say "just shoot as shallow as possible to create a professional look to your videos," but being story-relevant and intentional is much more important. If you want to draw attention to a person or an object, then shooting in a shallow manner will definitely help with this, although I would recommend a good monitor to ensure you nail your shot as you can’t fix focus in post.

I use the Blackmagic Video Assist, which doubles as a 10-bit recorder with affordable SD cards. For lens options, take a look at the Samyang Cine range. If you can afford just one, go for the 50mm T1.5. This will give you beautifully shallow footage at half the price of something like the Olympus 75mm f/1.8. If you’re already rocking with Canon EF lenses, I’d take a look a the Zhongyi Lens Turbo. It’s a fraction of the price of the Metabones equivalent, and most of the reviews I’ve read around the Internet have them on par with one another (that’s as long as you don’t mind losing the electronic coupling).

For "Sorry," I used the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro for much of the shoot, as it is wide and sharp, but more importantly, I dialed it down to f/8 to keep everything sharp in the scene. Yes, I had the benefit of studio lights, but by being intentional with my depth of field, my production value stays high instead of the video looking sloppy.

Being intentional goes for all of your pre-production in fact. I like to do all the hard work before the shoot, so on the day, we are going through the motions of setting the shot up, capturing it, seeing on how it can be improved, re-shooting, and moving on. If you turn up to shoot a music video with a narrative for example, you’ll end up shooting as much as you can, then spending twice as long putting the pieces together in post.

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

You should never underestimate the value of collaboration. Many actors, makeup artists, hair stylists, and even studios will offer to work with you for next to nothing if you present a positive, well organized, and exciting project for them to attach their name to. This is exactly how we brought "Sorry" together. Using the band’s Facebook page, we put out a casting call to models and actresses to get involved voluntarily. We struck great deals with makeup artists, the studio, and an on-set photographer (Teddy Rutherford) to capture the great behind-the-scenes photography you see included in this article.

A music video is a great opportunity to bring a group of creatives together to make something fresh. It’s ok if you can’t afford to commission established creatives to contribute; there is so much emerging talent out there who would jump at the chance to create with you. You just have to keep your networking up.

For every creative I meet, I like to include them in my virtual little black book where I note down their skill set, so that when I need a makeup artist for example, I can reach out to the ones that I have already established a relationship with in the past.

Set Expectations

If you tell your client that the final video will look like a Hype Williams masterpiece, then they are only going to be disappointed. You should demonstrate high production value, but by keeping the dialog open and transparent with your client, there will be good faith all the way through the process. It is also important to set out in a statement of work the number of revisions you are willing to make. I set the bar at two rounds of major revisions and two rounds of minor revisions. By setting this expectation from the outset, it ensures that if I end up needing to spend more time in post, the client won’t be spooked to see a bill for this extra time.

As a team-of-one filmmaker, my ability to turn over projects in a timely fashion is imperative to my existence. But setting unrealistic pricing to emerging musicians can see you miss out on the work altogether. By being smart with investing in the right gear, being intentional in your filmmaking, collaborating with developing creatives, and setting realistic expectations, you can ensure you can create compelling music videos within budgets that are suitable to both you and the client.

Images Used with Permission of Teddy Rutherford.

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1 Comment

Adam T's picture

You forgot the most important thing, the song.....
if the song is terrible sometimes it's best to pass off the job rather then sticking your name to it.