In this week's installment of Cheap Trick, L.A.-based music video director Matt Stone shares his wisdom and expertise on making fresh, inventive music videos with very little money.
1. Make sure your idea is as original and interesting as possible.
If you are going to ask other people to donate their time or money to help you bring your ideas to life, make sure your idea is as strong and thought out as possible. Run though many ideas and make sure that the message you are putting on film is worth making and is done in the most creative way possible. Once your ideas are solid, practice explaining your idea to others so that when you are ready to rally the troops to help you out, you're able to communicate your ideas clearly and enthusiastically in order to recruit the best talent possible for your video.
2. Don't shoot on film.
Don't shoot on film. Also don't write your treatments on stone tablets or create your budget on an abacus. I know, I know, you LOVE film and you own a Holga, a typewriter, and only wear sweaters from Goodwill so you know the aesthetic value of using shit your grandparents used. Forget all that. No one on YouTube is going to notice that your music video was shot on 35 mm when they are watching it on their smartphones. They will only be wishing that instead of blowing the whole production budget on film processing that you would have taken more time storyboarding and coming up with clever ideas.
If one of the big selling points of your music video is that is was shot on film then you are doing it wrong. The only people that will care about the film stock you shot on are your film school friends and recent graduates, and they are all unemployed and will not be paying you to direct anytime soon. So get the cheapest, best-looking video camera you can and hit 'Record' 'cuz you can shoot for days on that thing without costing you more than hard drive space.
I think the best camera for the money is the RED Epic. It has the best bang for your buck. If you are on an even smaller budget, a Canon DSLR looks great—if you treat it right. Instead of just handholding a DSLR, put it on a tripod or stabilizer. Also when in doubt use your iPhone. It's a great little camera and chances are you have it on you all the time.
Matt's only cost while making Deadmau5 "Head Games" was the $200 to rent his friend's RED camera for two hours.
3. DIY means DIY.
When you first start making music videos you might not be able to afford a stylist, cinematographer, or craft service so you will have to do some of these things yourself. If you're going to be a filmmaker you should be obsessed, you should be reading and practicing all aspects of filmmaking all the time. If you don't, I guarantee there is someone else out there that is and will get more opportunities then you because of their passion.
If you need a video shot on the cheap, then teach yourself to be a great cinematographer by reading and watching the greats. The Internet has all the resources you could possibly need to teach yourself filmmaking. Take advantage of Google and practice with a DSLR in your backyard until you are Roger Deakins. For tips on how to shoot things on a budget there is a great site called cheesycam.com. They are always up to date on new gear that gets the job done cheaply.
4. Never waste a frame. Plan and have a clear vision.
The more you storyboard and create animatics (moving/timed storyboards), the more you will know if something is working. When storyboarding I do everything, from drawing stick figures on printer paper to creating a full 3D animatic in Cinema 4D. I think you should make storyboards in whatever way you think will work for the project. I usually draw my storyboards at least three times, and by the last time they are much better. They aren't better in terms of the drawings, but the shot selection gets better and more honed.
When you're working on a budget you won't be able to afford many days on set. If you know exactly what you are shooting weeks before you get to set then you won't waste time and money shooting things that will end up on the cutting room floor. Also you'll have more time to get things right on the shots that are needed. Storyboard then storyboard again. You should not be wasting any frames.
5. Trade with other artists.
There have been countless times that I haven't been able to afford something that I wanted for a video but was able to sweeten the deal by offering my services with cash. I am a designer and VFX artist by day and have used those skills to barter with musicians who did scores for me in trade for logos, or producers who budgeted a video for me in trade for VFX on a project they were working on. Make sure the deal is outlined on paper first so both parties know what they are getting out of the deal. If you can't pay for something all in cash, offer a trade of services. You'll be surprised how open many artists are open to working out trade deals.
6. The idea is king.
I have seen $30,000 videos turn out horrible and $500 videos turn out great. The idea is king! If you only have $500 to make a video make sure you have a million dollar idea. Not an idea that will cost a million dollars but an idea that will look like a million bucks because it is so original and captures the audience so well that the audience ignores the lack or production value or star power.
Go Go Bizkitt!'s "Jump," shot for only 2k.
7. It helps to have prior work so people understand and respect your style.
Everyone has heard that it takes money to make money. Well, it takes good work to make more good work. It helps to have work that you have made to show other people your style and level of finish you want to achieve. You don't need a lot of previous work but even one short piece that nails your own personal style at the level of production quality you want to work at. I'm talking a 30 second or one-minute short. You can make a film or animation by yourself for no budget. It's hard and the options for what you can do will be limited but it is possible to make something great that shows your individual style for little or no money. Make something great by yourself so people see your dedication, passion and ability, this will convince them to be part of the next thing you want to make.
8. Your first few films are going to suck.
Yup, your work is gonna suck and so did mine and everyone else's. Make as many shorts/music videos as you can so that you can get out all those bad and stereotypical ideas out and done with. Eventually you will get better so don't spend 30k on making your first music video instead make 10 videos for 3k . I guarantee that your tenth 3k video will look much better then your first 30k opus. Making videos is like making love: it takes practice to become good at it, and the more you do it, the more comfortable you will be.
About Matt: Matt Stone is a designer, motionographer, and filmmaker based in L.A. He was recently the recipient of an LAMVF Award for his direction on the Deadmau5 "Head Games." A musician himself, his music video directing credits also include Go Go Bizkitt!'s "Jump." Matt is currently Creative Director of Butter Studios, a premier boutique multi-media marketing and creative services agency.