Category Archives: How To

How To Showcase Your Music Videos Affordably On The Web

Many times I come across questions in on-line video forums and e-mails asking a common question, How do I put my videos on the web? The problem is that the question is a loaded one but this is my attempt to give direction to those with limited budgets.

Since, many of your budgets for putting videos on the internet are probably small, you’ll probably want to put downloadable videos on-line and you can use a regular web server to do so. This is the same server that you would use to host your website. These videos will be downloadable streaming movies and not real-time streaming videos (To learn more about the differences in the two visit www.GeniusDV.com and look under Video Compression Tutorials to find my article on Downloadable vs. Streaming.)

Basically, the videos placed on your web server need to be downloaded to the user’s computer before viewers will be able to view them. If you are posting your videos through your web hosting service you’ll probably have a size limitation on how large you video files can be. It’s usually a file size limit around 10MB to 15MB. To keep your file size down you’ll want to use a Video Compression tool. You can use Video Compression tools such as Sorenson Squeeze Compression Suite, Canopus ProCoder or Popwire’s Compression Master.

Another option for adding your music videos on-line is to purchase an inexpensive monthly video hosting service from a company called WebFlix Cinema. They have hosting plans to host up to three videos in the Windows Media, QuickTime format or MPEG1 format for $5.75 per month. All you do is prepare your movies with your Video Compression Tool and use an FTP Client to upload your compressed videos to the WebFlix Cinema servers. You don’t have to worry about setting up a webpage.

WebFlix Cinema creates a page that hosts your video and provides you with a link to the video. It’s a really simple to use service. If you don’t want to purchase a video compression tool you can send your videos to WebFlix Cinema and for an additional fee they will compress your videos in Windows Media, QuickTime or MPEG1.

The company is able to host downloadable and real-time videos on their servers. For the price it’s the best solution that I have seen on the web for video hosting at such a small price. The company also provides an on-line forum to provide tips and how to’s for their customers as well as to receive user feedback on how the service can be made better.

For more detail about WebFlix Cinema’s streaming services go to www.webflixcinema.com

To learn more about streaming your music videos, visit Genius DV for details about our Video Compression class.


The Art Of Music Video Editorial

by Alan Chimenti

An award winning editor, Alan Chementi’s love of the blend of effects and storytelling brought him to visual effects powerhouse Radium in 2002 after a 12-year tenure at Western Images. Chimenti has nearly a 100 music videos to his credit, including Green Day, NSYNC, Soundgarden, Dave Matthews Band, Cake, and No Doubt and at least twice as many commercial spots for clients such as Honda, Lexus, Gap, and Intel.

MVWire kindly asked me to provide some of my musings and techniques on the “art” of music video editorial. It CAN sometimes be “art”, sometimes merely commerce, but usually it’s a happy medium in between. Having cut somewhere around 100 music videos starting back in 1991 on early incarnations of AVID, as well as linear based tape systems, I can offer up many thoughts. As I still cut primarily on an AVID Media Composer, I will reference AVID concepts and terminologies throughout the following paragraphs, (but most of the terms and techniques apply to AVID Xpress Pro, too). Of course, the editorial software of choice should never matter, be it Final Cut Pro, Vegas Video, Adobe Premier, or even iMovie. The platform is irrelevant. Obviously some software can handle more diverse formats than others, or has more bells and whistles, but what music video editorial (and all editorial, for that matter) ultimately comes down to is the storytelling.

A few things to keep in mind, not only when starting a video, but also throughout the entire process are:

Concept – What is the story that the director wants to tell? The video is ultimately the director’s vision and it’s up to the editor not only to execute that vision, but ideally to bring something to the table that the director didn’t expect. Of course, if you direct and edit your own work, then the process becomes streamlined. If you’re editing for someone else, be sure to repeatedly reference the director’s treatment throughout the process to be sure that you are adhering to the story and ideas that they are trying to present.

Components – How will the various elements (band performance, narrative action, graphic implementation, etc.) blend together to create an entertaining and cohesive video? Where might each of these components fall in the grand scheme of the piece? Are they constructed in a way that not only builds throughout, but also punctuates and supports the music?

Execution – What is the idea for the final look for the piece? Is it graphic? Gritty? Animated? Will there be CG elements? On what platform will it be completed? Discreet Flame? After Effects? On Final Cut Pro itself? Keep in mind how each of the judgments that you choose might not only make the piece better, but could have a drastic impact the final budget and delivery schedule. You want to be sure that you can deliver what you promise, and hopefully it is above and beyond the call of duty. In this industry, it seems that you’re only as good as your last video.

Personally, I approach all music videos the same way (granted that they are performance based). The majority of music videos that I cut are still shot on film (as opposed to tape or DV) so I have the added luxury of having all of the music synched up with the performance in the telecine process, as well as having both a clean set of final DigiBetas, and a set of “work tapes” (Beta SP, 3/4” or DV) with windows burned in. The windows reference the Address Track timecode of the master tapes (for the final assembly or “conform”), the Keycode™ of the film (in case I need a specific shot re-transferred), and the timecode of the song from the playback DAT (so I always know where I’m at in the song). These are the normal steps that I follow upon receiving the final transferred film:

1) Load, or “digitize” all of the window-burned material into the AVID, viewing and occasionally making notes as I go.

2) Break out “subclip” all of the performance and narrative takes (eliminating the sync audio track at this point).

3) Sync the “subclipped” performance takes together with what will ultimately be the final track using a common sync point between the takes utilizing the “Group Clip” function on AVID. The result of this is that all of my performance takes are now tied to a single master audio bed, and it actually allows me to toggle through all of my takes at any point in the song and see what my performance choices are. When I start editing, I use the “group” audio bed as the base audio bed in my master sequence. This allows me to “match back” at any point in my master sequence to my source “group”. I’m not sure that there is a comparable function to “Group Clip” in any of the other edit systems. It is something that AVID perfected way back in the ‘90’s, and has always been a lynchpin of music video editorial. It allows you to FLY through performance editorial. Grouping various performance takes to a common audio track also ensures the playback levels will be consistent with whatever imagery I’m viewing, so I’m not constantly tweaking my speakers for a comfortable playback level. Of course, for other NLEs that don’t have such a function, the next best trick is to lay out all of your performance takes vertically (separate takes on individual video layers), and “cross-patch” the video layer that you want to your master sequence for that particular shot.

A side note about synching tracks:

In AVID you also have the ability to “gang” the “group clip” in the source monitor with the master clip that you are cutting, so that wherever you are in the sequence, the source will follow. I believe this is “Linked Selection” in FCP.

For synching video and audio to a SmartSlate without a record label produced DAT tape, there is always the tried-and-true “Mike Sloat Method” (as lifted from the MV Wire Community pages):

Mike’s preferred playback method takes the music audio track into Final Cut Pro on a laptop and put it on audio track 1, starting at 01:00:00:00 (your time line should have a good amount of pre roll as well; in the user preferences menu, set up the time line to start at about 00:59:35:00). Then set up a SMPTE time code file* on audio track 2, starting at the beginning of the time line. From the laptop, send the left channel (track 1) to the audio playback device, and the SMPTE time code (audio track 2, right channel) to the smart slate*. This way, you have a visual cue in the FCP time line as to where you need playback from, as well as an audio cue. In post, you’ll get rid of the SMPTE track, leaving the music audio track right where it is, parked at hour 1. You can also put markers in the timeline for a quick way to get to different sections of the song.

**Stereo Mini OUT from the computer to quarter inch splitter; right channel to smart slate, left channel to the audio

One other note about syncing music with video: If you don’t have the luxury of having a “SmartSlate” or the “Mike Sloat method” on set to display playback timecode and have to resort to manually synching up the performance, remember to look for defining actions such as drum hits or vocal “percussives” such as “P”s or “B”s, to assure accuracy.

4) Break out all of the narrative elements (and break those down into subsets – using “locators” to mark the beginning of each of the takes for a scene as well as the really sweet/interesting spots). Colored “locators” in AVID allow easy cataloging, sorting, display, navigation and retrieval of said material.

5) I often create a “meltdown” sequence of interesting, or “must-have” shots that I come across as I review the footage. I keep adding to this sequence throughout the entire editorial process as you inevitably find more and more interesting shots through your regular workflow. I can easily call this sequence up if I need a unique shot. Sometimes, I will actually cut small stand-alone stories with the footage and later insert sections of it into the performance cut to begin telling the story.

A side note about organization:
Though this entire organizational part is time consuming, it is the backbone that allows the rest of the project to evolve more quickly. I cannot stress enough that organization is one of the most important aspects of any type of editorial. You have to know the location and status of all of your assets, especially when you are editing with clients in the suite. This goes not only for raw footage, but also for graphic elements, sound effects, titles, effect set-ups, etc. Your knowledge of the material and the ability to be able to call up client requests immediately upon their command, displays not only editorial knowledge and prowess, but also an understanding of the process, and a professional work ethic.

6) I’ll usually then take a day or so and cut together a loose approximation of the performance (hunting and pecking as I go), which, for me, performs several functions:
a) I begin to become familiar with the material
b) I start to give the video a pace (usually cued by the music), altering the structure to see (or feel) where things should move quickly or languidly, letting the edits reinforce the song’s pacing.
c) I have a performance bed, which is now the basis to build a narrative upon.

I always make sure that no matter what, the first line of the first verse is on the singer (as well as having most of the first verse feature the band). This is the most effective way to make sure that your viewing audience knows who the components of the band are, and establish their presence in the viewer’s mind. Though we all seek to create pieces of art with our work, music videos are more often than not marketing vehicles to sell the musicians, so it is important that the viewer is left with a favorable impression of the performers.

As I edit, I begin formulate an idea where the narrative might start to come into play, using verses, choruses, and musical cues to best dictate where plotlines should appear. I usually utilize other video layers in my timeline to build the narrative. This makes it simple to locate these sections and easy to move them around to other parts of the song without disrupting any of the existing performance bed.

From there its just going back and forth over the video, concentrating on the different sections, all the while keeping the entire piece as a whole in mind. Using feeling to add bit upon bit of performance to highlight the subtle nuances of the music (a drum fill, or bass accent that may normally go unnoticed is suddenly brought to the viewers attention), creating bits of interplay between band members, and making little sub-stories of the main plot line. It’s incredible how creating these little back-stories to the action end up reinforcing the narrative. Director Nathan Cox (also an incredible editor in his own right), once told me when I was cutting for him about his theory of the “power of three”. Basically, to tell a strong story, you need three shots: a set-up, a reaction, and a conclusion. I forget Nathan’s exact terminology, but it’s something like “one shot is an idea, two is a mistake, and three is a concept.” I’m not saying that this is etched in stone, but the human mind seems to easily link 3 ideas together. Use shots that either build or juxtapose action in order to reinforce the storyline. Apply concepts like motion vectors to help move the action along and direct the viewer’s eye where you want it to be. Utilize techniques such as flopping an image or slowing the motion to see if it heightens the drama that you are trying to create; or distort or speed up an image if you are trying to convey comedy. Look for “quirky” shots, too. Ones where a performer’s or actor’s guard is down just enough to let an inner innocence shine through. Quite often this is at the roll-up or roll-out of a take, when they are at their most human. It’s amazing how much this connects to a view at an emotional level.

As I feel that I’m getting close to having a pretty good piece, I then sit down and re-watch the performance takes to see what I might have missed. Does this close-up vocal line work better than the one that I already have there? No. Well, can I slip the sync and use that vocal in the next chorus? Stuff like that. Where can elements that are not necessarily in sync with the current place in the song be utilized in other parts of the song, be it a cymbal crash or guitar lick? I do the same with the narrative takes. There will often be more good shots in the various performance takes than can fit in the time allotted for the video, so at some point, some of your favorite shots will have to be jettisoned for the good of the entire piece.

One great thing about non-linear edit systems is that it’s very easy to move around the timeline and work on different portions when you become bogged down in one. I find music videos much like painting or drawing a picture – you move around the various areas and add a little more “highlight” here and a little more “shadow” there – all the while attempting to create a balance of the piece as a whole. And, of course, the beginning of the video is always the hardest part. I usually just skip this when I’m starting out and come back to it when I feel that I actually have some momentum going on in the video.

Non-linear editors also make it easy to create a copy of your sequence at any point so that you not only have a back-up of various stages of the video’s evolution (should something drastic happen to your current sequence that you cannot “un-do” out of, but you also have a track record of progress and are able to go back and review if what you had at a particular point may have been better than additional changes that you might have made.

Another thing that I often do is roll off work in progress to a VHS or DVD and look at it in another environment. This really helps you feel what is working and what is not. I also let other people take a look at the video when I’m nearing completion to see if they are reacting the way that I want them to, and, if not, why? (Quite often, since it’s still work-in-progress, you have to take responses with a grain of salt).

At some point, it’s just done – I don’t know how or why, but it is. You step away and send it off to the record label for comments. The whole process usually takes me between 4 to 6 days (12-15 hour days), sometimes more (in the case of an effects-heavy piece, or a “big-ticket” performer where feedback comes in layers).

Finally, how will the final elements come together for the completed piece? It’s important that proper preparation is made if the project is being handed off to a third party for the finish. Checking things like proper EDL (Edit Decision List) formats, and providing detailed notes for effects, the final audio track (especially if sound design is added to the mix) additional graphic elements that will not “auto-assemble”, and a rough cut on a suitable format will all help expedite a smooth finish. Also, be sure to have correct slate information that at least includes the artist, song title, total running time, Production Company, Director, Producer and Editor names, and a date. Quite often these slate guidelines are provided by the record company, and vary from label to label. Also, be sure to add a copyright (about 4 seconds with a quick fade up and out) a few seconds after the end of the video to at least safeguard your work.

I hope that the previous paragraphs, as meandering as they may be, shed at least a little light on how one editor deals with editing a music video from start-to-finish. Again, my techniques and suggestions are strictly personal. With editing, there are a dozen different ways to arrive at the same destination. I hope that you as a reader are able to take something positive away from this text. Of course, you should also work in whatever style or method you feel most comfortable. Ultimately, the video should take a viewer on a ride. It should speed up, slow down, twist and turn around the music, and leave the viewer with a conclusive ending.

Lastly, one great book that I can recommend for all types of editorial is Walter Murch’s “In the Blink of an Eye”. There is some great theory that is presented by this incredibly talented Oscar winning editor.

Most of all have fun with what you’re doing!


Writing Music Video Treatments

by Maureen Egan and Matthew Barry

The process of writing music video treatments is always interesting, mainly because it IS a process. First and foremost, the video exists to serve the song. At its best, the concept and song should complement each other. We’ve seen directors who have that “one idea” they’re just chomping at the bit to do slap the same treatment onto any song that remotely jibes with it. Usually not such a great idea… treatments have to accommodate so many variables, we’ve found that starting from scratch with each song / band is often the better idea.

We try to approach videos as “mini-movies.” our roots are in narrative film, so maybe it’s just our natural inclination to want this and not think of videos as anything less than mini-movies no matter if its abstract or straight narrative… hopefully, the net result of this is a general coherence to the work. Anyhow, in our case, the writing process starts right when we get the song. we’ll listen to the track until we something strikes us…sometimes its just one listen, other times its over and over and over again. We’ll often jot down abstract thoughts and notes – whether it be a single adjective, a feeling, something technical, or a picture we see in a magazine. Anything that comes to mind is worth to writing down as it might inspire us later.

Once we get a song, it usually stays at the forefront of our thoughts no matter what we are doing – shopping, sleeping, reading, doing dishes. additionally, we’re not stephen king – we do get the occasional bout of writers block when NOTHING hits us. not sure if it’s us, or the song just not being that inspiring, or a combination, but it does happen. We just try to take a step back and get away from the office, while still always hearing the song in our heads. Sometimes we’ll go for a hike with the song on the iPod, read, look through art books, watch a good movie, or talk to our moms (who are always good sources of inspiration..).

Once something hits us, we both write separate treatments without much discussion. when we are done we’ll email each other for feedback and rewriting. Sometimes the similarities between what each of us wrote are downright spooky, but often times, we write very different details but with a core idea that’s exactly the same. When that happens, we build on what the best of both would be. The back and forth is when all the ideas really solidify and take the shape of something that serves the song and can sustain an audience (we hope) for three minutes or more. This is also typically when we start talking about how the heck we plan to execute the video if it gets chosen.

A few thoughts on writing style: descriptive is good; arrogant is bad. We have been around enough labels/label people and read enough treatments for friend’s bands, to notice this phenomenon of writing that comes across as really arrogant. We affectionately call it the “this will be the greatest video in the history of videos” principle, and would like to caution anyone against engaging in such hyperbole. You are writing for people who read thousands of treatments a year. You can’t trick them into believing your idea is the one. Moreover, the last thing you probably want is your ego to jump off the page, and not the idea. at best, its annoying and mildly insulting. at worst, you’re laughed at. We’ve seen it happen to other directors, and it’s not pretty. Best advice, just be a storyteller and tell the story.

Once the treatment is exactly where we want it to be, we work on mock-ups or animatics, which are the visual blueprint of how the video will go. truth is, no matter how great your descriptive style may be, a lot of folks really dig the added visuals to help them really get behind your idea. so knowing a little photoshop, grabbing some clip art from the web, and drafting up some rough visuals can be really worthwhile. once that’s done, we send it all to whomever has approached us – the label, manager, band members, or all three. then the waiting begins….

Anyhow, that’s our general idea of writing treatments, and for what it’s worth a few anecdotes about what we’ve learned.


The Art Of Music Video Playback

by Maureen Egan & Mathew Barry

In the time since our first music video (that being Alkaline Trio’s “Stupid Kid”), one thing that frequently comes up as a topic of discussion is our somewhat unconventional approach to on-set playback.

Most shows, or so it is told, hire a sound person who will create a DAT-indexed version of a band’s song. This tape usually has a timecode that will run in sync with what’s called a “smart slate”. This contraption is just like your basic Hollywood clapboard, except its got an LED screen on it that displays said timecode, and is filmed at the head of every take so that the process of syncing the footage back to the song will go smoothly later on.

That being said, after our first video we noticed a few things about the process that frustrated us. For starters, our allegedly infallible DAT tape kept losing sync with our filmed footage. Secondly, we still had to go through the process of syncing up timecode numbers, which is even less fun than syncing dailies by eye. Basically, we ended up sitting there, thinking to ourselves “we just paid a lot of money for something that hasn’t really made anything easier for us”.

Upon further reflection, we found that this whole “industry standard” system was predicated on the fact that someone else would be editing your video for you. Since that was not the case for us (and of course many others like us), we thought we’d try something a little different.

Our solution was one we’ve used ever since: we make our own playback CDs. In this day and age, most home computers with a CD burner and basic sound editing software have the ability to do it. First we’ll create the sync “beeps” you hear at the beginning of most playback tracks, a matter of generating reference tones and chopping them into something that matches the beat of the song. While it takes some trial and error, it’s not as hard as it may sound.

Next we’ll create additional copies of the song file, starting at timed intervals – say fifteen seconds further for each track – and then type up a reference sheet with the song’s lyrics and a corresponding number for what-track-begins-where. Finding a good “in” point for these versions of the song is a matter of both logic and taste. A few moments before verses and choruses begin is usually a good place to start. But honestly, we just do whatever arrangement is going to help us out the most when we’re on set.

If all of this stuff sounds like a pain, it’s worth its weight in gold for how well you know the song by the end of the process. And as the directors, we’ve found it’s very helpful to know the song about as well as the band does.

Additionally, with today’s sound editing software you can get pretty tricky and do some really high end stuff on the cheap. For example, when you want a shot to be in slow motion but the band’s performance to remain in sync, you can use the computer to make a special playback track to assist you. Basically, if you speed up the song to 2x normal (making sure to bend the pitch down so no one sounds like a chipmunk), and then you shoot at 2x normal (48 frames per second), when you transfer your dailies you’ll find you’ve got a cool, dreamy slow motion shot with the band perfectly in sync. We once shot a whole show like this. When we showed the crew the finished video, no one recognized the song, which for them was playing at its correct speed for the first time.

You can also do this whole process in reverse to get the camera moving faster than any human could move. Just slow the song and the camera down accordingly. Yeah, there’s a little number crunching involved here. Yeah, it has the capacity to make your brain hurt after a while. But how great is it to find out that, contrary to millions of whining high school students, there IS a practical application for math and trigonometry?

From there, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Rent a standard playback / PA system from a sound house, one that’s big enough to fill the space you’re shooting in and can effectively drown out very basic big rock drums. Then you hook the thing up to a CD player, and have someone – literally anyone – near the thing to press play, per the handy dandy lyric reference sheet you’ve got in your pocket right next to your shot list. Finally, make sure your earplugs are in. We are dead serious when we say this. We know a lot of people who refuse to wear them; at the rate they are going, they really won’t need them in a few years because they’ll be deaf. Not worth it one bit.

The one thing our playback system does not afford, as discussed above, is the ability to automatically sync your dailies when you are editing. But what may seem at first like a burden really becomes an added, extremely helpful step in editing. Syncing the dailies ourselves familiarizes us with the footage we’ve shot, and serves as a helpful “big picture” snapshot of the entire shoot before we get down to the microscopic process of piecing the whole thing together.

And did we mention it saves a substantial little chunk of money?


Director Nigel Dick Discusses Writing A Successful Music Video Treatment

Director Nigel Dick Discusses Writing A Successful Music Video Treatment. A veteran of more than 240 music videos, 18 documentaries and feature films.

Director Nigel Dick Discusses Writing A Successful Music Video Treatment. A veteran of more than 240 music videos, 18 documentaries and feature films, two MTV awards, 2 Billboard awards, three MVPA awards, one Brit award and a Cable Ace award. His videos have earned 20 additional MTV award nominations, along with a Grammy. He shares his experience on writing a successful music video treatment.

Interview With Director Nigel Dick

MVW: Can you break down the process of how to write a treatment?

ND: I think the truth of it is that for everybody, the process of writing is different. People work in different ways. Certainly for myself, I’ve learned different techniques over the years. Every morning you get up and look at the blank wall, and you play a record and you have to come up with an idea, so what works for you one week won’t work for you another week.

Sometimes you’re just lucky and you have a pure piece of inspiration. And then after a while, when you’re working on a regular basis, that endless font of inspiration dries up. You have to find techniques and methods of stocking inspiration. I think it’s like anything creative; whether you’re a painter or a songwriter or whatever it is, or a journalist or a novelist. Initially you’re just wandering around one day and you have this great idea, but then you suddenly find yourself having to do it for a living, and it reaches a whole new level.

So I have learned over the years a whole bunch of techniques to sort of come up with ideas. One is, what I pretty much always do, is I break the song down. I make sure I have the lyrics, I type out the lyrics, I put in all the bars breaks, I figure out how long it is, how long the verses and chorus are, so I actually have some kind of structure. I break the song up into its various acts, if you like, the same way if you’re analyzing a screenplay you figure it has three acts, or if you’re analyzing a symphony and you’re trying to write about it, you realize it has three movements. So with a song, when I’m breaking it down to write a treatment, I figure it’s got two verses, three choruses, a middle eight, and a sixteen-bar solo or something. And that gives me an idea of what I need to fill in the holes.

And also, for myself, a thing that I find useful, is that it helps to try describe and visually to the audience how the song is broken down. So you’re not just having somebody standing in front of a wall just singing the whole song. You’re actually helping them to have some kind of journey however simple or elementary it may be, it’s actually reflecting the structure of the music, whichI think is quite important, well, it is for me anyway. And then from there there’s a whole number of gags that I use. Sometimes I just start flipping through magazines, and perhaps I’ll find one picture that inspires me. I mean, like when I did the Believe video for Cher two years ago, I was pitching ideas to her and we weren’t getting anywhere, so I went round to her house with about 50 pictures I’d ripped out of magazines and I said to her, “Which of these pictures inspires you?” And she picked a picture of two girls in a disco and she said, “That feels like what this video should look like. I feel there should be a story around that.” And so I was able to come up with a story based on two girls going out to a club for the night and then an just idea grew from it. And actually the video bears no relation to the picture anymore, but I was able to use that picture as sort of a bouncing point for the way the girls looked, what they were going to do, the way it would start. You know, you could look at the picture now and it wouldn’t relate to the video, but it was very inspiring.

Perhaps I’m driving around in my car and I’ll see a billboard for something and I go, “Ooh, that’s it…” A number of years ago trying to write a treatment for a band called To Die For, and I spent a week trying to come up with an idea and then I saw an image for some chewing gum or something. There was somebody bungee jumping and I went, “Ooh, that’s the idea right there!” And you know it was written in 10 minutes.

It’s really useful when an artist has an idea and they say, “I want to something like this.” Though from some perspectives the idea may suck, big time, but the fact that the artist has some kind of vision, however misplaced it may be, it gives you a sort of direction to start in, even if it’s a way of saying, “Well I’m definitely not going to go down that road…” The minute you start closing avenues off, it starts revealing avenues you can go down.

An analogy that I would use is that when I was trained to be an architect, we would always complain to our tutor that when we were given buildings to design they would send us off into the city where we lived and they would show us a piece of land and say, “You’ve got to build a hospital on this piece of land, bearing in mind that you can’t build more than three stories high and that that oak tree has to stay there.” And we would always complain because we would say, “That doesn’t allow us a situation where we can give full reign to our creative juices. If you give us a square plot of land without planning restrictions, we’ll come up with a much better building.” And he said, “Well, frankly I disagree. There’s two big reasons why: Firstly life isn’t like that. You’ll never get a perfectly flat piece of land with no planning restrictions. And secondly, if you do have a piece of land like that, chances are you’ll come up with the most boring building you’ve ever built.” So the restrictions give you that.

[Often it will go like this:] “I need to have my video shot next Thursday at this airport because I’m on the way between A and C and you’ve got to shoot me at point B.” Initially it may seem to be a restriction but eventually it can become a source of some inspiration for you. So you have to allow that to be useful to you.

Sometimes I just sit… Something I’ve been doing a lot recently is I just start playing the song over and over again, and I sit at my computer and I just mentally dribble. I just start typing any piece of drivel that comes into my head and then suddenly something will come out. I read in a book about creative writing that when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you should do before you make a cup of coffee or anything is sit down and write for an hour and just write everything inside your brain and just get rid of that and then you can truly start creatively writing because you’ve dispelled all the crap inside your brain. So in the same way, though if I’m writing for an hour I usually give up and go and do something else for a while, I sit down and just sort of… mental diarrhea if you like, until something useable comes out. And very often I have parts of an idea, I just have an image… you just have one little idea, and then as you’re writing it out you get this wonderful resolution and you think, “Aha! You know, that’s gonna make it really come together in the end.”

Like in… though it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to because the band changed the ending, but, in the last Fuel video I did, I just suddenly thought… I was looking at the lyrics and I thought, “It would be great if Brett was talking to a shrink,” and of course he’s talking about a girl so you know the usual thing is that a guy is talking about a girl he’s having a scene with, and then I thought, “It would be great if we could create the impression that Brett was talking about a woman who was part of his own psyche.” And I think that in the version which nobody ever got to see it was much more successful about the fact that you understood that he was talking about somebody who was in his own head.

MVW: What about the actual formatting of the treatment? Are there any ticks of the trade that you can talk about?

ND: There are no tricks of the trade; it’s all bullsh.. . Hopefully you have a vision in your mind’s eye of what it looks like, and that’s why you’re employed, because you have a vision and you’re going to create a look for it. But the truth is that one’s vision comes in the process of finding the location and getting the clothes… It’s such a collaborative process. It’s not like making a movie where you get months to plan it and you have chances to design costumes. You know you have to pull it together in three or four days so you have to take what K-Mart has got, or what you can beg from Hugo Boss or Prada or whatever it is.

So, basically when you write the treatment you tell lies about how lead singer is going to look fantastic…
When you’re talking to the people in the beginning… they say, “The problem that we’ve had with this band so far is that we’ve sold some great videos, we’ve sold lots of records, but what we need to do now is to establish them as a rock band.” So when you write the treatment, you write it as, “Make them to look like a rock band.” You tell people what they want to hear. I mean apart from massaging their ego and their self- interest to get yourself a job, more hopefully in the way you’re writing the treatment you’re saying, “I understand what it is you want to get from this video and believe me, I’m going to deliver it. People want to hear what they want to hear, and when you’re a marketing man, a manager, a lead singer, a guitar player or whoever you are, you have a vision for your group that you’re keeping going no matter who the director is, and so you want to hear that the artist is going to look great. Nobody is going to buy a treatment where you say, “Well, actually, the band is going to look like sh.. but it’s going to be a brilliant video.” Nobody’s going to buy into that.

MVW: Do you stick to a certain format with the treatments that you write?

ND: I do, but I know other people who write treatments who are notoriously vague about some things. About 5 percent of the time I’m too busy and I have to get somebody else to write a treatment for me and sometimes I’ll read the treatment and I haven’t the faintest clue as to what is going on. I mean, they want to charge a fortune and they send me a page and it’s like, “What the f… is going on in this treatment? I haven’t got the faintest clue what is going on? And maybe I’ve given them the germ of an idea and in frustration I take three really interesting creative lines that they’ve put in there and then I just sit down and I do the work myself and I flesh it out. I mean it personally astonishes me sometimes the treatments which I’ve seen that other people have got work on .

MVW: Do you find that sometimes the actual written treatment is kind of like a résumé in that until you actually meet with the commissioner and tell them exactly what you want to do, that’s where its sold?

ND: Unfortunately it’s not that sophisticated a process. The A&R guy or the chief of marketing comes down from their office and says, “We need to make a video for the next single, it has to be at MTV in four weeks, I’m gonna spend 300,000 bucks, get me some treatments by Friday.” And they ring up their favorite people or the usual suspects or whatever it is and I’m sitting here working away and the phone rings and my company says to me, “We’ve got some music for you, we’re sending it over, we need a treatment by tomorrow morning.” And you’re writing along with 10 other people. And so you’re into an essay writing contest. You write it for free of course, you drop everything else you’re doing, you cancel the date you had that night, whatever it is, and you write the treatment and send it in and if you’re lucky they ring you back and they say, “We really liked your idea but there’s a couple of things we’d like to change.” And you change them and then you get the gig and then you go off and shoot it.

MVW: How much do your videos vary from the treatment?

ND: In my case I would say that 90 percent of the time the video is frighteningly like the treatment. Chances are that if it’s different it’s because somebody on the label side has asked me to change things on the day, or the sun didn’t shine and it rained and we had to go inside, or some practical consideration got in the way. But I feel that I’ve sold somebody a bill of goods and once they’ve decided to buy it — and believe me that’s buying it with an enormous amount of money — it’s my business and my responsibility to deliver that. Should they then see it and not like it, then that’s a problem, and unfortunately that occasionally happens, but I take my job very seriously and I feel that if you come to me and you give me a quarter of a million dollars, and you want me to build you a house which is meant to provide you with shelter and comfort and give you a beautiful view of the lake at the bottom of your plot of land, then that’s what you want. You don’t want a helicopter pad. Whatever I want in my life, you could give two f…s. You need a house you can live in, and it’s my duty to supply that. And again to go to my architectural training, there was a phrase I was taught which is, “Your job as an architect is to give the client not what he wants, but what he needs and didn’t know that he wanted.

MVW: If you’re not an established name and you’re trying to become a director, is there anything you should do to make that step toward getting your treatment read?

ND: You have to rely on enthusiasm and luck. If there was a perfect way to write a treatment, as in: “This is going to get you a gig every time…” There is no perfect way. You can’t please all the people all the time. I think that much of our job is to try and give people what they want, but sometimes you have just have to go with an idea and say, F… it. I’m prepared to lose the job.” It’s a truism that to prepare to succeed, you have to be prepared to fail spectacularly. So sometimes though I’ve been given a brief to write on a job that I really, really want badly, you know, because I really want to work with that artist, or I haven’t worked for a while and I need to pay the rent of whatever it is, I will gamble quite heavily and come up with an idea that is quite unusual or extreme because I just think it’s a great idea and I need to get it out of my system. And I actually feel very happy about doing that, even though professionally it may be not the wisest thing to do, but I feel that by trying to second guess what the labels say they want and all the rest of it, inevitably you’ll fall between two stools and you’ll compromise both the job and whatever it is you’re trying to create.

And to direct you have to be a director… you can’t have eight people directing something. A camel is a horse designed by committee. And to get a pure thoroughbred, one person just has to say, “This is how it is going to look.” So to go back to your question about what a young director ought to do to write that perfect treatment, is they just have to embrace an idea and be prepared to fail. If you try to write the perfect treatment, which is trying to answer everything perfectly and do the best job and all the rest of it, inevitably you will somehow compromise what it is you see as your idea.

I think that in creative circles innocence is a wonderful thing. I mean, I look back at the work I did at the beginning of my career, when I didn’t know the faintest thing about video making, and I would just embark upon an idea completely innocent of the problems I was going to encounter and I would just go and do it. Nowadays I start thinking about an idea and I go, “Well, you can’t do that. You can’t do that. You can’t do that.”

A couple of years ago I was working in this company and they rang me up and they said, “There’s this band in Florida and they want to make a video for 50,000 bucks,” you know, and I hadn’t made a $50,000 video for a number of years and I said all right, you know, and I listened to the record and I thought it was really interesting and really new. And they said, “Can you speak to the lead singer?” And I said, sure, because he’s got this idea. So I rang him up and we had a chat on the phone and he said, “I want to do this video in my house and each member of the band is gonna be in a different room and there’s gonna be a guy outside mowing the lawn…” and all this kind of stuff and I’m going, “Well, hold on a minute you can’t do all that in a day,” because in my experience, because unfortunately of the place I’ve reached in my career, 20 trucks turn up and then everybody wants the band’s makeup artists and you’re into a two-day shoot and all this kind of stuff. Well, obviously the guy thought, Bollocks to this, I don’t like what this English guy is saying.” And he put the phone down and he went and did it himself. Well it was Fred Durst, for a Limp Bizkit video. I think there’s a tremendous lesson there. You know he just said, “Fine. F… it. He doesn’t like my idea, well, I do, so I’m gonna do it.” He had a vision and he went with it, and more power to him. I think young directors should do the same. Inevitably, eventually they will start banging their heads against trying to shoot a movie or a video somewhere and the practicalities of the trade get in the way. As I say, innocence is a wonderful thing. My biggest word of advice is don’t make it too short or too long.

MVW: When you were starting out, was there any style that you followed, or any books that you read, or did you just say, “Okay, I’m gonna just write the treatment, I know I have to have these elements in it,” and then you just started submitting them?

ND: Yeah, that’s what I did. To be completely honest I don’t read many other people’s treatments because in a way I feel it’s kind of unprofessional, I can’t really say why, which probably shows I’ve got my own head stuck up my ass, but, you know, I don’t need to be stealing Dave Meyers ideas… Everybody has their own process, and they need to preserve that and it’s none of my business how they do their work even if there is something I could learn from it potentially. I’ve just tried to learn a process that works for me and, you know, I’m still getting gigs. It appears to be working. Nobody’s telling me that it’s not working.

I mean, occasionally my rep will ring me up and go, “Nigel, the last five treatments you’ve written sucked. And you go, “Really?” And he goes, “Yup. I think they’re really bad.” And you put the phone down and you think, “Wanker. He didn’t get it.” And then about a week later you go, “Oh, I suppose he’s got a point. I’ve got to get excited about this again. And you go into a little room and you slap yourself around a bit and you get out the cat-o’-nine tails and you start whipping yourself or doing whatever it is you need to do and then you come back out and you attack it with a renewed vigor. I think the same is true for basketball players, politicians, writers, actors, you know, whatever it is. It’s easy doing it for a while, but doing it for a long while takes an enormous amount of energy so that you don’t get stale and so that you don’t become complacent. You know, one of the boring old blokes who goes, “Young whippersnapper! He doesn’t understand! In my day…” Especially in music videos. I can’t give a sh.. about that because the whole point of it is that it’s a new, expanding, constantly changing process. And you ignore that at your peril.