YouTube Killed the Video Star

by jon bosworth
Television barely exists these days, much less music television, and MTV hasn’t really been thought of as music television since the early 2000s anyway. If video killed the radio star then internet killed the video star.
On one hand, the change is liberating. Music videos can finally have nudity and scandal without Madonna being involved. And even though it seems like there is not much that could cause scandal on the old Porn Box, in fact the Flaming Lips duet with Erykah Badu managed to raise quite a stink. On the other hand, without the homogeny of a television network, we are no longer all watching the same videos and joining in on the same conversation. We are left on our own to find the music videos that appeal to us, and therefore we rarely discover new artists, both musicians and filmmakers, the way we once did. If they didn’t direct a Kanye video, I am probably altogether unaware of their work.
Programming helps us discover new things. To have people evaluating music videos to weed out the ones that are simply a waste of your time and auditory sensibilities can be helpful. It’s like going to a restaurant. The menu limits your choices and then the server helps you discover the item you will really dig.
This is where the Jacksonville Film Festival’s Music Video Revival comes into play. God only knows how many thousands of hacks are out there shooting music videos on their cell phones and posting them on YouTube, and if God is good, He wouldn’t put you through that gauntlet of discovery. Instead, He has film festival programmers doing that for Him. God also is the only one that knows why this is their earthy punishment, but in the end, you get to enjoy a delicious multi-course meal of Jacksonville’s finest musicians collaborating with Jacksonville’s finest filmmakers to craft this entirely unique art form: The Music Video.
To prepare you for your meal, we have talked with some of Jax’s most prominent music video directors from Music Video Revivals of the past to find out what they have been working on and why they keep making music videos.

Jonathan Shepard Pilar, ‘Flight’

Jonathan Shepard stumbled out of a career in film in New York City and into Jacksonville, Florida. He came here to see his brother but ended up meeting his future spouse. Not able to find steady work as a filmmaker in Jacksonville nearly ten years ago, he and his new girlfriend moved back to New York where they married and he landed a gig with MTV Networks, VH-1 and LOGO Network. It was perfect. Except his schedule was rigorus and he ended up moving his young family back to Jacksonville when the Doorpost Film Project was headquartered in the River City, so he could finally be filmmaker and live in Jacksonville. A musician himself, one of things that drew him back to Jacksonville was the caliber of the musicians. Says Shepard “Even the really good bands in Jacksonville are eager to collaborate. I hate that I had to use the word ‘even.’” Jon has had music videos in the last three Music Video Revivals and hopes to continue his streak.
“I hope this will be the 3rd year to have a video in the running if This Frontier Needs Heroes ‘2012’ (available on 7” vinyl with custom pyramid packaging – the song, not the video. It would be silly to put a video on vinyl of any size. Wait, is silicone technically vinyl?) is allowed to be in. It should be in the festival if that last sentence is in this magazine.”

EU: When you approach a music video project, what is your primary goal? Is it to tell the story of the song, to tell a story that nuances or complicates the song, or is the song just a soundtrack to your story?
JS: Complicates. Or perhaps exposes the song’s complexity. I like lyrical, complex music. I don’t mean wordy, but lyrics that invoke the possibility of multiple interpretations. That quality also allows for visual freedom in portraying those interpretations. I think the really great music videos tend to expand upon that complexity.

EU: What band would you really love to work with?
JS: Antarctic, moyamoya, Opiate Eyes. Very different styles, all of which I find to be refreshing twists on top of familiar and fond references. I love Crash the Satellites dearly and have their music in my head a lot. And there are a fist full of others – Rice, For the Future, Sunbears!, JJ Grey.

EU: Do you find yourself drawn to any specific visual theme in your work?
JS: Raw life, profound death, the embracing and avoiding of both. Underdogs. Water. Regular folk versus the universe.

EU: What is the biggest challenge a music video director faces when dealing with the creator of the music?
JS: Getting the writer of the music to concede to the notion that once that song was recorded and blasted into someone else’s brain it is no longer theirs alone. So when you mix that piece of music into a visual depiction of a song that is now in my brain, that mixture is not what you wrote when you wrote the song, or recorded the song or performed the song. This new mixture is a whole thing to itself. If you commissioned me to tell you what’s in my head when I hear that song, because you like my work and I like your work, I’m in. If you commissioned me to make a video of what’s in your head, that’s probably not going to work. And I charge extra for mind reading.

Mark Hubbard RickoLus, ‘Photographs’

A few years ago, at the first Music Video Revival program, there was a wicked-cool video for Rick Colado’s project RickoLus. Rick has been in the music scene in the area for many years. Formerly he was the primary singer/songwriter of the band Julius Airwave. The drummer for that band was Mark Hubbard. Even though Julius Airwave split and Mark disappeared for a bit, it was still something of a surprise to see him re-emerge with a camera in hand. He directed the video for the song ‘Photographs.’ In the video, Rick walks through old family photos as he sings the song, sometimes participating in the captured moment, and then abandoning it as he walks from one image to the next.
“[‘Photographs’] was the most technical video I’ve done. I had to learn a lot along the way. I had all the footage shot before I even knew exactly how the video was going to unfold, but it came together and the video grew as I was growing.”
And just like that, one of Jacksonville’s favorite drummers became one of Jacksonville’s promising new filmmakers.
“I’ve been a part of the music scene here in Jacksonville for the last 15 years as a musician so it’s nice being able to do this other thing in my life that I love with people I have known and grown up with for so long.”

EU: When you approach a music video project, what is your primary goal? Is it to tell the story of the song, to tell a story that nuances or complicates the song, or is the song just a soundtrack to your story?
MH: It really depends on what the artist wants and the song. Some songs lend themselves to be more of a narrative, while others might just need interesting visuals. I guess my primary goal would be to make the artist happy.

EU: What is your favorite part about making music videos in Jacksonville?
MH: I’ve been a part of the music scene here in Jacksonville for the last 15 years as a musician so it’s nice being able to do this other thing in my life that I love, with people I have known and grown up with for so long.

EU: Who is the band you really would love to work with?
MH: Superchunk

EU: Do you find yourself drawn to any specific visual theme in your work?
MH: Not really, but I find myself in the woods a lot. But that’s usually Ben Cooper’s doing.

EU: How much of a video is usually your concept versus the artist’s concept?
MH: It’s a mixed bag. Some of the videos are purely the artists concept where they’ll come to me and say I want to this and I’ll figure out how to do it. Others are more of a joint collaboration where we’ll throw ideas around until something sticks. And then some are me coming up with a concept and pitching it.

Gustavo Cooper Le Blorr, ‘Boy You Need Jesus’
[http://vimeo.com/24045970] Gus has been an unrelenting force in filmmaking in Jacksonville over the past two years. He has worked with Tiger Lily Productions, Fat Screaming Baby, and DVA, which are the biggest local players in the realm of commercial television and film. He has also recently directed a short film (with Jon Shepard as Executive Producer) called Velvet Road. At the time of this writing, Velvet Road had premiered at the New York City International Film Festival where it was nominated for best short and has been accepted into a dozen more domestic film festivals and a couple international festivals, as well as received rave reviews from publications ranging from small blogs to major national magazines. All of this attention might make you think that Gus is moving beyond music videos, but he would tell you otherwise.
“I’ll talk about music videos all day.”
But he has reached a certain point where he is comfortable turning down work.
“If they come to us with a good idea, I’ll get involved. If we are approached by an artist that is just starting out, I will refer them to a video artist that is still cutting their teeth. A music video is a great way to learn the art of storytelling.”

EU: When you approach a music video project, what is your primary goal? Is it to tell the story of the song, to tell a story that nuances or complicates the song, or is the song just a soundtrack to your story?
GC: My first objective is to bring whatever visuals come to mind when I hear the song to life. I don’t approach it in a literal way, I just try to imagine whatever the song or melody brings into my mind. What is going on to make the song? I try to allow that to conjure an image I’ll feel strongly about.

EU: What is your favorite part about making music videos in Jacksonville?
GC: The people I work with. I work very closely with Jon Shepard, Andy Howell, and a really talented team of professionals. They are like a family to me. Going to work is like getting to spend time with my family, and I get to do that on a regular basis. The more I work with them, the more I love to work with them.

EU: Who is the band you would really love to work with?
GC: Actually there are a couple I’d love to work with. Astronautalis and Radical Face, who Mark Hubbard works with a lot, I would love to do something with them one day. Rob Roy is a very creative guy. I would love to work with him. Those three are very successful and driven. I would love to work with those guys if they were into it.

EU: Do you find yourself drawn to any specific visual theme in your work?
GC: Not necessarily, but I am starting to see a little bit of a pattern. I’m starting to notice that I always go toward the narrative-driven thing. In my recent work, I’m very story driven. That is something I’m starting to notice. I like to tell these little stories without saying anything.

EU: How much of a video is usually your concept versus the artist’s concept?
GC: I’m pretty concept-driven and I like to control everything, so for the most part it is my concept and I’ll let them tweak things. It usually starts off as my concept and then I take it to my creative partners, Jon Shepard or my partners at DVA, and I bounce the ideas off of them. It usually works out.

EU: Do you have a video that will part of the Music Video Revival series of the Jax Film Fest?
GC: Once we finish a video, it is out of our hands. We don’t have much control with what happens with it after that. We create it and then hand it off. It’s like a painting, they commission us to paint this thing for them, then it isn’t ours anymore.

EU: What is the biggest challenge a music video director faces when dealing with the creator of the music?
GC: Usually the biggest challenge is that you’re dealing with another person that’s a lot like you. They are ego-driven, hard headed, certain of their perspective and not willing to hear another take on things. They like creative control. Even though they are commissioning you for a really low rate, they want to think of it the same as if it were a million dollar project. And you have to give that to them. I’ve learned that a lot. No matter what size of the project, every project is the same.

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