Category Archives: How-to

The Moral Responsibility of a Media Creator

Media is an unavoidable juggernaut of influence that both grows from our society and feeds back into it. When media professionals create, they are essentially either nurturing or poisoning society through every creative decision.

Through the history of storytelling, enormously talented people have helped to shape public opinions and sensibilities. Ancient kings and queens used to hire bards and pay them handsomely to entertain the masses with songs about their great empire. These rulers hoped to sway public opinion and create a narrative that would endure beyond their reign, and storytellers were one of their most powerful weapons. That tradition still endures in most of the world, though it’s draped in layers of subtlety and complexity.

I write this from the perspective of a budding bard who has been hired by all sorts of figurative kings to help tell the tales of their conquests. I primarily direct music videos and commercials, but I’ve spent years working in Television, documentary film, and the performing arts. I’m frequently asked to use my skills and talents to promote ideas, music, and brands. I work a lot and most of my experiences have been amazingly positive. I’ve worked with hundreds of talented, motivated, hard-working, gifted people, and I’ve studied them closely along the way.

Occasionally, however, I decline a project. Let me explain why.

Garrett Gibbons film director

My Morals

As a matter of policy, for a number of reasons, I generally don’t mix my professional work with religion or politics. There’s a critical point where my beliefs and my professional life intersect, however, and that’s what this blog post is all about.

First, let’s talk about where I’m coming from, and what all of this is based on. I know that it’s increasingly uncommon and increasingly unpopular, but I believe in God. I believe God is our creator and someday will be our judge. I believe that this life is both a test and a lesson. It’s a time to grow in our ability to become more like God is, to learn to love others, and to grow in the face of adversity and overcome challenges. I believe that families are sacred and that our relationships with other people are one of the most critical aspects of life.

I believe that everybody is accountable to God for their time and talents – God gave us life, gave us each unique propensities, interests and strengths, and I believe that he will hold each of us accountable for how we use those gifts during our time on earth.

Statistically, a large portion of you are shaking your head right now, convinced that I’m an idiot. Or maybe I’m only mislead? Maybe you’re concerned that I’m dangerous and am going to try to force you to live your life like I do. Maybe you’re angry with me for being so narrow-minded. Maybe you’re ordering a copy of Marx on Religion right now (Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes; “religion is the opiate of the masses”), planning to have Amazon ship it directly to my office, which you somehow got the address for by using some stalker-fu. Maybe you think you’re the one who’s going to change my worldview with the same argument that convinced you to whatever your belief system is.

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RA Scion – Guttersnipe Bridge (Official Music Video)

Ryan Abeo, AKA RA Scion (of Common Market), and his wife Mariangela are two of my favorite people to work with. My first real music video was for “Soothsayer,” part of RA Scion’s Victor Shade project. I’m still not sure how or why they trusted me to make that video since I was new to the Seattle hip-hop scene. It’s still one of my favorite projects, mostly because of the people I was able to work with, and it was a pleasure to get together again and make something totally different.
RA Scion photo by Garrett Gibbons
“Soothsayer” was very cinematic at times, very theatrical at others, very dramatic, very austere, and filled with insanely specific symbolism. “Guttersnipe Bridge” lies somewhere on the opposite side of that spectrum: it’s stripped-down, candid, friendly, and simple. We see Ryan driving his car through traffic in Seattle, picking up his daughter from ballet practice, and heading to a show at The Crocodile. (Madison gave us a few great casual and beautiful dance moments, fulfilling my secret goal to work dancing into every music video I possibly can.)

In an age of rap videos filled with strippers and cocaine, we really wanted to make something honest, with integrity about the life that the artist leads. I hope you enjoy  it!

“Guttersnipe Bridge” by RA Scion, produced by Todd Sykes. From RA Scion’s new LP, “Adding to the Extra.”

Directed by Garrett Gibbons.
Camera: Canon 5D Mark 3.
Lenses: Canon 24-70 2.8L, Canon 85 1.8, Tokina 11-16 2.8
Camera support: JAG35 Field Runner, RigWheels RigMount X car mount, Glidecam HD-2000
RA Scion photo by Garrett Gibbons

The 500 LED workhorse location light

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite lights: The 500 LED non-dimmable video light, sold in various places by ePhotoInc, CowboyStudio, and Fancier Photography.

I have been using a number of these lights alongside the 1000 LED dimmable lights, some tungsten DP lights, tota lamps, and others. These 500 LED lights (with four banks of switches) are some of my favorite workhorse lights. They’re built like tanks, they work every time, they don’t flicker, they don’t short out, they don’t have bulbs burn out, they don’t have weird proprietary power adapters that get lost and break easily (it’s powered by the same type of cable as a computer monitor), and they don’t have knobs that wear out and break off. Everything is controlled through on-off switches that feel like they will last longer than civilization itself.

There’s a handy handle on the top that’s overbuilt and gives room to carry them easily when wearing gloves. They can swap between portrait and landscape orientation by unscrewing the little mount and moving it to another part of the frame. The light mounts using a standard light stand mount.

Compared to the square-arranged 1000 LED light, this gives off about as much light (unexpectedly), and the quality of light is softer and more flattering for portraits (also unexpectedly). The color fidelity is higher in this light than the dimmable 1000 LED, and I’ve had to use fewer gels (if any) to get this light to look great for people.

The 5600K color fidelity isn’t 100% pefect daylight, so if you mix them with daylight and you need fidelity, throw a 1/4 magenta (minus green) gel on the front, tape it well, and just leave it on there.

These 500 LED lights draw relatively little power, so I plug them into a Black & Decker VEC026BD Electromate 400 (about $100) and I can power one of these lights on that battery pack for about 90 minutes to two hours, depending on outdoor temperature (which affects the Elecromate 400’s battery output, as with all batteries). Throw on a grounded plug and you can power a two or three of these on location, out in the middle of nowhere, for 30-60 minutes without using gas, emitting fumes, bothering neighbors, or warranting city permits. That utility is worth more than gold to me.

I used one of these 500 LED lights (powered by a Black & Decker Electromate 400) to light the Moverz web trailer a few months ago:

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2012: A year in photography

Garrett’s favorite photos from 2012, taken by either Garrett or Jill Gibbons for Aderyn Productions.

Aderyn Productions Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photography in Seattle
Aderyn Productions Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photography in SeattleAderyn Productions Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photography in Seattle
Aderyn Productions Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photography in Seattle
Aderyn Productions Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photography in Seattle
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Macklemore & Ryan Lews hit Billboard at #2 with their album “The Heist”

This is huge for artists. This is huge for fans. This is huge for independents.

This week, Seattle locals Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made the Billboard top 200 at #2 with their album “The Heist.” The #1 album right now is “Babel” by Mumford & Sons, also an indie act. The top two positions on the carts are independents without studio funding or strings attached. For at least one week, these artists beat the record label circus at its own game.

As the Billboard article notes, this success “comes after years of steady growth.” To quote lyrics from the opening track on this album:

The Greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint.
The Greats were great because they paint a lot.

Work hard and keep working. Don’t accept mediocrity. In this world it’s anyone’s game now.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Filming in the United Nations with a GoPro camera

On June 15, I had the honor to accompany the recently-elected Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, to the United Nations Committee of 24 meetings on decolonization. I filmed the Chief Minister’s speech and have made it available in its entirety on YouTube. It is a stirring and energetic speech that astonished all present at the meetings that morning. Here are some excerpts:

Media access is extremely limited at the United Nations, so I was a one-man crew. I placed four cameras around the room, including two Canon DSLRs, a small-sensor Canon video camera (pointed at the Spanish delegates to get reaction shots), and my personal favorite: a GoPro Hero 2 action camera! I had it with me and thought, “why not?” so I placed it on the desk next to the Chief Minister while he spoke. The media access liaison didn’t think she had ever seen one of those used in the United Nations before, so I’ll go ahead and take the credit for being the first person to film in the United Nations with an extreme sports camera.

What Should a Music Video Budget Be?

The landscape of music production, marketing and sales has drastically changed many times in the last ten years. The relationship between music videos and the music industry has also been in flux. The amount of music being recorded and distributed is higher now than ever before, and more music videos are being made than ever before, though the budget range is extremely wide. Some bands pay for their music videos out of pocket, while bands signed with major record labels are often appropriated with a music video budget that is considered to be part of the marketing strategy for a given album or single.

Scott Zuniga music video directed by Garrett Gibbons

Example music video budgets:

  • Macklemore “Wings”: $18,269 (2011)
  • Michael Jackson “Beat It”: $150,000 (1983)
  • Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson “Scream”: $10,000,000 (1995, adjusted for inflation)
  • Average studio music video budget: $200,000 – $500,000 (2010)

We see those numbers and we see what the final product ended up being, but without direct experience with film production budgets it can be challenging to know where the money goes. Many bands are wrestling with the question of how much money a music video will cost, and emerging filmmakers also struggle to know how much they should charge for their work.

Here is a breakdown of some general costs that are typical in film production (and specifically in music video production):

Estimated production costs:

  • Producer fee: $500 – $1250/day
  • Director fee: $500 – $1250/day
  • Camera operator: $500-1000/day
  • Camera equipment rental: $150 – $3500/day
  • Key grip + assistant + lighting gear: $1000 – $1750/day
  • Wardrobe: estimated $20 – $1000/day per character project
  • City permits: $25 – $1000/day (depending on the city, exact location, whether roads need to be closed, etc…)
  • Location fees and rentals: $250 – $2500+/day
  • Actors: $200 – $1200/day (each)
  • Extras: $50 – $200/day (each)

Estimated days of post-production required: 2-3 days

  • Editor fee: $500 – $1250/day
  • Redundant Hard disk archive: $200 – $400
  • Visual FX artist fee: $75 – $150/hour
  • Colorist fee: $100 – $200/hour

Additional costs:

  • Band member compensation
  • Development/Pre-production (scripts, storyboards, strategy, etc…)
  • Additional actors and extras
  • Marketing hours
  • Props/furniture rentals
  • Set construction
  • Production insurance
  • Catering (food)
  • Etc…


I’d like to share four specific music videos I have worked on in recent years, each of which is an example of a different budget range and level of production value. Please note that nothing is set in stone, and different markets and individuals will yield different levels of work at different price points, but this should give a general idea of what I have experienced.

Level 1: Shoestring Budget ($2,000 – $5,000)

At this level, my work usually fits the following characteristics:

  • One full day of shooting (or possibly two half-days)
  • One camera operator
  • Skeleton crew (one or two people)
  • Filmed on DSLR or mirrorless cameras
  • Few paid actors, if any
  • Many production roles will be combined (for example, the Director may also produce and edit; the Director of Photography will probably be responsible for all grip and gaffer work, etc…)
  • Permit fees are often avoided by carefully selecting production locations

“Overcome” by Alabaster is a music video in this budget range that I directed, filmed and edited. We filmed the entire thing in about 6 hours (including setup), all in the same location. We filmed the band first, then quickly filled the room with fog, threw up a 2K light, and brought in the dancers. I worked with the two dancers for a little less than an hour before we had to break down.

Level 2: Modest Budget ($5,000 – $10,000)

Here are some characteristics of this budget range:

  • Several days of shooting
  • Small crew (four or five people)
  • Filmed on higher-end video, DSLR or mirrorless cameras
  • Costumes are an option
  • Several paid actors can be involved
  • Minor visual effects are possible
  • City permits may be required for outdoor shoots on public streets

My music video for “Jekyll & Hyde” by Theoretics fits in this range. The band relied heavily on friends and favors, but still had to hire four or five paid actors to participate. We used a lot of interesting locations that each required a fee. We needed to close off a few sections of street to film several segments, so city permits (and correlation with local police) were necessary. Our production was small enough that we didn’t need big trucks or generators, so we were able to qualify for a less-expensive type of film permit with the cities involved; the same level of production insurance wasn’t required by the cities we filmed in since we were under $10,000 (that type of rule changes drastically from city to city, so call the film permit office before planning your shoot).

Garrett Gibbons music video director

Level 3: Healthy Independent Budget ($20,000 – $50,000)

At this level, the production feels more like an independent film set, rather than a student film or enthusiast project. It’s not a full-blown film crew sort of feel, but it’s about as close as anyone independently financed generally gets. Here are some characteristics of this budget level:

  • Several days of production
  • Medium-sized crew
  • Filmed on RED, Alexa, or other higher-end digital cinema camera packages
  • Experienced, professional actors can be involved
  • Full production insurance is required in most cities
  • City permits are required in most cities
  • Visual effects can be a major element of the video

The music video I directed, filmed and edited for Adam Zwig, “Everybody Love” was within this budget range. Paying actors was a huge part of the budget (I think we had more than thirty actors involved, though not all made the final edit), and the theater setup with the band also had a large number of costs associated with it. This video features a few thousands dollars worth of invisible visual effects as well, where some aspect of the shot was changed after it was filmed, to meet the client’s evolving vision for the video.

Level 4: Commercial/Studio Budget ($50,000+)

  • Several days of production
  • Full professional film crew
  • Filmed on RED, Alexa, or other higher-end digital cinema camera packages
  • Experienced, professional actors can be involved
  • Full production insurance is required
  • City permits are required
  • Visual effects can be a central element of the video

At this level, everyone involved is a professional who is present to do one task. There can easily be fifty people involved in the crew (ranging from production assistants to hair and makeup artists to caterers to runners to DITs), and the post-production pipeline is similar to a feature film (a full crew involved in the editorial department and post-production process).

I edited “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Justin Bieber in 2011. I don’t know the exact budget, but my rough estimate is that it cost around $150,000, based on my experience with similar projects. SONY Pictures and Island Records were the two corporate entities who financed the project, and the set was run like a feature film with a $10-20M budget. It was filmed on two days in Los Angeles: Justin was filmed for a large part of one day, with the second day being focused on the dancers. The set and props were built in the week leading up to filming (I believe that the set was brought in and assembled on the day previous to shooting, but it may have taken two days), and most of the costumes were rented in Los Angeles. It was filmed in stereoscopic 3D at 5K on twin RED Epic cameras, and I edited it in 3D on a Final Cut Pro 7 setup using Cineform plugin tools to manage the 3D aspect of the editing process. The edit was rushed to coloring and conforming so that it could play as a pre-roll to the kids movie “Arthur Christmas” for its premiere.

Comparing Budget Tiers

Some of you may look at the difference between “Overcome” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and conclude that money is wasted at higher levels of production. While that may sometimes be true in some aspects, it’s important to recognize that the benefits of a large crew and a full professional toolset tend to manifest themselves in extremely important ways that may not be obvious to the casual viewer.

For example, the Justin Bieber video was thoroughly pre-visualized, with mood boards and color palettes compiled in advance so that they could be approved by the various levels of executives involved. There was plenty of time to do everything correctly and predictably, and there was very little risk of the final product turning out differently than expected.

Much of “Overcome” was improvised on set, and required a lot of improvisation and split-second decision-making to pull the shoot off. The dancers hadn’t rehearsed nor had any choreography prepared; I relied entirely on their ability to interpret my direction while I filmed them. We experimented a lot and weren’t entirely sure what the final product would look like while we were in production.

Chilling with this group of sorry actors.

A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on

Essentially, the more money goes into a music video (or film), the higher the likelihood will be that the result looks professional. I have seen many bands film music videos for $500 with a first-time director who has very little film experience, and sometimes they turn out well. More commonly, the band has a very amateur-looking music video that becomes a liability to their brand and the authenticity of their image.

Music videos are expensive, but if the band is educated in terms of how much to spend and what to expect, they can carefully select a director who can help them achieve their goals within their price range.

Update: This excellent mini-documentary features all sorts of music video-related wisdom from some great directors whose work I have enjoyed and respected for years. If you ever plan to be involved in a music video in any way (director, editor, DP, camera operator, producer, band member, actor, etc…) you really need to watch this as soon as possible.

The Videographers Guide Ep. 1 – The Music Video from HBTV on Vimeo.

Final Cut Pro X review

Hubris (noun): Excessive pride, leading to the downfall of a character (predominately in Greek tragedy). See also: Apple in 2011.

Do you remember Apple’s big Final Cut Pro X preview in April? They said that Final Cut Pro has the majority of the market share and that Premiere, Avid and the others are competing for a distant 2nd place. Then they claimed that they were going to revolutionize the market once again, with a magical new product.

FCP X logoFCP X finally was released yesterday and it’s awful. It is filled with amazing new features that I absolutely love, but the core functionality is greatly stripped. It truly is the successor to iMovie, not Final Cut Pro 7.

When Quicktime X was released almost two years ago (note the X) it didn’t really replace Quicktime Pro 7 (note the 7): Quicktime X added some fancy new features but removed many of the professional functions of Quicktime 7.

It also could be that “X” means “Express” (as in the now-defunct Final Cut Express), which would explain the price point and the stance of being one step up from iMovie, but not quite Final Cut Pro 7.

But is this truly supposed to replace Final Cut Studio? If so, Apple seems oblivious to the needs of their user base. If Final Cut Pro X isn’t fixed very quickly, the professional world will abandon Apple and move elsewhere.
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Compressor 4.0 practical test

Compressor 4Final Cut Pro X was released today for $299 in the App Store but also released for $49 was an update to Compressor, Apple’s media transcoding tool. For some reason I downloaded Compressor first, probably because it’s more relevant to my immediate encoding needs, it’s inexpensive, it works with my current files and projects (FCPX requires starting anew: it doesn’t support previous FCP project files), and it doesn’t require learning an entirely new interface like FCPX does (I’ll be spending some time to familiarize myself with it before I make any major decisions about FCPX).

Using my 2.4 GHZ Intel Core2 Duo MacBook Pro with 6GB of RAM, I ran a few quick test encodes in the new version of Compressor and was shocked by the speed. Just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming about the speed increase, I encoded the same test clip in Compressor 3.5.3 (the previous update). This isn’t a comprehensive test by any means, but I did want to share my results for the other early adopters (or fence-sitters) out there:

Vimeo 720 h264 encode (12 second clip)
Compressor 3.5.3 – 0:35
Compressor 4.0 –  0:30

iPhone 4/iPad encode (12 second clip)
Compressor 3.5.3 – 4:15
Compressor 4.0 –  4:06
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Successful Kickstarter Campaigns

kickstarter logoKickstarter is an exciting, powerful crowd-sourcing tool that is quickly becoming a must-use for independent artists. I recently completed a successful (though modest) Kickstarter fundraising campaign for a documentary film I’m producing. This blog post is a summary of principles learned about Kickstarter, gained both through my own experience and through studying other campaigns (both successful and unsuccessful).

They tell me that a magician shouldn’t reveal his secrets. Thankfully, I’m not a magician.

Required Reading

Before you go any further, consider reading some of the following in-depth analyses of successful Kickstarter campaigns:

Read all of that. I mean it. I don’t endeavor to supplant any of that information, but I do expect that my readers will be familiar with that material before going into some specific types of funding that I have experience with.

How Much Funding Do You Want?

There are four types of Kickstarter campaigns, in terms of their level of success:

  1. Successful campaigns that greatly surpass their goal
  2. Successful campaigns that reach their goal
  3. Unsuccessful campaigns that almost reach their goal
  4. Unsuccessful campaigns that are epic failures.

Most people want category 1 (greatly surpassing their goal), but the evidence suggests that only a certain type of project (pre-orders) is likely to fall into that category (more on that below).

An extremely important question is: How much do I think I can raise? How many fans do I have who might be willing to chip in $15-20? Do I have any absurdly wealthy friends or family members? Do I have access to an uncommonly-large channel of communication? Answer those questions with brutal honesty and set your goals accordingly.

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