Category Archives: Rants

Rants

Demo Reel 2012 – Garrett Wesley Gibbons

Looking for a filmmaker, music video director, dance photographer or visual storyteller? I’m based in Seattle, Washington but I travel the world. Hit me up!

Be Cautious of Contests

In college, one of my close friends was constantly winning contests, awards, and scholarships. At one point he told me that the secret to his success was to enter every contest possible. Often, he found, only two or three people (on a campus of 30,000 students) would enter into a given short story contest, so his odds were incredible. He would often win some cash prize, usually between $50 and $500, and got his stories published in all sorts of collections, which later helped his graduate school applications.

Let me tell you about another type of contest. I got an email this morning that basically said this:

Make a commercial for our company and you could win $1000 and have your commercial shown all over the internet!

From the point of view of an up-and-coming media developer or advertising student, $1000 could seem like a huge cash prize. The contest holder hopes to get hundreds of submissions from young “undiscovered” talent and they just pick their favorite one and pay them for the commercial.

If you’re considering such a contest, let me help you understand the point of view of the contest-holder. They need a commercial and the ad agency just quoted them somewhere between $5,000 – $25,000. Finances are tight and there isn’t cashflow right now, so what to do? They decide to crowd-source. Hundreds of innocent and talented young kids spend huge amounts of time and effort, trading in favors, borrowing equipment and putting their all into a commercial for the company. One of those kids gets paid far below market value and has the great prestige of having worked for cheap to make a non-professional ad for a cheapskate company. The rest go home empty-handed.
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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…

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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.

The LXD Season 3 is coming!

I’ve spent a lot of time with The LXD this summer, from casting, storyboarding, assisting with choreography, assisting the director on set and ultimately editing the season finale.

I’ve been wanting to share this stuff since the day I started, but this is the first official preview of Season 3 of The LXD! The season premieres on August 11 in the USA, with international distribution to follow.

If Hulu won’t let you watch the trailer in your country, try it on YouTube!

LXD Season 3 poster

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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Gear Recommendations Page

I’m often asked about camera gear, so I’ve put together a page on this blog dedicated to gear recommendations. It’s accessible just below the banner bar or through this link.

 

Here you will find my humble recommendations, based merely on my own professional experience and personal opinions. You’ll find that I’m more of a bargain-hunter than Vincent Laforet but much more gear towards high-end solutions than say, cheesycam.com (an excellent resource for students and shoestring-budget solutions).

iPhone wallpapers (Glasklart)

I’m trying out a few different iPhone wallpapers to accompany the Glasklart theme for Winterboard (found through Cydia).

In general, I find the visual approach intriguing: rather than a colorless background with colorful icons, the emphasis is on the background with a semitransparent icon set.  I am enjoying the minimalist take on the iPhone experience, though a wallpaper with much more energy might also be used instead.

Currently, my background is the white oak one shown below:

White Oak

White Oak (dark)

Nailed boards

Brushed metal

Plaster

Dylan Speaks! Episode 5: Building the Crib

We’ve been swamped this last week while moving apartments, but Dylan has had the time of his life. He helps with everything from loading and unloading boxes to assembling furniture. When we began to set his new crib up tonight, he immediately got involved with a rarely-seen level of focus and determination. Jill got the camera out for me and this is what I filmed: