The more I learn about this business, the more I realize I don't know a damn thing...
Case in point, music videos. Though I have watched a million music videos, truthfully I have no damn clue how they come to be. How do they get from the artists/directors brain to my computer screen? Is the artist even involved? How much do they cost? What does "director" mean in terms of a music video? How does the whole indie vs. major thing influence the final art?
Told you I didn't know a damn thing...
Luckily, I do know two people who might know a little something about a music video: Jamla Records emcee Rapsody (have you seen this "Dark Knights" video?!?!?) and director Brian Petchers, who has directed visual aids for Rapsody ("Betty Shabazz") as well artists like Big Sean ("Homecoming"), Curren$y ("Chandeliers") and Chris Webby ("Fragile Lives"). We reached out to both and they agreed to run through a mock treatment drill.
It's like a fire alarm drill but, you know, more important. Like How It's Made, but you know, actually interesting.
Here's how it went down. I picked a song off Rap's last project, Beauty & The Beast EP, and asked Brian and Rap separately for how they would want a video to look; I asked them separately so that they wouldn't be influenced by each others ideas. Then I gave it all to Brian to craft one final, official, unofficial mock treatment for Rapsody's "Forgive Me" video.
Let's see how it turned out:
On His Process:
"When I get a song (and this is assuming I have no relationship with the artist) the first thing I like to do is listen to it a few times and try to not to just come up with the idea off. the top of my head, but to get a feel for the song and how it connects with me. Then I will do some research on the artist. I’ll get a feel for the visuals they have previously put out, album artwork, and their most recent records. And most importantly, I will try to gain an understanding of their personality and brand. Then I’ll let a few hours go by before I listen to the song over and over again. And at this point, generally, a few ideas will come to mind and I’ll begin to fully flush out the one that is most promising/realistic/inspiring. I begin by articulating my ideas on paper then pull reference images and build a cohesive artful treatment which I eventually send to the artist/management for their review."
His "Forgive Me" Pitch:
"The first step for me when thinking of the creative direction for videos is to define the feeling or mood I want to portray. From there, I'll find photos or YouTube clips for inspiration to build from. So, I'll have a desktop folder of photos that capture that feeling, or a line in a song. It kind of looks like a collage of sorts. I'll also send the director YouTube clips from movies, commercials, documentaries, other videos, basically anything that captures a "look" or an idea I have. Then, I usually email that to Brian, and we build from there. I rarely have a written step by step treatment for the video, because I never want to box the director in creatively. So, sharing photos and clips for me gets across an idea but still leaves room for the director to make it his own at the same time. Then we build from there."
Her "Forgive Me" Pitch:
"My video concept for "Forgive Me" would be centered around the idea of when Neo gains the full confidence to control the Matrix, and being able to see everything slowed down. I would be walking down the street in normal speed, but everything around me would be slow motion. That's the general concept, and have lyrics from the song represented on the walk. For example, during "sorry y'all don't catch my lines like Jordan dropped a blue pair", I would walk past a crazy long line of people going crazy, lined up to buy Jordans."
The Final Treatment:
"After receiving Rap's concept, it would then be my job to combine ideas (mine and hers) into something that we are both pleased with. Her concept takes place in a surreal environment, as does an element of mine. She also suggested playing with motion, implementing slow-motion as a story telling tactic, while I suggested “pausing” people– so there is also some overlap in thinking there. I paired down my idea to fit within Raps. I included the themes we both agreed on: 1. Playing with motion and 2. Displaying some of the people she mentions pass by her in the video. I cut out the lounge and car-driving scene, but made sure to include Heather Victoria. Ultimately the root of both of our ideas supported the idea that Rap is a strong independent thinker, and does not have to forgive anyone for her success. And this is shown through the visual, where she is totally in control of her environment and constantly moving forward. My final proposal for a concept would look something like this: We see Rap in a black undefined space, she is illuminated by an unknown light source from above her head and the video is in black and white. She is dressed in a slick long black coat - something resembling Neo from the Matrix. She walks through the darkness at normal speed, but as she begins to perform her verse we see the people, places, and things she is rapping about emerge from the darkness and pass by her in slow motion, in some cases extreme slow motion (to the point that they barely are moving) while she is still moving at normal speed. It seems as though everything she passes is on a conveyor belt, floating by. At times Rap will pass Heather Victoria as she sings the hook. Heather will cross paths with Rap on numerous occasions. At the end of the video Rap will reach up, out of frame, pull down a lamp string and the scene will go black."
And there you have it. That's, more or less, how a video comes to be. Personally, I thought it was really interesting that they both had similar ideas before they even spoke with one another. Maybe it's "Forgive Me," maybe it's their past relationship, or maybe when you get two super creative, smart artists in a (mock) room, they will draw similar conclusions. I'm not quite sure why or how it all worked out so perfectly, but it's pretty damn cool to see two individuals in two different parts of the world on the same page.
Now, if only we could get this video made...
Big thanks to DJBooth favorite Rapsody for taking time out from killin' mics and touring with Common and Jay Elec to help us out, and an equally as big of a thank you to Brian, who also took time out to help this rap nerd find some inner peace. Be sure to give him a follow (@BrianPetch) to stay up to date on all the latest visual dopeness he creates for your eyeholes.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]