Donegal-based DIY filmmaker Gerard Lough talks the glory days of music video, how he got his latest effort (for Warped, by Electro Kill Machine)onto cinema screens, and shares a few tricks of the trade...
There is a scene at the start of neo-noir crime thriller Deep Cover (1992) where Laurence Fishburne's character is tempted into going undercover by being promised that once in that role "all your faults will become virtues."
Similarly, if being visually flashy, editorially frenetic, and generally all style and no content are perceived as faults in feature films, then viewed through the warped filter of music videos, they are all converted back into virtues. Indeed, a generation of '80s film directors who had cut their teeth on music videos before moving into features were for a long time seen in a bad (usually smoky and heavily backlit) light, a perception gradually reversed by the rise of MTV regulars turned heavy hitters such as David Fincher, Mark Romanek, Spike Jonze and Anton Corbijn.
Years earlier, pop promo pioneers such as Russell (Highlander, by way of Duran Duran) Mulcahy and Steve (Coneheads, by way of the Take on Me video) Barron faced a rougher transition while others seems to call it a day after only one ill fated movie - case in point, The Cure's regular promo wiz, Tim Pope.
It's never a snobbery I was affected by, as I grew up in the golden age of early '90s MTV, when the budgets were higher than the musicians - as were the ambitions of some of its most in-demand directors. It was a golden age that could not last. Today, the budgets are cut to the bone, but tellingly more creative than ever, as things have naturally gone full circle back to MTV's more modest and experimental beginnings.
I also grasped early on, as an aspiring film-maker, that the medium presented limitless possibilities - if your strengths were snazzy visuals.
The virtues of the music video, over a feature or short film, is that you are not tied to a script - or even anything even resembling a coherent story. You are freed from worrying if you are communicating with an audience in a coherent way and instead can, as Talking Heads put it, 'stop making sense'. The inevitable downside of music videos, however, is that they usually need a lot of camera set ups. My most recent video, for Warped by Electro Kill Machine, has 84 different camera set ups during its 4 min 23 seconds running time - and this is just the stuff that made the final cut.
This set up/pile up workload (combined with a low budget) demands a fast shoot - so,for example, I use large, wireless LED lights that can be positioned on a location with ease, so the camera can start rolling quickly. That is of little help, however, if you don't know what you want and have a good idea how to achieve it. I knew the glowing blood trick was done by draining the fluid out of activated glow sticks by listening to the director's commentary on Predator. I also knew I could not afford even one pair of actual night vision goggles for a Sicario-inspired climax. My solution was either commendably innovative.. or appallingly cheap, all depending how you look at it. I bough a pair of welding goggles and a small binoculars. Since night vision goggles all basically seem to look like they have a small pair of binoculars slapped on back to front, then I did exactly just that. Glued them together, sprayed everything black, always backit or underexpose the shot and hey presto, 1000 euros saved and the audience fooled... until now, of course.
In an unusual move, the Warped video is also currently playing in a cinema, in the time honored tradition of Michael Jackson's Thriller video and...well, not much else really. One Dublin cinema turned it down flat for this very same reason, with a limp cry of, "It's really not the done thing." Which is exactly the reason why I think its a good idea - standing out from the norm will usually get people talking and attract attention.
But technology tips the scales back in the direction of the creative types, as YouTube allows you to see it anytime, in any country and on any device your heart desires. Technology also has now made it affordable for an indie film-maker to actually get their wares shown in a cinema without the expensive hassle of 35mm film - the Luddite format of choice but a superb magnet for dust and scratches.
Warped by Electro Kill Machine in my 11th music video, but the same is as true now as when I did my first one. What is vital is that the film-maker respects the band, and vice versa. They get on the same page from Day One about what kind of video they want, and then take a leap of faith and let you do your job. Upon occasion, you may need to find mutual ground for those potentially messy 'creative differences', but nevertheless, I wholeheartily recommend music videos for new Irish directors who love music, have a good eye and are - at the very least - on speaking terms with style.
Few other jobs will allow you the unique opportunity to glue a pair of binoculars back to front on a pair of goggles... in a smoky room... heavily back lit, of course.
Watch more work by filmmaker Gerard Lough here.