One of the first things to consider in planning your video, but ultimately a near impossible one to teach, is artistic interpretation. You can be literal in translating the mood or imagery, you can heighten or enhance the content of the song, you can ignore the mood and go opposite (juxtaposing the opposite can be a great impact or just horribly wrong!), or you can shoot down the middle and go into an open-ended comfort zone or affordable and basic, but visually appealing. You can shoot a concept video or make it more of a performance video.

Let me give you some examples… 

Say you are shooting a video for the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2

 Taken literally, and visually representing the lyric, would be like this: “I have climbed highest mountain/I have run through the field” – right there you need two locations: a mountain and a field, with the singer climbing, and running in each, respectively. You would probably not do anything this literally; it usually isn’t practical or feasible, and within 5 seconds you are going from mountain climbing to running through fields, and that’s only the first two lines! Later on, he sings “I have spoke with the tongue of angels/I have held the hand of the devil” – now are you going to have angels and devils in your video? Is it now going to look like the final scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Now you are talking about expensive visual effects.

This is the literal approach and also a concept video.

This song could also be executed visually with the band/singer in a vast expanse of nature – open plains, a desert or a mountain top, a lot of plaintive, lonely imagery, to support the main theme and refrain (I still haven’t found what I’m looking for). This is much more attainable, as you only would need a location, time, good (or bad) weather (as long as it’s consistent), and a couple days to shoot. But, you might need some cranes or dollies to take advantage of the natural scenery and shoot some nice hero shots and cutaways (more on that later). Also, you might need some additional lighting that nature can’t provide. That means money for gear, generators, crew, etc. Maybe you need a sweeping helicopter shot!

This is a down the middle approach, and mainly a performance video. 

You could just shoot the band performing the song in a blank room, black or gray, or even pure white, in gorgeous and tasteful black and white, and focus on capturing an emotional performance and the band playing their parts – pure and simple. Now this is attainable on the somewhat cheap. Sure, you can still spend money on the cranes and dollies, but you don’t have to, and the room could be achieved on a small budget.

This is an on-the-cheap approach and mainly a performance video.

Personally, I like the approach the band took in their video for the song – they shot it all pretty much handheld, ground-level, in Las Vegas, a city that has been portrayed (fairly or unfairly) as spiritually vacuous and has been called “sin-city.” The band mixing and mingling on the streets with the people. It works because it’s partly ironic; setting a song about spiritual longing in a spiritually devoid city of excess and materialism.

This is the juxtaposed approach, and somewhere between concept and performance. It probably took one or two nights to shoot. They needed to obtain shooting permits. Not too expensive, and Vegas gave them some visual interest for the setting.

All of these could work. Some that may not would be to have Bono and company in a Tron-like electronic environment with video game angles and effects, or sweaty and dramatic in a fiery factory with lots of sparks flying like a hair metal video from the 80s. I suppose you could make an artistic argument to support these visual interpretations, but they would be a stretch. Nature would make sense due to the imagery in the lyric (fields, mountains, etc) and we tend to think nature when dealing with spiritual issues. A performance video in a dark or empty room work too, because the “still haven’t found what I’m looking for” refrain and central theme is supported by the “emptiness” of the setting. Vegas worked because it was a subtly clever juxtaposition of a spiritually devoid setting for a song about finding spiritual fulfillment.

The point is, there are a lot of ways to go, and it is up to the vision, needs of the artist, and budget you have to work with that will determine your visual palette.

A good exercise would be two write out a summary of imagery that is contained in the lyric, or, if an instrumental piece, a list of words or images the music conjures up for you, or what your piece was intended to be about. Then you can start building your visual palette from there. Even if you are a solo artist and you intend on doing a simple performance video, think about the setting you want to be in. Just because the song is about loneliness, for example, and is a quiet piece with just you and an acoustic guitar, doesn’t mean you have to be in a room by yourself. If we take the possible approaches mentioned earlier, you could put yourself on a rock on top of a mountain all alone, or in a city with a million people buzzing by you in blurred fast motion. Both convey isolation, and both are valid. One might be more expensive and therefore unattainable though, so consider it all. Start with a wish list and be prepared to cut it down with the double-edged blade of money and time!

Michael Aaron



Originally posted 2011-03-30 02:41:30.