No Budget? No Problems: Seven Great Low-Budget Music Video Directors
10 May 2011
In the early 1980s, notoriously excessive synth-pop outfit Duran Duran sat down with their label, EMI, and told them of their grand vision for their new clip, for their single 'Hungry Like The Wolf'. 'Indiana Jones is horny and he wants to get laid,' frontman Andy Taylor said. The band wanted the video shot in Sri Lanka, in the deep jungle, which would be filled with exotic temptresses. The label promptly agreed, and sent the band off to make the video with $200,000. (It's really worth a watch.)
In the MTV era, this kind of thing happened all the time –– labels, flush with cash, routinely encouraged bands with big ideas and bigger appetites to make elaborate, often ridiculously expensive music videos. By the mid 1990s, clips were being made on budgets as big as seven million dollars. Then, of course, came the internet, and the money dried up. Labels tightened the purse strings, and music video budgets were slashed across the board.
A decade on, there's still not much money available for bands to make clips. But with demand for quality music videos as high as ever, many talented young directors are finding ever more creative ways to make great clips on the cheap. For these directors, making music videos is now a labour of love, rather than a way to pay the rent.
'Making [music] videos isn't a viable way to make a living anymore,' says acclaimed music video director Patrick Daughters, who has directed clips for Feist, No Age, Depeche Mode and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'so the only reason to do it is if it's really exciting creatively.'
Happily, for the great many bands who can't afford to hire Spike Jonze for their next clip, there are a bunch of talented directors out there making great videos for relatively little money. Here are some of our favourites.
Videos: Yeah Yeah Yeahs 'Skeleton' & 'Snakesweat'; Zero 7 'Home'; Gnarls Barkley 'Who Cares'; Dave Gahan 'Saw Something'
Kicked out of art school for making 'unsavoury films', British director Barney Clay found a more welcoming home at the London International Film School, where he honed his chops before entering the world of music videos. Clay's stylish, smart, low-budget clips have included a night in the life of a down-on-his-luck vampire (played by Mario Van Peebles) in 70s New York for Gnarls Barkley; a hallucinatory desert fever dream of a video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with whom he's collaborated on a bunch of videos; and a mesmeric, VMA-nominated clip for Zero 7's 'Home' (which you can watch at left).
Now based in New York, Clay is currently at work on his eagerly awaited debut feature, Black Fang.
Videos: Sebastien Tellier 'Divine'; Bloc Party 'Mercury'; Does This Offend You Yeah? 'Dawn of the Dead'; The Virgins 'Teen Lovers'
Prolific L.A. director Ace Norton had what you might call an unusual childhood. His grandfather, a Hollywood screenwriter, showed him Re-Animator when he was ten; he had nightmares for weeks, he said, but soon found himself going back for more. His parents were more than happy to help his flowering obsession with gore: when he stayed home from school sick, they would rent him Godzilla and Kurosawa films to watch. 'I think it made me largely desensitised to gore, so the more blood there was, the harder I laughed,' he says.
After directing more than 200 no-budget shorts in high school, Norton has since gone on to become one of the most in-demand indie directors. At only 28, he's done almost fifty clips, for everyone from Mandy Moore to Death Cab For Cutie, from Norah Jones to Aesop Rock. Norton's low-budget clips frequently feature bloody, unsettling images in slow motion, an effect he says is an attempt to make 'horrific images seem poetic'. Check out 'Coffee', his celebrated zombie clip for Aesop Rock featuring the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle.
Videos: Liars 'Scissor'; Bonnie 'Prince' Billy 'Cursed Sleep'; Rilo Kiley's; The Mountain Goats 'This Year'; Modest Mouse 'People As Places As People'; Stephen Malkmus 'Baby C'Mon'; No Age 'Eraser'
Pennsylvania native Andy Bruntel is another director whose calling came early: the self-described 'Boy Scout drop out' saved up his hard earned paper money when he was ten to buy a VHS camcorder. Twenty years on and Bruntel, though now a highly regarded director, still doesn't have a lot of money to work with. Despite this, his clips don't look particularly low-budget; lushly shot and meticulously put together, Bruntel's makes mysterious, playful, engaging videos that reward repeat viewing.
'I don't usually think in terms of creating work with a digestible message or creating work that is inherently indigestible,' Bruntel says of his work, which has included clips for Stephen Malkmus, St. Vincent, No Age, Liars and Modest Mouse. Check out his great clip for the Liars' 'Scissor', which was one of our top ten videos of 2010.
Videos: Midnight Juggernauts 'Lara Vs The Savage Pack'; Institut Polaire 'City Walls And Empires'; Clue To Kalo 'The Infinite Orphan By The Familiars'
Before turning her hand to music video directing, Franco-Monégasque born, Sydney-based video director Beatrice Pegard studied writing at Harvard and interned for Björk and Michel Gondry, working on the art department for his 2008 film Be Kind Rewind. In 2010, while finishing her PhD, Pegard began directing music videos for bands she liked, putting together great low-budget clips for the likes of Clue To Kalo, Institut Polaire and Midnight Juggernauts, each finding new ways to play with the cinema of old –– silent films, communist military propaganda, experimental 70s movies.
Last year, Pegard's great stop-motion clip for the Midnight Juggernauts' 'Lara vs The Savage Rock' –– directed with Lucinda Schreiber –– was nominated for a J Award, and with good reason: inspired by 70s avant-garde auteurs Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowsky, the clip was painstakingly put together over five months in a process Pegard described as 'epic'. After a month building paper backgrounds, Pegard shot the clip at two different studios; the resulting frames were printed onto 2000 pieces of paper, then re-shot, frame by frame, using stop motion. Check out the clip at right.
Videos: Manchester Orchestra "Simple Math"; Hundred In The Hands "Pigeons"
American directing duo Daniels, aka Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, first met at Boston's Emerson College, where they were studying 3D animation. The two first hooked up on a deranged short, in which they became each other, before making an awesome low-budget clip for Icelandic band FM Belfast, which brought them to much wider acclaim. From there, the duo, working with a bigger budget in their clip for The Hundred In The Hands' 'Pigeons', tried to see if they could 'make a video feel drunk', and gloriously succeeded.
Now signed to Warp Films, Daniels could no longer be really considered low-budget directors –– happily, they now have at their disposal enough cash to fully realise their wonderfully crazed visions. Though remarkably adept with effects, for Daniels, it's the people that matter: 'We love really fun visual treats but ultimately we're more interested in characters and strong narrative,' Kwan says. This attention to narrative is in ample evidence on their latest and greatest clip, for Manchester Orchestra's 'Simple Maths', which, if you haven't seen yet, you need to watch right now.
Videos: Crystal Castles 'Magic Spells'; Caribou 'Jamelia'; Alden Penner 'Let's Get Strong'
Canadian collective Video Marsh is made up of Nic Brown, David James and Stephen James, three friends who make videos and the occasional bit of music together. The trio's beautifully hazy videos make liberal use of slow motion, often combining shots of different natural scenes –– otherworldly sea creatures and sun- and fog-warped landscapes being particular favourites –– with quarter-pace acted scenes, their videos full of an effortless, woozy nostalgia that's refreshingly free of sentimentality.
Video Marsh are serial collaborators: they've made five great videos for fellow Canadian Caribou, including the gorgeous Jamelia, which you can watch at right, as well as three for Alden Penner and a couple for Crystal Castles, including the fuzzy, VHS-filtered video for 'Not In Love', which Nic reportedly spent almost a year putting together. This year the trio will release The Marsh, a mysterious film about 'the struggle of creatures' they've been working on since they came together. Check out the trailer here.
Videos: Caribou 'Sun'; Tiga 'Ciao! Means Forever'; LCD Soundsystem 'New York I Love You'
Filmmaker, designer and artist Simon Owens grew up obsessed with music videos. As a pre-teen, Owens would record and obsess over the latest clips on The Chart Show and Top Of The Pops; after receiving his first commission to create a video while studying at the Royal College of Art, Owens promptly dropped out to do what he loved.
From there, Owens has pursued a wide-ranging creative career that has seen him design luxury wallets, creatively direct a record label, and work on major interior design projects. But Owens, who places his style 'somewhere between the demonic and miraculous', is best known for his wildly diverse music videos, which he has directed for the likes of Caribou, LCD Soundsystem and Tiga. His much-loved video for Caribou's 'Sun', which you can watch at left, features various middle-aged women, dancing in serious ecstasy, before their studio gets gatecrashed by better dancers; his video for LCD Soundsystem's 'New York I Love You', meanwhile, features Kermit the Frog serenading the Big Apple, looking for all the world like a smart fan video until its final moments.