360MC: – Researching music videos – Spike Jonze

During a seminar session, I was told to research the work by Spike Jonze; an American director, producer, screenwriter and actor who started out directing music videos. I thought it would be interesting to get this perspective from someone who has since become a feature film director and to see if there are any particular shots or ideas that could possibly be translated into what I will eventually produce. As any filmmaker, or any profession for that matter, improves technically overtime, I will look at some of the earlier videos that Spike Jonze directed, as well as some of his most recent.

Directed in 1993, Spike Jonze created a music video for the song Buddy Holly by Weezer. I was actually unaware prior to my research that this was directed by Jonze, as it is one of my favourite music videos of all time. Although this video is mostly stock footage, the technical skill here is incredibly impressive. The video seamlessly integrates the band Weezer into stock footage of the American sitcom, Happy Days, which visually still holds up today. In terms of what I could take away from this for my own production is that the video’s success comes from the nostalgia of the television show. Therefore, depending on the song, it might be possible to show either props or certain things from another decade that sparks the audience’s nostalgia or knowledge of that period in order to create a mood and distinctive atmosphere to complement the song.

The first music video Spike Jonze ever directed was High in High School by Chainsaw Kittens in 1992. As this was most likely filmed on an incredibly small budget, this is probably similar to the visual style that my music videos will look like. Although it does not have much visual flare, it embodies the energy and tone of the song which is the most important quality of a music video. Each cut is between every 3 – 5 seconds which keeps the pace moving along at an appropriate speed to match the tempo of the song. The visuals however do not create much of an imaginative or thought-provoking message but then again, that is not the point of the song. The song has a very simple message and delves into themes such as teenage angst and empowerment, going against the established order and teenage excess lifestyle. The video focuses on the band playing live on stage and cuts to shots of the band walking down streets and cars driving fast down roads. The break in the song slows the pace down slightly in terms of the music, although the video then cuts around every 2 seconds, with what looks like stock footage. Shortly after this the song then eventually moves back to 3 – 5 minutes. At least two of my three videos, depending on what the bands sound like once I find them, will follow this pattern of interchanging between stage performance and short shots of a narrative. This keeps it interesting enough for the audience and changes up the environment as to which the song takes place.

In 1994, Jonze directed Sabotage by Beastie Boys. The video was nominated for Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction in a Video, and Viewer’s Choice at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards despite losing to Aerosmith and R.E.M. The narrative of the video is a homage to 1970s cop or crime dramas such as Hawaii Five-O and Starsky and Hutch; in the style of an opening credits segment to one of those shows. Therefore the song name Sabotage is interpreted as the title of this new fictional show, with the band playing characters in the opening credits. This is a factor I would like to integrate into my own music video surrounding one that would be narrative focussed. In my opinion it allows for  a quirky tone when the band are involved as characters as it pushes them out of their comfort zone and allows them to have fun in the roles which shows in the finished video. It also still makes the video very personal to the band even though they are not actually shown playing, they are still a part of it. This would also enable me and my eventual videographer crew to work closely with the band and discuss narrative ideas. With multiple ideas being thrown around during the ideas generation process, the video may become very creative and unusual which could work to the video’s favour.

Again I was once again surprised to find out that Spike Jonze had directed another one of my favourite music videos in 2000 with Tenacious D’s Wonderboy. The video is incredibly epic with phenomenal sets and budget to make it look like a fantasy film, almost like The Lord of the Rings. One feature that was recommended to me and is evident at 3:23 – 3:38 of the above video is where the song is played in times 2 speed and the video is shot accordingly along to the sped up song. When slowed down again in post the final video is meant to look really fluid and professional. This is something I would very much like to try, most likely for the narrative video, as this would allow me to try something new when filming as well as produce a much more professional looking video.

And finally, Drunk Girls by LCD Soundsystem was co-directed with James Murphy (member of the band) in 2010 and is quite a surreal and comedic music video that is more or less filmed in one single take. Should I find a quirky band in the same vein as this one then I would quite like to produce a single take video to accompany it. Single takes require a lot of planning and professional direction for it all to go smoothly and effectively. The only downside is that there is no sense of pace due to the lack of editing which could draw away from the song and perhaps come across as less professional in that it was done in one take with one camera. However, I felt that this video was different enough for me to get a sense of different ways of approaching music videos.

In conclusion, I feel that each one of these videos has a certain quality I would like to bring to my three music videos, whether it be through the technical side or more so in the content and tone of the piece. Once again, it’s very difficult for me to come up with ideas when I still have no bands confirmed or any sense of what music I will be making a video of. Despite this, I will take away a lot from the work of Spike Jonze and apply it accordingly to my FMP work.

References:

Unknown. 2006. Chainsaw Kittens “High In High School”. Available at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=jzGX3EBg954 %5BAccessed: 12 Jan 2014].

Unknown. 2009. Beastie Boys – Sabotage. Available at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=z5rRZdiu1UE %5BAccessed: 12 Jan 2014].

Unknown. 2009. Weezer – Buddy Holly. Available at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=kemivUKb4f4 [Accessed: 12 Jan 2014].

Unknown. 2010. LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls. Available at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=qdRaf3-OEh4 %5BAccessed: 12 Jan 2014].

Unknown. 2011. Tenacious D – The Making of Wonderboy. Available at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=pBgLwo44wg8 %5BAccessed: 12 Jan 2014].

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