“You’re a band, a creative unit, nobody should tell you what to do,” Dave Grohl said between takes of filming the Foo Fighters’ new video “All My Life.” “The more hands you have in the pie and the more pokers in the fire, it gets to a point where it’s not yours anymore, and it becomes a mess.”
Grohl echoes the opinion of many musical peers who are forgoing the services of experienced directors in favor of taking matters into their own hands on the video set. “All My Life” is the third video Grohl has directed, following clips for “Monkey Wrench” and “My Hero” (see “Foo Fighters Out To Show They Can ‘Really Do It Up’ “ ), and it’s not likely to be his last.
“It’s your song, you wrote the lyrics,” he continued. “You should be able to represent it visually as well. If you [direct] yourself, it embodies the general aesthetic of the band.”
The artist/director trend is hardly new — musicians such as Talking Heads’ David Byrne and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch (as alter-ego Nathaniel Hornblower) have directed their own videos since the 1980s, but increasingly more artists are dabbling in directing. Blink-182′s Tom DeLonge co-directed the clip for “I Feel So” by his side-project Box Car Racer, Disturbed singer David Draiman co-directed his band’s new video for “Prayer” (see “Disturbed Refuse To Re-Edit ‘Prayer’ Video For Airplay” ) and Filter’s Richard Patrick did the same for “Where Do We Go From Here,” to name just a few recent examples. This year’s MTV Video Music Awards recognizes two videos that were directed by the musicians starring in them — Linkin Park’s “In the End” and Cake’s “Short Skirt/ Long Jacket” — and one, Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry,” helmed by Fred Durst, whose credits also include clips for Limp Bizkit as well as Korn, Cold, Staind and Deadsy.
“It was the same reason that made us want to produce our own albums,” explained Cake’s John McCrea, who directed or co-directed four of his band’s videos, including “Short Skirt/ Long Jacket.” “We didn’t see a particular video director that seemed right for the song. We knew what we wanted to do, so we just did it ourselves. If you have an idea, sometimes it’s harder to translate that idea to somebody else than to just go ahead and do it.”
For Rob Zombie, who not only directs his own videos but also helmed Ozzy Osbourne’s “Dreamer” (see “Zombie Directing Videos For Himself, Ozzy During Break From Tour” ), directing your own video is just the next logical step in the artistic process.
“You write the music, you record the music, you conceptualize the record and the packaging, and when you get to the final stage, probably the biggest thing that will expose the record to the world, you just hand it to some stranger?” Zombie said. “It just didn’t make any sense.”
Most artists-turned-directors didn’t have any formal filmmaking experience before they took to the director’s chair, though many claim they’ve harbored a vision for the craft since first experimenting with video cameras as children. Some touched upon filmmaking in college, and others, like Richard Patrick, just paid attention during the production of other videos so that they felt confident to take the reigns themselves the next time out. Unlike artists of the ’80s, for whom videos were a novel medium, today’s artists matured in the video age, and envisioning a video to go with a song they wrote seems natural.
“I can’t imagine not coming up with the treatment,” said Marilyn Manson, who assists in developing the concepts for all of his clips and directed portions of the home video “God Is in the TV” and videos for “Rock Is Dead” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Starf—ers, Inc.” “When I’m making a song, the images usually run hand in hand with it. So it’s hard for me to think of letting someone else handle it … Videos have to go hand in hand with your music, so that’s why, ultimately, they should be created by the artist. And if they’re not, it doesn’t really add up to me.”
The extent of an artist’s actual involvement when they are listed as director or co-director varies. Some, like Linkin Park’s Joseph Hahn, whose previous experience working on special effects for “The X-Files” and the mini-series “Dune” helped him with the imagery for Video of the Year nominee “In the End,” and Manson, who even styled Trent Reznor’s hair and makeup on the set of “Starf—ers, Inc.,” are very hands-on. For others, just having a good idea is enough to take directorial credit.
“Your name just kind of winds up on the top of the page, just because it’s your idea,” Grohl said. “Basically, anyone who has an idea can be a video director. I don’t know how to use the f—ing cameras. I don’t know how to use the playback monitors or any of that sh–. I just say, ‘This is how it should look.’ Then the director of production makes it look that way. Then you have your AD, which is your assistant director, or what I call your ‘actual director.’ ”
While Grohl doesn’t seem to mind the specious “director” label attached to him, Manson discredits the “co-director” tag as a cheap way to pad a resume, and added that if he took such partial credit for all his video input, his C.V. would be too lengthy to cite.
“It doesn’t matter that much to me to say, ‘Yeah, I co-directed that video,’ ” he said. “I think people know that I’m not some regular rock musician that a director pastes some image upon and makes them into something special for a onetime-only event in a music video.”
Regardless of the extent of their behind-the-scenes roles, most artists/directors agree that their inexperience can often ignite fresh takes. Other bandmates are often more comfortable making suggestions to one of their own, rather than a hotshot director whose resume can be intimidating. And the more ideas that stray from the tired “hard life on the road” or bling-bling lifestyle clips, the better.
“I hear from a lot of people that they’re unhappy with the direction that videos are going,” Hahn said, “and I take it as my responsibility to expose people to new things. We’re in the position where we can do it. We may not be in this position forever, but as long as we’re here, at least we can try to make some kind of difference.”
Zombie was initially open to the idea of considering outside help on his videos, but found that some directors couldn’t quite capture the essence of his music. And still others didn’t even try.
“I would play the game, I would talk to people,” he said. “I just never found anyone who said anything that I was interested in. Because for the most part, a lot of directors just write these concepts, and if you don’t use it, they’ll just give it to somebody else. And there are a lot of concepts for videos that people presented to me that I turned down and later noticed they were used for other people. It’s so interchangeable; it wasn’t specific to the band or me or anything.”
Taking a new approach, however, doesn’t always sit well with record labels, which base their business models on sure things, for the most part. When Cake’s John McCrea approached his label, Columbia Records, with his clip for “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” he was taken aback by the response.
“They told me that it was funny but I had to go back and make a real video,” he said. “And I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in the editing studio putting that together and then to have them tell me that was like punch in the stomach. I didn’t answer my phone for almost an entire week.”
The executives finally saw the light when Canada’s MuchMusic began playing the clip, which is a collage of man-on-the-street interviews, and MTV followed suit. It’s now up for MTV’s Breakthrough Video award (click for the complete list of 2002 VMA Nominees).
“It was a really good lesson for me about sticking to my guns, regardless,” he said. “If you’re really sure about something, you shouldn’t listen to anyone.”
Money also plays a part in an artist’s decision to direct. Experienced ones like McCrea and Zombie know that labels aren’t the savviest shoppers, and they’ll often spare no expense — well, none that the artists will have to pay back — in order to yield a hit video.
“Videos are the biggest rip-off to bands,” McCrea said. “Videos are the biggest way that bands are never able to recoup and get out of their indentured servitude to corporate America. Most of the time [labels] are helping out their friends, but it sends bands into monster debt … If a musician can take something into his own hands and avoid the indentured servitude of the music business, that’s a good thing.”
Zombie is also astounded by the production costs of videos, and knowing that he could produce a much cheaper video was a big reason he ventured into the directing fray. He said one the factors that contributed to Geffen Records allowing him to direct an early White Zombie video was because it only cost $12,000.
“And I knew it was doable, it was just a lot of work,” he recalled. “I’m not going to pay some [other] guy more money than the entire budget consists of, there’s just no way. It’s craziness. These bands that make one gigantic $400,000 extravaganza after another after another, everyone [around them] is getting rich and they’re flat broke. They’ll never recoup their video budgets.”
The flip side, however, is that artists who direct their own videos can get tripped up by their own autonomy and make an overly indulgent clip. When the case involves a superstar act, those around them may not be courageous enough to give them an honest critique of their work.
“If it means people are being more creative, I suppose [artists directing their own videos] is a good thing,” Manson said. “But I don’t think that’s the case. I think it just means that people’s egos are getting more inflated.”
Catch all the sizzlin’, star-packed VMA action direct from Miami on August 28. MTV News’ preshow kicks things off at 6:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the big show at 8 p.m.