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The Death of the Director [Rant]

Music video directors can't possibly survive, can they?

kalstark, May 17, 2008 at 7:36:54 AM CEST

I apologize in advance if this post doesn't follow proper Antville etiquette but I was speaking with a colleague tonight and couldn't get the following out of my head:

Is it possible for modern music video directors to make a really good living?

A little personal history might help clear things up:

I'm a music video director. I live in L.A. I've been directing for roughly 7 years. I don't have a side job. I make my entire living off directing. I exec. produce/run my own boutique production company where I'm the only director and I have an amazing rep that pushes hard for me and gets me work. I Direct/DP/Edit all my own work and so I take:

  1. Director's fee (10% of budget)
  2. DP's fee (5% of budget)
  3. Editor's fee (5% of budget)
  4. Prod. Co. markup (5% of budget - usually it's 10% but I pay 5% of the budget to my rep)

Almost all my video budgets fall between $20k to $60k. I've only ever shot on film. I shoot approx. 8 videos a year (I could max out at around 10/year given all the jobs I do).

So, I shoot 8 videos with the avg budget being $40k and my theoretical 'take' being 25% (it's always more like 18% because I end up giving back bits and pieces of my rate to make the projects work).

So 8 vids x $40,000.00 x 18% = $57,600.00

I run my own business and I'm able to write off everything from my living space (home office), to my car, cell phone bills, etc... So I don't pay a typical employee amount in taxes.

I make a decent living but I've always thought of myself as a weirdo director. I may not be but I feel very much outside the typical system of music video directors. The standard being the, 'repped by a prod. co. and take 10% of video budgets' scenario.

Now, if you're the average director in today's video climate and you take 10% of the budgets doesn't that make it incredibly hard to make anything close to a decent living? Especially since, as directors, we're known for almost always giving back some of our rate to make these labors of love come out right.

If we reckon that a busy starter-director or 'B-list' director takes 8% but probably shoots more than me and shoots similar budget jobs then we could maybe figure:

10vids x $40,000.00 x 8% = 32,000.00 True, that's not bad at all! In fact, that's pretty darn good for getting to do what we do.

However, I can't help but feel that the ceiling in video directing is crazy low now and that it's practically impossible to make a living doing this stuff unless almost everything on your reel is a name artist.

True story - I wrote on a Grammy nominated artist earlier this year. She was on a major label and the initial budget was $50k. After a treatment or two the budget was magically slashed to $25k. Then, after another treatment was sent in, the budget vanished altogether.

Hmm, the above true story wasn't altogether related... Anyhow, I'm sorry for the insanely long rant and much of this barely makes sense I'm sure but I just couldn't help but think that it's getting harder and harder to make a living doing this stuff and that the quality of the work we see in the future may take a massive nose dive as directors find that they are no longer able to commit themselves wholly to directing videos.

After all, it's kinda hard to take the time needed to improve as an artist when you've got to bartend on the side... :(

On the other hand, I humbly admit that I'm not often privy to the financial inner-workings of my peers and so my numbers may be off but if they are I'd love to hear from other directors about how they see things. So, two questions, if I may:

  1. How many videos do you shoot/year?
  2. What are the avg. budgets that come across your desk?

Anonymous answers more than welcome. :)


mva, May 17, 2008 at 9:06:16 AM CEST

do you do commercials at all? why is it some directors can easily jump into doing spots while others can't (if they decide they want to)?

budget, May 17, 2008 at 9:51:29 AM CEST

I feel like the average budget for a major label artist dropped significantly last year. Usually 50k is pretty good for a newer artist that has a chance of being played on MTV. At this point it seems like there's very little difference between most indie and major budgets.

I recently got asked to write on an artist who will remain nameless on a big major label that will remain nameless. The brief said that the artist was the label's "priority alternative act for 2008" and that the video had to be a total home run. Budget: 35k.

kalstark, May 17, 2008 at 10:22:20 AM CEST

@ budget: It's insane out there. Most of the indie clients I work with have more money than the label clients. At my level I'm pitched the up-and-comers at the labels so budgets tend to be modest. Whereas, I can play hardball with the indies and get them to push their budgets up.

@mva: I've never shot a commercial but I find them very interesting. They seem to be the ultimate in filmmaker contrasts - they are the soul-sucking world of the director-as-puppet, while simultaneously being the creme de la creme of technique, visual sophistication, and image quality.

Also (more .02), commercials are the highest dollar/sec on the screen and because of the extreme amounts of money that are thrown around its a very tough field to break into. I came up working on commercials and it was crazy to look at budgets and see day rates for the directors.

On a Toyota spot I worked on back in 2000, the director got paid $45k/day for a 3 day job. Now, I don't like to think of myself as provincial but that blew my mind... ;) Especially since I knew that this director worked 40 - 50 shooting days a year!


birds-on-fire films, May 17, 2008 at 1:09:47 PM CEST

I've only been doing music videos for two years now, with a couple more years prior making a few crappy features and shorts and what-have-you's.

In these two years I have only made 5-ish music videos. None of them has had a budget over $6000. I have a few day-jobs and I hate them real good.

I have yet to pay myself for anything I have produced/directed. Well, actually, once I got brave and paid myself $50. When I got my credit card bill after that video, I had actually spent $300 of my own money during production when all was said and done, not counting another $1K of my money that I had initially put into the budget.

That'll teach me for trying to be Mr. Big Shot-with-his-fancy-50 dollars.

Sometimes I'm not sure if I like musicians/record labels. They like to flirt and tell you you have big cameras, but when it comes time to getting some action/money, they all of the sudden have boyfriends/tour-budget obligations.

I wish I even had a soul to sell to commercials.

So, in short, who's your agent? Tell them to holler. I once punched a bird out of the sky in mid-flight. That's not true, but it may sweeten the deal. I don't know, I'm out of tricks.

progosk, May 17, 2008 at 2:04:29 PM CEST

paging thiddy...

captainbob, May 17, 2008 at 4:08:16 PM CEST

an interesting discussion. I think the point is that you have to hussle to make it in this world. I usually run a video through my company and try and get as much of the budget as I can. I too edit the video, direct it, often composite and try and pay myself for all of those jobs. I do a couple commercials, but now the huge kind, but still huge compared to music videos. And when things are real bad I pick up random freelance jobs like shooting events, editing some crap, doing titles or family videos. It always amazes me that rich family's often have more to spend on a video than a major label does on one of their artists.

I thin you have to choose the videos that you care about and don't mind putting your fee back into, and the other ones that you just want to finish in a week and get paid for. I hate coming to that realization, and making videos that I don't love. But you know what I hate even more? Being broke and taken advantage of.

captainbob, May 17, 2008 at 5:18:45 PM CEST

and on one last bonus note, it's funny to me that everyone thinks making a small commercial is selling your soul and you don't get to do what you want. how about writing treatments for the shittiest bands you've ever heard, and then having to work with them and their managers to help make sure they come across well? You guys ever had to do that? Unless you are making a video for your friends band, or one of your favorite bands, you are a work for hire and doing something lamer than you would do if you had total freedom. (exceptions apply)

winchandpulley, May 17, 2008 at 7:37:38 PM CEST

For every director making 57,000 there are a couple thousand directors that would tie their own grandmothers up, throw her in the back of a car and bludgeon her with a shovel for half that much.

Count your blessings y'all. Music videos is still a world where other people pay you to make films. And really, how much should someone make to have hot girls vomit paint in slow-mo? Isn't that its own reward?

clearfilms, May 17, 2008 at 8:14:22 PM CEST

So where does everyone see this going? Are the budgets going to get lower and lower? I'm very curious since I have been making videos for just over a year and a half. I haven't found a rep yet though, so I'm working long hours for pennies for unsigned artists (and kinda rushing myself too, simply to break even).

Think it will get better?

kalstark, May 17, 2008 at 8:42:17 PM CEST

@winchandpulley: You're very right. On the other hand, it's often hard never knowing how much money I'll make this month or the next, never being able to save, or having a stable enough job to get a mortgage or even a car BUT (and this is a big 'but') I still wouldn't trade it for the world.

@ captainbob: I feel that I've done a good portion of my share of shitty bands. Out of the work that I've shot I think there are maybe two songs that I'd actually listen to freely. If there is one thing that I need to improve in my budding career it's the quality of artist/music that I work with. However, I can't lay all blame at the feet of my artists...perhaps the musical greats would be more inclined to work with me if my own work showcased more soul and ability.

Which leads me to - damn, you Cunningham, Romanek, Fincher, Lawrence, Muller, Jonze, Hunter, Williams, Arnell, Sednaoui, WIZ, Gondry, etc. Damn you and all the other greats I left unnamed. Damn you cause you make me love your incredible work even through the jealousy. sigh. :)


P.S. - @ clearfilms: (Opinion warning) I'm betting music video budgets fall until the avg. music video is made with approx. $40k. I think labels will become more and more reluctant to spend their marketing money on videos because there is no longer a controlled and mainstream place to play them. So, whereas avg. budgets in 1999 were $350k, and avg. budgets in 2007 were probably $100k, future budgets will more realistically reflect the amount of money labels and indies can stand to recoup by selling their music in a world where the tracks themselves are loss leaders for the real money-makers - touring, merchandising, and sponsorship.

mva, May 17, 2008 at 8:54:38 PM CEST

I'm not a director, but the directors I know work on commercials to get paid and do music videos on the side. Sometimes they use their own money (entirely) so they have complete creative control and continue building their portfolio that way.

I want to go back to the question I posed earlier: how does a music video director make a leap into commercials? I'm assuming you would have to establish yourself in the music video realm first, but I feel like advertising agencies would look for specific qualities in those directors. What are they?

captainmarc22, May 17, 2008 at 10:09:03 PM CEST

mva: here's the answer to 'how to make the leap from commercials to videos.'

A director needs to focus on making the highest concept, gimmickiest and/or funniest videos possible. The director who emulates Chris Cunningham or Mark Romanek will get nowhere, the director who emulates Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry will get everywhere.

Agencies aren't interested in seeing performance videos or dramatic stuff. They often don't care how it looks - they're just looking for ideas. Making something that goes viral can't hurt either, as that's all the buzz these days.

That OK GO treadmills video was directed by the band and shot on home video. Agencies couldn't stop talking about that video. The band could have easily quit music, signed with a production company and really had a shot at a lucrative commercial career.

jesse.ewles, May 17, 2008 at 10:35:49 PM CEST

Has it ever been easy to be a filmmaker? Sure, on one hand budgets are freefalling but it comes at a time when technology is so cheap that anyone can enter the business. People might look back to the "good old days" when labels were spending ludicrous amounts on promos with envy, but let's be honest; most of us wouldn't be in the running for those jobs even if they were still around. In the time of 6 figure videos only a handful of directors actually got the work. -j

mva, May 18, 2008 at 2:02:57 AM CEST

@captain: I don't know that much about commercial production, but would love to learn more...

I was under the impression that the ideas are generated on the agency side by the creative directors? The commercials I'm referring to are ones done by directors like Tarsem- highly stylized and visually arresting in their execution. I don't believe an agency would hire the OK GO guys to helm these kind of projects.

winchandpulley, May 18, 2008 at 2:24:32 AM CEST

I think your angst has more to do with the realization that not everyone gets to make shitloads of money for minimal effort. It's like saying "I have a guitar, I'm signed to a record label, how come I'm not nailing hookers and snorting rails of coke off a stretch limo?"

If you think about it, I bet musicians aren't making the retarded gobs of cash that they did in the past. Is that such a bad thing?

Budgets are definitely smaller, but that primarily means that there's not as much excess. (Of course labels still demand HD screens in the talent's trailer for a 35k video, but they'll figure it out, eventually.) Things are becoming less centralized by a few big companies and the gates are open wide for anyone with a good idea and a camera (or a good tune and Protools) to get out there and make a living.

Also, I'm one of the few people holding out that videos are on their way back. The waters are getting primed for short content that you can watch on your phone, at your office, etc. The reason that videos had such big budgets in the heyday of MTV is because people watched MTV. It made sense to spend money promoting artists when they knew a huge portion of their potential audience would be exposed to the video. We're quickly entering that era again.

The other big factor is just the endless stream of kids coming out of filmschool chomping at the bit to dump their life savings into a "make a video for us" contest. Which reminds me, film school is a perfect harbor for burnt out disgruntled film makers. If you ever decide to give up, I can get you some contacts. My old school is always hiring.

loz, May 18, 2008 at 2:51:51 AM CEST

i just want to send love to everyone on this blog.

i don't know the answers to any of the questions, except to say that "if it's any fun, you don't normally get paid for it". and i count my job as fun, so a lot of the time i don't get paid (well, at least)

kalstark, May 18, 2008 at 2:57:41 AM CEST

Never give up, never surrender. I'd do my job for 2 squares a day and a shack to call home. :)

About the idea of videos making a comeback though - a lot of industry type folks I end up talking to seem to agree that all the new ways to watch short content won't help. Labels spent several hundred thousand per video when MTV was big because the vast majority of people who bought music watched MTV.

There was only the one station and it was the marketing gateway to the CD buying masses. We no longer have that single portal to the everyman/woman and now everything is 'On Demand'. Music has become niche.

An MTV artist of yesteryear could be broken on MTV and sell far beyond their native built-in audience. Now, if Neyo puts out a video only those interested in Neyo search it on Youtube and see it. Thus, the label is only willing to put as much money into the video as makes sense to keep Neyo's built in audience buying.

We've lost the idea of market expansion because the marketers have lost their brute-force avenues. Everything is niche.

And sure, the doors are wide open for new directors, new artist, and new labels; which means most of us with talent will be able to eke out a small living. But the future state of the art is what worries me the most.

We aren't painters, or sculptors, or even photographers. What we do generally requires large amounts of labor, many separate artisans who perfect crafts of their own, and, most annoyingly, lots of money.

Sure, the overhead has come down as technology gets better but at the end of the day you still need grips to flag and push dollies, electrics to hang lights, art directors to make the mise-en-scene look right, and etc, etc, etc.


captainmarc22, May 18, 2008 at 7:46:27 AM CEST

mva: have you watched tv recently? When was the last time you saw a bloated, artsy Tarsem style commercial?

Ads are almost all humor, or at least cynical.

Yeah, agencies come up with the basic idea, but directors win job by taking their idea and making it twice as good. Like "how about instead of this, we shoot here, and cast a guy like for this role, and adjust this story element to make it funnier..."

When you're hired to do a commercial, you're hired by creatives and art directors: concept people. They're impressed by other concept people.

I think people always seem to forget the old cliche about music video directors. People just assume they hire a good DP, and a good editor, and the director shows up and shoots whatever's there.

mva, May 18, 2008 at 11:41:25 AM CEST

doesn't matter what they are airing in america, does it? i'm talking about commercials with big budgets, that actually have some artistic integrity to them. your answer then is limited to the directors who make these "funny" commercials. what about the commercials that all filmmakers strives to score- big budget and epic in scale?

captainmarc22, May 18, 2008 at 12:32:48 PM CEST

well, good luck trying to land a Sony Vaio spot. There's a big difference between transitioning into commercials and transiting into million dollar event commercials. A young director (e.g. someone who transitions from music videos) can really make a living shooting six to ten $100-200K commercials a year.

I think you got to rock a solid commercial career for a bit and then go after the super bowl spots.

And again, artistic integrity? What a boring argument. If indie rock bands can sell their songs to commercials and still be cool, why can't directors do commercials and still be considered cool music video directors? Would anyone give a shit if Jaron Albertin did a Taco Bell commercial? Would we even know?

radar71, May 18, 2008 at 2:29:23 PM CEST

I did a kmart commercial. it was fun. that's a confession!

shatner, May 18, 2008 at 4:56:25 PM CEST

I'm repped at a good London prod co and I struggle to make videos amidst all the other work I have to do in order to make ends meet.

familiar, May 18, 2008 at 4:57:24 PM CEST

Artistic integrity is still important to some people. Not sure if you can maintain both a living and your integrity as a director, though... not these days. Anyway, selling your song to a commercial or a movie is a far cry from writing a song for a commercial or a movie. That is a more apt comparison.

And yes, I think the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were awfully lame for writing a Spiderman song.

radar71, May 18, 2008 at 5:25:19 PM CEST

According to Hanna Arendt the ancient Greeks recognized the division between Work and Labor. Work is what you do that makes you immortal (in their eyes), and Labor is what you do to make money. According to this scheme, Labor would fall under the category of "Household" and therefore was private and not really discussed that much in Public. Work on the other hand was what you talked about in Public with your peers.

but then we're talking about a few thousand Greek citizens among many more who were slaves and didn't get to produce any "WORK"!

captainmarc22, May 18, 2008 at 5:35:13 PM CEST

Jack White wrote a song for a Coke commercial. I think any music video director wouldn't mind being to music videos what Jack White is to music.

Band of Horses sold a song for a Wal-Mart commercial. Of Montreal wrote an Outback Steak jingle.

These are still cool artists. Why isn't the comparison apt?

And c'mon, I think a lot of music video directors are delusional about their fame and what other people think of them. 99% of people couldn't name a single music video director. "Music video director cred" really only exists here on antville, and it's barely here. Antvillers judge the music video work that is presented to them. I bet most people here have never seen a commercial done by any number of antville's favorite directors.

eeeel, May 18, 2008 at 5:37:59 PM CEST

re: captmarc's OK GO comment, someone else did it for them.

quixoticnyc, May 18, 2008 at 8:34:34 PM CEST

A few thoughts here. With regards to the music video industry redefining itself, I can assure you all that budgets will not be returning any time soon. Many labels no longer even maintain video departments. Videos exist to push music sales and nobody really buys music anymore.

Labels are attempting to change how they do business with their artists. For those interested in understanding the big picture, I'd suggest looking up "180 record deals." This is the new paradigm. Labels will attempt to make money off of artists in ways that they never have before; mainly this means tour sales and merch. If this is the best they can come up with, they are truly in trouble. This is not sustainable. The industry expecting to make work at 1/5 or 1/8 the cost that we use to produce videos is also not sustainable.

The real joke is that even when budgets were there it still was not considered a profitable route for directors and prod Cos. Most production companies have maintained video arms only to develop or foster talent. The profit margins have been excessively low for quite some time; now its just straight up pathetic. I tend to think that the whole major model is eating itself. The indie DYI model will be the best way for musicians and directors alike. Just remember these were never very lucrative careers for most people.

One other quick point about commercials. I second the notion that there is no more shame in directing ads for Sony TVs than Sony musicians. In a past life I worked as a directors rep and the transition is a very hard one. I use to rep one director who only worked on budgets of a minimum of 300k. His work was beautiful to say the least. Several years ago he couldn't make the transition to commercials because agencies were only interested video directors with huge Pop/HipHop videos that were most obviously commercials. They were only interested in David Myers types. By this I mean that were interested in going to the director with videos for Gwen and Mariah because they were essentially making the same thing only for Pepsi. Its a simple idea that they want to see it on your reel. If there is something on your reel that may want to reproduce than you are in. Buy and large this hasn't changed. However there are always exceptions to the rule. Sorry that was so long winded.

piore, May 19, 2008 at 12:01:55 AM CEST

there's no shame in commercials, i'd like to see any of these antvillers get offered a 100k spot for whatever stupid product, and turn it down in place of a labor of love that takes 5 months to complete for a band no one's heard of (no shame in that either but money dont grow on trees). and i'd really like to echo captainmarc's wise words in stating that the integrity of MVs exists in the vacuum of antville. no one cares except us. MVs are ephemeral b/c when we get hired to do it, at the end of the day we're getting hired to help sell records...not to make art!

familiar, May 19, 2008 at 1:26:54 AM CEST

"Band of Horses sold a song for a Wal-Mart commercial. Of Montreal wrote an Outback Steak jingle.

These are still cool artists. Why isn't the comparison apt? "

Band of Horses revoked the Wal-Mart song, and they feel like asses. They did not write the song FOR Wal-Mart.

Of Montreal have also indicated a certain amount of remorse, and let me tell you -- that shit is lame. Lame lame lame. In their own words, "I'm not allowed to talk about it. There is nothing I can say that would be permissible." This is a good comparison because it was written for the company, the same way a video is directed as a vehicle for selling something. If that something is of dubious value, why does it not reflect on the director? It's their choice regarding who they work with.

And just got to Boards if you want to see commercials by a good percentage of the directors who's work has been posted here.

I think the argument regarding artistic integrity is moot. Everyone has their own take on what is acceptable. But to dismiss an artists' responsibility for the context in which their work is presented? Well, go for it... everyone chooses to live by their own code.

spit, May 19, 2008 at 1:36:10 AM CEST

I think it's worth mentioning that to most discerning music lovers, ALL music videos are crass, ridiculous exercises in "selling out". The old rockist party line is that music videos/MTV ruined music by making the visual aspects of pop more important than the actual music. They don't care WHO directed it.

It's also worth pointing out that all of your favorite directors have done projects that could be construed as "selling out". Gondry has a few Lenny Kravitz and Sheryl Crow videos that were excluded from his Director's Label DVD, Dougal Wilson has helmed JC Penney ads, and heck- Stanley Kubrick directed Spartacus!

Worrying about selling out is counterproductive. It will make you anxious and silly, and it will stunt your growth as a director. Seriously, the number of film school grads who are sitting around in their darkened apartments refusing to direct anything until Bjork calls them is disgusting. If Spike Jonze were around to see this, he would never stop vomiting.

For further reading, (not my blog, but the only place I could find this online) Dave Eggers: The Sound Of No Hands Clapping

familiar, May 19, 2008 at 1:42:16 AM CEST

Onoes not Eggers. :( Sorry -- the guy is a joke. But it's interesting to read what he says, and to see the complete 180 he has done regarding this subject over the years. At least he's grown up since his early days of viciously protecting his flawed notion that he was the only guy in the world "keeping it real".

julianj13, May 19, 2008 at 10:00:24 AM CEST

Just wondering what music video directors do for money then...besides commercials. Captainbob, noted, thanks.

I edit and I have done two corporate gigs (yuck).

goulash, May 19, 2008 at 11:11:19 AM CEST

I think you just have to be realistic, and find another way of earning money in line with directing, I certainly couldn't rely on promo directing and frankly wouldn't rest easy thinking that I could. Directing was an opportunity for me not a vocation so I may be the exception - but I treat it with the same passion as most other directors I know.

However the assumption that one can make a living from simply making music videos seems a little blinkered in my opinion. But there are exceptions, some of who I know personally. Yet these people still have other skills like editing, post, and motion design which they built their careers upon.

Standing still to nurture your artistic integrity is a luxury few can afford and frankly it's just a bit pretentious and arrogant. The worst thing I heard from an couple of directors, just starting out, was that they turned a pitch down because they didn't like the track! In my opinion making promos is as much problem solving as it is a form of art, and there are shit songs and tracks but they are the ones that should present the biggest and most interesting challenges..

Commercials and corporates are okay if you have the skill to pull them off in your own way - they can be pretty innovative. Here's what could easily be considered a corporate :

Even the likes of Jonze turn their hands to commercials, and thankfully they execute it with an almost equal skill and wit. I think the problem is that all we see are the music videos and forget that these people do other work. It's like a promo myth.

You are a director, go and direct.

mtduignan, May 19, 2008 at 2:13:47 PM CEST

It is a perennial problem; trying to make a living out of art. In NZ there is no way anyone can survive on music videos alone (average budget = 5k). I've been making TV commercials for five years, and it can be annoying, but at the same time there is satisfaction in making something funny, or moving, or just well put together; even if it is selling soap or chocolate bars. Almost all the other TVC directors I know have side projects; music clips, short films, features, even TV series. I think there is a trap in focusing on one narrow medium like music videos to the detriment of other things. If you broaden your scope to being a "director" or even an "artist," then other opportunities for artistic fulfillment and income might arise. This is especially relevant when things are changing in the media landscape so fast. Commercials are where the money is now, but that might be changing. Perhaps if if directors negotiated a deal with itunes for music vid downloads?

30f, May 19, 2008 at 5:01:31 PM CEST


This surely won't cheer you up, but you might enjoy the posts labeled 'death' over on my blog.

stoney, May 19, 2008 at 7:34:03 PM CEST

I'm an optimist like Winch and Pulley

"Also, I'm one of the few people holding out that videos are on their way back. The waters are getting primed for short content that you can watch on your phone, at your office, etc. The reason that videos had such big budgets in the heyday of MTV is because people watched MTV. It made sense to spend money promoting artists when they knew a huge portion of their potential audience would be exposed to the video. We're quickly entering that era again."

I'm not sure if budgets are on the way back up, but i think visibility and exposure of mv's are def on the way up. MV's are perfect content for iphones so we should get some major exposure on there. Additionally mv's will gain more and more attention as internet load times/poor quality resolution die off. Furthermore, online tv channels like pitchfork could really help the cause too. It's not like people no longer like music videos... its just that before they had a one stop shop (mtv) for them, and now they have a tone of different options but none as easy and accessible. But it's really not hard to imagine an online website just coming out and becoming a dominating/easy to use/extremely popular source for watching videos. We just dont have that site just yet. But once we do, and thousands of eyes are watching all the time, then budgets will go back up, me thinks.

shatner, May 19, 2008 at 8:44:54 PM CEST

"But it's really not hard to imagine an online website just coming out and becoming a dominating/easy to use/extremely popular source for watching videos."


I thought Itunes might have been helpful, now that people can pay for and download the music videos directly. Might not have increased budgets but thought directors might have got some sort of percentage of the money that was being made off that. Is that a ridiculous idea?

lusk81, May 19, 2008 at 9:14:52 PM CEST

To add to spit's bjork comment: And the guys who did the last Bjork video (Encyclo), literally lived in a cubby hole above a machine room in a downtown post facility in utter poverty for 8 months -- eating rice balls (if anything at all) and barely showering.

I remember thinking, man, is this really worth that sacrifice....?

gorilla films, May 19, 2008 at 10:28:59 PM CEST

I think you also forget that a lot of directors did a lot of low budget videos before their big break (f.e. Joseph Kahn) and that before the end of the nineties the budgets were also quite small.

quixoticnyc, May 20, 2008 at 2:49:35 AM CEST

Think The Graduate - "plastics"

Now its "intellectual property". Virals are old news, some folks just haven't figure that out yet. The new buzz has to do with ownership. This will most likely prove itself in the form of licensing of content: characters, music, etc. Major corporate advisors seem to be going bonkers trying to figure out how to own and control content. Just imagine Jewel's new album paid for by a tampon brand. 50cent's new one by paid for by Powerade. This will shape everything that we are talking about. Anybody want to bet on how long it will be before the Coke Happiness Factory characters rear their silly heads in some other form of merchandising? This is can be quite empowering for the individual creator as well.

progosk, May 21, 2008 at 3:19:33 PM CEST

count nick uff, charminster gardener, among the optimists.

bonjourx, May 24, 2008 at 10:27:04 AM CEST

In response to mva's questions:

'how does a music video director make a leap into commercials?'

Quite late to comment on this thread but I thought I may have some kind of different angle / opinion that may help some aspiring directors;

I am an experienced agency art director / creative who moved into directing both music videos and commercials. I guess I see things from both sides of the fence as I have a pretty good idea what creatives look for in new directors whilst I also have an aesthetic understanding of the elements which contribute to break a music video director into commercials from my own experience.

To me, what can break a music video director into commercials comes quite simply down to IDEAS. Good agency creatives respect and desire directors who brilliantly create clever, original, innovative ideas within the arena of music video. The directors who have become very successful in the cross from music video to commercials basically generally had a reel of original, great music video ideas which were executed with individual style and flare, whilst at the same time having some kind of consistency. The other crucial element that will prove EXTENDED success is personality.

This case has been proved countless times in recent years by SO many success stories; Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Mike Mills, Dougal Wilson, Dom & Nic, Pleix, Daniel Levi, Jonathan Glazer, Walter Stern and so on. The list will go on and on...

If you take as an example the London music video scene;

It is pretty easy to see who will make it (into commercials) and who will not. Who has outstanding AMAZING talent and who is just a scenester style-monger. Partizan's music video roster for example is made up of likely a 30 / 70 mix of this equation.

There is nothing wrong with making "style only" music videos as after all that is what the viewers will watch. To make that jump to commercials though, if you do not make videos with really impressive innovative ideas, you will likely not cross over into a long successful commercials career in a hurry. In my opinion, although connected they are two VERY different worlds.

The same projected success would apply to an agency creative who has amazing original ideas compared to an agency creative who can just make things look good by being well referenced. The creative with great original ideas will go infinitely further with their career. It really does to an extent just come down to actual talent.

In an answer to whoever above said the OK-GO guys could of launched into a career in commercials; Maybe they could of attracted one or two scripts from agencies off the back of the video but realistically it is extremely unlikely that would of been maintained as they had NO track record or documented history of great work

Some directors will (rightfully so) not care about commercials, as music video is a far more artistic medium however, to make a living - commercials are the incentive to maintain a career in creative film-making where you can make both which generally I would imagine is the big attraction.

I have made many music videos both in London and abroad for name acts, although financially I have barely made anything on these videos and make pretty much all my money / living on commercials. I am now at the point where I use music video as my non-profit making creative outlet whilst making my entire living from commercials. Either way I do what I love - which is creatively working with film.

As a measure against the US director who posted above, managing to make 58k$ on 8 music videos a year (Which is quite impressive!); I make around 4 music videos a year (making little profit, maybe 5k$) however, I also make 6-8 commercials a year which pay on average 40-50k$ per job, if that is any incentive to anyone.

I now find that the lower budget music videos are the ones which enable me to be more creative so I now do not really ever expect to make money from them but more see them as my form of art.

I would LOVE to just make my entire living from making music video, unfortunately though it is no longer 1985.

I suppose the most painful outcome from the current situation of music video budgets is that it is now almost impossible to make a living on music video unless you are either lucky enough to make commercials or alternatively have a different well payed day job.

Hopefully the trend for short content will start pushing up MV budgets again although the way things currently are in the UK MV industry I would imagine this is unlikely in a hurry.

shatner, May 24, 2008 at 5:04:00 PM CEST

with all due respect, I think directing is about ideas AND execution- always has been- and both of those elements are just as important. This spurious claim that ideas are the most important thing is a bit ridiculous. Execution is just as important.

If I was a creative at an ad agency and had a great idea I wouldn't want to get a director on board who had amazing ideas but wasn't the best at executing. In fact, as I had already had the great idea, I'd want someone shit-hot at executing.

Jonathan Glazer is an example of someone who if he told you the 'idea' for one of his videos you would not get that excited (rabbit excepted), until you saw how amazingly kick ass he is at executing those ideas.

my name is legion, May 24, 2008 at 6:04:59 PM CEST

i second this. i think ideas are overrated in this day and age only because of the low budgets and utube/ amateur vids: if you dont have the money for a solid production, you start performing lame party tricks and gimmicks.

le: i remember seeing a commercial (advertising some young guns award show, i think) featuring a PPM: the creatives were in the meeting room, whilst the director spoke with them over the intercom. i cant find it but i think it illustrates well the idea that a good director should be less about having ideas and more about executing them properly.

kalstark, May 25, 2008 at 3:02:52 AM CEST

I'm split on this but first off let me say thanks for posting and great post bonjourx (gave me lots to think about).

Now, I say I'm split because I'm struggling, at the moment, to figure out how to take that next step. I'm a competent music video director. I work with decent artists but Joe and Jane Average recognize few if any of the names (besides a couple of big time artists that were featured on tracks I've shot for).

I think my work is strong technically and I've recently gotten to that magical director place where I can actually shoot what is written on the page (perhaps it sounds strange but execution is without a doubt 9/10ths of directing).

On the other hand, I have come to the conclusion that the thing holding me back the most from jumping beyond C+ director level to B or even A-list level are the quality of the ideas I end up shooting. Now, like every other director, I have some pet ideas that I love and that I feel would really take off if shot but I find it almost impossible to push my clients away from rims n' thangs.

I always try and put my own take/spin on the vids but at the end of the day my reel looks like any other mid-level, label budget, urban reel - bright, pretty colors, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

It gets frustrating and every time out I say to myself, 'this time it's going to be different'. But then a decent job with a decent budget comes along and the label wants a treatment back in 4 days and I desperately want to shoot the job so at first I try to come up with something truly brilliant; something that I, at least, will love.

But then, 3 days go by. I rack my brain. I throw out 5 or 6 ideas that aren't quite the end of it all I have nothing incredible. So I revert to 'sure thing' mode - I pander, I use ignorant levels of hyperbole, and I give them what they want.

Sure, I end up getting my fair share of jobs and, as always, another bright and pretty piece goes on the reel...

Unfortunately, no A-list artist would look at my reel and say, 'Wow, I really need to hire that guy', the commercial posse wouldn't pee on me if I was on fire and feature people see even less value in the work. Thus, I'm left only with the option to do more glossy, pretty, and empty vids.

So, the struggle for me now, as I see it, is to try and maintain a living while managing to propose and then deliver much more creative videos in a client environment that wants nothing so much as it wants to simply 'fit in'.

At the end of the day, maybe the real problem is that I'm also a bit scared of pushing my envelope and coming up wanting.

Okay, so that was strangely therapeutic...


lusk81, May 25, 2008 at 6:03:25 PM CEST

KAL: Inbetween it all, why not make a short? Or shoot a spec or two? You might have to pass on a job to do so, but then your reel will begin to take on a personality you can call your own. Yes/no?

progosk, May 25, 2008 at 7:30:01 PM CEST

pretty much wot i would've said...

kalstark, May 25, 2008 at 7:49:57 PM CEST

Hey Lusk, Progosk,

Spec spots would be cool too but getting the funds to shoot a professional quality spec doesn't seem to be in the cards. I'm also reaching out to artists that I'm more in tune with but oftentimes they look at my mostly urban reel and it's a turn off. It kinda seems like shorts may be a large part of the solution.


captainmarc22, May 25, 2008 at 10:09:46 PM CEST


I agree, a director needs ideas and good execution. But people always seem to assume execution means 35mm film, expensive production design and sets.

You can tell someone's talented by a clever DV video they shot with their friends. You can tell someone's a hack by a soulless slick video shot with an A-list DP.

kalstark: it sounds like you want to have great ideas, but don't. Not sure what to say to that, other than- doesn't every director want to be a great director?

quixoticnyc, May 25, 2008 at 10:50:57 PM CEST

Id like to point out that this kind of discourse is awesome. I wish we had more of this on antville. The formula is always a video and then it is either ignored, loved or despised. More conversation like this would be lovely.

And to Kalstark you may also find at some point that its harder work selling an idea onto a client that you truly believe speaks to the direction that you'd like to move in. But is worth it. Like anything else it means finding the angle to get there.

kalstark, May 26, 2008 at 1:26:40 AM CEST

@ Captainmarc: You're totally right. Not everyone gets to be Kubrick but I'll be damned if I won't try to be even better than he was! ;)

That said, I'm definitely not a wunderkind director but pretty much every video I shoot is better than the last. Hopefully that trend continues for a long long long time and I eventually get to where I want to be.

@ Quixoticnyc: Another very good point. It's without a doubt worth it to fight for the good ideas. Foolishly, however, when I first got into directing, my 'angle' was to showcase that I could do a big budget look on a much smaller budget. My plan was to fit in and get lots of work and then, once I was a fully working director, I would begin to do the stuff that really interested me.

Warning Advice coming up: Do NOT do the above! All it does is push you further and further towards work that doesn't fulfill. The key problem, as I gradually discovered, is that the clients who admire your stuff and want to work with you aren't the type of people you'd like to impress or that you're dying to work with. /advice

I've said this before, I consider myself just left of mainstream and because of this I frequently find that the cult favs on antville don't do anything for me. I enjoy a good solidly made Joseph Kahn Backstreet boys video and I love many a Jaron Albertin clip too but occasionally everyone gets raging wood for something (Albertin's thermal vision promo for Emily Haines 'Our Hell') that barely moves me.

It's true, I'm not yet satisfied with my work (although I get lots of compliments from clients) but it's not because I feel incapable of coming up with 'great' ideas (after all, they're my ideas so of course I like them). The main issue is that I rarely get a chance to shoot my 'great' ideas and that, the few times I have had the chance, I haven't managed to execute them nearly as well as I would have liked.

The fear of trying as hard as I can and coming up wanting (as I wrote in the above post) is more of a psychological fear than a problem I'm facing in my day to day work.


P.S - sorry for all the long posts... :(

bonjourx, May 26, 2008 at 12:17:42 PM CEST

Firstly; kalstark - I love reading your posts you sound really cool and I can totally empathize with your situation. It is tough out there, even when you are doing good work and improving each time. Shit, I make good money from commercials and I find it hard.

I would love to know who you actually are to see your work :)

In reply to shatner's comment to my post;

"with all due respect, I think directing is about ideas AND execution- always has been- and both of those elements are just as important. This spurious claim that ideas are the most important thing is a bit ridiculous. Execution is just as important."

Umm, of course execution is JUST as important as ideas however, that is just a given being a good director no? ANYWAY, if you read my post clearly I did mention original outstanding execution is also absolutely important. I think the execution part is a pretty obvious requirement personally. It is not like any decent creative would select a director who was not tight at execution!

When I write a tv campaign / script, I would far preference a Director who has great, inventive ideas AND interesting execution such as 'Dougal Wilson' rather than a director such as 'Tarsem' who some might say is "shit-hot at executing" (although he is not my vibe at all anyway). It purely comes down to taste. I find great directorial execution is all about good ideas anyway.

You could not say Jonathan Glazer did not have great ideas when it came to his executions. I think great directors go just slightly beyond 'shit-hot execution'(!) Glazer for sure would be one of these directors.

My opinions purely come from what I, and I know other good creatives look for in new directors. I have worked at the top boutique agencies in London and I can say that it certainly comes down to more than just 'shit-hot executing' in what breaks a new director.

Someone above mentioned shooting 'spec ads' as a step up to doing commercials from Music Video;

If you are a new director considering this route, my advise would be to tread VERY carefully. Spec ads on reels I think can often be more of a problem than help unless they come out totally AMAZING. Decent Production Companies generally frown on spec ads unless you have pumped some serious cash or post-time into the execution. Again, the creative idea is also very important.

One slightly less chancy approach if you were to be prepared to put money into a spec ad would be to get friendly with some good agency creatives and ask if they have any great ideas that never got off the ground that could be shot on a budget...

This was how I and I know many other good directors broke into commercials.

I may be considered mean saying this but here is a spec ad example I recently viewed - posted on lots of ad blogs. This spec ad I would say was not worth all the effort from the director;

Obviously the director would of slaved for months over this however realistically his time would of been far better spent making an inventive low-budget music video.

I agree this post is refreshing against the usual bull-shit bitch-fests which take place on most the MV posts on this site.

Believe in where you want go and do not sell-out, if you have the talent you will absolutely get to where you want to go.


progosk, May 27, 2008 at 7:38:51 AM CEST

bonj: that spec is dreck, indeed. and: what you say about sourcing ideas from creatives is what would make most sense, and touches on another fundamental: connections/personal vibe can definitely make (or break) a director's chances.

rogerroger, May 27, 2008 at 8:07:40 AM CEST

kalstark: Although four days is a pretty intensely short amount of time to come up with an idea for a treatment, perhaps push to submit your signature "big budget look for low budget cost" treatment along with another more experimental one as well. You never know.

gorilla films, May 28, 2008 at 12:27:40 AM CEST

I think this discussion is pretty interesting. On the one hand all of you are right: It's quite hard to make a living doing musicvideos. But on the other hand it's incredible that you can actually make them on a shoestring anyways. Technology has improved so much that you can make a short, a music vid or even a feature without working in the industry for years. Personally i think it's great that you can actually get into filmmaking by making films and not carrying around equipment or cooking coffee for somebody else.

Another thing is that i would like to mention is that the people that were looked upon some years suddenly become the next big thing. Some years ago it was close to impossible that a commercial director turned to feature films. Suddenly music video directors changed from people "that could not get into feature films" to "the new avantgard". In my opinion it will be tough to get a break doing musicvideos. The path has been walked down by so many people. The route is too clear. As usual the real talents work under cover in some other field like Videogames or something like that and will life their success when time catches up with them.

Sorry for my poor english writing.

my name is legion, May 28, 2008 at 9:05:25 AM CEST

its desktop film-making that is killing off all proper film-making

kalstark, May 28, 2008 at 3:07:54 PM CEST

Not sure I agree. Especially in music videos. The music industry is getting hammered by its business model's version of the perfect storm. Budgets have been in a free fall because of this. Desktop film making is all that keeps music videos alive. They'd be dead years gone if not for the fact that we can now make high quality videos for a fraction of the traditional cost.


progosk, June 3, 2008 at 4:55:10 PM CEST

on desktop, specs, directing music vids, etc.: dennis liu.

grettle, June 4, 2008 at 5:50:46 AM CEST

bonjourx..any chance I can get your email..I'd like to ask you a question in private.


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