My Music Video History Story!
I've cut over one hundred and fifty music videos in my career and this is a collection of 30 of them, with a little bit of a description of my recollection of what went down during the edit or the shoot... like an insiders view so to speak. They made this list as they were all either my favourites or were seminal or memorable in one way or another. They're laid out chronologically and start nearly twenty years ago in August 1994 and span ten years. I hope you enjoy.
TinMan 'Eighteen Strings'
Dir: Mark Adcock
So this was my first ever pop video. We had just taken delivery of an Avid at Picture Post, which was a commercials editing house, and this was pretty much one of the first things that got cut on it. The bosses had sent me on an Avid training course the previous week so I was actually the only one who knew how to work the software!
Anyway I'd met Mark Adcock, the Director, in telecine at Rushes. He was grading with my brother Dominic. I had asked Dom to keep a lookout for new and upcoming Directors that he thought had potential and that I might get along with. (With Editors and Directors it's more about personality compatibility then probably with any other crew member. I guess 'cause we have to spend more one on one time with each other than with any other crew member!) With this in mind Dom thought that we'd be a good fit. Mark had also just graduated from Central Saint Martins and this was his first pop video. So Dom rang me late one evening, luckily I was still at work, so I ran round the corner and casually popped my head in the door on the pretext of saying hello to my brother. I checked out the footage and talked to Mark for a while then said I'd love to cut the video for him. Unfortunately he had already lined up another Editor at Final Cut so I said "Oh well, that's a pity, maybe next time". To be honest I really bonded with Mark straight away and thought we were gonna be friends anyway. So I left it at that and kind of forgot about it...
Until I got a phone call late on the following Friday afternoon. He'd been editing for three days and the music label commissioner had come in to see how the cut was progressing at which point she had pulled Mark aside and expressed concerns about the pacing and overall 'promoiness' of it all. So he kind of rang me in a panic to see if I might be interested in taking over the job. I said bring the tapes over and I'd start on it straight away!
We cut all weekend! I didn't go home at all. We slept in the edit suite, I even squeezed in a family christening on the Sunday. I taught Mark how to use the Avid and while I slept he cut. Well actually more like placed things where he thought they should go. He's got a mad style of editing, even to this day. He's kinda all over the place, put this bit here and that bit there, this bit at the end, no patience, like most Directors! He writes like that too. Doesn't start at the top left corner like everyone else, but in the middle. I thought he was a genius right there and then.
I had the idea of speeding most of the footage up to give it some pace and energy which seemed to work and that actually fitted in nicely with some of the stop frame Bolex stuff Mark had shot. I also wanted to try out frame cutting and was really excited about this. Cutting individual frames out or cutting between two shots frame by frame. This hadn't really been possible so much before Avid as film was quite tricky to frame cut (the sellotape would get jammed in the gate on the Steinbeck and rip the film!) and U-matics weren't really frame accurate. I remember we used to jump up and down and around the edit suite when something blew us away. It was exciting times, especially working with Mark. It was probably one of the best experiences of my professional life! And by the end I think all the lack of sleep and crazy energy from us really helped the cut.
Anyway, by the time the commissioner came in to view it on Monday we were in a really good place, just a few tweaks and finessing was needed. So she pretty much signed it off, very pleased with herself or more like relieved!
And that was the start of my promo career.
Eon Boogieman John 'Joy Loves Pain'
Dir: Mark Adcock
This was my eighth music video... For free!!! I always liked this song and at the time I loved the performance Mark got from the girl. I think it was also the first promo where I actually liked the rushes that I was being given to work with, which helps! Mark had all these reasons behind their gestures and actions which sort of mirrored a relationship that he'd been in and when I met his girlfriend a few months later I recognised a significant resemblance between her and the model he used on the shoot!
I've always said an Editor can only be as good as the footage that they get. No matter how well you cut something, and I've polished a number of turds in my time, if the song is shit or the script is pony or the lighting or camera work is off or the acting amateur, then no matter what you do people aren't really gonna see past that. So when something comes in that is half decent you do get excited, well I do anyway.
Funny thing is, no matter what I did to Mr Boogieman John's sync it always looked off. And that's even when not playing through Vimeo or YouTube which always seems to put sync out as well! But then I discovered that some singers are like that to playback, they just can't seem to stay with it. It still bugs me to this day to watch this video... But hey, what you gonna do!
N-Trance 'Staying Alive'
Dir: Alex de Rakoff
Wasn't sure whether to include this or not!
There's lots of quick cutting and you can see I'm still learning about editing and having fun with the Avid and all it can do! Speedramping, reversing, wipes, quick intercutting, basically anything I could throw at it!
It was my tenth music video and I was getting a good reputation as the go to Editor at the most prolific music video production company at the time, Spidercom. I think I worked with near enough every Director it had on it's books... except unfortunately Guy Ritchie who also worked there! Although to be honest I seem to remember at the time I wasn't really a fan of his promo work. But his films, well I think he's turned out to be one of the best British Directors of my generation. I did however meet him once in an online as he was best mates with Alex de Rakoff who was the Director of this video.
I loved working with Alex. If I remember right I think he was an ex-model turned Director and pretty much always provided enough footage and angles to tell the story. He was a good laugh as well. I did maybe 5 or 6 videos with him before Spidercom closed it's door and it's band of Directors er, disbanded! Alex has gone on to direct feature films and I think he lives in the States now.
It's interesting to compare it to the editing in Lisa Maffia. And see how I've incorporated some of those techniques but more restrained! It's also very similar in that it's interweaving a story in a club with performance.
Like I said before, the final product so depends on the quality of the cameraman's work along with the performance and the song... Oh yeah and budget!
Send No Flowers 'Downfall'
Dir: Mark Adcock
This was my 22nd video in my first year and a half of editing, and probably the first video where I thought it had really strong visuals, plus it was a half decent song and the band performed well. Mark even had a great cameraman, Alex Melman... I’d been wanting to cut his footage for ages and was so excited. I was not disappointed.
Funny thing is you just know when you’re doing all these videos whether the band have got a hope in hell of making it and mostly you’re thinking ‘Na they haven’t got it’. If this had been a Radiohead video then fame and fortune would have followed... but it wasn’t and it didn’t! It was definitely the first video where I got to cut in cool shots of the guitarists feet. I’d been banging on for ages to Directors ‘please get me some shots of the feet if it’s a performance video’. I love feet shots... And hand shots, they can convey so much emotion but mainly they just look really cool especially in slow motion.
This was only the second performance based video that I'd cut. The other one was also by Mark and for the same band but wasn't as good! Funny thing was I've always preferred performance videos over story led ones but for some reason I had garnered a reputation for the story ones. I mean I do like telling stories which drove me to filmmaking and editing in the first place but for music videos personally for me there’s nothing more powerful than a well cut, well performed video, of a band rocking out to their own song. I think bands prefer them as well. Nothing beats that raw energy.
Eg 'Made My Baby Cry'
Dir: Mark Adcock
No one ever really got the story of this one. If you must know it... The man separates in two at the beginning, a white suited one and a black suited one and this represents what the man is thinking/feeling. White for the nice guy and black for the bastard guy. Easy so far! So they walk off in different directions symbolizing those opposing forces, good and bad and all that. He’s done something horrible to his girlfriend, cheated on her maybe, and the good guy wants to make it up to her and have everything be alright, but the bad guy wants something bad to happen to him so he can feel the pain. Then he ends up having an accident on his motorbike, I guess ‘cause he’s worrying about it so much, and in his dying moments lying on the ground, he dreams about going back to her and making it alright again! Simples. Oh yeah and the man at the end that gets out of the car to help really was a concerned citizen thinking that there had been a nasty accident!
It reminded me of a new wave French Film in a way. Graphic buildings and the grade by my brother added to that feeling. Plus Eg looked kinda French maybe? Funny thing was the opening scenes were shot in front of the Barbican housing estate where I was born and grew up for the first 11 years of my life. That was weird, full circle and everything. Oh yeah and here’s the answer to one of those, ‘what gave the Director that idea’ kind of question... All those shots at the end where it looks like he was flying, perhaps even ascending to heaven if you’re following the story, all that footage was shot because the camera car was stuck in a slow moving traffic jam and instead of wasting time they thought ‘well we might as well shoot something’, hence that’s how we got the dream sequence stuff. The hands shots were my favourite, I thought they were so emotive. Like I said hands and feet!
The DP was Dan Landin who was another cameraman whose footage I wanted to cut. I think he started out as Tim Maurice-Jones's focus puller or something. But it was Mark's idea to shoot some of the rushes on Bolex and use the camera's lenses as an effect. On the front of a Bolex are mounted three different lenses on a round plate that you can turn around for quick re-framings. And Mark thought to use this while the camera was rolling which gives a great effect. And the round circle vignetting was in camera as well. Mark and Dan had made this cardboard circle, cylindrical, concentric thing that they put on the front of the camera and moved in and out to get the effect. Actually everything was in camera on this one. Yet again genius I thought, but I was young then!
I’ve just noticed that 4 of my 5 favourite videos so far were all done by Mark!
Apollo 440 'Krupa'
Dir: James Brown
This was maybe my sixth or seventh video with James. And up until now none of them made it onto this list! To be honest I never thought James would make it. But he always made sure I got paid and he always begged me to work with him, he was always full of praise for me and we were good mates, so I always said 'yes' even though his videos were such hard work... Up until now. And then when James does do something good he blows everything else out of the water. This was a great video, great concept, extremely well executed for the money and it’s the first time James worked with Greg Copeland, another brilliant DP. I was always banging on to James to get a good DP. I had learnt that a good DP can turn a directors career around. Plus I wanted to work with decent footage! This was the start of their long and turbulent relationship, which isn’t saying much because Greg has a turbulent relationship with everyone! He's South African! But he’s probably my favourite DP and I still work with and recommend him today 15 years on.
Not much to say about this one really, the video pretty much speaks for its self. They filmed it in New York and the shots of the train exterior were of tiny models that were in this subway museum. Obviously some of the actions were choreographed to specific bits of the music but mostly I had to find a perfect place for everything. Lots of footage with an interweaving storyline about a pickpocket. Not sure that one really comes across that well though. James always wanted the storylines to be subtle but I always thought if you're gonna have a storyline then why not make it so you can understand it or at least see that there is one.
I guess you could say that I really started to get ‘noticed’ or actually taken seriously as an Editor on the promo circuit after I cut this one. Oh yeah and one last thing, there’s a bit of a connection here. James and Mark Adcock had been mates and sort of rivals at VTR as runners, both starting on the Directing gig at the same time. In fact James was Mark’s second unit operator on his first video Tin Man at the top of the page. And I met James through Mark and my brother I guess.
Vent 414 'Fixer'
Dir: Mark Adcock
I loved this video even though it was one of those nightmare jobs, but no pain no gain and all that.
As I said, at this point I had got a reputation for being one of the best in town for cutting story led videos even when the director didn’t know what the story was! But I still preferred performance based videos, which is why this is one of my favorites. Although I must admit some bands just weren’t that good in front of camera and some even resented making videos and wouldn’t perform very well, which always miffed me. But not these guys.
Mark’s original idea was for it to be a one shot video. He wanted to have the band performing in an enclosed space with this huge piece of sheet steel wrapped around a pretty barren set with a massive glass water tank in the middle. And then at the start of the song this guy would plunge into the water and not emerge until the end. There would also be a narrow slit cut out of the steel and the camera would be on the outside tracking around one full circle from the beginning of the song to the end looking through this slit. And to make things more interesting there would be graphics printed on the outside of the slit showing the time elapsed and then on the inside the words to the song would be written on the opposing wall. Cool yeah?
But, as usual the budget wouldn’t allow for this idea to be realised so what he ended up with was a set made of 2x4 pieces of wood nailed together and covered in coloured paper, nice! Actually as it turned out that wasn’t all bad. And it was the first time Mark worked with Greg Copeland the DP, and he did a great job of the lighting and camerawork. It also marked the first time that I went on set and started shooting 2nd unit. Mark had a bolex camera and we took it in turns to shoot. Unfortunately it was all the black and white footage that never made it into the final cut. And all the crazy shaking and camera jolts were done by Mark and Greg literary shaking the camera or thumping it in time to the track!
The nightmare on the job was the edit. We were working at Molinare in the basement in one of their smallest suites which was more like a cupboard really, with no windows. I hate editing in suites without windows it’s not humane and not conducive to creativity... For me anyway, probably something to do with my claustrophobia. And on top of that the lead singer Miles Hunt, formerly of ‘The Wonderstuff’ had final say on the cut and he kept rejecting every edit we presented to him. We must have cut it 5 or 6 completely different ways, fast cut, slow cut, with the B&W footage, without the B&W footage, we even did a split screen version with one side having a one take shot of the guy in the tank holding his breath the whole time, as per the original idea, and the other side having a fast paced edit running next to it. He didn’t like that either which was lucky cause I hated it, so we just kept parring it down and down until we ended up with what we’ve got now. And actually that’s my preferred cut as well.
If you’re interested in seeing the fast cut version with the B&W footage here it is:
Apollo 440 'Ain't Talkin' 'bout Dubb'
Dir: James Brown
This is one of my all time favourites. I’ve only probably got about 5 or so that I’m really proud of, you know, where everything came together.
Watching this video back actually reminded me that Jamie started life as a kind of reportage investigative photographer journalist type thing and in this video I think it really shows.
Every shot was beautiful, actually near enough every frame was a picture in itself. Greg’s hand held camera work is just some of the best I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Sometimes I’d get so excited at the quality of the work in front of me that I couldn’t actually edit for a while. I’d have to calm down, well sit down after jumping up like a little kid and then calm down. But before I could actually edit I’d have to get on with the laborious process of breaking down the rushes, labeling them all up, ‘discovering’ what the storyline was, marking up all the good bits or if there were loads of good bits, like in this case, I’d pull them out into a subroll. Then I would mark the track up into verses, choruses and the middle eight before I would even think about actually getting on with the edit. But this is when you had at least 5 days to cut a video, sometimes we took 7... although still working all day and night! Now they want it cut in 3 days and want you to do it for free or near enough!
I remember that Greg had made his own steadicam rig out of an old bit of piping and a brick for counterbalance, I’m pretty sure he still uses it too! You’ll notice that the silver pocket watch from ‘Krupa’ makes a return visit, in a vain attempt to tie the two videos together.
There was so much great footage with other storylines, and scenarios which had their own locations and other characters but I just couldn’t get it all in. So on the last day of the edit, I think we finished about 11pm, I turned around and to James and said “I’ll just spend an hour or two pulling out all the other good stuff just so we can see it all”. So I cut out all the other little bits, one second here, two seconds there, eighteen frames here... 'till in the end it actually looked like a music video in itself, just not set to any music. And by the time I'd finished it was 9am the next morning! I’d worked through the night with James sleeping on the sofa. He never left me, James. He’s one of those Directors that will sit with you through the whole job, luckily he’s one of my best friends. So in the morning we got some breakfast then sat and watched the 7 minute selection. It was quite amazing, usually you’re searching the rushes good and thorough to really squeeze every last ounce of the best footage out, here I just couldn’t fit it all in.
We’d always threatened to do a 12” cut of the track but hence that is still forthcoming fifteen years later!!!
MORE VIDEOS TO FOLLOW AS AND WHEN I GET THE CHANCE.