How I Accidentally Got Started As A Music Video Director

This one day in 11th grade English class, we had to go around the room and say what we wanted to be when we grew up. It seemed like such a stupid exercise but as my turn was coming I panicked. I was 16. How the hell did I know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life?

The only thing I could picture myself doing was making movies. I loved them. To me, a good movie is a poem in motion. It is art at it’s highest form.

So I went with that. “I want to be a movie director.” The room got quiet and I heard the kids behind me blinking.

But saying it out loud actually made me affirm what I wanted to do. And from that day on, all I’ve ever really wanted was to be a part of great story telling.

When I got to college, I second guessed myself. There was no career in the arts! So I studied Economics and hated it. To distract myself I’d read a lot of books, watch movies and listen to music. My favorite bands could tell the best stories sonically. It was a hobby that consumed me until I had no choice but to ignore my mind and submit to my heart, dropping out of Economics. I switched to Film and Communications.

I was splitting my time between class work and SRTV, the college television station that I ended up running. For class, I re-edited the movie Pi to music from Nine Inch Nail’s The Fragile. I also followed a group of rich, morally reprehensible high school drop outs and made a real life version of Kids. I never got clearances from their parents though so for all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist.

At the TV station I had access to equipment I never knew existed. My favorite part about college was that if you were real passionate about something (or acted like it) you could go to the Board and request funds for anything you wanted. Over the course of twelve months I found an excuse to stockpile all kinds of movie making gear that I kind of needed an excuse to use. It seemed to me that music videos were just short films and with my new found interest in music I figured I’d leverage one against the other and become a music video director.

One thing no one ever tells you about being a successful director is that A&R is almost as important as how good of a director you are. There were a lot of directors back in my day who were terrible but they did videos for successful bands, so they kept getting work. Yet I’d go to class with some genius film makers with a terrible ear for music who made these great videos for artists that never went anywhere. They stayed undiscovered.

There was this little band out of Long Island that had no album out, just demos I found on Napster that I fell in love with. They were playing, literally, in a shack down the street from my dorm room and on a whim I wrote them to ask if I could do a free video. The only other band who I had ever written up until that point was Midtown, to tell them they were my #2 favorite band of all time after Jimmy Eat World. Midtown had never written me back.

The Che Cafe, one of the best venues in San Diego to see small shows.

About a week later, I got a response to my latest request from Adam, who I took to be the singer, and was told they’d love to do that video with me. They had no where to sleep so could they stay on my floor? And just like that, this little band no one ever heard of called Taking Back Sunday was sleeping in my living room.

This was scary. I had never actually directed or produced a music video before. I was still probably 19 or 20 years old and I put my ambition before my talent. I was eager to get started on my new career path as a director but I didn’t necessarily have all the pieces in place before I started writing bands. I didn’t look at it like that back then. As a close friend put it, none of us had any fucking clue what we were doing, but all of us thought we absolutely knew what we were doing.

So here’s one thing I never told anyone before. I didn’t settle on a final treatment until the day before the shoot. I had a lot of great ideas and like any aspiring auteur I wanted something unique, original, captivating. A video that would turn the video world on it’s head. And I had $500 bucks.

$500 back then was a lot different than $500 now. Not because of inflation. Because we didn’t have Digital Everything back then. If you wanted to shoot a video, you needed film, you needed a camera that you would feed the film into, you needed to develop that film. You needed an expert who knew how to feed that film and develop that film. You needed a guy who could light for film. It was a big complicated mess of things that I didn’t know how to do. And as a director, I didn’t necessarily need to know how to do that (and I didn’t), but it always helps when you know your craft inside and out. So instead, I spent most of my time as a producer, finding really talented people who would work for only a dream.

I spent so much time sourcing people and equipment that the day before my video shoot I had a moment of clarity and realized my treatment sucked. It was overly complex, convoluted and was probably going to be cheesy. I panicked. I didn’t even care if I looked bad, I just didn’t want to waste the time of one of my favorite bands.

I was going mad with frustration. I was doomed! Literally the night before the shoot I had an epiphany. I must have been pacing or driving or something to calm my head. I figured, well, if I’m going to have this crazy action setup and a lot of potentially cheesy shots from people with no acting experience, maybe I could just compile all the best scenes into one short burst. Kind of like…a movie trailer.

So I had the band come out and do interesting things I had seen in movies. Jumping through car windows, running towards the camera all dramatically, sticking a knife into a mirror (but not too hard because I didn’t have any money to replace it). We had fun. There was lots of booze and I made sure we had girls over. Even if the video came out poorly, at least everyone would have fun drinking and talking to chicks.

For $500, the video came out OK. Looking back on it now, I can’t even watch it without cringing. Back then, for an indie video from a first time director/producer, I’d like to think it wasn’t horrible. I realized I was probably better as a producer though than a director (an idea I fought for about two years before ultimately failing catastrophically as a director and starting a very successful production company). Fighting to make that video developed my character. And even if the execution was poor, I’d like to think the concept was good, because I think someone saw that video and re-imagined it about six months later, launching the international careers of some other very talented musicians.


2 responses to “How I Accidentally Got Started As A Music Video Director

  1. Awesome!… grew up loving tbs. Enjoyed reading this.

  2. Great read Mike!

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