Music video director AM captures the Middle East’s biggest bands on film. He takes us through the 10 essential steps
1 Network ‘I go to a lot of gigs and check out a lot of MySpace pages to see who’s out there and who I would be interested in working with. I also listen to the Open Mic radio show on Dubai Eye 103.8 FM. Then I can take it from there. I’m also careful about choosing the tracks I want to promote – there are lots of things I would walk away from: all the things that are “gangsta” and “bling-bling”. I’m more interested in making good, positive images.’
2 Develop your ideas ‘I listen to the track about 50 or 60 times to really absorb the song and get an idea in my head. Obviously you have to engage with the artist too – if they have a good idea I try not to step on their vision. Every artist has a different threshold of involvement. Some completely trust you, some want a lot of control and some are willing to share. Juliana Down were happy to give me full control, because they were so happy with the concept, while artists like The Narcycist and Abri wanted it to be more 50/50, because they have clear ideas about how they want to be represented.’
3 Gather your team ‘I’m the video director and my colleague, Markus Rosentreter, is the technical guru and director of production. We’re yin and yang, basically. He’ll look at the lights, the lens, the camera and say, “This angle’s not possible within this timeframe.” He’s more technical than me. The rest involves pulling in a lot of favours. We have a lot of people who are prepared to work on weekends to put the video on their showreel. All the post-production special effects work has to be done outside of work hours, too. A record company could make a video in two-to-three weeks; it takes us on average three-to-four months.’
4 Prop yourself up ‘In the UK or the US you get prop shops – big lots full of costumes and objects for hire. In Dubai there’s nothing like that so you’re at the mercy of eBay or your designer friends. The first video I ever shot involved three straightjackets that we made out of curtains. You can see one in The Narcycist’s video. So it’s an uphill struggle, but it’s very interesting to learn that kind of self-reliance. And now I know how to make straightjackets, too.’
5 Scout locations ‘Most of the time you have the locations sorted out in your head because you’ve used them before in music videos or commercials. But sometimes it’s more complicated – especially because we try to to make the videos more universal by avoiding locations that can be identified as Dubai. So in the upcoming video for The Narcycist we had a shot where he was looking out of a window, but that window couldn’t have any cranes or skyscrapers in it. It took two weeks to find the right one and in the end we only used about two seconds of it!’
6 Be clever ‘Pro bono, begging, cheating – you have to be clever to save money. And sometimes it’s down to sheer luck. The Juliana Down video we’re finishing has the band playing in an airfield. Luckily, Markus works in a university, so he used that shoot as a way to teach his film students. Because of that the flying club let us to shoot there for free. Otherwise it would be impossible to have the run of the place for the weekend.’
7 Utilise space ‘The Diligent Thought video was shot entirely in thejamjar, but we used space effectively and gave the illusion that it was larger than it was by moving around the paintings and using the portable walls to turn one room into four different sets. For The Narcycist’s video we used thejamjar again and draped everything in black curtains so that it looked like he was standing in a void.’
8 Get the artists on-side ‘It’s quite a challenge getting the musicians to act. The only sure-fire way to do that is to say, “You’ve invested a lot in your music, but this video can take you to the next level so invest the same energy here as well.” And a lot of it is positivity really – as long as you’re positive on set, laughing and making jokes, it loosens up people a lot. So they put their confidence in you. They watch you and follow your lead and you can move them to wherever you want.’
9 Be flexible ‘The Abri video I shot last year went a bit wrong. We wanted to use this New-York-diner-style restaurant in Deira City Centre, but they backed down at the last moment. The only place that I could afford at short notice was my own villa, so we kitted that out and shot in there. We had a car, a 1950s Chevrolet, that was going to be in the video too, but our lights conked out and we didn’t have money for a generator. So basically one-third of the video couldn’t be shot, which is why a lot of the graphics are repeated in it.
‘It was a labour of love and… I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed with it, but I see it as being like a first film-school project. It was made in a week under intense pressure. Shooting on a low budget teaches you how to deal with disaster and work with nothing. I could actually walk into any country and do a DIY shoot myself and not have to depend on anybody’s mercy.’
10 Don’t leave it all for post-production ‘Post-production for us takes two to three months purely because of the money – if we had unlimited cash we could do it all in one or two weeks. So it’s important to maximise your shooting time. People say, “Oh, we’ll fix it in post,” but that’s a nightmare. One of the lenses used in The Narcycist’s video had a small dot on it – it was only small, but erasing it frame by frame was awful.’ To contact AM, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
AM runs through his videography.
Abri’s ‘A Piece Of Yourself’ The concept: Leaving a legacy for yourself through music. The video: ‘We turned a marina villa into an old-school-vibe reggae joint full of album covers, vintage pianos and fluorescent lights. Computer graphics highlight certain lyrics.’
Diligent Thought’s ‘Could It Be’ The concept: A muso literally eating, breathing and living music. The video: ‘We surrounded the character with music-based murals. We also animate notes pouring out of his cereal box, floating through his ears and so on. The Diligent Thought members appear as imaginary beings.’
The Narcycist’s ‘The Narcycist’ (awaiting release) The concept: The Narcycist reveals his many faces. The video: ‘We made this into a schizoid look at The Narcycist’s psyche, with various personas that all question who he really is and battle lyrically to win first place in his head.’
Juliana Down’s ‘Empires’ (currently in post-production) The concept: A kamikaze pilot looking for her lost love. The video: ‘We shot live performance footage in a hangar, then used 3D graphics to animate a female pilot soaring through the midnight sky.’
Manakin’s ‘Travel Man’ (currently in post-production) The concept: To be one with the road and never stop travelling. The video: ‘Using CGI we make Hassan, the lead singer, effortlessly transfer from one surrounding to the other, seamlessly blending different backgrounds and sets. It’s the first music video in the Middle East to use this technique.’