“Coming up with a story and executing it in 6-8 hours can be really tough, but that’s the kind of speed the music video industry expects. These big artists usually only have a day in their busy schedules, so the few shots we get have to really count. It’s a constant struggle between time, quality and the budget we have to work with.” - Mike Marasco, Founder & CEO of Raw Media House.
Music videos have become a staple in the music industry. They bring personality and color to the songs they represent, whether it’s the latest DJ Khaled hip-hop anthem or the slow-and-steady charm of a Sam Smith ballad. In fact, music videos can really affect the way the artist monetizes a tour, so it’s important to get it done right.
But not much thought goes into how these music videos are shot and the skills that it takes to create something millions of people consume. Mike Marasco (@mikemarasco), who has worked with superstars like Wiz Khalifa, 2Chainz, DJ Khaled, Beyonce and more, shares his approach towards creating music videos from start to finish.
From Pain to Passion
Dj Khaled - Top Off from Raw Media House on Vimeo.
“My career in doing music videos started a few years ago from skateboarding. I had been doing skateboard videos for 13 or 14 years, but one day I ended up falling and injuring my knee so badly I had to get screws in them. From that point on I couldn’t stand on a skateboard with a camera anymore, so I had to find a new passion and move on.”
“One day I get a call from one of my skateboarding buddies who told me he had a friend moving to Los Angeles and that she wanted to start doing web content. Her name is Karen Civil, and she wanted to create a show where she interviewed famous artists in an intimate one-on-one setting. She brought me on as the Director to handle all of the production of the first episode.”
“I went with Karen to do her first interview, and her guest was Currensy (the rapper). We filmed the whole thing, I took the footage home and edited the whole thing the same night. After that, she invited me to produce all of her videos here in LA.”
“Karen and I worked together for a couple of years as we made her show and brand grow. One day she asks me ‘You’ve been such a big help to me all these years. Is there anything I could do for you?’ I took her up on her offer, and I told her that my dream was to direct music videos. She says ‘Give me 10 minutes.’”
“She makes a few phone calls, and in under 10 minutes she tells me she has a gig for me. They needed a Director to create a music video for Ty Dolla Sign and Juicy J! I was ecstatic because 2 years before this, I was inspired by a Juicy J music video to pursue this as a career, and now it came around full circle.”
“I’ll forever be grateful to Karen Civil for my first big gig. Working with her really took my life in a new direction. Soon after that, I started my own production company Raw Media House, and now I have the amazing opportunity to work with biggest artists and brands in the industry.”
Creating a Story
“One of the hardest parts of music video production is coming up with a creative story. Music videos complement the songs they’re based on, and you want to create something that reflects the song’s vibe. When I was the DP for DJ Khaled’s “Top Off”, it has a very quick beat with a lot of hype lyrics. To match with the song, the final video used a series of slow-mos with vertical movements from our crane to give his Maybach car a big introduction.”
“Before shoot day, producers send me a sample of the song. What I like to do is take the sample, throw it into Adobe Premiere with some random video and start cutting it to the beat. By doing this, I can visualize how I want the final video to look like, which gives me a better idea of how I want the video to be shot. I’ll then work with the DP (or Director if I’m the DP) to come up with a shot list.”
“This is when I have to decide whether that fits the budget we’re given, and how much of it is possible given our conditions (time, gear, personnel). I also like to meet with the artist and learn about his or her story, which helps me to figure out how to put that story into a video. You combine all of these factors together and you come up with a plan for how to shoot the music video.”
“Once you have an outline of the music video, you have to choose the right gear. If I’m in a position to choose our gear, I like to use the ARRI Alexa Mini with Lomo Squarefront Anamorphics to give music videos a dirty-unique look. On this camera we always have a Teradek Bolt 500 transmitter with a 703 Bolt handheld monitor that I either keep in video village or bring around with me on set. If we have a moving camera, I have a 1st AC using the Teradek RT wireless follow focus.”
“Sometimes we’ll be shooting on two cameras like my work as camera op on DRAM’s “Gilligan” music video. On this project we had two REDs with 25-250mm Cooke lenses. We had two Bolts going to several video village SmallHD monitors.”
“What you choose really comes down to the experience with working in the industry. Beginners might have a hard time determining the right gear for the treatment they’re given. But once you have a set of go-tos, you’ll know exactly what camera, gimbal and video systems you’ll need.”
Assembling a Team
“Your team of camera ops, makeup, camera assists, gaffers and others are essential to achieving your vision. If they know how you like to work and what kind of shots you want, your team can speed up the production time. I choose people who not only do an awesome job on set, but people that I chatted and really connected with. Team chemistry is so important, especially on fast-paced shoots like these.”
“The art department is especially useful because they help design the sets. If you want a performance shot of an artist, what will the surroundings look like? What outfits are the artists and talents wearing? Art departments take your ideas and bring them to life, so it’s very important to work closely with them.”
Shooting the Music Video
“A lot of music videos have very little turnaround time. It’s rare to know about a project a month in advance - usually they’ll contact you the week before the shoot date - so it leaves little to no room for prep or scouting.”
“With a team I trust and really vibe with, they know exactly how I want to shoot the video. So the moment we get on set, the camera crew prep all of the gear and I scout the location (if it’s not a studio). I get all the lighting set up, run tests, and by the time the artists arrive, we’re ready to start filming.”
Post-Production Skills a Plus
“When I first started in the industry with Karen Civil, I had already been playing with editing for over 10 years. That was back in the day doing VCR to VCR editing. When the PC started getting popular, I started playing with Adobe Premiere for skateboarding videos. Those editing skills translated into the professional world, and is one of the main reasons why I was able to get my foot in the door. When you can edit your own videos, you’re able to retain your creativity from the shot list all the way to the final product. That’s super valuable in the music video world.”
“All cinematographers and directors looking for a career in music video production should know how to edit in Adobe Premiere. If you know how to cut, you’ll get a better understanding on how to create the look and feel of a music video so much more.”Check out more of Mike Marasco's work on his Instagram: @mikemarasco