‘Heaven in Your Eyes’ is available as a free download on 26th October for five days only.
Talking to Music Video Director, Markus Innocenti
Markus Innocenti was one of the top music video directors of the 1980s. He started out as a production designer for the likes of Simple Minds, XTC, Big Country, George Michael, Joan Armatrading and many others. As a director he worked with Jimmy Page, Paul Rogers, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, Ringo Starr, Aretha Franklin, Eurythmics and Bob Dylan. With a resume like that, you’d think he’d have continued with such a stellar career — but by the early 90s he’d had enough and turned to non-music related film projects. But a chance meeting with Kathy Muir has brought Markus back into the music video world, directing five new videos of songs taken from Kathy’s new album “Far From Entirely”. We had an opportunity to sit down with Markus at his home in North Hollywood and throw a few questions his way.
How Do You Begin To Create A Music Video?
When I know I’m going to be making a music video for an artist, I like to start a conversation. I want to know who they are creatively, what moves them, what brought them to the song, how it connects with them. I then try to establish who the artist is, what it is about themselves that they want to project out into the world. In the past, this has been sometimes easy and natural, but most often it’s been the other way. I’ve made videos for artists who simply wanted to make a lot of money very quickly, and others who thought the conversation was tedious and asked me just to speak to their manager or their record company and get a ‘brief’. I never enjoyed making those videos, because I couldn’t be sure how my own connection with the song was relating to the artist’s creative spark. I don’t think the resulting videos were much good and if that was the only kind of work I ever did, I’d consider myself a failure as a music video director. But I was lucky. I made videos for many artists who wanted to have the conversation, who wanted me to know what is was that drove them to write and perform that particular song, who wanted me to understand the intent they had, and how they wanted their audience to see them and find their work. Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones was one of those artists. So was Annie Lennox. Bob Dylan too, in fewer words than you can imagine. But soon, there were too many of the other kind and I left the music video business.
That is, until last year. When I met Kathy Muir — and had a conversation.
What Came Out Of That Conversation?
Well, first — Kathy is passionate and enthusiastic about her craft and it’s always good to work with an artist who’s truly engaged! To be honest, I went into that conversation thinking that Kathy was one of those singer/songwriters who had a ‘tough-girl’, ‘street-wise’ image to project so my mind was already figuring out how to do that — gritty streets, industrial landscapes, stark black and white imagery, aggressive camerawork, an alienated persona. Actually, some of that remains in the first video we did, “Ties of Love”, but got turned around in the final production into something much more thoughtful and wistful once I’d seen where Kathy was coming from. It was also a pleasant surprise to find an artist at Kathy’s emerging stage who cared so much for other art forms, like photography, design, sculpture and painting, and who was so passionate about nature and the environment. It was soon clear to me that Kathy’s artistry wasn’t inward-looking nor was it self-absorbed. Her creativity springs from her interest in things outside music and her passion to somehow bring those interests into her music in a way that makes the personal insights she has so much bigger. That was going to be a challenge, because our conversation revealed that I’d have to think much more deeply about what we were doing if the videos were going to express her viewpoint.
Isn’t Making Music Videos Expensive? Was Budget A Concern?
At the end of the day, budgets don’t matter. A music video made with a 50-person crew and a fleet of equipment trucks parked on the location can be less intense, less interesting and a lot less creative than the video made by one guy with a cheap camera and a computer. But let me rephrase that. At the end of the day, budgets do matter — if you want to impress with sheer size and scale. With some notable exceptions, those big budget productions tend to over-shadow the song and fade from the memory almost as quickly as the producers spent the money. For an emerging artist, an expensive, tricksy, high-end production is about the last thing you need. That’s a personal opinion but I think it holds up. One of the reasons I wanted to work with Kathy — and this is from a technical viewpoint — is that I’ve become interested in ‘micro-budget’ filmmaking. In the past three years I’ve directed or produced four full-length features, all made for less money than the cost of a good used car. So, I’m aware of new digital technologies. Now, you may not get as slick a production when you go ‘micro-budget’ but not every project needs to be glossy and expensive. I’ve now directed five videos with Kathy, and I’ve been adding more equipment as we go, so the way the camera moves, the lenses I use and the lighting I have keeps getting better — but until we did “The Piano Plays A Melody” I was the only person on the crew.
Can You Tell Us Something About The Making of “Heaven In Your Eyes”?
Kathy and I made “Heaven” early on. I had a $600 camera, a $50 tripod and a single 50mm lens. Luckily, we had the greatest Production Designer, the best Art Director and the most amazing Lighting Gaffer of all time on our team. Nature. Kathy had spoken a lot about how the natural world affected her and her music so much, and of her interest in the environment and pioneer environmentalist, John Muir. I asked if she’d ever been to Muir’s birthplace and the country park that had been established in his name. At the time, I just happened to living within 5 miles of it — so we went on a location scout to Dunbar, Scotland where Muir was born and suddenly there’s this huge grin on Kathy’s face. This was back in February/March 2012. It was frosty but the sky was bright and clear. We started the shoot on one of Scotland’s most lovely beaches — Thorntonloch. As we were working I began to get concerned that there wasn’t enough movement in the shots. I needed motion. I needed Kathy walking — so I could place her in this amazing vista of sea, sky and sand. Remember, I only had a camera, a cheap and shaky tripod, and a single lens. It was time to get out the ‘Kurosawa Dolly’. The ‘Kurosawa Dolly’ isn’t a piece of equipment at all — although I’ve been known to tease crew guys by asking them to get it off the truck. It’s a technique, brought to us by the great Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa. Here’s how it works. Set your camera on its tripod. Place your subject (in this case, Kathy) far enough away to get the ‘size’ you want — from close up to wide shot. I chose to put Kathy into a mid-shot, about twenty feet from the camera. Next, keeping the same distance away, walk a circle around the camera position, making scuffs marks in sand or dirt so the subject can see the ‘circle’. Finally, roll camera and call ‘Action’. Kathy duly marched around the circle, lip-syncing to the sound that was playing (weakly) out of a portable CD player she’d bought at a Thrift Store. I operated the camera, making a full 360 while keeping her in the frame as she walked the circle. She thought I was mad — until she saw the footage. When you look at the edited film, the ‘Kurosawa Dolly’ makes it seem as if the subject is walking in a straight line and is being followed by a camera on a long dolly track. Even with a cheap tripod it looks pretty good!
I was so pleased, I took out the ‘Kurosawa Dolly’ again when we went to the woods in John Muir Country Park. It was harder for Kathy to walk the circle over rough ground — but the look of concentration on her face contributes to the intensity of the song and the feelings she’s putting over.
Where Do You Go From Here?
Working with Kathy, I became so interested in music video again that I decided to start a new production company — Red Dog Logic — specializing in ‘micro-budget’ videos. Right now, I’m busy upgrading equipment and editing systems so I can offer a state-of-the-art service. Early next year I’m working with legendary heavy-metal bassist Chris Glen (Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Ian Gillan, Michael Schenker Group) on a long-form project that we’re both very excited about. Currently, I’m back in the US, and it looks as if I’ll be working with Kathy again in Connecticut later this year. She’s being very productive right now — dare I say, prolific! — so I’m looking forward to hearing her new material.
Los Angeles, October 2012