GETTING MORE TALE #455: How to Make a Music Video (The Old-Fashioned Way)
In 1988-1989, a teenage LeBrain and his buddy Bob were very active in the school film program. We both took the highschool film course, and loved it. I remember writing an essay comparing the early and later films of Steven Speilberg, and scoring 98% or 99% on it. I just loved film and still do today, but Bob and I had our eyes on a different prize. We wanted to make a music video.
We both had guitars, and another kid in the film club named John had a camera. A kid from drama class named Dave offered to be the drummer. We didn’t have any drums (or even sticks), but that’s OK; Journey used the “no drums” thing as a gimmick in their video for “Separate Ways”. Taking that as inspiration, I got Dave to hit rocks and tables with chopsticks. We tried to access the drum kit in the school music room but it was booked. We could still do it, thanks to Journey. We could make an awesome music video!
It was our vision, so Bob and I got together one Saturday afternoon and spent several hours planning and doing rough storyboards.
The Charlie Awards were film awards for highschool kids, and Bob and I sought to enter our video that year. It was fall, and we began planning. The first thing we needed to do was pick a song. Wanting something upbeat that would allow us to run around a lot and make rock poses, we chose Poison’s “Nothin’ But A Good Time”. There was only one problem, which was that neither of us owned the album. So, I conned my dad out of the $10 to buy a copy at A&A Records & Tapes. I told him it was for a school project, which is true, but I didn’t tell him it was for a non-credit school project. Nor did I tell him the tape would then become part of my permanent music collection!
Bob and I plotted out what we needed to film. We wanted an intro similar to what Poison did in their very fun video (although this opening has since been edited out, probably due to “Rock and Roll All Nite” playing in the background of it). We got an English teacher, Mr. Payette, to help us out. In the school cafeteria, Bob’s character was sweeping the floor, playing air guitar and lip-synching to Van Halen’s “Jump”. Then Mr. Payette stormed in! “I pay you to clean the equipment, not play with it!” he yelled, nailing his part in just one take. Bob, not used to a nice guy like Mr. Payette yelling, was visibly having trouble keeping a straight face: but it worked! In the next shot, we utilized jump-cuts to have Bob’s leather jacket, sunglasses and guitar suddenly appear on him. And then the song began.
Since we had no idea how to make a music video and synch up the cassette audio afterwards, we had to figure it out as we went. We wound up shooting the “band” miming the video multiple times in many locations. Rockway Gardens in Kitchener was one such location. The school stage was another. We also did an incredible scene in a Geography class that was just terrific. We wanted a really angry looking teacher for that one, so we asked the Science teacher Mr. Marrow. He was a nice guy, but he sure could look mad when he needed to! For this shot, we taped a Samantha Fox swimsuit poster to one of the geography maps. Marrow pulled the map down, only to reveal Miss Fox! He then gave the camera a glare and stormed out. It was great. We filmed some guitar solos at the same time.
We spent a few months filming shots for the video, gathering scenes from different locations. We took some inspiration from the Beatles and had all of us rolling down a hill, jumping around on rocks, me doing several power slides…all kinds of rock and roll. Still winging it, we figured we would have more than enough great shots when it came time to editing.
We did not expect editing to be easy and it was not. Not in the least. At our disposal, we had a state of the art VHS editing suite. The school board owned it, and each high school got to keep it for a couple weeks a year. We had access to the suite in early ’89, around March. Bob and I stayed late at school every day for two weeks trying to get the video done by the deadline. We also had permission to skip a few classes. Still figuring things out as we went, we did not realize that the audio synch was a huge problem.
Bob pieced together the editing technique we would use. He chose a “master take” of us miming on the drummer Dave’s front lawn. This was a good master to use, because the audio was excellent. Bob was pumping the song through his car stereo, so we had a nice loud audio track to edit to. Then, when the video was done, we’d overdub the original song from the Poison cassette onto the video. Although it was hard work, the video pretty much edited itself. Bob and I both had plenty of shots we wanted to include, so it was just a matter of inserting them at the appropriate points. We had seen so many music videos over the years that cutting it was like second nature, once we figured out how to do it.
That’s when we ran into the audio synch issue.
Cut completed, we dubbed in the brand new clean audio direct from the Poison tape. By about halfway through the song, we started noticing problems. Even though every shot was perfectly synced in with the “master track”, the clean audio overdub was not. We struggled and struggled, trying to cue it up differently, and make it synch. We just couldn’t do it. By the end of the song, each line of the lyrics was off synch with our lips by at least one line. We called in the film teacher to help us. That’s when we learned something that we didn’t know about cassettes.
“Where is the original audio coming from on this video?” she asked. We explained that Bob had a great car deck, so we used that for our master take.
“That’s the problem then,” she said, telling us something we did not want to hear. “Car tape decks and regular cassette recorders often run at slightly different speeds,” she explained. “That’s why your audio is off. Either the car deck is playing the song fast, or this tape deck here is playing it slow, or both.”
There was nothing we could do with the technology at hand. We had no way to slightly speed up the cassette so it would match the video. And we were out of time on the editing suite. It had to go back, and if we couldn’t change the tape speed then we’d be stuck with a video we couldn’t synch up.
Using what little time we had left, we re-edited the end of the video slightly, to try and bring the words back into sync where they were the most glaring. We were able to fix some shots, but we were out of time and had to declare the project finished.
Bob and I attended the Charlie awards and saw some really amazing video work. In particular there was some clay animation that was brilliant, but there were also plenty of videos that were not nearly as good as ours. We got a special mention, but did not win a Charlie award, because of the audio synch. It was bittersweet, but Bob and I were both really proud of that video.
I still am, in fact! I have it on VHS, and it will always bring back great memories. I just wish we had a chance to do it again, right!
Bob really hated having his picture taken!