Music Video Production at Emerson College

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By Cody Kenner

Emerson College’s film department boasts a variety of media making opportunities. From documentary filmmaking to narrative to experimental to television production, Emerson covers its media bases fairly well. Except, perhaps, for one crucial form of film—music video production.

Though the college has little relevant coursework regarding music videos, student filmmakers find their own creative outlets. One of these outlets, the organization Beat Dynamics, seeks to broaden the scope of music video production opportunities available to Emerson students. We spoke with president Alex Johnson (’17) and vice president Chris Uhl (’17) to gain insight into Beat Dynamics’ music video production and their own personal relationships with the media format.

What is Beat Dynamics?

AJ: Beat Dynamics is Emerson’s only music video [organization]. We started a couple of semesters ago, but we recently became recognized by Emerson College. Basically our initiative is to allow members to be involved in the production of music videos and other music-related type media, such as live event coverage, commercials— We recently launched BDTV, which is a way for us to have online content on a single platform, which is YouTube in this instance, and we’re able to provide not only music videos, but also other forms of music coverage that showcase the talents of artists at Emerson and other Boston schools in terms of video editing, concept, and music, obviously.

What is your role in Beat Dynamics?

AJ: I’m the president of Beat Dynamics, so I oversee everything. The whole semester, it’s a process from when we start advertising our club, getting members, [and going] through the submission process and through the development and conceptualization of the actual semester video project. And I oversee the executive board members as well, and I make sure overall that everything goes smoothly throughout the semester.

CU: I’m the vice president. Basically, my job is to designate different tasks for the different people in the executive board and club members to do throughout the semester. I’m in charge of keeping everything organized, and if issues arise, I’m usually the first person that people contact. Then, I have to figure out the best people to contact to resolve them, like if there’s an issue where an artist can’t come in or an issue where some footage got deleted or something like that. They‘ll usually come to me and then I talk to AJ and we figure out the best course of action and then go from there. I’m also the in-house director of photography.

When did you first realize you wanted to make music videos?

AJ: So, I knew I wanted to make music videos in high school. My first video I made was with my cousins. We wrote a little song, and all six of us got together, and then we said, “You know what, we have a camera, let’s do a video.” And after that, I wanted to do music video stuff because it’s so easy to do; it’s pretty accessible for the modern person and it’s a great way to put visuals to audio and get a new expressive form of art.

CU: It was my ninth birthday and we basically rented out a nightclub and we got everybody in my fourth grade class and we did a music video to the song “We Like to Party,” the Six Flags commercial song: “Da-da-da-da-da”—we did that. My Dad was basically directing it, and any camera we could find we got. He had a couple from work, and we used one of my VHS cameras. The whole time I was acting in it, but I wanted to be shooting it! I wanted to be behind the camera. I wanted to be doing that and seeing that whole thing come together. I thought, “Wow, that’s something I would actually be pretty interested in doing.” And ever since, I’ve always had an interest in music videos.

What is your favorite music video, and what do you like about it?

AJ: That’s hard, ‘cause I don’t have a specific music video that I like ‘cause there’s so many music videos. A lot are very similar. A lot are very different. A lot are good. A lot are terrible. But the ones that I find most impressive tend to be the ones that look very difficult to replicate, such as one-take videos—like OK Go’s videos are super cool. And there’re a lot of concept videos that don’t necessarily relate to the song but kind of reflect the deeper meaning. I think those become the ones that stick in my mind the most.

CU: There’re different types. For a narrative music video I would say it’s Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.” I always like to show that one because it’s really well done, and it’s the best story I’ve seen in a music video. [If] you’re looking at something like live multi-camera, reasonably it’s Gwen Stefani’s “Make Me Like You,” because it’s so cool that it was all done completely live. It’s a different thing; it’s not telling a story. There is a little storyline to it, but it’s entirely visual and “how can we get as much stuff in front of the screen live as possible” and all these different things. I also enjoy [the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s] “Sacrilege.” We show that one a lot too, and I think that one is very well done. It’s very dark the first ten times you watch it, and it’s still dark after that, but I think you can step back and start appreciating more of the content once you get past the message.

How has Emerson impacted your music video creation?

AJ: At Emerson, I’ve been exposed to a lot of different people and heard a lot of different experiences. I’ve learned a lot more about people than I’ve learned prior to [attending] Emerson, because, the ability to interact with so many people on deeper levels gives you a way to experience life and see life from different angles. And I feel that the whole collaborative effort that [Emerson] boasts has motivated me to reach out more to others to get ideas not only on paper but also on the screen.

CU: I think getting involved with Beat Dynamics was a great opportunity. Being able to get SGA-recognized allowed us to do more stuff. Seeing the work and a lot of the stuff people do, [I realized] they don’t like looking at the basics. With this club, you can get back to the basics, and I like that opportunity because it lets you perfect the craft, instead of trying to do something so elaborate. . .You can break up the tasks and focus on telling a story in your own department, and it all comes together because it’s a big collaborative effort.

How is Beat Dynamics fostering the growth of Emerson’s music video production community?

AJ: Beat Dynamics is a relatively new org at Emerson. We founded it because we knew there was a missing part [in the study] of video-related things at Emerson. In the industry as a whole, music videos have [played] such a huge part since the ‘80s and ‘90s with MTV, and because of that we want them to be something that’s studied at this school. There [are] no other clubs that offer this kind of experience and opportunities, so we see this as a way to inform not only people who just want to do journalism or marketing or cinematography, but also music videos.

CU: As far as I’m concerned, we’re the only ones doing stuff. We have one music video class at Emerson, which is great, but we’re the ones that are doing the music videos, it’s Beat Dynamics. [Film is] a big industry and I think a lot of people don’t realize [music video production is] an option here. They want to make films. They want to make TV. Now, with Netflix and stuff coming out, people want to work for Netflix, and there’s still this whole other industry that’s untapped—music videos. People don’t think about it when they first come in, and that’s something we want to change.

What are some of the projects that have been worked on this semester?

AJ: So, from the start, we’ve been thinking about our semester music video. We actually just shot this past weekend the music video for “We Had It All” by LaJune. She’s an artist from Brooklyn, very talented. It was directed by Kim Anderson (’17) and DP’ed by Chris. It was a one-day shoot. It was pretty local.

CU: Yeah, we did the LaJune shoot, and we got an interview with her, and we’ve been doing some different projects, [like covering concerts by] bands that we’ve done videos for in the past—Cherry Mellow and Jive McFly—and getting that content out on BDTV. We’re also trying to do more artist interviews. As I said, we interviewed LaJune and it was wonderful, and we’re excited to get that out. Anything that has to do with music and videos, we’re putting it together and getting it out.

Where do you see Beat Dynamics going in the future? What do you think the future holds for Emerson music video creators?

AJ: In the future, I see Beat Dynamics growing into one of the premier organizations at this school. I see it having impact and opportunities in the entire Boston music scene as well as other collaborations with venues around town—different record labels, different musicians. I hope that Beat Dynamics is kind of like a segue into the industry, so you gain experience, and due to the reputation that hopefully grows over the years, it becomes one of those things where when artists are looking [to make a video] for a song, they think, “Oh wait, you know, I heard of this cool org named Beat Dynamics.”

CU: Yeah, I just see it going up from here. I’d like to see more people coming to the meetings. The people that are coming are getting a lot out of it and I think that they’re going to talk it up and really start getting this club to grow and grow, because, as I said, it’s a growing industry, and I don’t see the club getting any smaller— I see it expanding and becoming its own brand. You see other clubs at Emerson that have become their own brand, and people think of them as their own brand; they don’t think of them as “Emerson’s this,” or “Emerson’s that.” That’s how I see Beat Dynamics in a couple years, not many—one or two.

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