Making bold music choices for videos (Bull Sale 2019)


I’ve always found this such a quintessential staple of rural life growing up in Ratapiko. The Blackwell family always put on a great day, with great hospitality.

I had badly put my back out the day before, and could barely drive my car to the event, but I wanted to film it, so I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

Shortly after filming I ended up hospitalized for some abdominal pain. I seem to be on the mend now and managed to finish the final video (above).

For more info about the farm:

Anyway, about the music:

The music track is on a CC license from a composer called Aaron Kenny. I was looking for a track that would fit the video, and I had a bit of a country vibe in mind.

When working on no budget stuff like this, I generally try to find a track before I start editing, but only after I’ve made my initial selects. That way I know the mood of my video, but I can time my edit to the track I end up with.

This is limiting in the sense that you have a specific duration that’s not easy to change, but when you’re choosing Creative Commons music for video – you have to make some compromises. It’s simply not practical to compose something from scratch for these videos.

So with a country look in mind I started searching through the youtube audio library. Most of the country style stuff had a real hillbilly bluegrass vibe to it, which doesn’t really suit the NZ countryside, and the rest was more rock music.

I found that most tracks didn’t have much in the way of rise and fall, they were pretty flat in structure. Which is not very cinematic, because it quickly can fall into the trap of “broll with loud music, talking head with music ducking, broll with loud music, etc repeat”. I want to treat these sorts of videos more as structured micro movies, rather than vlogs.

It’s then that I came across this absolute gem by Aaron Kenny that sounded just like the sound track for Blazing Saddles or such. A good western vibe, without screaming “I have children with my cousin”. Best yet – the quality of the track was pro level, and allowed for a cinematically structured video, because the track was made for the screen. A rare find in the Creative Commons.

At first it might have seemed like an odd choice, because it’s not particularly trendy, and it seemed over the top campy, but the further I got into the edit the more sense it started to make.

By the time the video was done – I couldn’t imagine any other track in it’s place. And that’s what filmmaking is – finding a beautiful marriage between picture and sound, and delivering a seamless flow of information that captures a moment and feeling in time.

So go forth and make bold unconventional music choices – they just might surprise you!


MUSIC VIDEO “Fin Rah Zel”: how to light on no budget, and my thoughts on the a6400.

Having been out of the industry for some time, I needed a small project to re-calibrate myself, and get a better connection with my new camera.

This video was done on essentially zero budget. Shot completely handheld, and lit with some basic household tungsten bulbs.

In terms of light modifiers, I had a $2 china ball, and a piece of tattered old blackwrap. And a desk lamp with kitchen baking paper diffusion.

(click for full 4k resolution)

Looks pretty damn good if you ask me! The biggest limitation was not being able to cut the light, as I would have liked to have been able to drop the wall exposure another stop. But with less than $30 worth of lighting gear, all in, I’m pretty happy.

I didn’t even have lighting stands, so I used a mic stand and an old music stand I modified. Where there’s a will…

Finally, the a6400, and the OSS sony lenses. This changes everything. When I first got the camera I was a bit concerned about rolling shutter etc, and I don’t think I would use this camera without OSS (“optical steady shot”, Sony’s version of in-lens Image Stabilization).

(Sony 18-105f4 OSS & 35mmf1.8 OSS)

But the OSS works beautifully. It makes this sub 1kg camera look like it weighed 10kg with a traditional lens on it. I think this is a big turning point for me, because I no longer have to frankenrig my cameras out just to add weight. My back will thank me for it.

(FrankenRig from 2011)

Now for the star of the show, autofocus. Dirty, dirty autofocus. That thing we were told never ever to touch if we wanted to be “proper filmmakers”. Well, you know what, 70% of this video was shot with autofocus touch-to-focus. And I think I had about a 95% success rate with it. The tracking is dead on, no hunting. The focus shift can be set to fast, normal, or slow. I had it set to slow and got the nice cinematic style focus changes. I wish there was a speed between normal and slow, but honestly, that would just be icing on an already amazing cake.

Finally, would you believe that this video was shot at both 400 and 3200 iso? I can’t see the difference between the two. It wasn’t that long ago that iso 800 was a grainy mess. We really do have it good, it’s so liberating as a filmmaker. Less money, less gear, less lighting heat, less back pain.

(my entire kit for this video)

I remember having a film camera fully rigged in lightweight “handheld” configuration on my shoulder. I think it was around 8kg or so. Also, this exact same music video would have cost at least $5000 on film, as opposed to $0. I think this is what people mean when they say “filmmaking has been democratized”.