The Art of Music Video Production
Film-maker Sean Duncan is inspired by Soviet cinema, wrestling and comic-book art
Since the arrival of MTV in the 1980s, music videos – part art house 'vision', part promotional vehicle – have become an essential part of any aspiring band's repertoire.
In Northern Ireland, emerging artists and established acts are increasingly turning to Sean Duncan's Redcap Productions for videos to help promote their singles.
It is a form of film-making that comes with its own limitations and demands, but, says Duncan, ‘I’ve always loved that a music video can tell a story, just like a film. However, in making a music video you also have to fit the tale around a song. It’s not always easy to tell a cohesive story in such a short space of time, but the challenge is the fun part.'
Having graduated from the film studies course at Queen’s University, Duncan single-handedly conceives, produces, shoots and edits every music video that he makes.
In many ways, he is in an integral part of the Northern Irish music scene, having worked with artists including Colenso Parade, The Bonnevilles, Trucker Diablo, A Plastic Rose, Gacy’s Threads, Window Seats and Katie and the Carnival, amongst others. How does he keep the concepts fresh?
'I read a lot of comic books, and I borrow a lot from that style – the panels of a comic are comparable in many ways to the pacing of a music video,' Duncan says. 'In terms of directors, I love people like Robert Rodriguez and Spike Jonze, who accept that you can do something with no budget. The more imaginative the better.'
Duncan is also a big fan of Soviet montage cinema, admitting that he has always been drawn to rhythmic editing. The pioneering 1920s Soviet technique of creating meaning through editing has greatly influenced short film-makers and music video directors in turn.
If Eisenstein’s defining moment is the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin, Duncan’s is surely his pro-wrestling themed video for The Bonnevilles’ ‘Good Suits and Fightin’ Boots’ (above). That said, the Russian master may not have envisaged a gritty filmic accompaniment to a punky blues soundtrack being the end result of his innovative approach to film.
All the same, Duncan's music video is not only technically impressive and beautifully shot, but a lot of fun. It also suits the tone of the song perfectly. 'All too often, music videos don’t sit well with the music or, even worse, jar against it,' he gripes. 'Therefore, for me the film should make sense within the context of the song.
'For instance, if I’m shooting a video for a love song, I’m not going to pitch an idea about two robots destroying a city. Or maybe I will,' he chuckles. 'That might be cool. It’s great when bands are open to ideas.
'The Bonnevilles aren’t into wrestling at all, but I thought the subject matter would suit the aesthetic of the band perfectly. It was a tough shoot – I had the flu, and it wasn’t easy putting up and taking down a wrestling ring, but I’m really pleased with the end result.'
One might think that the world of low-budget music video production couldn’t get much wilder than a blues-drenched body-slamming session. Duncan, however, is full of tales of the road befitting of the rock bands he works with.
'I recently made a video for a band called Trucker Diablo, which involved a bunch of guys in a lesbian biker bar. The shoot took a while, so it was really difficult trying to keep 50 of Downpatrick’s rowdiest women from getting too wild!
'We shot that in a rock club called the Diamond, and the outside stuff in the middle of nowhere at a farm. The farmer had sold his outhouses to a hippie with a load of custom motorcycles. One of them had a Salvador Dali painting on it. It’s really cool getting to see these strange little places all around the country.'
Duncan and Redcap Productions have also produced art and music festival documentaries, corporate videos and projects for governmental bodies. Yet it is music video production that Duncan remains most passionate about.
'I’ve just finished a video for A Band Called Boy (below), and it’s very experimental, very strange. There are people getting hit in the face with cakes. It goes backwards, it’s crazy. It’s just gone online, and I’m also currently working on three other videos at present.'
The arrival of social media and websites such as YouTube and Soundcloud has made music videos arguably more important than ever. It is a boon for local musicians that producers like Sean Duncan are on hand to offer artistically stimulating visual accompaniments to their work.