How to cut a music video with a crew of 500
For VANS' branded promo of JPEGMAFIA's track Prone, Final Cut editor Ryan Beck had the daunting task of sculpting a 2-minute megamix from fan-shot footage.
How many cameras do you think it would take to film a live gig? Six? Maybe ten, at a push? How's about 500?!
For their branded promo of JPEGMAFIA's track Prone, skatewear kings VANS and Stink director Felix Brady concocted a harebrained scheme that saw a crowd of fans take on the shooting duties themselves - filming and submitting footage on phones.
Set the seemingly impossible task of assembling the rushes into something sensational, Final Cut's Ryan Beck not only managed to create a film that played with the space without giving the audience whiplash, he also tinkered with the form in a number of joyful and surprising ways, all tightly tucked in the promo's 2-minuted runtime.
We caught up with Beck to find out how he found the filmic needles in footage haystacks.
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When did you get involved with the project? What were the first steps?
The project came in around the start of November 2019. Honestly, I almost turned it down! When I heard that this was going to be filmed mostly by the crowd on iPhone, and then have them send the footage in to us, I thought 'nope'.
It was such an ambitious script too, wanting to make something artful and something that felt curated from that footage.. it was actually a terrifying thought! But I knew deep down that it could turn out amazing, I'd just have a lot of long days and nights ahead of me.
So I jumped in.
The film was shot before the pandemic hit, but we're guessing the edit took place during social distancing restrictions. What was the setup for you and how did it differ from the norm?
Actually no, we started editing straight after the gig. We had one week in London, and then I flew to LA and spent most of December there with the VANS creatives.
Once the pandemic hit it wasn't the right time to put out a film of 500 hundred people moshing together, with sweat dripping from the walls!
We revisited it a bit in January and then it was locked.
I'm not sure exactly why the release was postponed but I'm guessing that once the pandemic hit it wasn't the right time to put out a film of 500 hundred people moshing together, with sweat dripping from the walls!
I'm glad it's out now though!
We better talk about the elephant in the room - with 500 people shooting footing footage, you have a LOT of rushes. How much was there and how did you thin it out?
There was a lot. A lot of a lot.
And what's more, we received footage for the whole gig, although we only really needed a 2-minute section from when JPEG performed Prone. The only way I could feasibly make this film work was to request that all of the cameras were numbered. And for production to ask that, as best they could, people in the crowd stayed in one spot.
We had all of the phones, but there was also a full production involved. 35mm, 16mm, digital. Somebody in the crowd was shooting on VHS!
Then, when we got the footage in, I kind of made this grid on paper and placed the numbered cameras into it. We were looking to find this technique, the bullet time effect you see in the film, and so the grid helped me figure out which camera I could cut to and where they were stood.
If I wanted to try cutting from the front of the gig to the back I knew which numbered cameras to use, if I wanted to go around the room in a semi-circle I could map it out on paper and then put it into practice.
It looks as though there were different formats on which footage was shot. Was that the case or are there some nifty filters?
Yes there were a lot of mixed formats. Obviously, we had all of the phones, but there was also a full production involved. 35mm, 16mm, digital. Somebody in the crowd was shooting on VHS!
Then we had still images sent through from disposable cameras.
No filters needed.
As an editor, is it fun to work on something that plays with the form a bit - boxing out different shots and mixing media and photography? How does the frustration/fun balance out?
Absolutely. It's as fun as it is scary!
Once you get into your groove, it's amazing. You can lose so many hours just trying out stuff that doesn't work and yet it all still feels like you're making progress.
But before you've started, staring at an empty timeline and bins full of footage, it just feels like a mammoth task.
What's your favourite moment in the piece? Maybe something that casual viewers might not notice.
At 1.58, when we go into one of our around the room techniques, JPEG is doing this awesome move, and they'd managed to capture it from all of these angles. After that we're on stage with him and then bam into a different low angle below the stage.
That was the point of the process where I thought 'ok, this is going to work'.
I was supposed to present an edit to VANS [and] it was the first time I'd not actually had anything to show a client!
I'd spent a whole week just trying these camera moves out, not even close to assembling anything on the timeline for the music video.
I remember getting on the plane on the Friday night, and I was supposed to present an edit to VANS when I landed. It was the first time I'd not actually had anything to show a client!
Luckily they were completely on board, and just kept pushing me to be as creative with the footage as I could be.
What's up next for you?
Over the pandemic, I cut a feature film, which had just been shot before everything went mental. It's just finishing up in post and I'm excited to get it out there.
And commercially I'm in the middle of an epic spot with Traktor.
All very different to this VANS piece!