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What We Can Learn from Music Videos Released During Quarantine

Annie St. Cyr

The film industry is on hold, but in the music industry, the show must go on. Here are some exceptional examples of music videos produced in quarantine.

With musicians in lockdown like the rest of us, we’ve seen some very resourceful and creative music video releases over the past few months. It’s been refreshing to see some of our favorite rappers, rockers, and pop stars in a more human way — without all the lights, makeup, fancy sets, and incredible special effects. These videos demonstrate my favorite thing about video creation: It’s not your gear or production value that makes for a good video — it’s your concept, creativity, and willingness to experiment.

From lo-fi vertical footage and home videos, to what we’re pretty sure is Drake‘s incredible mansion, these videos prove that a little creativity can go a long way when it comes to quarantine-era filmmaking.

Leon Bridges — “Inside Friend ft. John Mayer”

This video uses vertical video paired with some very creative and dynamic editing. Sometimes, the frame is filled with sections of one shot. Other times, there are three different shots on screen at one time. The edits are paced to the beat of the music which locks the viewer’s eye — well, that and Leon‘s sweet dance moves. This video also demonstrates how a beautiful landscape in the background can make even low-quality phone footage absolutely gorgeous.

While many filmmakers still bemoan the whole vertical video orientation, its popularity isn’t going away. Since platforms like Instagram and TikTok continue pushing users to explore vertically, you should learn how to make good vertical video.

twenty one pilots — “Level of Concern”

This video is one of our favorites because it’s so story-rich. A strong story can bring an inexpensive and simple production to life. The band chose to approach this video by showing how they worked together to make the video. Very meta. They used several different kinds of cameras and shared footage back and forth from a mailbox. They roped in wives, girlfriends, and babies to make some interesting lighting and set designs using string lights, black lights, and power strips. This demonstrates something we talk about a lot on this blog — work with what you’ve got. As you can see, lighting a scene with stuff from around the house can still produce some very cool footage.

DIY projects are super accessible in quarantine, and a well-made piece of equipment can serve you for a very a long time (even if you did build it in your living room). Check out some of our favorite DIY tutorials to see just how easy it is to build a dolly for under $50 or a ring light for under $150. Cheap builds can lead to cinematic footage!

Kehlani “Everybody Business” 

This is Hyphy Williams (Kehlani‘s director persona) outside a home in a suburban neighborhood. The videographer uses some interesting framing choices — like plants in the foreground — to turn this relatively simple footage into something very compelling. Our eyes are drawn to each shot because of clever compositions and nuanced camera moves. This video also utilizes the golden hour beautifully, serving as a good reminder — there’s no better time of day to shoot for perfectly lit outdoor footage, especially if you’re not using a super high-end camera.

Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber — “Stuck with U”

Ariana and Justin‘s video for “Stuck with U” (and most of these videos, really) uses a trend we’ve seen in lots of recent documentary films and docuseries — collecting footage from varied sources and cameras and assembling it all to construct a cohesive piece. This is helpful when you’re trying to get footage, and being incognito is the best route. Even if the footage isn’t as polished as the rest of your film, you’re still able to get the bits and pieces you need to demonstrate your point or tell a full story.

Drake — “Tootsie Slide”

Of the many quarantine music videos we’ve seen, this is possibly the most produced and high-end. The “Tootsie Slide” video is definitely one of the more polished presentations, with 16mm footage and solid dance moves in Drake’s gorgeous estate…er, marble quarry. Starting with shots of the empty Toronto streets is a very impactful way to set the scene for the story he’s trying to tell with this video — Drake is staying home, and he is isolated.

This video utilizes the hand-push transition, which works so well for this type of project. Theo Skudra, the director of this video, has been working for years to perfect shooting on 16mm film. The choice to use film brings the impressive lighting around Drake’s home to life and gives the footage a soft, grainy feel. If you look closely, you can catch Skudra (and his shoulder cam rig) in mirrors around the house.

As the world begins to reopen, it’s important to reflect on the creative pieces to come out during this historic time. There’s no limit to what you can accomplish, even with lower-end gear, no crew, and little-to-no budget. Shooting strategically with interesting lighting setups and dynamic movements will elevate your footage. Brushing up on a few editing tricks will lead to a more polished final product. Most of all, story is key to video. If your concept and story aren’t solid, it doesn’t matter how perfect everything else is — your project will fall flat.

And, seriously, shoot at golden hour.

Looking for music video inspiration? These articles will hit the spot.

Cover image via Kehlani.