Interview With Director Rob Soucy (Alkaline Trio, Defeater, Man Overboard)

Rob Soucy has been making great looking videos for years. One look at the playlist we’ve assembled above you can see he has a great grasp on making a good narrative for cheap, while keeping with the feeling of each band and song he works with. After reading the interview below you will see he has put a lot of thought into this process and has a ton of wisdom you can learn from for your own videos. Read on and check out more of his work here.

So how did you get into making music videos?

I grew up in Massachusetts and was active in playing in punk and hardcore bands when I was a teenager. I always knew I wanted to work in the film industry or play in a band, so I figured music videos was a good way to get involved because it took a certain level of understanding of both mediums. At 16, I dropped out of school to tour in bands full-time. I met some new friends in LA that were in the film industry and thought… “Holy shit, these guys are getting paid to play with cameras and sit around craft service tables on movie sets. Why can’t I do that?” I always wanted to make movies, so fuck it. I moved to LA and started PA’ing and learned the craft of film making. I literally have done every shit job there is to do on a film set, from getting coffee’s for some weird producer to holding Paris Hilton’s dog while she orders a latte. I’m fortunate to be a bit older than some of the new wave of younger filmmakers today because it was more of an exclusive right of passage 8 – 10 years ago to be granted permission to learn filmmaking. You had to pay your due’s in the trenches of assisting before you even touched a camera. With the turn in DSLR technology over the last 5 years, I just feel it has become way more saturated and common to be involved in the film/video world. As I progressed with my directing career of the years, a lot of my friends who stayed in music we’re on a parallel rise with their bands, so when it came time to make a music video – I was their guy. It’s something that honestly just fell into place organically.

What are some of your favorite videos made by others?

I’m a fan of the classics. I’m a 90′s kid so a huge portion of my mornings getting ready before school were watching music videos while eating cereal. Every weekend sleepovers with your friends you had MTV after hours on late night and you would hit the record store and buy any tape you saw with a video featured on MTV Buzzworthy. I really enjoy the early Hype Williams stuff. All the work he did with Busta Rhymes was a perfect video every time, especially “Put your hands…” A bigger influence is all the early Spike Jonze stuff. This dude knew what the fuck was up. I loved all his work with Weezer like “Buddy Holly” or “Say it Aint So.” In recent years, my favorite music video could be Spirtulized “Soul on Fire.” In my opinion its one of the greatest videos made in the last decade. The cinematography, story telling and performance in my opinion cant be matched by most of the rock videos out now. I take a lot of influence from it.

What are some characteristics of videos that you personally enjoy?

Personally I enjoy the short form story telling aspect. It’s fun to let a story unfold through over a 3 minute period. It’s like making a short film. I like the challenge of approaching a new project, and having to work within the boundaries of a songs context, a band’s visions, a label’s budget and ridiculous deadline and the TV’s censors. It forces you to constantly find creative ways to convey your story. It can be a bit of a headache at times, but it only makes me a better filmmaker and understanding that I take enjoy from it. I also enjoy closely working with the artist. When you’re working with someone you completely vibe with, and feed off each other it shows in the final piece. I love collaborating and what is truly special about the process of filmmaking is that it’s the ultimate form of collaboration. There is a specific person for every detail of what goes on the screen. The make up, the wardrobe, the image itself, the color of the image, the performance of the actor, the direction of the piece and the set or location in which the piece takes place. And yah know what? Every single person for the job, has their own personal vision and way of doing things, so as the director it takes constant clear communication from me to work together in order to achieve the final vision in harmony.

When a band comes to you to do a video and you want to work with them what happens next? Do you generally come up with an idea or do they?

When a band or label approaches me about a video it’s always different. The label or band approach me with the song and lyrics and request I submit a treatment and then we bounce ideas off each other until everyone feels comfortable and then we green light the video to get made. We then hire a producer and dive into pre-production. But typically how it works is the video commissioner from a record label will reach out with a song and their budget. Then I submit a treatment along with 10 other directors or so and the band goes with the treatment they find most fitting for the song. Sometimes you’re given some direction in how to theme the video but 75% of the videos I direct personally are my own ideas. To be honest, it seems the younger the band the more direction and vision they need from me. The older the band the more they know what they want and how they want to be shown to the world. Whatever the approach is, my number one goal for every music video I do is NOT to just make a cool video, but to make a video that is the visual representation of the song and the band. One of my favorite music video directors (awesome film director as well) Joseph Kahn said once… “If you’re first thought after watching a music video is ‘holy crap! that VIDEO was awesome!’ The director didn’t do his job. It’s about the whole experience of the SONG and ARTIST being awesome.” That always stuck out to me because I couldn’t agree more.

You use a lot of dark imagery in your videos, yet they still remain clear and crisp? What goes into that is it all technical measurements or have you don’t a lot of experimentation to get there?

There are a few different factors that go into this. Primarily, my work tends to live in the shadows. What I mean by that, is I have always been drawn to more high contrast and minimal lighting set ups which it give it a dark or shadowy feel. I’m a huge fan of using available and practical lighting. I like my pieces to have a feel of neorealism. I want them to be real, but a bit polished with a sense of cinematic flare. Seeing that a lot of the subject content my work tend to derived from ominous or “dark” story lines, it’s usually fitting. There is a lot of technical factors that go into it. Understanding light and how it works and how to work with it and manipulate light is the most important part. Its taken years of failing and trying again, and I’m still experimenting every day!

You’re videos consistently have a narrative in them aside from a band just performing like many video these days. What do you do to make this narrative clear since it can be hard to convey a message without dialogue?

Simplicity. I try to keep things very simple in order to not confuse my audience. I try to look at the root of the story I’m going to tell and take a basic narrative approach. Music videos are an amazing storytelling tool because without the use of dialogue, you cant explain or say a damn thing to your audience. I know in a lot of film schools, some of the first projects you are asked to complete is explaining a story without the use of dialogue or sound. I look at music videos as the same tool. I’m fortunate to have a career where I constantly get to experiment with new ways in storytelling. It’s perfect preparation for transitioning into feature film directing which I am in the process of doing now.

If you were on a budget what is some bare minimum equipment you can get away with making a good video with?

Well every job calls for a different gear set up. As a director, I am hell-bent on being in tune with every creative detail of the piece. I try to focus more on the creative and hire a Director of Photography and Gaffer to handle all equipment headaches and woe’s. When I am doing a low-budget gig and it calls for just me I usually resort to a Canon DSLR camera package. With the boom in DSLR filmmaking, there are endless options for creating sensational images with no money. For lighting I enjoy a few Kino Diva Flo Lights or some L.E.D. Lite Panels for the real low-budget stuff. I mean I have lit music videos with construction work lights before. They are shooting feature films on iPhones for chistsakes. Its amazing the looks you can get with no money today. It just takes a matter of what works for you in your budget for what you need.

What are the pieces of equipment you use that give a lot of value for very little money?

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge gear head. My time goes into focusing on the creative side of my pieces. But a piece of gear that REALLY catches my eye these days are products such as the Kessler Pocket Slider. There was a time in the film world where you had a dolly grip, and 3 other grips leveling out a JR Fisher dolly and endless amounts of tracks to get a dolly shot. Now a days for a few hundred bucks you can do it by yourself and carry it anywhere in the world. May I also say this… There’s an old saying in show business… “It’s all just smoke and mirrors.” I can’t tell you how much of that statement is actually fact. In all seriousness… A fog machine from Party World, for $30 bucks you have transformed the atmosphere of your set.

Anything you’d like to say before we finish?

I have a new photography book coming out this month called Seeing Red. It’s a collection of photos and stories from my life abroad living in China through the better half of 2012. If you’re interested in my work, please pick it up from my website.

Stay creative, thanks for your time and always use your head when you’re buying a hat!

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.