Making Amazing Music Videos On a Budget – Interview With Joel Fernando

Recently, my band Sensual Harassment had the privilege of working with avant garde video director Joel Fernando for our new music video. In addition to many experimental film pieces, Joel has done videos for Future Islands, Atlas Sound and Girl Talk. I sat down with Joel recently to talk about the science of making videos and how to do it on the cheap.

1. Your video for Future Islands’ “Happiness of Being Twice” was what really put you on the map. Tell us about your inspiration for that video and how you managed to get so many people involved for little or no money.

The Sgt. Pepper’s album was a major inspiration for the Future Islands video – all these famous weirdos standing in a dreamworld of color and plantlife. I mean you can look at it forever and never get bored, and if I can achieve that with a video, then I have definitely done my job. That image has really influenced me to produce videos that make the editing flow of the video like one big liquid collage.

Having no money forces you to go guerilla with the options that you do have available. As far as getting lots of people involved, I always strive to curate a shooting experience that lets people do whatever they want, so it’s not really like working at all. For the Future Islands video, we set up a ghetto blue screen in Sam Herring’s living room at his place in Baltimore and then invited a bunch of homies over to drink beer and smoke doobies. It totally worked because we ended up shooting like 45 people in 2 days or something crazy like that. Everyone was getting dressed up in costumes and just fucking around, so it was more like a psych orgy off camera, and that energy transferred into the video.


2. In an age of overwhelming music content, videos are in high demand and videos that stand out are in even higher demand. You’ve got a style that seems distinctive. What do you do to battle against today’s short attention spans and overwhelming choice of content?

I know that my personal attention span for web content is low, I usually have 30 tabs open and am switching from email to BBC to Docs to sandwich to whatever, and I’m pretty sure most other people work the same way. So I keep that in mind when I’m editing a video and use strategies like the collage effect and certain timing rules in order to control the flow of the video. I just really try to be aware of how transitions to and from content and plot points can hook the viewer’s interests repeatedly throughout a video. I am also obsessed with strategies used in advertising and brainwashing that make videos addicting and subconsciously effective.


3. Do you look to bands to help with creativity in your process or do you prefer to work alone?

When working with a band or a client, my first conversation always revolves around their macro to micro goals and what they ultimately want to achieve by bringing me in to work on a video. I like to setup the skeleton of the project within the first 2 meetings because that foundation will be the origin of the creative process. From there, I act as the hub of the production in order to ensure consistency of the final product and to make sure shit gets done.


4. Music videos can get expensive VERY quickly. What are some ways you recommend for keeping costs in line?

Keep your team small (like a stealth unit) and avoid blowing your money on stupid props or locations just because you can. Simplicity is key.


5. Speaking of frugality, if you have any kind of actual budget for your video, what are some things that you SHOULD NOT skimp on?

Don’t skimp on time. Instead of rushing a project due to impatience, give yourself some room to breathe with an achievable but strict deadline. Also, work with dependable people.

6. Your videos seem to often have an almost community feel to them in that you cast a large number of people. Is that something you do on purpose, perhaps a tool for marketing videos?

In general, I’m really into the energy of large crowds and the positive vibes that are usually felt at shows – it is totally overwhelming, but in a good way. So I like to take that live energy and transfer into my videos. Also, it’s just more fun to shoot with groups of crazy people. It’s like throwing a party.


7. Making a great video on a budget depends so much on getting a great idea/concept, tell us about your creative process. Where you come up with ideas. How you brainstorm and collaborate.

Whenever I am making a video for someone, I like to explore their brains before jumping into any certain concept. Then once we get a few things layed down, I kind of just narrow down my own ideas based on the goals and visions of the client, and create a lookbook with images that represent the vibe that I envision, so that everyone is on the same page. Coming up with concepts is probably one of my favorite parts of working on a video because I am able to create an idea from everything that surrounds us. Mind drippings.

See more of Joel’s work here or contact him at