How to Make a Music Video with No Budget

Allister Bradley‘s song “What a Day,” is an uplifting song whose story is captured in his video, which placed third in a local music video contest.  How does one produce a music video with no budget, no crew, and limited time? This is a question many independent artists face, so we invited Allister to write about his video-making adventure.  Read on…

by Allister Bradley

I released the song “What A Day” on my second album (“Too”). Shortly thereafter, Kitchener arts journalist Colin Hunter announced a local competition for music videos by independent artists. Entries for the contest had to be newly-shot videos, and the timeframe was only six weeks. Immediately my interest was tweaked… Wouldn’t it be great to shoot a music video? I have thought about visuals for several of my songs, but they get pretty complicated depending on the song. This particular song, though, is a straight-up ‘carpe diem’ anthem which lends itself well to video.

The Challenge
My challenges: no crew, no budget, and very little time. I already owned some semi-pro camera equipment and editing tools, and had some experience with basic video production, so I decided to shoot and edit it myself, begging friends and family for assistance where possible.

The Concept
So, where to start? With a story, of course!
I figured I should plan out the scenes for the video on paper, to convince myself that I could cover all the bases in a short period of time, and that I could shoot it myself or with a skeleton crew of amateurs. I figured out what characters I would need on-screen, what locations I would need, and where I would need help. Plus, I would need to learn more about lighting, composition, pacing, chroma-keying and other editing techniques. All in a few short weeks!I even had a part in the video for my 10-year-old son, Sean – he would play a young Allister Bradley in several scenes. (He would also operate the camera for an early-morning location shoot on a day away from school!) I planned for plenty of visual contrast – day vs. night, still vs. moving, singing vs. character acting, and worked out ways to weave in and out of the contrasting visuals.

The Gear
I did spend some money, by the way – at the hardware store, buying the parts to build a homemade “fig rig”, a camera accessory that serves as a poor man’s steady-cam. Google “fig rig” and you’ll get the picture…Each day, as I carved out enough spare time to shoot or edit segments of the video, I would either shoot static shots with a tripod, or when I could find a camera operator, I’d shoot some moving shots.

The Cast & Crew
One day, it was my wife, Karen, behind the camera. Another day, it was my musical partner, Steve Robinson, and as I mentioned before, Sean pitched in to help shoot video as well (though the fig rig was bigger than he was…). The cast included myself, my brother, Rob, his girlfriend, Krista, and Sean.One of the most complicated sequences was the elementary school sequence at the beginning of the video. Sean was great, doing take after take to get the timing right, even though I had him in a t-shirt and it was only about 3 degrees Celsius outside! I’d wrap him up in a jacket between takes to keep him warm.

The Journey
After getting the outdoor shots, and then working on the indoor shots with special permission from the school principal, it turned out the camera was faulty and all the shots were ruined. I turned to the ‘B’ camera and re-shot the indoor sequence in only a few takes – easy, since Sean had practiced all the movements!  Bit by bit, I continued down the list of required shots, filling in sections of the song and working on editing even before shooting had finished.

As luck would have it, I finished the last of the outdoor shooting only hours before the first snowfall of October, which could have seriously complicated shooting!I finished editing the video in time to enter it into the contest, and the video ended up in third place! I know I’m still an amateur video producer, but I always like to understand a process so that when I hire a professional I can work well with them.

Memorable and Not-So-Memorable Moments
The whole experience was great, filled with challenges and opportunities, and with a little bit of everything entering the mix:- Losing the entire school interior shoot due to a faulty camera, and having to quickly re-shoot with a B camera- Spending hours one night driving through town looking for an existing location with the right lighting for a shot (the night-time, down-lit exterior shots during the bridge of the song)- Shooting a scene (the break-up scene) inside a busy shopping mall without the benefit of crowd control – people thought we were shooting a jewellery commercial…- Using concealed in-ear monitors to sing along with the song while shooting – Building the fig rig and enjoying the steady-motion benefits of using the tool  With a new album nearing completion, I’ll have to start thinking about making another music video soon.