'BIRDS' Music Video Breakdown
Hello, my names Joe ManHwi Han and I'm a South Korea-born, Director of Photography based in Los Angeles, CA. A culmination of my involvement in music, art, and theater throughout my early years led me to dive into the world of cinema. With a newfound passion for filmmaking, I attended Columbia College Chicago, and graduated with a bachelor of arts, concentrating on cinematography.
Since then, I've worked countless hours with various award-winning directors and clients to bring their vision to the screen.
Around late January, my friend Dolly brought me on board to shoot her latest music video along with directors, Josh Taylor and Darren Bui. All three of them are close friends of mine so I was really excited to work with all of them. It was also my first time working with Josh as a director. He and I have worked together in the camera department for years, helping each other out at various positions.
The song, Birds, is about maintaining child-like innocence and creativity as time goes on. We focused a lot on the transition from innocence to adulthood. He and I also wanted to use visual motifs to show that she was trapped from fully expressing herself in the film. Another great deal of stress was put on color. We focused on using muted pastels and slowly graduating to vibrant deep colors.
DIRECTOR: JOSH D. TAYLOR x DARREN BUI
PRODUCTION DESIGN: ROBIN KING
GAFFER: DANIEL KAUTZ
This is one of the first things we shot on the schedule. We were mainly working with natural light so a lot of the decisions were dictated by the sun. The scene opens up in what is suppose to be a basement in the script. We picked this room primarily for the ease of access (aka free) but more importantly the tone and hue of the walls and the interior decor. It fit well with what we were trying to achieve and the interior decor was also a plus. Our Production Designer, Robin King, brought in the blue pillows and kool-aid to match Dolly's outfit to fit everything together. In the second frame, we had Dolly perform with a bright red lollipop to give some color contrast to the frame. It also further accentuates the theme and tone of the work.
The lighting was more about shaping due to the room being on the third story. However, I was fortunate enough to scout the place ahead of time for a few hours. I used the Sun Seeker app to plan accordingly. The window (our key light) is located on camera left side, facing west. Directly outside the window was another residential area that had plain white walls that bounced the sunlight nicely into the room early on in the day. We used an 18x48"meat-ax to create some contrast and take off some light on the back wall. In addition, I had a 4x4' floppies on the right of the camera, just edge of the frame, for negative-fill. Lastly, minor tweaks using a 2x3" double net to take some light off the couch, which was too bright for my taste. When it came time for the close-up, I brought the negative-fill in closer as well as the meat-ax to create some separation from the back wall.
The images below were our reference images to this scene.
We quickly flipped around the room to grab a new scene- a more mature version of Dolly. We did a similar thing here with the meat-ax (CR) and negative fill (CL). I was pretty adamant about creating some texture behind the TV on a purposefully plain empty wall.
The second frame was on a dana dolly which we looked straight into our window. Daniel, my amazing Gaffer, brought in a small 250W head with diffusion armed out to give her a little extra push on her hair and face. The rest came from the TV set.
The third frame is actually a flipped image. We absolutely wanted to recreate the reference photo in our own subtle way. We propped Dolly up on some quarter apple boxes and placed her by the TV set over the image. Fun story about this set up is that I wanted to break up the back wall again with a slash behind the television. When I looked through the camera, I had thought someone had already done what I wanted, but when I went back there to tweak, it was simply a MacBook laptop used to project the graphics onto the TV. I wish I took a photo but it just goes to show happy accidents are still a thing.
The kitchen scenes were done on the second day. We wanted Dolly to have a simple and colorful spread in front of her. We picked up a large sheet of plexiglass and repurposed it as a table. It's supported by apple boxes and a camera coffin. We had a Joker 1600 far out the left window with a wide angle lens and returned it inside with a 4x4 beadboard right next to camera right. We also put one bulb at 2ft underneath the makeshift table for some texture. To get the shot, we flipped the dana dolly upside down to grab shots over the table as well as our subject. With no room or resources to goal-post, we bit the far end of the 6-foot speed rail with cardellinis on c-stands armed out (pictured below).
The next scene was based on an inspiration (below). We recycled the plexiglass and mounted on two countertop lips along the kitchen entrance. We placed the Joker outside the window directly behind, shining in straight into the lens and two kino bulbs on either side to edge talent. We hazed up the kitchen behind Dolly and shot straight through. We had some crazy overlapping of silhouettes that you can see in the video, which was also another happy accident.
This last scene was the most fun to shoot. We really wanted to embrace the old-timey car interior aesthetic with the projected backdrops. There was no going back or fail-safe if it didn't pan out. And without the luxury of time to test the projection, we really just prayed it all worked.
Daniel and I essentially used a standard ARRI light kit, 2x4 Kino, and the rest was the projector. First, the backdrop is just a bed sheet mounted on c-stands. Josh had an old projector and he screened some old stock footage of Vegas on loop. I was honestly so impressed how much played onto our picture car. We punched the 2x4 kino at 2ft across the hood and into our subject. I had a triple header laying around from another shoot so we mounted two 300W heads with 216 diffusion onto it and Daniel spun it on a c-stand from time to time, emulating car headlights. We placed the 650W behind the car to shower the subject with bold and vibrant red. We also angled the rearview mirror to accent her eyes, just for fun.
Birds' has been one of the most creatively satisfying projects. People volunteered their time, it was low budget, and a lot of it has been possible through donations. It was truly the epitome of indie filmmaking at its best. Huge shout out to my gaffer, Daniel Kautz for always bringing great vibes and a creative spirit and my camera assistants Celeste Barbosa and Jose Quintero for working.
Find more of Joe here: