Interview with Matthew Brown

One of my favorite videographers in the Vimeo/HV20/30/40 community is Matthew Brown. He’s already very popular with videos like “GAY = SIN”, “Bloom”, “Autumn”, “Crash” and many more. Recently, Matthew was asked by well known Seattle label Sub Pop to direct a music video for one of their artists, The Album Leaf (legal free mp3 downloads here). Matthew was very kind to give me an interview about this whole experience.

1. How did the Album Leaf music video happened? Did you approach Sub Pop, or they approached you etc?

Matthew Brown: I made a random art video for my video journal on Vimeo called PETAL showcasing the tulip farms in Washington State, and the band saw and liked my style of shooting and editing and immediately wanted to do something with me. After a few months of no contact I get a message from Jimmy Lavalle (the lead singer of The Album Leaf) saying that he’s watched all my videos and really wants me to do a music video for his upcoming album. The next thing I know, Sub Pop Records says hello.

2. How was the idea for the music video evolved? Did you story board, or you filmed in a free flow way that you put together later?

Matthew Brown: When Sub Pop contacted me, they basically gave me a budget and wanted to have something within two weeks or so. I had a nice conversation with Jimmy on the phone; he told me he wants four things for sure in the video…children, an elderly person, tall grass, and aerial shots (which were chosen because those were some things in my past videos he liked a lot). So, with the time restraint and those four items, I came up with a little idea. The evolution of the actual story and full idea came while shooting. We basically made up everything as we went. We were in the middle of one shot and said, “Wait, what if we did this?”…then that would take us to another moment of the same thinking. The ideas were definitely all over the place. We kind of knew what we were doing, but I think with the weight of the deadline on our shoulders we couldn’t really think about it, haha. I think the editing created the story for sure. It shaped it into something tangible and not too abstract…luckily. We made a simple shot list, but even that wasn’t concrete. I don’t think we even looked at the shot list after we had come up with it. It was just floating thoughts in the back of our minds. I’m a very visual thinker, so I kind of knew what felt right when we were doing it.

3. How different, if at all, is to shooting+editing an actual music video compared to your other videos?

Matthew Brown: I get the same feeling when shooting both a little fun artsy video and an actual music video. With one of my artsy videos I have more leverage to allow it to be abstract, maybe not go anywhere by the end, and with a music video (in most instances) you have to at least “go somewhere” with the concept…it’s got to hook in some way to make the viewer want to watch. My artsy videos are my way of documenting the world around me in a beautiful, emotional way. With music videos, there’s a lot of fiction being told…I think the documenting aspect has to often leave the scene and let something strange and wondrous in. To me, music videos are WAY more fun and challenging. As far as editing, the only difference would be that in music videos I’m a little more hesitant to be experimental, because as everyone knows, they call them experiments because they don’t know what is going to happen or whether or not they’ll even work.

4. What gear did you use exactly to shoot the video? Did you have a crew?

Matthew Brown: We used three cameras, a very bunch pair. The Canon 7D, the Canon HV40, and the Panasonic HVX. Unfortunately, we were only able to use the footage from the 7D and HV40 because there wasn’t enough time to gather and “convert” the footage from the HVX. I was shocked that the footage of the 7D and HV40 was very seamless through the video. I’d say it was 60% 7D footage and 40% HV40 footage. I don’t think people would be able to tell to much. We had two camera rigs for the 7D, one was the Zacuto Gunstock Shooter (that I was privileged to get from my Zacuto award last year), and then another, bigger, rig compiled of both Zacuto and Redrock parts…pretty much a shoulder mount with handle bars in front, hehe. As you can tell, I’m not a very technical person. We had a little DIY dolly with us for a couple of shots. Other then that, it was all handheld. No tripod in sight. For crew, I had the amazing Nate Miller. He’s definitely been my partner in crime on my bigger projects. He played role of cinematographer/assistant director/producer. He knows exactly what I want. Definitely my key person. We had another producer (Ian Todd) acting as the spider web connectors to keep everything together. He was doing the paperwork/emailing/phone call stuff to make sure we were actually getting things done. We had a very talented shooter with us as assistant camera (Christian Hansen) with us as well. HUGE help. During the birthday scene we had a lot of random people show up along with the actor whom I’ve never met before, so we had three coordinators and a couple production assistants.

5. What’s next for Matthew Brown, the filmmaker? Are you interested in directing an actual short movie?

Matthew Brown: Right now I am wanting to get jump started on music videos, and really hone in on my craft and grow creatively, but narrative storytelling is definitely what I’m eyeing at. I am planning a short film where we see the world through the eyes of a little autistic boy as he witnesses his family crumble around him because of his disorder. It’s a very surreal, emotional film that I don’t have funding for right now. I have been trying to raise money to make this project, but it’s been very difficult. I have a couple hundred dollars saved up from generous people so far along with bits of my paycheck, hehe. We are also currently auditioning children with autism to play the roles in the film to make it a more genuine story and to raise awareness easier by showing the true reality of the issue. For now, though, I’ll make music videos and keep experimenting and evolving into more complex and interesting currents of creativity.


Brad wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 4:36 AM PST:

Awesome read, Eugenia! Matthew Brown’s videos are awesome and it was good to hear more about his work. Would love to see more interviews like this from the vimeo community!

sean dailey wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 8:04 AM PST:

do you know if he used a naked hv40?

Matthew Brown wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 8:30 AM PST:

Hey Sean, yes, the HV40 was naked for the entire shoot. It’s crazy how seemless it was next to the 7D.

sean dailey wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 8:43 AM PST:

hey matt, thanks for responding. i’ve got an hv30 and have been thinking about upgrading to a dslr (rebel t2i). looking at your stuff makes me think it might not be necessary.

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Eugenia wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 4:16 PM PST:

Well, it depends what you want to do. If you want more detail on your footage, shallower depth of field, true progressive output, and 60p that’s 720p instead of 540p (for slow-motion sequences), then the T2i is a better alternative. On the other hand, if you want more connectors, continuous autofocus, more video-related usability, easier to edit footage, stay with the HV30.

For *music videos* the T2i makes a lot of sense if only for its 720/60p mode, that let’s you slow it down exactly at 23.976 fps for output (0.400 speed on Vegas). As you no doubt have noticed so far, the vast majority of music videos are very slowed-down. With a 60i camcorder, you would have to interpolate and lose one field in order to make your footage 60p, essentially making your 1080/60i footage as 540/60p. And if you want to export back to 720p, you’d have to upsample. What all this means is that any 60i-turned-to-60p HD camcorder has a 25% detail & resolution loss, right off the bat, compared to the dSLRs’ 720/60p ability. So if you’re interested in music videos and slow motion, you need the T2i. I’ll have to buy one myself too, since my 5D MkII is the only Canon dSLR that doesn’t have a 60p mode (because it was the first such model, so not all shutter electronics required were implemented at the time).

Michael C. wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 7:11 PM PST:

\With a 60i camcorder, you would have to interpolate and lose one field in order to make your footage 60p\ — you do not *lose* fields, you are converting every field into a frame, so you use all of the fields. You lose vertical resolution compared to 1080p30 or even to 720p, correct. Still, 540p60 does not look that bad, and upscaling to 720p works fine. Modern DSLRs have about 500-700 lines of effective resolution anyway, and it seems that getting 700 lines without aliasing is tough. With a camcorder you will have no horrible aliasing.

Anyway, a combination of a DSLR for shallow DOF with a consumer camcorder for wider shots seems to be a winning one.

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Eugenia wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 7:20 PM PST:

>you are converting every field into a frame

That’s what I meant above actually. I have a tutorial on the technique too.

>Still, 540p60 does not look that bad

Well, it does. I did use that trick for my “Accidental Love Song” music video, and the slow-mo scenes were way softer and with very little detail compared to the PF24 ones (visibly noticable after both kinds of footage were exported to 720/24p). Also, you should not forget that when you edit something like a music video, 80% of the times you “reframe” (pan/crop/etc). By doing that, you lose extra information. So the 540p becomes something like 480p. And upscaling 480p to 720p (or even to 1080p like some people do), is visibly noticeable than real 720p or 1080p footage. It just shows when you mix it with real 1080p footage. Maybe not all people will notice, but many will. The point is, the higher the resolution, the better you can reframe and export at 720p (I’m not even asking for 1080p, I consider these dSLRs *effectively* to be 720p cams after reframing or slow-motion).

>Modern DSLRs have about 500-700 lines of effective resolution anyway

If you’re referring at that erroneous test at DVInfo, then I’ll say that I disagree. But this is not the place to debunk that.

Glenn wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 7:44 PM PST:

Nice work Matthew!

Michael C. wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 8:36 PM PST:

Ghosting in badly deinterlaced videos bugs me much more than loss of resolution. I just watched “gay==sin”, and it is so ghosty, which is a real surprise, considering that the HV40 has native 24p mode. Did Matthew shoot in native 60i and deinterlaced wrongly? Great images though, he got a talent. About 300 messages on his Vimeo page and no one mentioned ghosting. Do you think these people would notice drop in resolution?

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Eugenia wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 9:19 PM PST:

>Ghosting in badly deinterlaced videos bugs me much more than loss of resolution.

Well, me too.

>I just watched “gay==sin”, and it is so ghosty, which is a real surprise, considering that the HV40 has native 24p mode.

That video was shot with his HV30, not his HV40. The HV40 was not out yet back then. So he had no native 24p.

>Did Matthew shoot in native 60i and deinterlaced wrongly?

If I remember correctly, he shot it in 30p, but he exported in 24p, and he forgot to “disable resample”, which is a required step on Sony Vegas to not get ghosting if you change the frame rate. A lot of people forget, or don’t know about it. It’s a bad default setting on Vegas (which I’ve written before that this behavior should change). I’ve forgotten about it myself a couple of times. Very frustrating.

>About 300 messages on his Vimeo page and no one mentioned ghosting.

Heh, I have. I emailed Matthew back then about exactly that, and asked him to disable resampling, and re-export. Not sure if he ever came around on re-exporting and replacing that video. Re-rendering can take hours, so I can understand if he doesn’t feel that’s necessary.

> Do you think these people would notice drop in resolution?

You are comparing apples and oranges. As I said, ghosting, or interlacing artifacts bug me more. However, when you do a music video, you have a responsibility to the artist to get it as right as you can. So ghosting, or interlacing, are usually not an issue because they will be taken care of after the artist/label examines the final video (all the music videos are scrutinized before going live). But loss of resolution is one of these things that could stand out at the end, and there’s nothing you can do to fix. Ghosting, interlacing, are all fixable. Loss of resolution is not. Because it depends on your camera, not your editor. That’s why, if you want better slow-mo quality, you go for a dSLR, not a camcorder. It might not matter for your average skateboarding video showing your buddies, but it matters when you’re asked to shoot a music video for an artist that will use it for professional reasons.

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