Director Max Moore On Navigating Between DIY Music Videos And Huge Productions
Posted on February 24, 2016
February 24, 2016 | by Jonathan Diener
My band The Swellers had the privilege of working with director Max Moore on a music video a few years ago. I kept tabs on his career as it quickly escalated. He’s directed over 150 music videos that have accumulated a total of 26 million views on YouTube, ranging from bands like Converge to State Champs. In 2015 he shot 49 music videos and hasn’t had time to talk about it until now. We got on the phone and chatted about the importance of videos, the worth of directors and the realities of budgeting in a viral video dominated market.
The Runout: People are starting to appreciate what happens behind the scenes. Everything is transparent nowadays. When it comes to what you do, I think videos are still one of the biggest promotional tools. Regardless of being on TV or not it’s still an important piece of art.
Max Moore: Right. I mean, I started directing music videos in 2011. From then to now, just in the punk/hardcore world, I feel like there’s been a new resurgence. With YouTube and everybody wanting press and to have their new single premiered with a video, the whole industry is shifting towards that, the more professional side of things. The music video has a whole new self worth. YouTube and Vevo are massive now, but for a young dude I got into it at a time when not that many people were interesting in making videos. It kind of worked out in that way. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Oh it does, and you have to think about the baby labels that were around when you started are now powerhouses in this music scene. You grew together and now you’re the go-to guy. People forget about that too, you look at Will Yip and he’s done almost everything lately.
Other more established stuff outside of my world, like Rise Records, they’ve always been doing their own thing and it’s interesting to cross over to work with them. A year ago I signed with a rep agency that represents me for music videos. It’s been cool to write music video treatments that are totally outside of my realm that I would normally never be able to work with. I grew up playing punk and hardcore and did videos for my friends, so when we all grew together we were able to help each other out. I’m a music fan. There’s importance with finding a niche, but at the same time I don’t want to be just a punk rock, alternative music video director. I just want to be a good director. Part of that comes with working with different projects. Metalcore bands, punk bands, indie stuff, it’s all over the map and it’s exciting.
People get into a lot of careers semi-selfishly wanting to learn a craft to benefit their own band, then realize over time to make it a career you’re working for someone else and their discretion. Do you ever feel like you have to compromise your overall vision?
It depends on the size of the band and how they operate. [With] specific artists it feels very much like a job where it’s not my vibe, but here’s the treatment I think would be cool for them. Whether it’s a manager chiming in wanting something specific or a singer thinking they look like shit in a certain shot, there’s a certain level of compromise you’ll always have [to deal with]. Ultimately the artist and label are the client, it’s not mine. On the complete flip side if it’s a band I really fucking like and the concept I have really works, that’s when it doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s like, holy fuck, I’m making really cool art, pushing myself as a director and trying new things. So the scale is complete compromise and it’s a job and the other side is full collaboration making art together.
Have you ever been really into something and had to change it?
I feel like it used to happen early on when I first started directing music videos. A lot of what directing is is writing music video treatments. I didn’t get that back in the day and realize how important it was. Over the years my treatment writing abilities improved and I realized the more specific it is, whether it’s words, images or references, that [a good treatment] will drastically reduce the problems later down the road. Nowadays I’ve done it enough to where I can be very specific so when I edit after the fact, I already had it laid out so there’s no surprises. I used to go into it without writing anything and people would tell me they trust me, which is insane. Now that I understand how the industry works I realize it’s a living and I shouldn’t be able to fuck things up.
It makes sense, because the better you get, the less time it takes to change things after the fact and you can make more music videos and get paid quicker. It’s also important to realize they choose you because of your quality and the way you think, rather than just the gear you have to make them look good.
I have people hit me up all the time asking what gear I use, what camera, what I edit on–and obviously those things help, but it’s mostly about being creative. What makes a video interesting and unique. You can hire Joe Schmoe over here who has a RED EPIC and all this other bullshit, but does he have a good idea? I don’t know. That’s where a lot of misconceptions come in. It’s not just a dude with a camera, it’s a dude with a brain. Hopefully people come to me to direct because I have good ideas and can execute them in a timely manner.
I remember hearing from labels that they wanted my band to do viral video instead of the average concept. The more I thought about it, it just seemed like they wanted us to do a video for free with no budget. What is your argument as a videographer and director that you’re worth paying X amount of dollars instead of a band doing it themselves?
People love to interact and see the artist doing their thing and being a real human. There’s always going to be a niche for something like the singer of a band having a GoPro set up in his house and doing something funny. People do love that. On the other side, professionally made, serious and artistic music videos will never go away–in my opinion. No one wants to just watch a GoPro all the time, that’s just ugly. Consumers want to consume all kinds of things. They want to [just] see things occasionally, but they always want to feel like they’re taking in some kind of serious art with real investment.
Do you feel like people have been dumbed down to this kind of viral marketing world? Is that what people think or what they’re being told to think by the industry?
Even things like the new Beyonce video still has those elements of viral-ness, but they spent so much money on that. Both levels of production have a level of marketing that make them one in the same. They’re promoting a record and people forget that a little bit. I think a high quality video will always exist. A lot of bands that are smaller will ask me what my rate is and I don’t even view it as that. It’s not give me a flat rate and I’ll work for you, it’s what do you have to spend and we’ll work it out. My rate is whatever is left over. If we have $5,000 to make a video, I’ll put as much money on screen as possible. Any good director is doing that. The cost of things doesn’t equate to smaller artists, but in reality producing the video costs a lot of money with crew, camera rentals, talent, locations, food and it all adds up. I don’t get paid because I’m worth it, I get paid to use the money for a really fucking awesome music video.
It’s the same if you work at a restaurant. If you’re a server you don’t get all of the money from a table’s bill, you just get your tip.
Even if a budget is $40,000, it’s like, dude, I’m not getting $40,000. That’s just how much we have to spend. A $40,000 music video has to look like a $40,000 music video. Whether that’s shooting on the best quality gear or an insane concept. They won’t give you that budget to shoot it on your iPhone, but I mean, that’d be tight, I would do that. There’s just confusion when it comes to the general public. I also do smaller budget stuff for friends’ bands while also doing big videos through my agent.
Do you have any type of signature you tend to put in your music videos that make them Max Moore videos?
It’s not a conscious thing, it’s just things I find visually appealing. On the flip side of that, people tell me I’m obsessed with blood. I think I counted once and I had almost 20 videos with blood in it.
Are you specifically good at that?
As fucked up as it is, Quentin Tarantino likes violence in his movies and I love blood in mine. It’s compelling. I don’t mean it to be for shock value, it’s just popped up over the years as a nice visual tool.
Do you have any favorite videos?
One video that I did on a nothing budget that I did years ago and still enjoy is a video for Into It. Over It. called, “No Amount Of Song.” The concept is a guy who walks into his empty childhood bedroom and starts to bring back his furniture to fill it back up. All the while water is falling from the ceiling and eventually it completely floods. It was the most insane thing I’ve ever done. I built a set with my Dad and brother in my garage, my older brother is acting in the video. We did everything as cheaply as possible because the entire budget was just the set. I built a three wall set we shot in the garage, then did some outside with a hose above then for the flooding scenes we actually lowered the set into a pool. For the budget I wouldn’t ever touch a video like that again for anything less than $30,000. I still really enjoy it.
Do you want to stick with music videos or move on to something like feature films?
Well I mean for now, I live in Kentucky, I’m 25 and I direct full-time. I’ve done that for two years and part-time before that. I’ve made a situation where I can have a career, work with cool bands and make money. I’m growing up, I’ve been in a relationship with an awesome lady for six years and [have] marriage down the road. I’m trying to navigate the adult world while making a career so music videos is a good place for me for now. At the same time I’m not investing my own money into making this stuff or getting in debt. That said, directing features is something I would definitely love to do in the future. I took an undergraduate film program an hour north of Nashville in Kentucky, it’s not a music video school, we learned filming techniques and storytelling in general. Beyond music, movies are a really powerful thing for me. Ideally at some point I would love to direct a feature film. I don’t want to make my first movie be dogshit, I want it to be something I’m proud of. I’m also at no place to have financing or a budget for it right now.
What do you tell people wanting to be a music video director?
If there’s a band you really like or you have friends in a band, find their email address and hit them up. The moment you say you’re a director, you are one. Just say you’ll do their music video for free. Don’t worry about money and don’t be afraid to talk to people. Honestly, I may have asked to do The Swellers’ video. I don’t even remember. Utilize the biggest resource you have, which is the internet and you can talk to anybody you want to talk to. The world I came from, especially punk and hardcore, people are so accessible.
If people want to work with you, how do they contact you?
If it’s a smaller band or label, just hit me up directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. For bigger stuff the professional way is to go through my agent Morgan Lane at Lark Creative.