My wife and I have been together for 5 years. From the first year we met I've made her a music video for her birthday. These are those videos.

The process

Mandy’s birthday is June 9th so I try and pick the song I am going to use by the end of December each year. Then I have until the end of February to come up with the concept of the video. March and half of April is used to plan the shoot and rope in as many friends and family to help. I then shoot in April and the first half of May and have about 3 weeks to edit the video.

That’s the plan, every year… but it’s never worked like that! :)

I have added comments to each clip as to how it actually worked out. Wish me luck for this year :)

 

2009

This was the first one we did. The original plan was to sing the song myself. I have an ok singing voice and thought it would be a cool idea. My mate Chris came over and, after trying for a few hours, we realised that whilst I may have an OK singing voice, I don’t have range or training. We worked out that it was probably easier if I just lip-synced, which led to the concept for this video. 

The shoot was done over a single day with my brother, his then-girlfriend, and my friend Charlotte Wanhill. Charlotte is a fantastic camera operator and wicked good editor. She cut the whole thing and I think she did an amazing job.

It was easy to do it in secret as at that time I was living in Auckland, New Zealand, and Mandy was living in Toronto, not New Zealand. I was going to be in San Francisco for WWDC for her birthday and since San Francisco is kinda in-between Auckland and Toronto, Mandy came out to meet me there.

 

2010

This was a big year, Mandy’s 30th. As a build-up, I created 30 notes on little red cards, each one giving another reason why I loved Mandy. I would hide one in the apartment everyday for 30 days leading up to her birthday.

Mandy had a work conference over the weekend so would be out of the house Saturday and Sunday. The idea just came to me on the Saturday morning. So I called Charlotte, who had done the video the year before, and asked her if she could help with the shoot on the Sunday. I spent Saturday running round getting the wigs and moustaches and outfits and testing some things like the iPad as a ukulele. 

It almost all fell apart when Mandy decided on Sunday morning that she didn't feel like going to day two of  the conference. I kept cool and convinced her that it would be worthwhile and maybe day two would be better. Major panic one overcome!

Charlotte is also a drummer so had the kit at home, but we didn't have the time to take it on location and so filmed the drummer at her place with a green screen. You can see this easily in the video in the reflection in the drummer's glasses! 

The rest of huge shoot was on the roof of my work's parking building. We shot each character about four times to get wide, medium and close-up shots. The fourth shot involved Charlotte just moving around me and experimenting. 

Getting the positioning was actually really easy as we just put down duct tape on the ground to create markers. 

Charlotte did an amazing job of editing and putting the whole thing together.

 

2011

This one was a challenge. We had just moved to Australia and I had only recently started my job at Apple. I was really struggling to find the time to get away from Mandy to do the video. Luckily, I had  conference up in Sydney for the new job and so I roped some new workmates into being camera ops and lighting dudes. 

The whole thing is lit either by available light or my mate Tom standing as close as he could, pointing my iPad at me with a white screen on as bright as it can go. Amazing what can be done when you’re desperate :)

 

2012

I had grand plans for this one. I had the idea for a single take, walking type video. I was going to be singing into the camera as I walked along and at each chorus more and more people would come into frame to dance along with me. I even had a friend of mine help choreograph some moves. 

This was also the year I got my 5D MK III and some very nice L glass, did I mention I am a bit of a gear head?:)

I also got a stabiliser, which is not nearly as easy to use as I had hoped it would be. It took four of us and help from a friend who studied engineering to get it even slightly balanced. A very good lesson to learn - don't show up to a shoot with a new toy you want to try out! Make sure you've tested everything you can before you shoot. Lucky for me on this occasion I was the client.

Unfortunately, I'd put on quite a lot of weight since we moved to Melbourne. I got home after the first day of shooting and, once I looked at the rushes, I realised I needed another idea. I just didn’t like the way I jiggled in the video.

So my dilemma was, how can I be in the video without being in the video? I came up with the idea of sticking iPads onto sticks and superimposing my face onto them. I asked Mandy’s family and some friends to act as body doubles, and this video is the end result.

There was a lot of experimenting to get this right. Intially I tried playing my face on the iPads but that was never going to work as the screens were not bright enough and the glare was terrible. Then I tried showing just green or white screens with black dots on them for tracking software to track. That didn’t work either.

In the end, I went with a pretty low-tech option and stuck white paper with tracking marks on the screens. This was the best solution but not perfect. Whilst tracking, motion would lose the track points any time they even remotely went out of focus so almost half of this video was done frame-by-frame and using keyframes.

It was every night for a week sitting across from Mandy on the couch, sometimes swearing at my laptop. When she asked what was wrong, I told her it was just excel stuff for work… the trusting fool :)

 

2013

This video was dictated by song choice. I was set on using the song - the challenge of course is that it is a duet. So how could I get Mandy to be in the video without her knowing anything about it? I did consider filming her in her sleep, but couldn’t get the shots I wanted like that and even though we are married, it still would have been creepy :)

So I managed to find www.custompuppets.com who will make a puppet of you based on photos you send them. The hardest part was paying for them without Mandy noticing - she looks after the family finances!

Once they arrived, the other challenges were finding a time when Mandy wasn’t around to film and learning how to use the puppets on camera, since this was not as easy as I had thought. When your puppet isn’t doing anything the natural instinct is to stop moving or doing anything, but that's very noticeable on camera. So all the puppeteers needed to be aware of this and even if the “character” is not singing at the time, they are in shot and need to be moving in some way.

The other big challenge was finding enough people to help with the shoot. Ideally we would have 2 people per puppet and then at least one person filming. That didn't happen. In the end the whole thing was shot with just two of us - me and my good friend Kieran who helped out. 

We set up 3 cameras - my 5D and 7D and Kieran's 7D. I had a Atomos Ninja 2 connected to my 5D with a long HDMI cable and we used that to see what it kinda looked like on camera as we lay on the floor controlling the puppets. I am particularly proud of being able to make mine do the air guitar :)

 

2014

2014 was a fun year. I came up with the concept about 5 weeks before Mandy’s birthday. I had a few ideas that involved more complex videos with cars and a lot of costume changes. A really important lesson I have learnt is that sometimes time and budget will dictate what your production ends up looking like.

The song choice was easy as Mandy was very not subtle in telling me how much she loved the song back in December. Going to far as loading it into my daily playlist :)

You really need to think about all these things when you are storyboarding. Also you really want to storyboard. Don’t just think about how you want the video to look, think about it to the level that you are planning your shots. Is it going to be a medium shot, a closeup, and so on. The more you plan, the smoother your shooting is going to be and easier it will be to edit. I shoot a lot of events and of course in those situations, you can’t plan everything. When you can, you should! :)

Also if you have time, set yourself some test shoot days. I spent a whole afternoon in a friend's garage shooting footage of me on the piano that was going to be in a different location than where the dancing was shot, but when I got it onto my timeline, the two locations didn’t work together.

I really got lucky when buying the mini piano and here is where (I know this sounds a bit airy fairy but hear me out) it really pays to be open to things and friendly.  While buying the piano, I started talking to the people in the store and told them why I was buying it. I mentioned that I was going to have to rent a dance studio and they replied “Hey we’ve got a small studio upstairs, and we really like your idea. You can use it for free if you like?” So I got to use the studio for free, which was awesome!

The whole shoot was done between 1pm and 4pm on the Monday before Mandy’s birthday. I want to say a huge “Thank you” to Kieran and Cedric who helped me shoot it and had to watch me dancing around in that leotard. I don’t think I can ever repay them for that. :)

The whole video was shot on two 5Ds and a 7D. We used two Came-TV LED light panels and a jib for some of the shots. I edited it the next day. 

One thing I noticed during the edit was that I wish I had a monitor onsite and had time to review the footage on a big screen while we were shooting. I really love the colour in the shots of me singing at 03:34, but that seemed like a cover shot on the day that we weren’t really going to use that much. I would have loved to use it more during the start of the song, but, at the time,  we didn’t shoot that angle.

All in all, I am very happy with 2014’s video. I hope you like it, and I suppose it goes without saying, but in case you were asking…. no I have absolutely no shame :)