Mtv-quality Youtube Videos

Local Director Brian Morrison Is Shooting For High Quality On A Low Budget

December 27, 2009|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,sam.sessa@baltsun.com

In the video, electro-pop singer Libby Picken spots a fancy purse on a bench, calmly scoops it up and struts down Howard Street for a few paces before dropping it into an unsuspecting stranger's hands.

Then she snatches a businessman's wallet, carelessly flings the cash on the sidewalk and flashes a devious grin, all while her song "Coquette" plays in the background. Her hot pink shirt and giant heart-shape earrings seem to jump right off the screen. The rest of the five-minute video is a montage of Picken stealing various objects but never keeping them.

The concept is unorthodox but engaging. Just as impressive is the quality - it was shot in high definition by a professional cameraman. Nearly every idea for the video, from the objects Picken nabs down to the shot composition, sprang from the mind of director Brian Morrison. The 28-year-old Odenton resident is making waves in the local music scene by shooting high-definition music videos for area bands that could easily air on MTV - if MTV still showed music videos. Instead, viewers watch them on YouTube.

"These kinds of music videos are usually reserved for major-label bands," Morrison said. "I want to give another level of appreciation to the songs. That's what I think the videos do."

From the sets to the cameras and crew, the average budget for a major-label music video can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Since Morrison knows Baltimore bands don't have that kind of money, he figures out ways to keep the budget manageable. That typically means cramming as many shots as possible into one or two days and quickly moving from one site to another. He calls in favors from friends, works Craigslist for the cheapest props and edits the videos himself.

"The key is keeping a low profile and moving fast in order to cut costs," he said. "When you're doing stuff like this, you have to roll with the punches. You have to constantly adjust and improvise."

Morrison oversees every facet of his music videos, starting with the concept. The idea is the most important part, he said. Ideally, he wants to find the essence of the band and sensationalize it - without being patronizing or cliche. He met Picken, who sings with the dance group Lazerbitch, through his girlfriend. Picken watched an indie movie Morrison helped make, liked the cinematography and agreed to be the subject of his first music video.

Before Morrison started working up ideas for Picken's music video, he thought about her playful, free-spirited personality and took that to the extreme. He imagined her as someone who would steal things on a whim but never keep them or be consumed by them, and drew up a series of scenes based on the idea.

Near the end of the video, Picken strolls into The Windup Space, a lounge with live music in the Station North arts and entertainment district. Another band is on stage, but she grabs the microphone and starts singing her own song. Then she leads the audience outside the club, where they do a short choreographed dance sequence on North Avenue.

"You always hear that term, 'You stole the show,' " Morrison said. "I was like, 'Well, maybe she can steal the show.' "

Picken was thrilled with the finished product.

"I thought it was awesome," Picken said. "The way that Brian came up with the entire storyboard, I was so impressed. I can't even think of what I would have done for that video."

Morrison graduated from St. Mary's College with a degree in economics, but he has been obsessed with film since his senior year. After college, he worked at a production company that made low-budget local TV commercials for companies such as Eastern Motors, Bill's Carpet Fair and Antwerpen Automotive. There, he got a taste for putting together outrageous, tongue-in-cheek videos, using green screens and cheap special effects.

"It's totally outlandish," Morrison said. "You're creating a lot of environments that don't exist. ... Those little things teach you the fundamentals of how you can fudge things."

At an event at the Creative Alliance, Morrison met John Cooper, a cameraman who has shot for the Discovery Channel and the BBC, among others, and they began working together. Cooper uses a Red One camera, a versatile, high-tech camera that can shoot in high definition. That's a big reason why Morrison's videos look professional - they're shot by a professional with a high-quality camera.

In September, Morrison began tossing around ideas for a music video for the song "Blow My Mind" by the Annapolis-based rock group the Cheaters. In the song, Cheaters frontman Jason Morton lusts after a wild, crazy woman, saying, "I want you to blow my mind, girl." Someone suggested filming the video in a strip club, but Morrison wanted to avoid typical rock cliches.

Instead, Morrison pictured a woman who was really crazy and carefree and lived in the moment. He cast Jenn Themelis, whom he had worked with on the indie film "One Down," for the role.

Morrison drew up scenes where Themelis kicked over a motorcycle, ran across a busy city street, and drove a vintage muscle car across train tracks, narrowly avoiding a locomotive.

"I was glad it wasn't just a music video where they wanted hot girls," Themelis said. "It had a story and everything. When he told me the outline of the story, I was like, 'I get to do all the crazy stuff? Yes!' "

The eventual goal, Morrison said, is to make a name for himself shooting music videos and, he hopes, movies.

"This is me making a run at it," Morrison said. "These two videos are a big deal for me. ... Hopefully I can continue to make them and do more ambitious ones."

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