How to Craft a Visual Story through Music


The creative process is a constant learning experience.  Each film brings a new set of challenges as well as new opportunities.  To help overcome these challenges and to seize the opportunities that present themselves, there are two small things you need to do:

  1. Push yourself to learn.
  2. Build a strong team.

It is key to push yourself to learn.  The more knowledge you acquire and the more refined your skill set is, the better chance that your work will get noticed.  Personally, I have decided that no matter the size of project that I undertake, I must learn something.

The second element is the importance of developing a strong team to rely on for support & creative input. These relationships will not only make your job easier, but it will also lead to a stronger final piece.  In almost any situation, the success or failures depend on the strength of your team.  If the team works well together, the final product will inherently be stronger.  However, if the team does not share a similar vision, the final product will usually be compromised.

When everything comes together — when you develop a product that required you to push yourself and work with a team — that sense of accomplishment that results is one of the most gratifying aspects of the process.  It is THIS FEELING that drives me to push my creative abilities and improve upon my skill set.  One such example is the music video ‘101’ by Karrnnel — which embodied both the desire to learn as well as the desire to work with a strong team.

About the Film

In May 2012, Karrnnel, Amy Matysio, John Matysio & I went to NYC with the hopes of filming a new music video for Karrnnel.  We spent a week in a variety of locations throughout New York including Soho, Tribeca, Central Park, Times Square, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Midtown West, Williamsburg & Brooklyn.  For the video, we wanted to let the music guide the action — showing how music can be used to connect people.  Music not only bring people together, but it also breaks down barriers that exist in our day to day lives.


My goal when producing any film is to bring the audience with me on my journey — be it on a hiking adventure or a corporate doc.  I also strive to improve all aspects of the production process with each film I produce — in hopes of attracting a larger audience. In regards to ‘101’, there were two main aspects of the production that were required in order to tell the story we wanted to tell:

  1. Crafting a Visual Story through Music.
  2. Adapt an Organic Production Style.

At first, when we approached this project, we weren’t exactly sure how we wanted to craft the story.  However, we knew that we wanted the music to be the driving force. Before heading to New York, we needed to know the look & feel we were aiming for — which would help dictate the locations and timelines and we also needed to know what the main story element was.  For this piece, we knew that the tempo was going to be the main driving force. We wanted to show the power of music and how it can be used to bring people together — using the tempo as the device to push the action along.  Because of this approach, we decided to take a documentary style approach and not be invasive to the action that was happening around us.

With us taking this approach, it was key to adapt an organic production style.  This basically means that we knew we would have to just roll with the flow and take risks.  For this project, only Karrnnel has been to New York — so he had an idea of the direction that the music had to go.  However, Amy and I had not been so we were all able to experience it at the same time.  We also knew that we would need to document our journey as it happens rather than have a firm set of plans/schedule — with the hopes of coming across something ‘magical’ — something taking the video in a direction we did not expect.

In order to be able to adapt to this style, we broke down the video into two elements. We knew we wanted to film the intro segment with Mthobisi & we knew we wanted to establish a different look to the section. For this shoot, I used two 5D Mark II’s and two sets of Manfrotto 536 legs — with the Kessler Stealth on one of the sets of sticks. I also used all natural light to keep the kit small — using a bounce when necessary. We weren’t totally sure how this element was going to play in the final piece but I wanted to make sure I captured it from two angles.

As for the rest of the shoot, I wanted to keep a small kit so it would be easy to travel through New York, being that we were going to be exploring a variety of neighborhoods.

The Edit

When it came to the edit, there was quite a bit of work that was required. Because of the nature of the shoot, I was forced to manually sync all the audio. We didn’t want to have a scratch track playing as we wanted the performance to feel as authentic as possible for the people that were to experience it. He had the scratch track playing in Karrnnel’s ear which helped him stay in time but because of this, we didn’t have a scratch track to sync to. We ran through the song about thirty times so I had to manually sync all the tracks. In hindsight, I would have wirelessly ran the sync track to the input on the camera.

In regards to the story edit, we knew there were three different beats that we wanted to hit:

  • Establish the city and the people in it.
  • Show an audience listening passively.
  • Show an audience immersed in the music.

By taking this approach, we were able to sync these plot points with the transitions in the song and then fill in the gaps with the performance sections. The editing process I undertook was as follows:

  • Import all content into Editing software.  Create bins to keep everything organized.  I will touch on my structure below.
  • Drop all performance clips onto a time-line and sync.
  • Create sequences for all locations and lay out all content from that location.
  • Create an Assembly v001 timeline and start laying out content / rough cut.

In regards to my folder structure, there are many ways to approach this so take it for what it is.  Below I have laid out the first level folder and then samples of what subfolders go inside the home folders.

As for Sequence structuring, it is also EXTREMELY important that anytime you do any major shifting of structure that you create a new assembly track so you are able to go back to an older cut if need be.  I also recommend saving project files to an online storage source such as DROPBOX every time you create a new sequence in case your working file becomes corrupt.

Once I organized my project, I then broke down the song.  I determined when each of the key sections would kit in, based on the transitions of tempo in the song.  If you listen to the song, there are six distinct sections as illustrated below.

We broke the edit down into six sections based on the musical transitions that were present in the song:

  1. Establish Location.
  2. Establish the people / culture.
  3. Some Audience listening passively / Some partaking.
  4. Interacting with Audience.
  5. Audience fully immersed in the music.
  6. Resolution.

Technical Specifications

Being that we were shooting in NYC, it was key to keep the kit small.  This film was shot on two Canon 5D Mark II’s and all movement was captured using the Kessler Stealth Traveler.  The Kessler Stealth is an amazing piece of gear because it is easy to travel with — at an astonishing 2ft! At this size, it easily fits in your suitcase.

For many of the segments, I shot totally handheld — using no support.  In most situations, I don’t recommend this at all as it is EXTREMELY hard to keep the camera stable.  I would recommend picking up a handheld rig if you are wanting to shoot hand held.  I am currently using the SHAPE Composite Stabilizer.

For the majority of the shoot, I used the Kessler Stealth, Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 3-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod & the Manfrotto MPRO 536.  To mount the camera, I used the Kessler Low Profile Ball Head and Kwik Release plates.

If you would like to read more about this project, Karrnnel put together a great post about the experience.




Overall, I am extremely happy how this project turned out. It truly took a team effort for everything to come together. If you have any comments about either the workflow or the project itself, feel free to include your comments below.