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- Jun 4, 2001

Rob & Dave

Rob Weston and Dave Vernon are the founders of Insensitive Productions, a film company specialising in the production of music videos for unsigned bands.


HQ: How did you get started in the film business?

Rob: From a young age I had a keen interest in the film and music world. After working as a journalist, I studied A-Levels and GNVQs in Media, Production and Communication and moved on to study a degree in Film and Video. During and after this time I produced corporate and educational videos and documentaries. I have also produced numerous short films. My last one, entitled ‘In Memory of…’, was in fact nominated for Best Film in the Claremont Ferrand Short Film Festival, the festival known in the industry as the short film version of Cannes. I worked in a producing role on two feature productions for Simon Rusk, who was a key player at MGM. This experience led me on to a promo for a feature film entitled ‘Dreams’, which I executive-produced, and I am in fact still working on it to this day as we try to raise the £3.5million required for the film’s budget. This project is going to be very successful. Mark Hill, one half of the Artful Dodger, has already done the score for us on the promo and will also do the same for the feature. Indeed some of our representatives were out in Cannes for the festival the last couple of weeks and things are moving forward very successfully on the finance front.

Dave: Filmmaking is quite simply what I have always done. As soon as I could draw I drew storyboards and progressed to writing stories, and then built model sets and characters. I got my first video camera at 12 and started making films in my back garden, with friends or toy soldiers, doing basic edits later. I would also try and make a video for every school project, be it Art or English. At 15 I discovered computer graphics, and by 17 I was working for a company producing visualisations for Smirnoff and Pernod exhibition stands. I continued with my schooling, following Art-based courses, until I met Rob at Film school. Like Rob, I have worked on just about every type of film project - some were terrible but most were incredible, with the pinnacle being Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’. All through this I have maintained my interest in computer animation and regularly have projects broadcast.

HQ: Who makes up the company and what are their tasks?

There are two main players in the company: Rob Weston the producer and David Vernon the director. We like to compare our relationship and the way we work to two of our heroes, the Coen brothers. They both come up with ideas and share directing and producing responsibilities, and that’s the way we work.

HQ: What is the motivation behind the company?

In the short term, the aim of the company is to make music videos at an affordable price for the client whilst upholding our quality standards. We then wish to move our company up the ladder and deal with bigger clients, although we’ll never cut off the smaller bands. We hope to build a large company, servicing everything from unsigned bands to Top Ten acts. When we have achieved this, Dave and I will move back into feature films.

HQ: What kind of work do you take on?

Generally at the moment our focus is music videos, although we are ready and willing to look at documentaries and commercials too.

HQ: In your experience, what are the benefits, for an act approaching the music business, of presenting a clip as well as a demo?

It’s a marketing tool like a company would use to promote themselves, basically showing what they can do. We know, however, that music is different and is a great deal about image. If you are a good artist and send your CD to a label, they may never listen to it. However, if you send a CD or VHS incorporating a video, it shows the company a whole package e.g. what the band look like image-wise as well as their music, thus there’s an added advantage. If you have a track recorded and make a music video and then send it on to an A&R, they can then send it around to a few people to get a feel for the group, without incurring the extra costs of arranging meetings and performances for the band with many different people. Sugar Ray in the USA were signed on the back of a music video they’d made. A&Rs are bombarded with time-wasters, and a video shows that you are serious.

HQ: How do you find your clients?

We find our clients in various ways: through advertisements on websites; magazines, such as the NME; going to gigs etc. We also are in direct contact with many labels and management teams whom we work with, and they contact us with artists they want to make a video for. Other good sources are of course the trade magazines and the White Book.

HQ: With regards to pop promos, do you have any musical preferences?

Music videos are about marketing. You have to create a video that sells the product. Whether we would buy the track or not is irrelevant, our preferences do not matter.

HQ: What are you currently working on?

Presently we are doing a video for a band called Kingsize from Portsmouth, and will follow that with a video for a girlband called Hush. In between these there’s the feature film ‘Dreams’, which continues to move forward.

HQ: On which grounds do you decide to take on a project?

We look for an act we think are going somewhere. They need to have something we can hook onto to make them stand out. If an act comes to us saying they want a video just like S Club 7 and they all look and sound like S Club 7, then there isn’t really any point. We always try to get a look that’s new but still fits into an accepted style.

HQ: The creative input, the ideas for the clip, how much are you involved in that?

The idea for the clip is the easiest part. All the inspiration is already there, the track and the act give you hundreds of ideas just by how they sound and look, but the idea is usually a tiny part. The idea either comes from us or the band/management team or a combination of the two. No matter who has the idea, the real work is bringing the idea to life and that is where we really come in.

HQ: Which kind of film format do you typically work in?

We work in all formats but it all depends on two things: budget and target audience. It is impossible to shoot on 35mm for broadcast on MTV if you only have £700, unless you spend a lot of time pulling a lot of favours. It would also be pointless shooting on 35mm if your target audience is A&Rs. They are only expecting an unsigned act to have a DV project edited on a PC, all produced in 3 days. A&Rs are clever people and can see when an act is good or not without all the fineness of a 35mm project. Thus we shoot on whatever format the budget allows and the audience will expect and respect.

HQ: What are the costs for a pop promo?

Prices range from £750 to whatever you have. The benchmarks are A&R promo at £750, usually mastered on CD or VHS, thus portable and duplication-friendly. As we move up the scale we can shoot on Beta/DV cam from £1000 mark (which are broadcast standard). Moving up to 16mm and 35mm formats from £10,000+. Of course there are so many variables: these are standard prices and fluctuate according to the variables required.

HQ: How large is the crew for a typical shoot?

Again, it all depends on the budget. For a DV shoot, for example, we don’t go with less than five. Dave and myself as producer/director team, a lighting/camera man, runner and stills photographer. This changes according to what is required and the budget at hand.

HQ: How does a typical pop promo shoot look like?

At the low-budget end of the scale we always shoot in a location which we can get for free. We have a lot of contacts who own warehouse space or abandoned offices, and we’ve built a relationship with English Heritage and the National Trust to get access to outdoor locations. We can push a shoot out in 4 hours if necessary, but prefer to take as long as is feasible. Spending more than a single day starts to push the costs up because doubling the shoot time doubles pre- and post-production time, thus turning a three-day project into 6 days.

HQ: Do you handle all aspects in a production (makeup, set designs, stylists, instrument rental etc.)?

We oversee everything in a production, but bring in crew whom we know or recruit for other positions if we need to. When it comes to the band’s instruments it is generally the case that we use their own instruments, if the video calls for this kind of shoot.

We can do everything depending on budget, there are so many variables that it is difficult to stipulate what we cannot arrange.

HQ: Do you take on the filming of live performances?

We tend to like the creative side of filming music videos, probably due to our film background. However, we are able to shoot live performances including multi-camera shoots with live edit to a big screen.

HQ: Do you take on overseas clients?

Yes, we do take on overseas clients if the transport is paid for and the logistics of the project are viable.

HQ: What needs to be done in order to feature a clip on one’s website?

We use Premiere 6, which is an excellent package for basic non-linear video editing. It has a program called Cleaner 5 built in. This program is a highly respected package for video compression to the web. The quality is handled by Cleaner, you just stipulate the band-width you are aiming for and it does the rest. A website must have streaming at 56k available, as this is the lowest speed you can get a reasonable response from. Of course, you can have multiple quality levels and multiple codecs on one site. We can output to any streaming codec so compatibility with the user’s browser is guaranteed. The process takes less than an hour so it’s very simple and almost automatic. We prefer Windows Media Player, because, we feel, it is the quickest, simplest and most popular. Other players may look and sound better, but we feel time is a precious commodity to most surfers and they are more likely to give up on the slower players.

HQ: Do you also work with putting up clips on client’s websites?

We can e-mail the clip to the band’s webmaster, which only takes a minute. If the band maintain their own website they will need an up-to-date webpage builder to handle the files, such as Dreamweaver 8.

Stefan Sörin

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