Words by Alana Mitchelson
Photography by Tong Sarin & Danny Cohen
“Filming is often termed as not so much a creative process as it is a troubleshooting process because it’s about being able to deal with problems on the day.”
Film producers Derry Sheehan and David Ellis of Tooth & Claw have found themselves in many a challenging situation where absolutely everything has gone wrong and often when they least expect it. They admit that, despite being under slept and overworked, some of their most defining videos have come into being when they have persevered with impossible circumstances.
“There was this one music video where everything just totally fell apart two days before the shoot. The lead actor pulled out, we had a location that was a total mess and that was it. No extras. Nothing,” Sheehan says.
“We spent 48 hours making phone calls and trying to sort it out and it probably turned out to be one of the better videos attached to our brand. As a producer you’ll come up against so many moments where everything is against you, and same goes for bands. But there’s always a way. The only time when it’s not going to work is when you give up.”
Sheehan and Ellis met while studying film design in Sydney. They became fast friends and have been making videos together for the past five years, having worked with the likes of Megan Washington, No Zu and World’s End Press among others.
At the time of their graduation not many production companies supported budgeted music videos because the gear was extremely expensive and the DSLR had only just been discovered. With the invention of digital cameras came new, low-budget, high-production value video capabilities. So suddenly people with little money, but with great ideas, could execute them simply and with relatively low-cost equipment.
“Before that we were learning to shoot on film and tiny cassette tapes,” Ellis says.
“There was no depth of field and tiny sensors. We were part of the generation of kids who used to record Rage music video clips because we found their composition really interesting.”
Sharing a common passion for narrative film Sheehan and Ellis have found that music videos have been the best way to experiment with ideas and practise storytelling without being tied in to longer, more costly short-film projects.
“There was a production company called Moop Jaw that we aspired to be like at the time and in a lot of ways they sort of paved the way for the scene here in Melbourne. We thought we’d give it a crack and it was timed really well technology wise. The internet’s a good place for people to watch video so we tried to take advantage of that,” Sheehan explains.
But since videos now get lumped into this huge, international panorama of music video online, a video needs so many hits to get any broad attraction in the international pool or to be recognised in Melbourne. Sheehan and Ellis believe there is quality talent in Melbourne but feel as though there isn’t really a good local platform for industry networking in the community. To their knowledge, SoundKILDA, Warehouse Cinema and Sandfly Film Festival are the best platforms for music video producers to have their work recognised in the local sphere.
The Tooth & Claw production house is approached by bands and record labels with a song and a budget. There is no such thing as a set budget or rate for a music video and they (T&C) tailor the creative concept to suit what the artist is willing to spend. While input from artists is welcomed, most production companies prefer close to full creative control, with the freedom to sculpt all of the ideas to fit their own concept. Sheehan and Ellis encourage artists to provide a brief outline of what inspired the song, to detail any thematic ideas they may have and include images of the band to convey how they wish to be represented.
The production duo will then pitch ideas to one another before arriving at the best concept. They draft a proposal overview that describes how the music video will look and feel. This tends to be highly image-based, with visual screenshots of components of other music videos that capture a certain mood or thematic effect they hope to create.
Ellis explains that the proposal is one of the most important parts of the process because communicating what is essentially a visual and aural medium is incredibly hard. “It’s tough to convey an atmosphere or a feeling properly and if you don’t connect with the artist or record label reading the proposal you can lose the pitch.”
“Sometimes we spend a full day on the proposal and you’re not paid for this process. That can be hard, especially if the idea’s not picked up. Sometimes labels and bands don’t give us much time at all to come up with a concept, so we also have a back catalogue of ideas that we know are gold but we’re just waiting for the right song to come along,” Ellis adds.
While both men generally have a hand in directing on set, the one who developed the creative concept will usually take the reigns and drive the project. The shoot itself takes one to two days and it’s rare that Tooth & Claw will be given a timeframe of more than four weeks to create the end product.
Sheehan and Ellis currently rely on brand-driven corporate, commercial work to get by, having produced diversified content for Melbourne Music Week, the ballet and even a cooking show, as they have found it difficult to turn a profit on purely creative projects such as music videos.
The duo encourage those with an interest in short film production to approach them for volunteer work in assistant producing.
For more information on Tooth & Claw, visit toothandclaw.com.au