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Live, Raw, Real: Producing One-Take Online Music Videos

There's a wave of raw, demolike one-take music videos with an unmistakable live feel sweeping the web, and some savvy event filmmakers have thrown their hats into thering. Here we look behind the scenes of Bill Grant's boneshow and Jet Kaiser's One Take Shows, and get their spin on this new, viral field-recording phenomenon.

Folked Up! (in Terre Haute)

Jet Kaiser, an Indianapolis videographer who runs Jet Kaiser Films with his wife, Danielle, specializes in cinematic wedding films but was similarly inspired by Moon’s avant-garde approach. “I have been a fan of [Take-Away Shows] since the beginning,” he says. Jon DaCosta, a Terre Haute, Ind., musician, was also a follower of Take-Away Shows and wanted to make a few of his own.

He teamed up with videographer Patrick Boggs (who happened to be DaCosta’s multimedia professor in college) to start up the series known as Folked Up! (in Terre Haute). After watching the first few videos they produced, “I knew that I wanted on board,” remembers Kaiser. He contacted Boggs and shot his first video in September 2009. A dozen shoots later, Kaiser decided to broaden his focus, expanding beyond the city limits of Terre Haute and exploring musical genres outside folk. He started his own company, One Take Shows, in August 2010.

One Take Shows BTS from Steve Nathans-Kelly on Vimeo.

Sound and Vision

As you can probably guess, one-take videos owe much of their magic to happenstance. Ambient noises and imperfect lighting only add to the appeal, and editing after the shoot is minimal and precise. “Editing a video that is mostly one take is usually a very short and simple process. Audio mixing is the most time-consuming part, especially if there is a large number of mics and musicians,” Kaiser says. “Coloring is important to our films. Each show is uniquely colored to fit the artists’ personality, environment, season, and, most importantly, the song. Color can greatly embellish the emotion of the performance.”

Elementally, the video is dictated by the impromptu atmosphere. “I have never lit the shoots at all. I try to take advantage of darkness and shadows and, consequently, what light is available and choose my locations wisely,” Grant explains. Kaiser has shot by the light of the setting sun or the spotlight of a street lamp in a variety of locales. “One may notice while watching our videos that the acoustics reflect the location, whether it be in a back alley or an old cathedral,” he says, adding that he uses only the audio captured on the shoot and, in fact, encourages musicians not to rehearse. “I want my music films to be raw in all aspects including the performance, the visuals, and the sound.”

This passion for raw authenticity is echoed in Grant’s fourfold definition of boneshow—the four tenets that set these videos apart from his wedding videography. “I have a few rules that I generally apply to every boneshow. One: No prerecorded overdubs. No fixing. Two: No cuts. It has to be one continuous shot from beginning to end. Three: One camera. I don’t want any tricks to pull focus from the live nature of it. Four: Portable. Either the camera or the artist should be completely portable. My goal is not to be tied to electricity. I have floated the idea of a car DC inverter or battery-powered amp, but everything should be live and ambient.”

Grant calls the improvisational elements of these shoots pleasantly “exhilarating,” recognizing that he has very little control over how the shoot ends up. “The attraction of this is the ability to control the input but not necessarily the output. In boneshow #4 we walked into an old barber shop in middle of the city and asked the guy if we could film. We did, to the amazement of the fellas getting haircuts.”

Kaiser experiences a similar sense of exhilaration during the process. “Shooting these shows gives me a rush, and I’ve joked in the past that I think sometimes I go the entire song without breathing. I use a custom shouldermount rig, which helps me stay somewhat steady while capturing the dynamic range of shots throughout the performance. The camera becomes a part of me and almost acts as a curious spectator.”

One Take Shows from Steve Nathans-Kelly on Vimeo.

Both filmmakers frequently rely on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, famously adaptable to low-light situations and night shooting. Grant favors a Canon XH A1 for its image stabilization and XLR inputs. For audio recording, Grant uses two Sennheiser G2 wireless setups, two Zoom H2s, and an array of other mics to capture ambient noise. Kaiser mics the performers with lavaliere and wireless mics, and he also uses the 5D’s shotgun mic, mainly as a sync reference in Final Cut.