Eight pro tips for making music videos

Finnish creative duo Nana and Juhana Simelius share essential advice on how to make a music video that hits all the right notes.
A Canon Cinema EOS camera films a young man with short blond hair lying on the floor. An enormous, yellow Burmese python is coiled around his raised arm.

Finnish singer-songwriter Elias Kaskinen gets up close and personal with a Burmese python on the set of his latest music video, filmed by Canon Ambassadors Nana and Juhana Simelius. The married creative duo, who specialise in advertising, fashion and music, say they garner inspiration from a wide variety of sources. "Art galleries and movies are a big passion of ours," reveals Nana. "Inspiration can also spring from daily life, even down to a particular colour combination or the way the light moves in a location." © Nana & Juhana Simelius/Warner Music Finland

Making music videos is a great way to begin a career in professional filmmaking, according to Nana Simelius, one half of Finnish photography and filmmaking duo Simelius Simelius. "It's a good place to develop your skills as a videographer or as a director. It's such an open playground and there are no rules – you can do whatever you want.

"It's also a form of art which allows people to see your skills," Nana continues. "We now do advertising work and fashion films, purely because people found us through our music videos."

Nana and her husband, Juhana, offer a hybrid approach to their music video production, with Juhana shooting the footage on a Canon EOS C300 Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III) and Nana taking stills with Canon EOS DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They split the workflow too: Nana takes on pre-production duties, while Juhana works through the technical aspects of post-production.

Here, they offer an insight into how they make music videos and share tips for budding directors looking to break into the business.

A black and white image of a man adjusting the display screen on a Canon Cinema EOS camera, while a woman looks over his shoulder smiling.

Some recording artists have strong ideas about the world they want to create through video but others are less visual, according to Nana. "We have more work to do then, of course, but we love working both ways. It's a huge honour if someone trusts you to deliver their vision; something that they made in the studio and put their heart into." © Nana & Juhana Simelius

1. Be open to new ideas

Nana and Juhana like to approach each music video project with an open mind and don't come armed with a ton of pre-formed ideas. "It's always a unique situation, song and personalities, so we don't have anything ready," Nana explains. "We want the recording artist to know that they have a safe space to bring their own ideas, and we don't feel the need to glue our own vision onto anyone's work. It's always about honouring the person and the person's art.

"We listen to the demo and brainstorm ideas, asking ourselves: 'What does this music look like in our minds? What do we see; how do we present it?' We always want to create unique imaginary worlds for each artist and each song."

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2. Communicate a distinctive creative vision

Once an idea has taken shape, Nana and Juhana put pen to paper and begin working up a treatment – a pitch document that communicates a creative vision, a vital part of the production process.

"A good treatment explains how the story develops through the music video," says Nana. "This includes what mood we are looking to convey, whether the video has roles other than the artist, what kind of location or staging we have in mind, and what camera movements and cutting style support the vision. We need to reference pictures that communicate our vision to the recording artist and their team, and very often we actually use our own illustrations."

Once a project is given the green light, Nana and Juhana develop the creative vision by choosing a colour palette and preparing storyboards. This informs the practical considerations of the shoot, from scheduling and booking specialist crew to location scouting, set building and casting.

A person holding a Canon Cinema EOS camera. In the background is an elaborate drum kit.

Nana and Juhana have shot with Canon kit throughout their career. "We have used Canon for so long because we're really fond of the Canon colours and the whole look that's created," says Nana. "Now that we have found the workflow that really works for us and our clients, I think we will have more courage to use the Canon EOS C500 Mark II on our bigger projects." © Nana & Juhana Simelius

A long-haired man, with his back turned, films a drum kit with a Canon Cinema EOS camera.

Juhana and Nana pack a lot into the 1.5 days that they typically allocate to a shoot. "Music video days are always super long," says Nana. "We proceed according to the plan we have made, scene by scene. When you shoot chronologically, you don't have to think about how you need to cut the scenes together during the edit. All the decisions have already been made on paper." © Nana & Juhana Simelius

3. Consider AF and slow-motion

Each music video shoot calls for different ways of filming, with smaller-scale productions often lending themselves to portable and easy-to-rig gear. Nana and Juhana have shot most of their music videos on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II and have a Canon EOS C500 Mark II at the top of their shopping list.

Juhana wants to move to the newer full-frame camera for its higher-resolution 5.9K sensor and the performance of the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. "The autofocus works so well, and sometimes there is just not the budget for a focus puller on a production," he says.

Having a high-frame-rate recording option to create natural-looking slow-motion sequences is also a consideration when shooting music videos. "Slow motion is something we need in many projects now, not just music videos," says Nana.

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II is able to record at 60p in 5.9K, whereas you need to switch to 2K recording to achieve the same frame rate on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II. Both cameras are capable of hitting 120fps in 2K (crop) mode.

4. Have a mix of lenses for versatile shots

Music videos offer creative freedom, often giving filmmakers a chance to experiment with fresh camera angles and framing. A diverse kitbag of lenses helps when composing shots on the fly. Canon's Cine Zoom and Cine Prime Cinema EOS lenses pair beautifully with Cinema EOS bodies to lend a high-end look to music videos. "But every choice is based on the size and the vision of a particular production," says Nana.

"With a larger team, we use Canon's Cine lenses, but for our smaller hybrid productions we're now looking to add the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lenses as they work in so many different situations. These lenses are really sharp, which is important as we like to use filters in front of them to achieve a certain look."

A young man with a large Burmese python coiled on top of him is filmed from above on a music video set. Aside from two thin strips of light, the studio is in darkness.

One element that Nana and Juhana always give particular attention to when shooting a music video is lighting. "The light tells the desired story and creates atmosphere," explains Juhana. "We are obsessed with beautiful top light – it really brings out the details." © Nana & Juhana Simelius/Warner Music Finland

5. Use continuous lighting when shooting hybrid

Simelius Simelius' combined video-and-stills approach has complicated their lighting setups in the past, but the sensitivity of Canon's latest mirrorless cameras hugely simplifies the process.

"The Canon EOS R5 is amazing when we have a hybrid shoot," says Nana. "Previously, we had to use flash for photography, which slowed things down because you had to prepare two different setups. But now we are able to use continuous lights for both stills and video, so we can just put all of our energy into planning a single lighting arrangement that works for both of us."

The duo still use flash for stills when shooting sequences that feature a significant amount of movement. However, they favour the way continuous lighting enables more nuanced changes.

6. Streamline your workflow

Recording footage using Canon Log 3 helps to streamline the couple's post workflow, thanks to its extended dynamic range of up to 14 stops and superior grading potential. It also makes it easier to combine footage shot on both the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and the Canon EOS R5 as the profile has recently been added to the latter via firmware v1.3.1.

Juhana says that he always shoots music videos in XF-AVC with Canon Log 3. "XF-AVC really is good enough for our music videos," he says. "If we were to shoot RAW it would take up too much storage. For now, Full HD output is also what clients need, but I think 4K is going to be the required standard soon."

7. Shoot for the small screen

Because music promos are increasingly consumed on mobile devices, it's important to make sure that your videos are composed and framed to take advantage of smaller screens and varying aspect ratios. This can mean framing a little looser to give the opportunity to crop to a client's requirements later.

"Artists usually need their music videos supplied with a range of different aspect ratios and crops," says Nana. "We normally shoot with a wide lens and then reframe to these different formats during the edit. Sometimes clients want the music video supplied in a portrait format as well. There was even one occasion where the client only wanted to use portrait format clips for their social media, so we actually shot that video in portrait."

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

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8. Work with a trusted colourist

Bold and expressive use of colour is a distinctive aspect of a Simelius Simelius music video. "Most of the year in Finland is really grey, so we want to bring joy and add a dynamic quality to our videos," Nana says.

It took time for the creative duo to find a colourist who understood the way they wanted to render images. "We think colourists are pretty scared of us because we want really bright colours," says Nana. "But we have found one who really gets us, and our Canon footage which she has worked on gives us the strongest look. Once we created a world using only yellow, as the artist was obsessed with that colour," Nana adds. "So we went with it in a big way. That was actually our first music video, and it's still one of my favourite ones."

Marcus Hawkins

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