Behind the video with Aaran McKenzie
Aaran McKenzie is primarily known as the bassist in Sheffield metalcore band, While She Sleeps. He got into film making a few years ago when he reignited his love for it and has since worked with bands like SYLOSIS, Havelocke, Sobriquet, While She Sleeps and various other Sheffield businesses.
At the minute I have the Fuji XT3 which I’ve shot a few music videos on. It’s an unbelievable camera, 10-Bit and shoots 4K 60fps. I actually got it specifically for the 4K 60fps capabilities just because I had the A6500 for a while, but the 1080p on that camera is just not very good. It’s really soft and anytime I wanted to do anything in slow motion, I found I really have to sacrifice the picture quality. With the XT3, the 4K 60fps footage looks so good and it still does even at 4K 24fps, and you can really see the difference upgrading from 8-Bit to 10- Bit camera, the footage looks amazing. That one has become my B camera now though, so I mainly use it for photographs since I got the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera 6k 50fps that you can use with a full 6k sensor. So with this camera, you can film 6k 50fps, but you have to downsample the sensor to 5.7K which isn’t too dramatic. It is 12-Bit Blackmagic RAW and the codec is RAW too, so the room that you have in editing when it comes to colour grading is just so good.
Because it’s an EF mount, I pretty much use one lens and it’s the Sigma EF mount 13 – 35mm 1.8. It’s so sharp and because it’s got 1.8 all the way through the focal length from 18 – 35 mm, it’s like I’ve got a lot of primes in one lens. Very rarely would I need to go above 35mm, but I still have a 50mm Canon 1.8 NFT50, so if I do need to, I’ll go in with. In saying that, I don’t see much of a difference between the 35mm and the 50mm really, I’m still getting the same kind of look, so yeah, I’m using that really. I’ve also got a few vintage lenses for my Fuji XT3 and I’ve also got a Samyang 12mm lens for my XT3 that I use when I do property videos so I can really get a nice wide shot of rooms.
Then I’ve got a couple of Gimbals; the Zhiyun Crane 2s for my Black Magic – it was pretty much designed for that camera because of how wide the body is, making it really hard to balance. I also have the Gimbal Moza Air 2 that I usually put my Fuji XT3 on. I’ve got the Feelworld 7 inch monitor that’s 2200 nits, which is amazing for outside use.
In terms of editing software, I’ve got the Adobe suite that I pay for. I really enjoy using Premiere despite its faults. It still has a lot of bugs to fix, but it’s really useful to use the Adobe dynamic link between Pro and After Effects. If I need to add any motion graphics to the footage I’m working on, I can use the dynamic link and any changes I’m making in After Effects will just copy over into Premiere Pro, which means I don’t need to keep exporting it, so that’s really handy to have.
I did a little bit of a gear rundown video over on the While She Sleeps YouTube channel that goes into everything in greater depth.
You’re obviously known for your role in While She Sleeps, but how did you get into videography? Did the one stem from the other or have you always had an interest in this?
When I was into skateboarding in the early 2000’s, I would film myself, edit the footage and put it all together, but that died out as music came to the forefront of my life. Making albums and the touring cycles obviously takes up a lot of time and attention, which meant filming went out the window for a good ten years or so. It was with Brainwashed (While She Sleeps’ second full length album) when we signed to Sony, that they gave the band care packages and inside was a Sony Action Cam, that I got into it again.
When we first started out, we had Tom Welsh (Mat Welsh’s brother) who is an amazing videographer and he put together our first music video – which he still does – and came on tour with us. Back in 2010, we were kind of ahead of the curve with putting out regular content like tour diaries or bits of content on YouTube because we had Tom out with us. At that point, he was doing all the work for free because we couldn’t really afford it at the time, but he started getting recognised for his work and had a chance to make a career for himself. Of course he had to leave which meant that where we were ahead of the curve for years in terms of content, we were now running a little dry, so I started recording, putting the action cam to good use. I took the camera out, grabbed what I could while I was on stage and started putting little fifteen second videos together for Instagram. It grew from there really.
As the years went on, my skills improved and I bought better gear and eventually it led to me doing some music videos for While She Sleeps before going on to create music videos for other bands. I feel very fortunate to have found a second passion. I feel as though my outlet for creativity has been renewed and I absolutely love what I do.
“I feel very fortunate to have found a second passion. I feel as though my outlet for creativity has been renewed and I absolutely love what I do.”
If anyone out there would like to follow in your footsteps, where’s a good place to start?
I’ve had a little bit of a unique experience getting into this, because I’ve had success within the band and it’s led to me having a lot of contacts within the music industry, but if I was to give any advice, it would be to just put yourself out there. Start with buying gear. You can get yourself a setup for quite cheap nowadays; a Sony A6300 with a couple of Sigma lenses that are really cheap when you look at the APS-C lenses. Get a cheap setup and put yourself out there and try to create contacts.
When gigs come back, reach out to your local venue and see if you can secure a photopass and get in the pit. Talk to whatever band is down there and say something along the lines of ‘I’m a videographer who took some footage tonight, can I get a contact and I’ll throw together a video free of charge’. You’ll notice, to begin with, that you would have to do a lot of free work to prove yourself, so you’ll probably have to do it on the side for a while until you work your way up, but if you have a passion for it, you’ll do it because you love doing it. It’s all about making contacts, but it’s also important to develop those relationships on a friendship basis first, because you don’t want people thinking you’re hanging around just because you want something from them, so nurture those relationships.
You’ve really gotta work hard, put in the hours and hone your craft. At first, when you have ideas, you might find you’re not able to execute them as well as you thought you could. I’ve noticed a significant difference in the past year with having an idea and then executing that idea exactly how I had it in my head. Sometimes now, the outcome is even better than what I had envisioned and that’s just because it’s all about building muscle memory with using the camera. You want to get to a point where you don’t have to think about using the right settings when you’re at a shoot, about effortlessly using editing software and getting faster at that. When you put in the hours so those basic things become second nature to you, you free up a lot of space to be more creative. So yeah, the advice is just to put in the hours because you really have to, it isn’t just going to happen overnight and if it does, it might not be sustainable for you. I think you only develop skill and artistic taste through sheer hours of putting in the craft.
Walk us through the process of creating a music video. How do you come up with the concept etc?
It’s a bit different for every music video, but I usually get approached by a band or artist with either a vague idea or a specific location in mind. Some artists have a full concept that they want me to shoot whilst others have almost nothing in mind and want me to have free reign with it.
If the band only has a location in mind, they usually let me know what the song is about so I can develop the idea and try not to force it. When I’m out driving or on a walk or a run, I tend to go over the ideas in my head and I find that in those moments where my head is clear, I can more easily go down a rabbit hole of creativity. So yeah, I usually take my time and come up with a concept for the narrative and I always try and make the narrative work with the performance somehow, just so it’s not completely random. It could be something that slots in with the meaning or the lyrics of the song, or I would get the narrative to take place in the same location as the performance part of the video is based in. The outcome of the video really all depends on what the band wants and what kind of location I’m working with at the time. Usually the process is as follows though; the band comes to me, I create the idea, and get the band’s approval on whether they think it’s a good idea or not. Once the idea is finalised, a couple of meetings – whether it’s in person or over zoom – later, we go on set.
Although I rarely ever end up referring to the shotlist, I take it with me anyway just in case I’m stuck and I need to refer back. Turn up on the day with an assistant – which is usually Daniel Barnes from Volca Media or Rob Leek from Firewood Films – and that’s just because achieving a film in a music video itself means I need to get my head into operating the camera and really executing the feel of all the shots and if I have no one there to help me with lighting setups and everything else that goes into it, then it just becomes too much for me. On set, I more often than not let the band start with the performance first, because everyone knows what they’re doing there, they’ve likely been doing it for a long time, so they got all the moves down. Then we move on to the narrative shots.
After I wrap, I don’t like to wait any longer than two weeks to get the first edit back to the band. So I’ll get home after we wrap, dump the footage, make sure it’s safe and make a copy so that if anything happens to that particular hard drive, I know I have a backup. From start to finish of an edit, it’ll take me about three to four day and that’s including grading as well and any amendments that go along with that.
Can you share your favourite project with us? Why do you love it so much?
The new Havelocke video, ‘When We Go’ was my favourite project to work on in terms of how the day went and how easily the edit came together. Because the EP is called Arsonist, we tried to include some fire-based imagery in a tasteful way in a couple of the music videos. So for ‘The Arsonist’ I incorporated fire bins in the performance, just because I thought it looked cool, especially where we shot it; it was in a tunnel near where I used to live and I’ve had that location in mind for a while. So we did that for ‘The Arsonist’ and then I just had the image in my head for ‘When We Go’ of Owen being kidnapped, blindfolded and tied to a chair before somebody – who we ended up calling ‘The Assailant’ – walks in and and pours petrol (which was water) over his head and pulling out the match (which is the matchbox from the cover art we had handmade) and setting Owen alight. We obviously cut before we do that and leave the rest to everybody’s imagination. I had the idea of pretty much putting one of my LED lights in an old lampshade and hoisting it up to hang right above Owen, creating some downward light. Then we used one of my studio fresno lights to light up the backdrop which was covered in newspapers and that was literally the only two light sources that I had and it looked amazing almost straight away. Owen did such a great job, it was freezing that day and we covered him and water and he still had quite a few takes to go whilst drenched in water, so he did really well.
I wanted to shoot the performance based stuff in Peddlers warehouse. It’s opposite the Sleeps unit and because I know those guys pretty well, they let us use the warehouse and I literally took the studio fresno light, tie-wrapped it to one of the beams and waited for it to go dark. Once it did, I filmed slo-mo performance shots of each member at double time, 60fps, so that when we slowed it down and synched it up later, it would create this cool, buttery smooth slomo sync kinda thing.
So yeah, just the outcome of the video and how effortless the day was. I had a lot of projects going on at the time and this was the third video Havelocke were releasing before the EP, but I just didn’t overthink it. I loved the idea and I was looking forward to shooting it, but I just didn’t overthink it before going there and I think that made a real difference, because the video is really simple but the quality of the shots – without sounding arrogant – are amazing. The cuts from the band in a spotlight surrounded by darkness, cutting back and forth to the narrative of Owen being tied up just looked really great. So yeah, I’m really happy with the video, it’s my favourite so far.
If you could grab a drink with five people who’s either inspired you or who you’d consider a muse, who would it be?
Wow, okay. It’s going to sound cheesy, but I would say the four other members of While She Sleeps, who are my best friends and who I grew up with, have genuinely inspired me. I think the reason why the band gained the level of success that we have is because we inspire each other and we fill in the gaps for each other. We all have these different aspects to us creatively and we all have different avenues, aside from music, that we’ve explored throughout the years. Mat and Sav are really good at graphic design and I’ve taken the film-making avenue, Sean is an incredible producer and Loz just knows everything about the local scene and music venues. He’s really been flying the flag for the local music scene in Doncaster and Sheffield for so many years and he really does believe in showing up for the local scene and bands, so yeah, we all bring something to the table. I think it is rare to have a band full of people who are so on the ball with all things creative in different areas like that.
They’re some of the most creative people I’ve ever met and that has rubbed off onto me and hopefully some of whatever creativity I have within me has rubbed off onto them too. And besides, we’ve had many drinks together. I think that’s part of why we have been able to do this for so long, because we get on as friends as well. They’re the epitome of creativity; I mean, when we knew we needed a creative hub to take our band to the next level and we didn’t have one, we literally built a warehouse with our hands and that was not something I would’ve done before. I wasn’t as DIY as some of them are, especially Matt and Sav, but over the years of knowing these people, they’ve just given me that extra drive. So yeah, it sounds cheesy, but they are four of my best mates and I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for them.
And because you said five people, I’ll pick a good director who I look up to; Christopher Nolan. I love all his movies, especially Interstellar, my favourite movie of all time. It’s absolutely incredible, there are so many layers to that movie, I fucking love it.
Any other tips?
Like I said before, keep going and put yourself out there. You’re not going to get anywhere if you’re not putting in the hours, so I would say, turn up everyday, reach out to people and if the projects don’t come to you, then create them for yourself, and keep practicing, keep practicing and keep practicing.
Share this via: