Becoming Isaac Deitz, Music Video Director: Part 2
In Part 2 of this exclusive interview, Isaac tells Kevin about his start in music videos, working with tobyMac, House of Heroes and finally Family Force 5 and Lecrae.
Chances are, you haven't yet heard of Isaac Deitz. He hasn't released an album. He doesn't have a record deal or an EP, and isn't even a one-hit wonder.
But if you're a Christian music fan, you're well aware of his work. The 26-year-old director and filmmaker has worked with the likes of Family Force 5 and Lecrae, among others, and quickly is making a name for himself with his entertaining, out-of-the-box music videos.
In Part 1 of this interview, NRT Founder Kevin McNeese talked with Isaac about his start in moviemaking, and being inspired by former Bleach frontman Davy Baysinger. In this session, they talk about Isaac's first few music videos, including projects for tobyMac, House of Heroes and Family Force 5.
Forgive my ignorance on this, but was "Zombie" by Family Force 5 your first music video?
I did a music video for a local band, and I asked them, "Can I do a video to learn how to do a music video?" I don't consider that necessarily my first music video. The funniest thing about this, though, is my first actual music video was tobyMac.
Basically I was on tour with him and he's telling me, "I want to do something with you." I went on three tours with him as Family Force 5's video guy. One day he was just like, "I have two hours before my show. Do you want to shoot a music video?" I'm like, "Yeah. Give me 13 minutes and I'll think of an idea."
We ended up shooting it in the back of a trailer. We shot it and got other bands involved and fans. It's a very cliché kind of video where just different people are dancing. It's been done before is what I'm trying to say—not necessarily cliché.
What song was this?
"Feelin' So Fly." We ended doing that and I put myself in there. Another guy who was Thousand Foot Krutch's video guy was there who's named Ben. I don't know how to spell his last name or even pronounce it. I'll tell you why that's important in a second.
Anyway I did the video and I edited it and I put it up, and it ended up being his most played YouTube video on his personal channel. I think what Toby was initially trying to do was just have a tour promo more so than an official music video, but it did so well with the fans. The fans ate it up and then years later he's like, "I want to put this on my music video DVD."
So I did that. It was cool to call my mom and say, "You can go to the local Christian bookstore that bought all of my cassette tapes for $2 and buy that DVD."
That was really cool, but the funny thing is the guy that helped—he did assistant directing I think is what would be the term for his role—he ended up directing the music video for "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen. It's really funny. If you watch that video, you can see me and another guy. That other guy is the guy that directed that video. It's really funny to see the whole thing come full circle.
This was a while ago, then.
I was something like 21 or 22 when I did that. I was always intimidated by music videos, to be honest with you. I felt totally fine on a film set. I felt totally fine doing live videos, documentaries, blogs. Pretty much I've done anything from weddings to feature films, but I didn't do a music video and it was always intimidating to me because I didn't know the workflow.
Eventually House of Heroes were the first people to trust me [with my first official video]. I always like to give them a shout-out because they're the greatest guys ever. They were the first band to trust me doing video blogs. Mind you, video blogs weren't big by then. There were very few people, if any, doing weekly video blogs, because this is like the same year YouTube came out.
So it wasn't a standard thing. When I was like, "We should do this weekly thing. I think your fans would like it." They were like, "OK." They trusted me with that. Then they trusted me with a music video. They said, "We want you to do a video for our song 'So Far Away.'"
It's funny because they actually asked me to do music videos for other songs in the past, but I was always so intimidated that I never followed through to be honest. I could have and they offered it to me, but I was like, "I don't know. I kind of want to get perfect." It was a weird thing. I should have just done them, but I didn't.
I did "So Far Away" and I was really stoked about that one. They've been a band for 13 years now, so I took all their old footage, including the five years that I filmed for them, and I put it into a music video telling their whole story.
That was my first official music video. The tobyMac one turned into an official music video. Then it grew from there.
You did tobyMac, House of Heroes and then what came next?
"Wobble" for Family force 5.
So that's a pretty big jump.
Yeah. That was a huge jump. That was so surreal the whole time, even while I was filming it and everything because even then, the tobyMac one was a pseudo video and then the House of Heroes one was kind of pseudo because a lot of the footage I didn't shoot. It was just old tapes. This was like the first video that I conceptually came up with from scratch and built up. Then it turned into a story that I got to see unfold before my eyes.
I think that's when I became addicted to music videos because it was just so cool. You write the story in your house, in your room, and then a month later you're seeing it unfold in real life before your eyes. I typed on my computer, "There's going to be a library and there's going to be books flying and there's going to be a big party."
Then you're there and you're like, "I want to see the books flying—and action!" Wow. This is something that I wrote down and here it is in real life." That's when it got really addicting to me. That video did really well for me and Family Force 5 as well. It's just really cool to see that progress.
You went from "Wobble" to the Kickstarter projects, right?
Yeah. "Wobble" came out May 1st. That was the official release date and we were shooting "Zombie." I think it was May 17th. While I was editing ""Wobble"," we were doing preproduction for "Zombie."
Talk about how Kickstarter changed things for you as a director.
I love it. I have a lot of opinions on Kickstarter. I think what it does is there are a lot of people out there that are just great fans, and not just for me, but in general for so many artists. There are great fans that want to support artists and they don't know how. I think Kickstarter lets them.
It's like a fun way to say we want your support, but we're not going to get it for free. We're going to give you rewards of some sort. I just love that whole concept of Kickstarter and I love that when a video is complete, you're not celebrating alone and saying I made this video myself, but there's hundreds of people that are like, "I was part of that in some small way or big way."
I think it gives ownership and some stock to videos or albums or however people use kick start. That's been awesome. I've used Kickstarter once for a documentary I did in Africa. I asked for $800. I was being really modest. This is all I need to finish this, their cost.
I raised $2,300. People were like, "I want to support this." That was more of a blessing than I can explain right now because there was so much I didn't calculate into the cost and stuff and it really saved me from a lot of misery. That was really cool.
But anyway, with the Family Force 5 Kickstarters, I love it because "Wobble" is awesome and had extras. The whole experience of "Wobble" was awesome. I wasn't bragging on my video. The experience of "Wobble" was awesome, working with kids.
Ever since I was 10, directing big crowds has been a dream of mine. Seeing people with bull horns and directing big crowds with bull horns is something I grew up watching "making of" documentaries.
When I started doing that I was like, "Wow. I finally am a director." It was weird. I loved "Wobble" and stuff, but we just went to Lee University and said, "We need some kids to be in this," so people came, but the coolest thing about "Zombie" and "Cray Button"—the Kickstarter stuff—is those people are invested in some way.
They could have put in a couple of dollars or $30 bucks or something like that to be in the video and then they actually take you really seriously. They're like, "No, I want this good just like you do." It's funny the mood change of everything.
Everyone in "Wobble" was awesome and really helpful and really willing to do anything, but with "Zombie," when it started raining halfway through the shoot and I didn't have any time to stop filming because we had a certain shot listed to do before the sun came up. When it started raining and I was like, "I'm not giving up here. I'm going to still try and make this video good." People were invested and I don't know necessarily if nobody paid or gave any kind of money towards the project if they'd still stick around when it started raining.
Even with "Cray Button" people were invested enough to be like, "I want somebody to fall down right here on camera. Who's willing to fall down?" Everyone is fighting for the chance to fall down. Nowhere in real life can you ask somebody to just fall down in front of you and they fight for the chance.
That was really cool. I think Kickstarters not only get everyone invested, but obviously they fund the video. I think it's a huge blessing for me as a director because I get to show other companies and stuff what I can do with a budget. What Kickstarters do is it makes it look so big-budget because extras, a ton of kids or a ton of people make something look big-budget, and then on top of that you do have some kind of budget to spend on different things.
Like the slow motion camera for "Cray Button." That thing was $700 a day to rent and that's a $35,000 camera. There's no way I could afford to do that and have footage on my demo reel of that slow motion, but because everyone pitched in and got the money together, we got to have that footage and we got to make it look really cool.
So you shoot "Zombie." Then right after that you shoot "Cray Button."
In between "Zombie" and "Cray Button" I shot a video for a local folk artist, Molly Parden. Literally I just did it for gas money. Basically the whole story is she's a hitchhiker and she's telling her story and she's trying to get home. I was like, "We need to take a four-hour trip and take back roads and just film in them and make it look like it's a big, long journey."
I filmed that in between the two. Obviously she's not a big name like Family Force 5, but I'm really proud of that video. I did that for that budget because I wanted to prove to people that I could do stuff that's not just rock. I didn't want to get pigeonholed early on. I love all kinds of music so I wanted to be able to be like, "I can do country. I can do this and that." Since I also know a lot of people in the country industry, I wanted to show them that I could do that.
Tell me about "Cray Button."
As far as "Cray Button" goes, it was the reason I got to meet Lecrae--well actually I met Lecrae before that, but that's where I got to direct them. I actually shot some documentary stuff with him recording the Gravity album.
We didn't get Lecrae's permission until after we shot all of the "Cray Button" stuff. The kids had no idea that Lecrae was going to be a part of it. Even the song didn't have Lecrae in it.
It came out of nowhere.
Yeah, totally and that was such a fun surprise to be like, "We really appreciate all your support. Here's a little bonus." Anyway there's this funny story. I have a house where I have three younger filmmakers move in and then I try and teach them film and stuff like that. It's like a Christian film nerd house.
One guy that moved in here, he ended up working for Reach Records as their video guy. Now we have this basement in our house that we made black and put lights up. When Lecrae said yes to doing the "Cray Button" thing, he said, "I only have two hours to shoot." I was like, "That's fine. Just come into the house and we'll shoot it."
He comes over to my house, and it's not necessarily the suburbs. It's right next to the projects and stuff like that. He comes into the house and I'm sure he's like, "What am I agreeing to here?" We just go into the basement and I have this really dinky $600 camera that I probably couldn't sell for $300 right now because it's broken, but it was broken at the time, too.
He just stands there and I said, "Go over the rap a bunch of times and do this, do this, and that." Then he left and I'm sure he was driving away going, "What just happened?" Anyway the "Cray Button" thing came out and he was thrilled with it and he loved it.
One cool thing that Kyle Detman did—he did the "Church Clothes" video and a bunch of other videos. He told Lecrae, "Isaac's sets don't really look professional, but the final product does. Just believe in him." This was before he came into the house he told him that. I was like, "Thanks pal."
Check out Part 3 of the Isaac Deitz interview, where Isaac talks about the biggest video shoot of his life, which occurred with only six days' preparation.
Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991.
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