Becoming Isaac Deitz, Music Video Director: Part 3
In Part 3 of this exclusive interview, Isaac tells Kevin about how he shot a music video for Lecrae with only six days of prep—among other things.
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 Part 2, he told us how bands like tobyMac, House of Heroes and Family Force 5 brought him into music video making.
So how'd you end up doing Lecrae's "Fakin'" video?
October comes around [after working with Lecrae on the "Cray Button" video] and they were doing videos for Gravity. They sent me the record and they said, "These are the four songs that we're trying to do videos for." Initially I wrote a treatment for "Falling Down," which wasn't one of the four songs, but I was like, "This is the music video that I wanted to do. I made a treatment in three hours. Please let me do this. I'd love to do this."
They're like, "No, stick with the four songs." I just say that because if anything does happen with "Falling Down," you have that on record, if I end up doing a video for that.
I did the treatment for "Fakin'" and they said, "That's cool. He's on tour right now, so we have one day to shoot this and that's six days from now." Every video I've ever done is three weeks or more of preproduction. This went down to six days. I was like, "Oh no."
I think what makes my videos good is the time I put in on the front end. I have papers and papers of little details.
I love the behind the scenes of the "Zombie" video, just seeing that you had it all mapped out and all set and then to watch it come together. That was a pretty cool process.
You saw the one where I was running around the room?
That's exactly what I do for every video. I have different test footage. Even the shot where Crouton—or Jacob, depending on how you know him—was standing there as a zombie and 600 zombies come running up to him. He sings the bridge right before the chorus and then right when the chorus hits that's when all of the kids pass him.
That's something I planned out here at the house. I had a garbage can as a marker and then I would time how long it would take me to run from point A to point B to pass Jacob. It turned into this thing where I was like, "I have to go about 150 feet and then start running at this point in the song to reach the garbage can in time for the chorus to hit."
All that stuff is how I love to do videos. So, six days of preproduction… that's not enough time even for me.
Did they have concept at that point or did you come up with the whole thing?
I came up with the concept and then we shot it. Actually those six days turned into looking for a house. It's surprising how many calls I made. I was like, "We're doing this video. I do Christian artists." The people were like, "That would be great," and then when they found out it was for rap, they'd be like, "No, I don't think it's going to work out."
That happened a lot. It's pretty surprising, but at the same time I understand that because rap has a stigma or negative association.
So that ended up being almost 100 percent of the preproduction phase was looking for a house. It was literally 12 hours before call time. Call time is when everyone is supposed to be at the location. 12 hours before is when we got the house secured. It was 9 p.m. and they said, "Yes, you can use our house." I sent out the sheets to all my production crew and I said, "We need to be at this address in 12 hours."
Wow. Cutting it close!
Right after I got that approved I got to do a little bit of test footage stuff, but not much and that was a half footage of me holding the camera and yelling at it and stuff. I got to do that and I got to do a few other things, but not much. When I got there I felt like just a cameraman and not necessarily a director. I was just shooting. I was just trying to get a ton of variety because I didn't want it to be a boring video.
I did the shooting and even while I was there we came up with some ideas on the spot. I wish I could just come out of the gate and be like, "I came up with the whole thing right out of the gate and I did it in six days."
To be honest "Fakin'," for whoever sees it is just going to be a video for Lecrae and whatever it means to them, but "Fakin'" for me was God's way to humble me in a big way. I did those videos for Family Force 5 and they did really well for Family Force 5. I never really had a flop.
I was on a streak and I wasn't saying I'm the top of the world or the best person in the world, but when they said six days of preproduction I was like, "I can do this. I got it. I think I've got this music video thing down."
You were thinking you had three under your belt. You're good.
Yeah. I had a few others too. TobyMac's did well. I'm good. I've got this. We shot the Lecrae thing and like I said, I didn't feel like a director at all. I felt like somebody with their hands tied behind their back and just being a cameraman, really.
We changed different rooms all the time throughout the house and stuff. I thought that would save it. I edit the video and it was boring to be honest with you. It was really boring.
I was like, I don't want to release this. This is the biggest name I've done a music video for and a lot of people are going to see this and it's going to be a flop.
I went to Reach and I showed them. I was like, "I think it was boring." They're like, "Yes, we think so too. What can we do to fix it?"
I was like, "Is it possible for me to brainstorm on my own and come up with a video and give it you guys in January?" They're like, "Yeah." I told them the whole speech about the preproduction. One of the things initially when I wrote the concept for this video was I wanted it to be like an Old Spice commercial where you start questioning what's real throughout the whole video, but as soon as they said six days of preproduction I knew there was no way I could do that.
It had just turned into the video with him and Fizzle in that big house and maybe you see some lights in the shot and maybe you see some makeup people, but that was it. Just imagine the video without the faker. It was like, I guess it looks good, but a minute into the video you're like, "I can turn this off."
That whole month of December I took all the rest of the money and all of the rest of the time to cultivate it and go, "I want to go back to my original idea," which was the Old Spice thing. I shot the whole thing. I got to be me again where I got to do a ton of preproduction.
I have footage on footage of me going to parking lots and me practicing with the Lamborghini car and seeing how far you had to step. It was weird. If you step a couple of feet forward or a couple of feet back, it totally looks fake. You really had to plan it because everything is proportioned.
Did you get back with Lecrae then and reshoot?
No. Lecrae was busy. He was getting ready for a cruise and holidays and stuff, so basically I just hired that actor to represent the faker.
The only thing I would change about the video is that Lecrae and the faker look similar. The skin color is the same lightness and stuff like that, the same build, and height and stuff. I think people that don't know Lecrae really well get confused on which one is Lecrae, but I think by the end of it you figure it out.
So what'd you come away with from this process?
God humbled me throughout the whole thing and I think He made it a better video even through my thinking I've got it all figured out because I kind of came into it. Literally when I was driving to Reach Records to have a meeting with them to ask them for more time, I was amped up and ready to defend myself. I was in defense mode. You only gave me six days for production—of course it's not going to come out.
Then I remember specifically at this one stoplight, I remember a specific moment where I felt God was like, "You need to calm down for a second." I was praying, "God, humble me."
I walked in there and I was like, "This is where we're at." The fact that they brought it up and said, "What can we do to help you make this better?" That was awesome. I think if I came in all in defense mode I don't know if they necessarily would have been like, "We want to help you out."
It was really cool through the whole process.
God does that.
He does. I think that's awesome. I think every video I've ever done, I think that's part of my testimony is video making. I think people learn about God's love through doing accounting and people learn about God's love being a scientist and stuff like that and that's their refining fire. They have to be persistent. They have to wake up and go to everyday when they're not feeling like doing whatever their respective job is.
People always look at the end result so much, but it's the process where God preaches to us and it's how God teaches us. For me, the end result for "Fakin'" I'm really proud of and really happy with. Thankfully the label is stoked about it, too. But the process that got me there is where I learned so much.