So you want to make music videos? Well, we have some good news and we have some bad news. The bad news? It takes a TON of hard work. The good news? We have some pretty solid advice from one of if not the best music video directors in our scene.
Working with the likes of Converge, Code Orange, Knocked Loose, Motionless In White, Movements, New Found Glory and a ton more, Max Moore has built quite the reputation of being an ultra-consistent, ultra-creative and incredibly hard-working director working his way up from the DIY hardcore community.
Talking with The Noise about getting started behind the camera and what he suggests to up-and-coming filmmakers, Moore commented, “I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the comparison game of what camera somebody has starting out or where you live.”
“I don’t live in Los Angeles,” Moore said. “I live in a random ass city in the Midwest. And if you can just get away from all the bullshit and just focus on making really creative, cool ideas, then you’re going to be somewhat successful over the people who just freaked out about the new stabilizer or piece of gear.”
With a resume of nearly 100 music videos, commercials and short films under his belt, Moore clearly knows his stuff – which is exactly why we wanted to reach out to the talented 28-year-old and find out how he got his start making some of our favorite music videos.
To check out Moore’s story and insightful guidance for future directors, be sure to look below. Afterward, for more, head here.
How long do you think you usually spend on an edit? Obviously different videos vary but what’s your average time?
MAX MOORE: Well, not all directors edit their own stuff. But for me, it’s a big part of what I do. And in terms of having control over the final product, I mean, you can shoot and direct something amazingly [but] if you don’t have a good editor, it can all kind of fall apart there. So editing is the one thing that I still do all myself. So as you can imagine, it just depends on the project. But even more so than that, it really just depends on the timeline from the label or management or whatever.
For example, the [recent] Knocked Loose video, I edited it in like a week. And you know, that’s like working on it six to eight hours for a few days or something like that. But I’ve also had crazy deadlines where it’s like, “Hey, the video is literally supposed to come out in three days from when we shoot it.” So I’ll just hunker down and edit nonstop for like 48 hours. So I’ve literally shot a video in LA, flew (because I actually live in Kentucky – Louisville, Kentucky – where Knocked Loose is from) back home and edited a video and turned it in and it came out like two days later. So yeah, it really just depends. But I think the biggest thing is just if the labels are like, “Hey, it’s not due for a while,” I’m gonna let it sit. [laughs] I’m not trying to kill myself just to get it done.
Do you ever overlap with videos? Or is it usually one project at a time?
I usually always kind of have multiple projects going at the same time. It’s varied in different years. I’ve been doing this full time for about six years. Some years, I did insane amounts of music videos. Some years, I do a little bit less. I think the most I did one year was like 40 music videos or something crazy. So if you think about that, there are only 12 months in a year. So there’s obviously going to be some crossover. But these days, I’m trying to – when I was first doing this I was like, “I want to do as many as possible and work with as many artists as I can.” But these days, I’m trying to be more selective about what I take on and I’d rather do fewer, really good [videos] than just pump them out. So I’ve also started directing commercials as well. I don’t want to do 40 music videos a year. It’d be nice to do a handful of ones I’m really passionate about.
For young filmmakers and directors who are just learning, what’s your time management like or the schedule that you give yourself on a day-to-day basis?
I think the biggest key, especially when I was getting started, I would get a lot of offers to do videos and I was just so excited to have the work that I didn’t know how to say no yet. So I kind of overbooked myself, like the year I did almost 40 videos, that was so stupid. Like, truly. I mean, I worked like seven days a week for the entire year basically. So I think it starts before you even get the work. By that, I mean learning when to say no. You know, “That video sounds really cool, I like that band, but I just don’t have time.” Or you know, “Hey, it’s a good budget. I don’t care about this artist. Nah, I’m going to pass.” You know what I mean? So I think it starts from the get-go and I’m learning to be better with that.
As the years have gone on, in terms of the day-to-day, I think it’s just like any business. It’s prioritizing things that need to get done based on when they’re due. I think that sounds like a really non-answer but I think it’s important to keep to your schedule – especially when you’re self-employed and you do a lot of it yourself. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start. But I like to stay organized by keeping a well-established schedule and prioritizing by what’s due when and knocking it out in that order if that makes sense.
Is there one video in particular you had to turn down that you’re super bummed about?
Yeah, I mean, there’s been lots of cases over the years. But it’s been less of that, like, “Hey, we want you to do it” and I feel like I have to pass. The things that I mostly get more bummed about are the videos where I write it – so the way the normal process works is it’s not usually, it happens a lot for me [with] someone I’ve worked with several times [where] we’re directly working together and they know “Hey, we want Max to do the video.” So we’ll figure out the treatment and what the video is going to be, but I am working directly with them.
But usually, the way it works is that my rep, my music video rep, which is just like (that’s what they call it, it’s like my agent, basically) and so she will send me tracks from record labels and say, “Hey Max, do you want to write on this?” And so say it’s a really awesome artist that I would love to work with, it’s like, “Oh yeah, I would love to write a treatment for that.” She says okay, so then I spend the day putting together a music video treatment, sending it off to her and she sends it to the label. But the label is also collecting several treatments from several different directors and you don’t know how many, who’s writing, who else is also writing on it or how many.
And so back to the original question. I’ve definitely gotten bummed like, “Oh my god, I’m writing a treatment for blah, blah, blah, whatever band or artist. I’m so excited!” And then it’s like, “Yeah, they went with somebody else.” And then you’re like, “Ahhhhh.” [laughs] This is the name of the game. It’s as frustrating as it can be music video directing, or directing for some production in general. [You] kind of just gotta have tough skin. And if you get your feelings really hurt by not getting a job or the client not liking the video or the edit, or whatever, you gotta just have thick skin and roll with the punches. The people that can roll with the punches consistently and keep trucking even though they get bummed on not getting stuff, those are the people that are successful and can have consistent work. Not saying that’s me [laughs], but yeah.
When you’re writing treatments, do you feel like the ideas come to you pretty instantly? Or do you have to think for a few hours, sometimes days?
I think it just depends on the specific situation. There have been times where I’ll get sent a song and I immediately have something come to mind and the treatments done in like an hour. Then there are also times where I’ve literally sat at a computer for hours and hours and hours and gone on walks, took a shower, left and drove around and there’s nothing I can do [because] I’m 100% in writer’s block. I finally just end up being like “Alright, I’ll write this down and submit it.” But I think it just depends on the situation. I think it’s always easier in a situation where it’s an artist that I know and that I’ve worked with previously. Like a band like Code Orange or Knocked Loose. I’ve worked with both those bands multiple times and we have a rapport, a creative rapport that we can kind of reference previous videos or it’s really just a trust thing. Those kinds of artists that I’ve worked with trust me and trust what I’m writing is going to make sense for the song or the record or whatever. So it’s always easier when I have a direct relationship with the artist rather than when it’s just more the standard business thing where there’s several layers of middlemen in between– my manager, or my rep, their manager, a video commissioner. That’s where the creativity is a little harder to pin down.
It’s interesting having a job in a creative space because there isn’t just some button you can push to come up with ideas. Like when people say, “Hey, think of some ideas for this.” It’s really not that easy.
But talking about the artists you’ve worked with. You mentioned Code Orange and Knocked Loose. When you came up in this music scene was that the music you were listening to?
Yeah. So when I was younger, I’m 28 now, but all through middle school and high school, I played in lots of different punk and hardcore bands and toured. Did that whole thing. My friends were in a band called Xerxes that was signed to No Sleep Records, which was kind of a poppin’ label back in the day and so that was very much my world that I came from like the DIY punk hardcore scene. So naturally, a band like Code Orange – I was friends with them and that was the music I was already playing and it sort of just kind of lent itself for me taking on those kinds of videos. I didn’t like set out to specifically direct music videos, it just kind of happened naturally from the fact that I had a big background in music and all these friends that were in bands and all these connections.
But at the same time, I stopped playing music and went to film school and then those two things just naturally lead together into one. But yeah, to answer the question: Yeah, I mean, that’s the world I come from and that’s kind of why so much of my work has been in that scene, whatever you want to call it. Obviously, I’ve worked with lots of different kinds of bands like pop-punk bands, indie bands, stuff like that. But it’s all really under the umbrella of “alternative music,” that’s what I would call it. But the cool thing about having my rep is that she and the production company I’m signed with, they can kind of give me opportunities to write for artists and bands that are kind of outside my own connections. Like a pop artist or hip-hop artists or something like that. So, though I come from punk and hardcore, I love all kinds of music. I listen to hip-hop mostly these days. And so even though [punk and hardcore is the] majority of what my work is done in, I definitely have a strong desire to branch out and flex creative muscles in a different genre or different types of video. If that makes sense.
Yeah, so who are some dream artists you’d love to work with?
I mean, I’d want to do the biggest of the big. [laughs] I want to do a Beyoncé video [laughs]. I’d do anything, man. But the cool thing about my background is people kind of pin me down as always the “hardcore director.” But in reality, if you actually know me personally, you know that my kind of interests is so much broader than just hardcore. When I was 17, I was a hardcore kid. At 28, I’m just Max [laughs]. I can like Drake. I can like Beyoncé. I can like whatever. So really the dream artist is anybody who’s willing to give me the time. I know that’s kind of a cop out answer, but yeah. Anybody who’s just down to let me make some cool stuff. I’m always interested in working with them.
So do you think some advice to incoming videographers is to not pigeonhole themselves into just one category and instead branch out and try everything?
Yes and no. I think, oddly, some of the reasons why I’ve had consistent work over the last few years is because there is this network of bands in the scene. Whether it’s the record labels I work with, I think just like any business you get hired because you get good at one thing where you specialize in something, like you know, a plumber or electrician or any type of business. A plumber is going to get hired to do plumbing and in that way, it’s been good for me to continue to work with bands in a similar genre because it just keeps the ball rolling and you’re able to create a style.
But that’s why I think, starting out, I think it is kind of cool. This has just worked for me. The thing about music video directing, or directing as a whole, is that there’s no right or wrong path. It’s not like becoming a doctor where you have to take a test, you pass the test and someone gives you a piece of paper and says you’re a doctor. Everybody’s path to music video directing, or directing any type of production, looks very different. So I’m just speaking personally and what’s worked for me. So I think working in this kind of genre of music has allowed me to basically make a living. But I think once you get to a certain level, or have a certain amount of videos under your belt or if you’re just bored and want to try something different, I think breaking out and not being afraid to branch out, that’s the biggest thing. Be consistent and put yourself out there but at the same time, don’t be afraid to try new things with new kinds of artists or people.
A good example of that as far as your music videos go has to be the Chapel music video you directed with all the giant breakfast stuff which we assume was pretty challenging for more reasons than one. Speaking of, what has been the most challenging music video for you to shoot personally?
I would probably say, the most challenging would probably be the [Code Orange] “Forever” video – and then I’ll have the worst day on set story, I’ll share with you. But with [“Forever”], there was just a lot of logistics. I actually self-produced the music video. We shot in Louisville, Kentucky. So there’s just a lot of working parts to the video. I mean, there’s so much in it and the biggest thing, the challenge is the big pyrotechnic stuff at the end of the video. You know, if we were shooting in LA or somewhere like that, getting a pyro person is no problem. They’re everywhere and you can get them. Normally, when I’m shooting in LA, there’s a production team, the producers will handle all that and make it happen. But trying to like, you know, maximize the budget and put everything I could into this video, shooting in Louisville was a better option, which is where I’m from and just finding a pyro team in Louisville, Kentucky was not possible. [laughs] There isn’t anybody. So we had to bring people in from Nashville and it was just a lot. I remember being totally overwhelmed. If it was any other artist, I would have been like, “I can’t.” But because my relationship is strong and special with that band and I care about the art and believe in what they’re doing, I was like, “You know, this is an important record, this is an important single” and I just felt that it was like “You gotta go hard on this one.” And yeah, they ended up getting nominated for a Grammy for that song. I’m super proud of what they’ve done and seeing them grow. So I think just because I cared so much, that’s why that was the most challenging one if that makes sense.
And then the worst day on set was with this band called Motionless In White, which also involved a ton of pyro behind the stage. It was just the longest day and our gaffer, who had all the lights and equipment, he was a no-call no-show the morning of the shoot and set us behind. And then the pyro thing, we had all this fire on the stage inside this warehouse and it popped the sprinklers and sprinklers went all over everything and I had my camera in my hand and I’m like running out. And it wasn’t clean water, this was like an old warehouse and it’s black fucking sludge coming out of the sprinklers. And I was like, “Oh my god, dude.” I was freaking out like, “It’s done. It’s over.”
But then somehow the crew like shop-vacuumed it all up and we kept shooting and then finally the stage caught fire. There was like 300 screaming tweens – they were just fans but they were in the video and it was just straight chaos. Anyways, it was a crazy day. The video turned out, came out and that’s all that matters. So what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
What do you think is one of the biggest things people misinterpret about being a music video director?
I think the biggest thing that people don’t understand, the biggest part of my job that I didn’t even know was the biggest part of the job is it’s not just about “Hey, can you direct a video? Or can you make a video?” As a working music video director, it’s all about writing. That’s something I had no idea about when I first got into it. Like, you can yell action and you can shoot and you can edit and produce and make an amazing, clean product. But you will not get work consistently or at all really if you don’t know how to write a treatment and accurately portray your idea and write it and set it up in a way that all parties involved can clearly understand.
So the biggest misconception is that it’s not just about being on set. So much of my day-to-day is writing and pitching. In that way, it’s not good enough to just be a good director. You have to be a good writer and a good salesman for the ideas that you have and that you believe in. And even if you don’t believe in it, you have to make them think that you believe it. And then when you get there, and it turns out it works, everybody’s happy. But I think that’s the biggest misconception of what a day-to-day music video director is. It’s a lot of sitting in front of a computer and finding reference images for your treatment or searching online for that one still [image] you remember from a movie that will be great to go into the treatment or coloring reference images in Photoshop. I mean, most of my job is that. It’s pitching. And then, that’s intercut with the shoot days and the edits. But it’s a lot of hard work and it’s not for people who, you know – production isn’t like the cozy nine-to-five thing. You got to really want it and you’ve got to be willing to continually be putting yourself out there. And it’s hard but when you find some level of success and work consistently [and] see people really dig the videos – like the Knocked Loose video came out the other day and people were digging it – that’s when it feels like “Hey, you know this is really hard and sucky sometimes but wow, it’s worth it.”
What are some of your favorite music videos you’ve seen that really inspired you or made you wish you thought of first?
I think watching older Smashing Pumpkins music videos is huge for me. Also weirdly, My Chemical Romance. I was right in that era where they were huge when I was like in [my] teen years and I was certainly into hardcore and all that but I’m a sucker for pop-punk. I was into that kind of stuff and I was watching Fuse after school and stuff like that. So, those era music videos are iconic to me.
From a young age, I always thought those videos were sick. [And] like Underoath videos and stuff like that. There’s a theme of like, darker imagery that I was just naturally drawn to. But those are things growing up like, “Man, that’s so cool. I would love to do something like that.” [And] now I’ve gotten to write on some Underoath music videos recently, so it’s all kind of full circle. I would love to do a Smashing Pumpkins video, that’d be amazing.
Did you ever watch Making The Video on MTV?
Totally! Looking back on that era of music videos, the music industry has changed so much since then with streaming and how the budgets were bigger for music videos. But I think now music videos are so much more important and relevant than they have ever been. You know, when I first started directing music videos, YouTube was really in its infancy for music videos. Vevo wasn’t a thing, viral content was just getting on record labels’ radar. So I kind of slipped into the industry when it was in a lull, like YouTube wasn’t this giant thing where music videos lived yet and here comes this little kid and I just had a DSLR and got into the DIY punk thing. Then as that rose back up and labels started to put in more money for music videos, I kind of rose with that as the internet gave a rebirth to the music video in some ways.
I mean, certainly there was always the major label people that were getting good budgets even during this slump when streaming stuff started to come out. But for me, in punk and hardcore, I was able to slide in there and just – there is such a big disconnect between watching Making The Video and then my early music videos because it’s like a kid shooting in his bedroom some close up that is on a shitty $600 DSLR [camera]. I think even now, the biggest budget things I do now, I still always have that DIY, do it yourself, punk mentality. At the end of the day, even if I have like a 60-person crew, 40-person crew, 20-person, 10-person crew, I’m steering the ship and no one’s going to care more about this video than me. And I just still try to take that kind of DIY spirit into everything that I do, even today.
Is there anything else you want to tell the people reading this?
I have a lot of kids DM me or email me asking like, “Hey, what lens should I get? Or what cameras do you shoot on? Or how do I get into directing?” And I think to kind of mass answer that or to give some encouragement – I always say this but I think it’s important – I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the comparison game of what camera somebody has starting out or where you live. I don’t live in Los Angeles, you know. I live in a random ass city in the Midwest. And if you can just get away from all the bullshit and just focus on making really creative, cool ideas, then you’re going to be somewhat successful over the people who just freaked out about the new stabilizer or piece of gear.
There’s a time and place for that, you certainly have to be good at the craft. But beyond that, it’s all about being creative and sticking to being DIY. If you want to direct music videos, there’s no reason why you can’t. Especially [since] everybody’s an artist or some SoundCloud rapper these days. So everybody has someone that they probably know, at least by like a few degrees that is making music. And like, my phone shoots 4k [laughs] so there’s no reason not to be able to make something if you want to do it. So just get away from all the bullshit and all the distractions and really just focus on creating cool ideas that are unique and push the boundaries.
That’s really great advice.
For sure. And I think it’s, you know, people always hit me up because they want an easy-to-click answer. But the fact of the matter is everybody’s path is going to look different. And if you just want it enough and you have that drive, you’re going to figure it out. I think that’s just with anything in life, for the most part. So the last thing I want is to come off like, “[If] you do this, you will be like me and have this.” I just work hard and I try to work with artists that I like and that’s basically it.