The MV Production course is a specialisation offered in the second year of the Digital Media program study map. The course gives students the chance to hone their creativity by conceptualising and visualising a song through two distinct approaches: as an experimental MV and as a traditional MV involving the music artists and lip-syncing.
This hands-on experience immerses the students into the practical intricacies of their field, fostering an environment conducive to creative growth and the application of theoretical knowledge in a real-world context.
Los Angeles-based Jack Gray, an Australian singer, songwriter, and producer, was one of the partners who worked with RMIT students this year. Their collaboration resulted in a visually captivating MV for Jack’s cover of the Elvis Presley classic “Heartbreak Hotel”.
From ideation to execution
Working in a team of five, RMIT students Choi Geon, Tran Dinh Minh Long, Quach Tu Anh, Doan Tran Thanh Hoa, and Nguyen Vo Hoang Nhi combined their creativity and zeal to deliver a highly collaborative project.
Choi Geon, the director of photography and camera operator for this MV, shared that the team generated a plethora of ideas, surpassing 20 concepts. “We first gathered our individual ideation, then we started to polish and finalise the ideas,” Geon recalled.
“The concept we ended up using centered around a psychopath, portrayed by Jack Gray in the video. I came up with the rough idea first and and my teammates helped me to finetune it. Jack had told us he was thinking about acting more in his future career, and I thought playing a psychopath could be a good opportunity for him to experiment with his acting,” Geon said.
Following their ideation and pre-production stages which lasted a couple of weeks, the group went into production day, where they showed their agility in dealing with limited space, long hours, and intricate lighting and camera angles.
Nguyen Vo Hoang Nhi, the MV’s producer, production manager, and production designer recalled, “We pivoted a lot on the day because the space we rented to film in had really limited angles because of the walls. It didn’t have some of the furniture that we planned to have in the storyboard. A lot of the intended scenes couldn’t be filmed, but we also shot many other extra insert shots that were useful."
“I was really impressed by Jack’s acting. I like the scenes where he was looking into the bathroom mirror and doing the lip-sync. He did amazing facial expressions. So, we used a lot of that footage in our MV, and I think they were also the scenes that we took the least time to film,” Nhi said.
Tran Dinh Minh Long, the colourist for Heartbreak Hotel, shed light on the challenges encountered during the post-production phase. The team tried many different colour schemes before finding one that fits all the scenes they had shot.
“While the production process spanned approximately two days, the post-production phase stretched out over a week. The colour grading was particularly difficult because matching the colours for different scenes together was like painting art.”
Long recounted the schedule, with the team tirelessly working on campus from early morning until late at night, spanning the entire week, including weekends to ensure the music video was ready for the worldwide single release.
According to Doan Tran Thanh Hoa, the assistant director, production designer, and editor for the MV, each team member strived to improve the quality of their respective responsibilities, ensuring that every aspect met or exceeded expectations.
Hoa emphasised, “The importance of teamwork, the valuable lessons learned in navigating interactions with real clients, the significance of effective collaboration and client management are key takeaways from the course.”
Choi Geon added, “I had experience working on cinematography by myself, in a one-man team. This was my first time actually being in a production with teammates and a client.
“I was overwhelmed at first because the amount of work was a lot more than I had expected, and also because this involves a real client. So, we had to produce the best work. The pressure was there, but we were trying to keep a professional attitude throughout.”
MV’s art director Quach Tu Anh concluded, “The whole course was a memorable experience for us because we spent a lot of time together, not just working but also, eating, hanging out and napping together. Beyond the culmination of our efforts in the final work, what I truly cherish are the friendships forged during this journey.”
A real-world learning experience
The partnership offered reciprocal benefits, as the students gained real-world experience while Jack Gray had the opportunity to work with the younger generation and witness their fresh ideas come to life.
Jack commended the students' remarkable creativity and energetic approach throughout the production process: “It is my first time working with students on something like this, and it has been an amazing experience so far.”
“We have spent months doing Zoom calls and they dropped a great storyboard for every scene. These students are so creative and have that youthful energy. The concept they came up with is brilliant,” the Australian musician and singer recalled.
According to Mr Ricardo Arce, RMIT Program Manager of the Digital Media program, “the MV Production specialisation has run for several years and has been a popular and successful offering.”
However, one of the challenges faced by students was finding suitable songs (licensed music) to create MVs for. Mr Arce pondered the idea of approaching local bands in advance to secure high-quality songs for the students to work with, thereby alleviating the struggles of working with less dynamic copyright-free music or spending valuable course time to find music for assessment purposes.
“Having access to quality music by a music artist/band significantly enhances the students' motivation and commitment to producing high-quality works that have the potential for broader distribution,” RMIT Digital Media Associate Lecturer Joel Spezeski added.
Conversely, the music artists/bands themselves benefit from this collaboration by getting visualisations of their songs without the significant financial outlay that is generally required for such productions.
Mr Nguyen Trong Khoa, Associate Lecturer in Digital Film & Video program at RMIT University, explained that the decision to turn this course into an WIL experience stemmed from the desire to simulate the working relationship between a creative team and a client when producing a music video.
This approach requires students to collaborate with WIL partners as clients, researching the music genre particularities, studying the bands' previous works, engaging in discussions with the music artist/bands, and more.
Mr Spezeski also emphasised that “such experiences are crucial for individuals in the creative field before they embark on their professional journeys.”
Mr. Khoa revealed: “Feedback from WIL partners after the course has been overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing their desire to work with RMIT students again and recommending other interested bands to participate.”
In addition to Jack Gray, the latest MV Production course also engaged local bands including KAALI, Skeleton Goode, and Limebócx. Selected MVs have been displayed on the bands' websites and social media channels.