Making a No-Budget Music Video During a Global Pandemic

a young girl wonders what she is doing

In early November, my band released an album we had been working on for about three and a half years. Yeah, we're slow, so what? We put a lot of time and effort into making it sound good. In the end, we were all thrilled with how it turned out and very excited to share it with the world. To celebrate its long-awaited release, I impulsively declared my intent to make some kind of music video for our song Lobster Boy Absconds. The song is a cinematic three-act tragedy of two people from a circus sideshow who fall in love and run away together. The IDEA of making a video was very exciting. I couldn't not do it! Seeing it through, however, meant overcoming a handful of significant obstacles:

  1. Three men in bad costumes say they are working on a budget of zero dollars
    Like these mouse-people, my budget for the project was exactly $0 (roughly £0/€0, depending on the current exchange rate)
  2. Although I went to film school, it was for writing screenplays--I've scarcely ever dipped a toe in those shark-infested waters of production or post-production 
  3. I didn't have truckloads of filmmaking equipment at my disposal. More accurately, I didn't have any gear at all (see previous concerns re: budget)
    1. Even if I did, Corona regulations were changing all the time, making things like planning a film shoot very complicated to nearly impossible 
  4. I didn't have any video editing software and won't pay for any (cf. number 1)
    1. Even if I did, I haven't used non-linear editing software since about 2006 and imagine it has changed somewhat in the intervening period
a panda with an 'oh no' reaction

The more I thought about making a music video, the more I regretted ever verbally expressing the desire to do it. But I had promised myself (and others) there would be a video, so I began systematically addressing these problems. Being stubborn about completing projects and finding creative solutions to problems are two of my strengths.

In theory, the budget issue was easily solved: if you have zero money for a project, then spend zero money on that project. People in creative branches have been perfecting the art of not spending money for ages. There are tons of resources online for doing pretty much ANYTHING for free, from sprucing up your home decor to giving your pets a trim. I would simply have to come up with a concept that could be executed without spending a dime. This was a liberating realization, because it informed all of the creative decisions from this point forward. My initial dreams of a PT Barnum-era period piece went straight out the window and I started to think more practically. 

On to problem 2 in the list. Hmm... Being in over my head and not having clue what I'm doing has never stopped me before. Next! 

What to do about equipment? I don't have a video camera, so my first instinct was to just shoot on a smartphone. But what to shoot? At the time I was starting to think about making this, it was unclear to what extent coronavirus regulations were going to come into play. 

Then it dawned on me: I don't have to actually FILM anything. I could do something in the vicinity of animation and not have to worry about equipment or coordinating anything. Since my art skills are limited (to put it nicely), I decided to do a kinetic typography video to feature the song's lyrics, which seemed very doable, even given all the other constraints.

Now it was time to find some software to make it happen! After some online research into open-source editing and animation software, I settled on the free, open-source software Blender, which can do pretty much EVERYTHING from 3D modelling to animation to special effects to nonlinear film editing. That was actually the only problem I had with Blender--the program is so complex with such a vast range of features, I needed to watch an online tutorial just to figure out how to navigate the workspace. I found myself frequently making the Steve Harvey face of utter bewilderment:

Steve Harvey is confused

After thinking about the general aesthetic I wanted, I then spent about two months manually animating various parameters of every word in the song. This process made me deeply regret the song choice. Lobster Boy Absconds has quite a lot of words--the choruses aren't even the same! The number of unique animated objects quickly made my computer lag. I thought about abandoning the project many times, but as previously mentioned, I can be very stubborn about finishing projects. 

Screenshot of the blender project

Once I had animated all the lyrics, I edited the sequences in Blender's film sequencer, added textures to the various colors, threw in a few fun little images as Easter Eggs, and created an animated intro in which the band members' heads swirl around. I spliced in some free stock footage from Pixabay and Videvo, desaturated them, and added a layer of film flickering to give them all an old-timey feel. It was an absurd amount of effort for a video that will ultimately probably only ever see a few hundred plays, but that doesn't matter, because it was an invaluable learning experience. 

After working on the video for so long, was very happy with how it turned out!