Brad Hasse (ADC Young Guns X) is a director of all kinds of zany, mind-bending, boundary-pushing, story-driven, energetic and memorable videos and short films. Working in commercial, television, documentary and music video, he goes by the alias Bradonio and has become known for the unabashedly singular style that characterizes everything he does.
We sat down with Brad to talk about his directing philosophy and some of the stories behind his most successful music videos. Brad’s story of experimentation and perseverance — and dedication to his own brand of weird — is an inspiring one, as we continue to learn about Musical Communication and the many ways in which the ADC community transforms the audio into the visual
What is your process for coming up with a concept for a music video?
I have several. One of them is that little notebook full of ideas that I have been collecting over the years. They got there either by random concepts that pop up along the way, or from brainstorming on other projects and then never getting used. So when a new track comes through, one of these old ideas, or a mash-up of them, might seem to fit well so then it’s a matter of reworking it until it truly fits. The other is that I’m given the song, a brief on the style and tone that they are hoping to have, and then finally I listen to the track and almost immediately something pops into mind. Then because I don’t believe that the first idea could be the beginnings of anything good, I listen to the song a million more times, abusing myself trying to come up with a hundred more ideas until I finally come back to one of the very first ones and go “hmmm, actually, my instincts weren’t all that bad. I think I could work this into something good.” Then I go plant some trees from all the paper I wasted while brainstorming.
What’s an example of a video that came from “that one little notebook”?
The Scion AV sponsored video for Zombie Nation came up that way. I had this idea awhile back where a guy had a speaker in his chest blasting the song, but the artist passed on my treatment. Then a year later I got this track by Zombie Nation which had a huge amount of bass, and it came to me, “Ahhh, the speaker doesn’t belong in the chest, it goes in someone’s beer belly!” Somehow that made a lot more sense to me.
So in this new pitch it’s a slightly altered version of the first idea and I finally got to bring this human abnormality to life. After a concept has been sitting there for a while, it can be particularly satisfying to see it finally get made.
Did your music video for Moby come about from the same process of repurposing an idea, or another method?
It’s great to be approached by an artist to make a music video for them, but I come up with a lot of ideas that have no “home” for them, so I end up actively pursuing projects where I can execute these concepts. At that point I could just make it as an experimental short, but I feel like when it becomes a “music video” then there’s more context for people to understand what it is, and therefore easier for it to get passed around and blogs to pick it up. The Moby one was that way. I was going on this trip and I wanted to create a short film that I could shoot between New York and Thailand. I came up with a story about this little rat who’s stuck in the cold winter in Manhattan, wanders into someone’s luggage and then ends up on this adventure on the beaches of Thailand. When I was cutting this together, I used the song “Saints” by Moby underneath for my short film just as a temp track. But then I fell in love with the track as the base of it and it worked well as a music video. I was able to get a rough cut in front of Moby, he liked it, and then ended up releasing the final piece as his official music video. Everyone wins in the end (even the rat).
Is that method of direct, transparent back and forth with the artist about a passion-project one that has only become possible as the music industry has evolved? What’s been the biggest change that directors need to adapt to with that evolution?
On certain projects, I’m sure there was always that transparency between director and artist. The director has an idea he’s passionate about, the artist thinks it fits well with the song, so the director gets to run with it and throw everything he has into it. There are still people doing projects with massive budgets. They still play on TV worldwide, and of course online they’re getting an absurd amount of views. So the industry still does exist. But it seems like the quirkier videos, like the ones that Spike Jonze and Michelle Gondry were cranking out in the 90’s, don’t get the types of budgets that they used to.
“Do I wish this was the 90’s and I was a new director then? A little bit! But we’re here now.”
By no means do you need a big budget to come up with a great idea, you can do something incredible with no money, but having cash to throw at a concept sure is a lot of fun! With more money, my Zombie Nation video would have featured an entire gang of human beer belly boom-boxes running around town causing trouble. A choreographed dance scene with musical body parts would have been fun to create.
What’s the overall effect of that financial adjustment?
With the smaller budget stuff, probably more directors are thinking, “I may not have that many resources and I’m not going to make any cash on this, but at least I’m going to throw my heart and soul into it and create something that I’m really passionate about. Make it something personal.” I think overall everyone can still benefit from that.
“Things started to move forward much faster when I started saying no to projects that didn’t fit with me at all.”
So you’re not worried that people will ever stop making music videos, no matter how distant a memory MTV’s TRL becomes?
No. Do I wish this was the 90’s and I was a new director then? A little bit! But we’re here now. I make my living more off of commercials and other things in production so when it comes to music videos, I use it as more of a creative outlet. I’m able to get by doing that and I’m still allowed to express myself and have a potentially large audience see this work that I’m very passionate about. That’s where it is now, so I’ll just smile and move on with that. Don’t get me wrong, there are still directors rocking out music videos as their bread and butter, but it just hasn’t been my path.
Are you conscious of balancing that personal artistic expression with the artist’s vision?
In the beginning I used to think that I had to say yes to everything. So you end up trying to balance two opposite visions into one video, which is just painful. Things started to move forward much faster when I started saying no to projects that didn’t fit with me at all. Now, when an artist or client approaches me for something, they’ve already seen the work and know what I do, therefore hopefully we’re already on a similar page. And with music videos, most of the time they come to you for the overall idea as well. Since they already like the tone of your work, that means you get to create something that by default turns out being pretty personal.
That seems like a unique benefit of working with musical artists.
Yes! For me, it feels more like that unadulterated fun that you had as a kid when first experimenting with the family video camera. From concept to completion, you get to make a little whacky piece of moving art with your own personality exuding from it.
Do you have a favorite type of music to direct?
I love working with electronic music. First of all, I’m into the music and the funkiness it can bring. Also, there’s more of an opportunity to create a narrative or experimental piece from beginning to end. While it can be a lot of fun having a performance piece with the artist in the video, it’s also very liberating to not have to fit that in, and just running with it all like a short film and using the track more like the soundtrack.
What’s a video you’ve seen recently that made you wish you had directed it?
The Daniels’ video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” was incredible. Full of energy, it’s completely absurd, looks fantastic, and I’m sure has incited many of spontaneous dance parties since it’s release. Kudos to the Daniels for nailing it yet again.
“You’re releasing something that’s very much you, saying “if I get to run free, this is how my work is going to look.””
How do you think the practice of directing music videos affects your other work? Are you more attuned to artists’ needs? Adept at fitting entire narratives into short periods? Or does it require a shift in thinking to do a music video vs. a commercial?
The two worlds can be quite different. Squeezing a story into 30 seconds versus keeping it moving for 3-4 minutes has you relying on very different techniques. Not to mention wildly different budgets. One nice effect of having music videos and experimental work on your reel, and if a client has seen that and they like it, there may be a better opportunity to swing some of that tone into your commercial work. You may bring up a strange idea that no one really understands, but if you have examples of something similar that you’ve already done, they’re going to be much more open to letting you try something new. They have more trust that you can execute it.
“The more opportunity you get to do something with your own unique vision, the more you can learn and build your own personal style.”
Would you suggest that other types of directors that are trying to build a portfolio experiment with music videos for that reason?
It depends, if you only want to direct commercials, then focus on commercials. But if you want to work in different areas, then music videos are an awesome place to begin. You get to really experiment and learn a ton from it. You’re releasing something that’s very much you, saying “if I get to run free, this is how my work is going to look.” For me that path has been the most exciting.
So you’d encourage people to make work that’s an end in itself, not just a means to a client.
Exactly, I highly recommend that. The more opportunity you get to do something with your own unique vision, the more you can learn and build your own personal style. It helps you understand what you like doing the best, and at the same time helps others recognize your brand as a director. And in the end, that can lead to getting hired on some good projects in line with what you like to do the best. For example, just for the fun of it I made a video called “Planet of the Apes Party Fun Time.” I took the original Planet of the Apes film, re-edited the entire movie into a few minutes long short about Charlton Heston searching for the ultimate dance party, had some friends (Maryam Parwana and Brian Walsh) throw some graphics in like glow sticks, turntables and shiny disco pants, and released it unofficially. A lot of sites and blogs ended up picking it up.
That led directly to an agency coming to me to pitch on some branded music video concepts. Basically saying, “We have this absurd and ridiculous concept we want to execute, we like the absurd and ridiculous stuff that you do, so let’s collaborate.”
Who is one of your favorite artists to work with?
One of the first music videos I ever did was for RJD2. I happen to love his music, he drops the type of albums that you can just listen to over and over again and a lot of it is very cinematic in the first place. It was wonderful to finally create something with him, and on top of that he’s a super nice guy. It’s fun to be working with people like that in the industry where there’s no ego, just a down-to-earth person wanting to work together to create something fun and memorable. As a side note, I can’t tell you how many times I come across an Art Director who tells me that there was an era in their career that RJ’s albums just played on repeat while working on every project. And then of course, there’s his theme song to “Mad Men” that a lot of people recognize him from.
Do you aim to have people see your work and immediately know it’s yours, or do you like the idea of switching styles enough that you don’t have just one ‘look’ as a director?
I love content that is absurd as well as happy, and pretty much stick to that. In the beginning, it’s difficult to change your style around too much because then people don’t know what to recognize you for! So for now, if you’re looking for some heartfelt weirdness, then give me a call. Hopefully we can collaborate on something delicious together.