(originally published in Star News with additional Q and A below)
By Brian Tucker
Eight years ago Jaret Sears moved to Wilmington to work in the film industry, beginning behind the camera and later securing an agent for acting. From there he found work in front of the camera, roles on television (Under the Dome, Mercy Street) and in film (The Longest Ride). But his first love was music videos and lately his focus has been directing them through his company November1718 Films for local artists Randy McQuay, Chris Bellamy, and currently Travis Shallow.
“My first interests happened simultaneously. I had a wonderful teacher that introduced me to the stage,” Sears said. “Around the same time my parents purchased my first 35mm camera, a Pentax K1000. That’s really where the journey began for me, with 35mm photography.”
The singular act of capturing a moment in time holds sway over Sears, a fascination lending itself well to capturing a musician’s live performance. Sears cites the importance of director Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz for famously capturing The Band’s 1976 farewell concert at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day.
“That moment for The Band has lived for 40 years,” Sears said. “The work I direct can be used for promoting a musician’s talent, but it’s the longevity I am interested in. The thought of people enjoying these musicians and their talent 40 years from now, because I had the opportunity to document them is what most excites me.”
Sears says he has no musical talent, but it’s interesting that he believes lacking it helps serve what he does. He’s been making both music videos and live music videos, whether it’s a solo performance or sets at the Cape Fear Blues Jam at The Rusty Nail. He’s made a few videos for blues singer and musician Randy McQuay. The one for “Will You Be Ready” aptly illustrates Sears’ philosophy.
The camera (shot and edited by Edward Bakinowski) is always focused on McQuay, whether on his furrowed brow, hands playing the guitar, or strong medium shots from different angles. The video is always about the performance, never obvious, even as the camera discreetly moves back and forth. In it you remember the performer, not a visual concussion of wild editing and movement.
Sears says he learned greatly from working on film sets, remembering directors George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor) and Jeremy Webb (Downton Abbey) for their ability to bring excitement and provide comfortable working environments. But producing was his goal and acting the way to get there.
“Acting has been this awesome ride that has brought me the educational experience of directing by being as close to it as possible. Since most of our (video) shoots are (done) live and with multiple cameras, I find myself behind the camera a fair amount. The biggest thing I have learned from working with these wonderful directors is that no matter what, stick to your vision.”
The vision for Sears is to keep music at the center of what is created. It’s important in a video to get the best performance to accurately represent the song and artist.
“I want to see from them what an audience would see at a performance, the stage presence, the energy, and the sweat. I want to see them.”
Sears isn’t fond of flashy videos and complicated story lines, seeing it as something that ultimately distracts from the music.
“To me, music is storytelling at its best,” Sears said. “The musician has taken the time to write and compose a song to be listened to. I want my work to compliment that, not distract from it. In the end the video and editing needs to compliment the musician’s work.”
Additional Q & A with Jaret Sears
What were you involved in or even interested in first – being in front of or behind the camera?
Sears: My first interests happened pretty much simultaneously. I had a wonderful teacher that introduced me to the stage. Around the same time my parents purchased my first 35mm camera, a Pentax K1000. The ability to capture a moment in time forever has always been something that truly fascinated me.
Sounds sort of cliché, but film is capturing that same moment frame after frame. As for music, I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, which my wife reminds me of every day. That lack of talent though, lends itself well to what I do. I appreciate all music talent, and at the end of the day it’s my job to document that talent in that given moment. It’s a really special process.
Directing videos, capturing performances, what important things have you learned from film sets working with filmmakers that you’ve used as one?
Having had the opportunity to co-star in a few network television shows from time to time, I have had the great fortune to directly work with some talented directors – George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor) and Jeremey Webb (Downton Abbey). (They) have this ability to bring an excitement to everything that they are doing. You can tell that on set is where they want to be, and that makes a more than comfortable working environment for everyone involved.
The biggest thing I have learned from working with these wonderful directors is that no matter what, stick to your vision. In every shoot, every scene you have an idea of what you want to get out of it, how you want to see it play for your viewers on screen. Because of this, you have to make sure as the director you get what you want out of the performance both literally and visually, and until you get that moment, keep going.
Do you come to the table with a visual concept for the video? Does the performer trust and hand that over to you?
After listening to a song for the first time, the wheels of creation definitely start turning. Most of the videos I direct and would like to continue directing are live performances, with the exception of a few playback videos. So the actual content within the video is very much real, it’s live. If any seasoned musician is placed in a live performance environment they are in their natural habitat, and I find this is where the magic happens, lighting in a bottle so to speak.
I always run the ideas by the artist and my Director of Photography, Edward Bakinowski. I would think that is just a natural and necessary collaboration between creative people. With that being said, I love input because an accurate representation of the musician is key to what I do. The videos I direct are a direct representation of someone else’s work, the musician, so it’s very important to capture those moments that are going to best represent them.
Do you listen to a song and get an idea right away? Has there been one that was hard conceive?
When possible, I listen to the song maybe 25 or 30 times before we ever start shooting the project. Sometimes the songs have not been recorded. Then I put together a storyboard of the shots and framing. I absolutely know what I want to incorporate for the shoot. More often than not, this depends greatly on the location we have secured for the shoot day.
In post-production, my editor and I listen to the song another 20 times. Sometimes during our meeting I can hear his six year old daughter singing the lyrics to whatever tune we are working on. The harder videos to conceive are definitely those songs that haven’t been recorded yet. In that case I rely strongly on the storyboards and on the day of the shoot I do some serious listening and note taking during the rehearsal. Then we shoot.
Is it safe to say that you’re an actor, director, and cinematographer?
It’s safe to say that one has led to the other. I always wanted to be a music video/documentary producer. With my company November1718 Films I very much get to do that. It wasn’t until I really dove into working on studio projects as an actor that my interest in directing was sparked. I worked with a wonderful director, Miguel Sapochnik, on Under the Dome and his energy on set was electric. He was always very approachable. His intent was to make something special, not only for the viewer, but for his cast as well. He wanted to get the most out of his actors and had a very subtle way of going about it.
So producing was the goal and acting was the means. Acting has been this awesome ride that has brought me the educational experience of directing by being close to it as possible. Since most of our shoots are live and with multiple cameras, I find myself behind the camera a fair amount.
What do you shoot and edit your videos with and are you mostly self-taught?
A very good friend of mine told me years ago “You can’t be all things to all people” so the editing process is a definite collaboration between myself and my editor. I pass over my storyboard with the direction I would like to see based on the content we have, and that’s where I step away until the first edit is complete. Once I have watched the first edit about fifteen times, I pass along changes and notes to be made in the final edit. The wonderful thing about advancements in technology is that there are really great pieces of gear out there that, if used properly, can yield a top notch finished project, on a more than affordable budget.
Are you more interested in music videos or are you planning on making a feature?
My interest is 100% on music based content whether that be a music video, live shows, or features. For me it is truly a matter of documenting a musician’s moment. No one has ever done that better than Martin Scorsese with The Last Waltz.
There are less known documentaries such as This Ain’t No Mouse Music that wonderfully documents a story that all music lovers can connect too. In the present, the work I direct can be used for promoting a musician’s talent, but it’s the longevity I am interested in. The thought of people enjoying these musicians and their talent forty years from now, because I had the opportunity to document them is what most excites me. Down the road I would like to move forward with a feature length documentary I have been working on. It’s always a work in progress.
Are musicians and singers easier to direct than actors? How do you conduct a set environment to make them feel at ease?
From my experience, I would say that comes down to how comfortable the performer is with the content they are being asked to perform. For me, from an acting perspective, once cast, the actor knows they have been chosen to perform by a team of people with confidence in them to portray a character. The actor’s job is to make the viewer believe they are that character.
With the musicians I work with, I am asking them to give me the best performance that accurately represents them. I want to see from them what an audience would see at a performance, the stage presence, the energy, and the sweat. I want to see them. The thing for me that relates to both actors and musicians is to never hit them with overbearing direction before you see first what they are bringing to the table. Give them the opportunity to perform first, to feel out the work, then offer direction if it’s needed to better the finished project.
Are music videos tricky to edit? A music video is a different beast with different rhythms.
With all of my projects I want the music to be center stage. The video has no place without the proper attention shown to the music. I have seen music videos that were shot with one stationary camera on the performer the entire time (no cuts) and the outcome was stunning. The stark film-making approach made the video completely about the performer and the lyrics.
Then there are the videos with all the flash, and fancy camera work, with a long drawn out story. I find these to be most distracting from the music. Don’t get me wrong, to me music is story telling at its best, but the musician has taken the time to write and compose a song to be listened too. I want my work to compliment that, not distract from it. So to answer the question, the edit depends solely on the song and the pacing, but in the end the video and editing needs to compliment the musicians work.