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Hannah Lux Davis shared a bit of priceless advice for student filmmakers and other up-and-coming directors while discussing her creative process during the Grammy U Masterclass event in Las Vegas on Friday (April 1). Davis, who has directed music videos for Ariana Grande, Doja Cat, Katy Perry, 5 Seconds of Summer, Charli XCX, Kacey Musgraves, Demi Lovato, Nicki Minaj and more, also spoke on her experience helping countless artists bring their visions to life onscreen.
Davis came up during the reign of MTV’s Total Request Live, an era she described as the “heyday” of music videos. “That’s how we knew what was cool. That’s how we knew what music was fun and hot and popping and that’s how we saw our artists,” said Davis. “Back then, there was no Instagram, no YouTube. If you wanted to see what Britney Spears was doing, you had to watch TRL.
“It was just a fun time,” she added. “I was so impressionable. I was in my early teens, music videos had a huge impact on me growing up. I also grew up in the era of Jackass. I could pick up a camera and film my friends.”
For students and novice filmmakers on a budget, Davis pointed out that Anne-Marie’s “To Be Young” music video, featuring Doja Cat, was shot entirely on iPhones during the pandemic lockdown in 2020 (speaking of iPhones, be sure to check out our roundup of affordable cameras for budget-friendly music videos).
“Anne-Marie was in London, Doja Cat was in L.A,” explained Davis. “There was no money spent except for fees – people hired, myself, the editor, a color correction, and maybe a couple hundred bucks for props and whatever they were wearing — but there was no budget. They shot that themselves on iPhones in their homes. That’s a great example of what you can do.”
“There’s so much to say on this topic of how you can work with no budget or [a] low budget, but I do think that this industry works on favors. So if anybody needs something from you, do it. Say ‘yes’ to everything, and then if you have something coming along, you can [utilize people you’ve already worked with]. They don’t have to be a professional in the art department, just somebody to help you maintain [things] on the shoot day. People will say yes. People will want to be a part of things. I think it’s important to find people you like to work with. They don’t have to be an amazing DP [director of photography], cinematographer, production designer — just people you enjoy being around that understand your vision. Get them onboard and start to make friends, and before you know it, you’re building a network of people that you can call on. I think that’s really important. When I started out, I had no budget. I was paying for videos to be made, because I just really wanted to get some videos under my belt. I think it’s just about being really resourceful in terms of location, creating a good network and being scrappy, and getting people to believe in you.”
In addition to music videos, Davis has helmed commercials for brands including Old Navy, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Samsung, along with shows and TV specials such as The Demi Lovato Show, on the Roku Channel, and The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, available exclusively on Prime Video.
Davis pointed out that shooting music videos can be more casual than commercials, which tend to have stricter guidelines. When it comes to writing treatments for music videos, Davis encouraged music video directors to talk to the artists, spark up a conversation and throw out soft pitches to brainstorm other ideas.
“I used to do a lot of videos for Lil Wayne, Future and Drake back in the day. I would write those treatments differently than I would for a female artist. You just want to speak to who’s going to be reading it and cater those photos to [the artists], so they can see themselves in the treatment. I think the treatment process can be tricky. It took me a long time to figure out my method, but it really just comes with practice.”
MasterCard is continuing its long-standing partnership with the Grammys as the official payments technology partner to celebrate and connect consumers to their passion for music and entertainment. The weekend’s pre-Grammys events included this year’s MusiCares gala honoring Joni Mitchell, the first annual Black Music Collective ceremony celebrating dynamic change-makers in music including John Legend and MC Lyte, alongside performances from Summer Walker and Jimmie Allen.
Watch the full Grammy U Masterclass discussion below.