“David Dean Burkhart” is by far the most commonly used tag on my blog, which is interesting for a variety of reasons, the primary of which being that he’s the only music video director/editor that I’ve repeatedly mentioned by name on a regular basis. And that’s because every single one of his videos is fantastic, a pure joy to behold. His fan-made videos frequently put artists’ official music videos featuring million dollar budgets to shame. Click on his tag below and you’ll see what I mean.
Or you could stay right here and check out this video that he made for CHVRCHES “The Mother We Share”, featuring footage from the 1966 Czech film “Daisies” (Sedmikrásky) by Vera Chytilová. The genius of this video (and the many others that he’s produced) is that the footage he finds is used in such an effective way that it looks like everything here was shot specifically for this video. The joy and exuberance of the song is matched up amazingly well with the quirky playfulness of the footage. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of what makes his videos so fun to watch:
I watch a lot of music videos in my free time, constantly looking for something new and interesting that I can post to the blog, and frankly at least 95% of what I watch is tedious, derivative or completely unmemorable. The worst thing a video can be is dull or uninspired, and yet David Dean Burkhart’s videos have been consistently fantastic to watch ever since the very first moment he started posting them on YouTube. It really says something that even when the music isn’t really my cup of tea his videos are still incredibly captivating to watch in their own right. And what’s great about them is that the videos always add an extra weight to the songs that you never would have gotten from just listening to the song alone. There’s obviously a lot of thought and craft that goes into making them.
I name-drop David on my blog so frequently that I thought it might be a treat if those of you who actually watched me talk about him on a regular basis got the chance to get to know the guy a little better. I got the idea to do this interview after initially reaching out to him to get some information for last year’s Top 30 list, and finally this week we made the interview happen. So here it is, C’est Non Un Blog’s very first interview, with fan video director, David Dean Burkhart:
So I guess my first question for you is, How did you get started making all of these amazing fan videos?
[DAVID DEAN BURKHART]: First off, thank you for the kind words and all your support! I’m definitely a fan of your blog as well (both the writing and the music/video selections).
I had seen found footage music videos a few times over the years before I actually started making them. People used to do them for Boards of Canada songs all the time, and I would see those and absolutely loved them. I thought it was such a neat idea to take some old (sometimes forgotten) footage and put it with music to create something new. Some of my favorite music videos were found footage, but I never really considered doing one myself.
One day a few years ago I heard a new song by Say Hi called “Take Ya’ Dancin'” and I thought it would be neat and fun to pair the song with vintage footage of people dancing. I’m not sure how or why I decided to actually do it, but I did. Editing the video was really fun. I put it online and the feedback/response was really positive. So I made another video (for an upcoming band called Purity Ring). And that one got even more attention and was shared on some of my favorite websites (including Pitchfork and Gorilla vs Bear). After that I was pretty much addicted. I had a lot of fun making the videos and I was happy to see that people enjoyed them so much.
[Editor’s Note: Despite having seen nearly all of Burkhart’s videos, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t seen Say Hi’s “Take Ya’ Dancin'” before. It’s astoundingly fantastic, especially for someone’s first stab at making a music video, and it embodies pretty much everything I like about his videos.]
One of the trademarks of a David Dean Burkhart video is that you always seem to be able to pick exactly the right source material to match with the music. What’s the process that goes into making a new video? Do you start with the song and then try to find something that matches?
I guess it usually starts with the song. I’d say for 90% of the videos I make, a song triggers a certain idea in my head. I think, “This song would go good with this type of footage,” and then go from there. Another thing I like doing is watching old films on mute while listening to new music. Every once in awhile the movies and music will (serendipitously) line up perfectly and I’ll make a video out of it.
You use a lot of different source material for your videos, from classic films that may be familiar to your average film buff to more obscure foreign cinema, silent film, retro commercials, workout videos and even home movies. Where do you find all of your source material?
I get a lot of the old films from my local library. And I find most of the commercials, home movies, and old VHS footage on YouTube or archive.org.
The other thing that really stands out about your videos is the editing. You seem to match the rhythm of the editing of the imagery to the rhythm of the music way better than anyone else I can think of. But it’s not just the rhythm, its the way the action on screen seems to match perfectly to what’s happening in the song, as if the two were in a dialogue with each other. I mean, a lot of times it seems like you’ve shot this footage specifically for the song, and yet it’s all found footage that you’re using. What’s the process like for you when you’re trying to put these videos together?
I think most of the time 80% of the work goes into finding the right footage. If I think a song will match well with some 80s workout footage, there’s a ton of 80s workout footage out there. But the key is to sift through it all until you find the 80s workout footage that matches so well that you could swear the imagery and the music were made for each other. Once I find the right footage, the actual editing part is actually pretty easy.
How often do actually alter the source image beyond simple editing to make your videos (I’m thinking of things like the super-imposed VHS static on the Summer of Haze “Pussy Juice” video)?
Not as often as I would like. I’m hoping to do more videos like the Summer of Haze one this year. I kind of want to learn After Effects this year too. I feel like there’s a lot of fun ways you can play with footage in that program. Everything I do at the moment is done in Premiere. I’m definitely trying to come up with some new and interesting ways to edit the footage.
I feel like I visit a lot of different music blogs and I’m pretty well-versed in what’s currently out there, but more than once I’ve seen one of your videos pop up on your YouTube channel and then maybe a week later I see that same song featured on one of the big music blogs as a SoundCloud link. You always seem to be on top of the trends before they go mainstream in the blogosphere. Where do you find all the music that you use in your videos?
Pretty much anywhere and everywhere, although a lot of the credit has to go to my Facebook friends (many whom I don’t know in real life, who friended me because they liked my videos) who are always posting new music. When I wake up, I go through and click on any links for music that my friends have shared. Then I spend the morning listening to music. I discover so many amazing artists that way (most of which I don’t even make videos for). So thanks, Facebook friends!
A few of your videos have been chosen by the artists represented to be their “Official Video”. First off, how cool is that? And have any artists come to you specifically asking you to make a video for them, or is this just something that happens after they’ve seen the finished product?
Yeah, that’s always really exciting. It’s happened a few times, where I’ll post the video and the artist/band will see it and like it so much that they want to make it the official video. I almost always receive really positive feedback from artists, but when they take the extra step to make it their official video, that’s so cool. One of the bigger ones that comes to mind is when Ra Ra Riot saw a video I made for their song “Beta Love” and decided to make it the official video. I saw an interview with the band last week and one of the guys from the band said that’s one of their all-time favorite videos, which was really nice to hear. I actually get a ton of requests from artists and bands to make videos for them. Probably on average 3-5 a week. It’s super exciting to see that kind of support for my videos and to know that that many people want to work with me. Most of the official videos I make aren’t on my channel (the bands host them on their own channels). I’ve made official videos for MS MR, I Break Horses, and Trails and Ways, among many other bands/artists that I love and respect.
On the flip side of things, a few of your videos have been taken down on copyright grounds. You and I have already talked about the trouble you’ve had with your Jai Paul video. Is it always the music that gets the video pulled, or have you had copyright claims brought against the video footage that you used as well? When a video is pulled, how easy is it to get it back online again?
I’ve actually had two videos blocked worldwide because of the footage I used (both times the footage was from films that belonged to the production company “Studio Canal” so I’ve made a note not to use their footage anymore). And then of course the Jai Paul song got blocked worldwide as well when it was revealed that his new album was an unsanctioned leak rather than an official release. But other than that, no troubles. The musical artists are almost always happy with the videos and I’d hope the filmmakers of the films I use would be happy too, since I’m often drawing attention to some long forgotten (but great) movies. I remember the week I made that Purity Ring video, the movie I used (Thriller: A Cruel Picture) grew in popularity by over 5000% on IMDB.com.
You’re quite prolific when it comes to making these videos (YouTube currently has 164 videos listed for you). How long does it usually take for you to put one of these together? What’s the hardest part about making them?
On average, it usually only takes a day or two. The hardest part is finding the right footage. Once I find the footage, everything else kind of just falls into place and I barely even think about what I’m doing. But sometimes the hunt for footage can last for days. That part is fun too, though. It’s sort of like a treasure hunt, except instead of money or gold, I’m looking for someone’s long lost 1986 prom tape..
Has there been anything that you’ve wanted to do for a video that you haven’t been able to accomplish yet?
I think there’s still a lot in the found footage world that I can accomplish creatively. A lot of that revolves around learning After Effects and different editing techniques, so hopefully that’s something I do this year. But I’ve already accomplished so much more than I thought was possible when I started doing this. Basically, I started making these videos so I could share music I loved on YouTube, while giving people more to watch than a still photo. This really just started as a hobby and I’m just so amazed that so many people enjoy the videos.
What are some of your favorite videos that you’ve made? On the flip side, what are some of your favorite videos to watch that you haven’t worked on?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. A lot of times I tend to like the ones that use old home movies (Sleep ∞ Over’s “Romantic Streams”, Grouper’s “Vital”) I realize those ones might be boring to some people, but I just love thinking about the fact that those are real people with real lives. And I love thinking about what they might be doing now, all these years later. And I also tend to like the ones that match up dancing of some kind (King Krule, Jai Paul) those are fun. And videos I haven’t worked on? I love the production company CANADA, they always have really cool videos. The band Small Black has some really nice videos from their new album. Emily Kai Bock videos. I’m hoping to eventually buy a camera and start shooting my own videos, so I’ve been watching a lot of non-found footage ones lately.
Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions and for introducing me to some outstanding music I might not have otherwise come in contact with.
Once more I’d like to thank David Dean Burkhart for taking some time out of his day to answer these questions for me. He’s been really gracious and generous in humoring me. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to his YouTube channel and “Like” him on Facebook. And as an added treat here’s his latest video, featuring the smooth glitterball grooves of Flamingosis’ “Surface”. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!