How to Shoot a Vegas Music Video During Your Bachelor Party

It could have been a standard-issue bachelor party in Vegas. Eight of my best buds, each one a perfect casting choice for any comedy beer commercial, shared two rooms in Bill’s Gambling Hall and Saloon and planned to do everything everyone else does in Vegas.

But I had my Sony NEX-5n with me, which I could practically hear depreciating as it sat in my luggage. So I devised a challenge: shoot a lip-synched music video with my friend Jonny Hughes – who just happens to be a respected singer-songwriter – over the course of the evening, without disrupting the planned activities. We chose his single “Sleeping Faces”.

The hastily-developed concept was simple. In act one, he walks Vegas at sunset in a groggy haze. Act two: we go back to last night, where he goes out to dinner with his friends.  Act 3: he goes to a club with them and lives it up.

Our strategy for act 1 was to shoot slow-mo lip sync as he walked around Vegas.

For the daytime shots, I used the NEX5n + 17-55mm kit lens (for its image stabilization). When light got a little lower, I switched to the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 + LA-EA1 adapter.

I shot in Manual mode, Sunset creative style, with contrast, saturation, and sharpness at -3 for maximum latitude in post. I also set Dynamic Range Optimization to level 5. While this can increase shadow noise, a simple curves adjustment in post can neutralize the effect. I feel it gives maximum exposure latitude.

I shot at 60p with a 1/80 shutter and interpreted it as 40p in Premiere (creating a 1.5x slow-mo effect) and then editing that at a 24p timebase. With our lead singer Jonny Hughes singing along to a 1.5-speed version of his song, this created the effect of him walking in slow-motion yet singing regular speed.

For the nighttime footage, I used a combination of the 16mm f/2.8 Sony pancake lens and the Olympus 38mm f/1.8, which is a great low-profile normal lens. With this combo, I was able to shoot in Tao’s VERY dimly-lit restaurant without attracting attention or requiring much external lighting. We improvised lighting by using an iPhone and Flashlight app to give Jonny just a little key light. In retrospect, I could have used an even faster lens – the Voightlander 35mm f/1.4, perhaps, to keep the ISO a little lower.

We almost hit a snag when attempting to enter Tao’s club – they wanted Jonny to check his sunglasses and earbuds for “safety reasons”…instead, he walked around the corner, pocketed the offending items, and passed back through security freely. The camera posed no problem. Try that with a Canon 5dmkII.

Tao was packed to the death-by-stampede level, so my buddies volunteered to shove the crowd out of my way as I filmed Jonny dancing on the floor. I wanted act 3 to be fast-motion yet still lip-synced, so I switched shutter speeds to 1/15 and had Jonny lip-sync to a .625-speed version of the song. In post, I conformed the footage to 38fps and everything lined back up, only now Jonny was moving in fast-motion while singing normally.

Toward the end of the night at the club, I felt something drop out of my pocket. I quickly realized my Olympus lens had bitten the dust and was now rolling somewhere on the beyond-capacity dance floor. I quickly enlisted my friends – who willingly ditched the girls they were dancing with – and we all canvassed the floor like madmen looking for the lens. The iPhone flashlight app made an encore appearance.

Alas, after half an hour of searching, we emerged lensless. I was momentarily inconsolable. This was a valuable lesson learned in run-and-gun filmmaking: always protect your gear. Strap it, clip it, bag it, do whatever it takes or you’ll eventually end up in a similar situation.

So my budget bachelor party weekend ended up being more costly than expected, but at least I had a great time shooting an improv music video with some amazing friends. Now I’m thinking about replacing that Olympus lens with that sweet Samyang 24mm…stay tuned.

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  1. brandon

    One more note: I created the different-speed versions of the song for playback using the free program Audacity ( I then loaded them into my portable audio recorder, and Jonny listened to them with earbuds while we recorded.

  2. Christian Kirk

    so dude, NAB came and went and i really don’t feel like anything was announced that made me stoked, however your endorsement of the NEX 5n is very interesting to me. do you find that you get enough of the manual controls that you need? frame rate? shutter? aperture? etc?
    also do you know how it compares to the nex 7?

    • brandon

      There definitely wasn’t a sub-$1k camera that broke new ground at NAB. The good thing about Sony NEX is that it’s compatible with any lens you want to throw at it, unlike Canon. The best lens solution is to use old Nikon primes because they’re cheap, sharp, and compatible with everything else, should you change platforms in the future. Differences between Nex 5n and NEX 7: The NEX-5n has slightly cleaner high-ISO video. Both offer full manual control of all parameters. The NEX-7 has better build quality, physical dials for changing aperture an shutter speed (instead of a menu like on the 5n), and you can program picture profiles. So I’d say if you’re a semi-casual user, buy the NEX-5n body only and a 24mm or 28mm Nikon f/2.0 lens. Get a 50mm f/1.4 for a second lens. Then you’ll have your “normal” and “portrait” lengths covered for around $1k. If you have to work at a faster pace, get the NEX 7.

      • Christian Kirk

        awesome advice,, definitely provided clarity on some of my concerns.

        i’m thinking the 5n is the one,

        at the end of the day they’re all just tools to hopefully tell a good story

        • brandon

          I’m happy with my images from the 5n. On a purely technical level, it outperforms the 7D, T3i, and GH2 for low light sensitivity and dynamic range. Plus it’s freaking tiny.

  3. John Trefry

    Great video Brandon! Very impressed with the different feelings your speed changes created! I have done this with videos but not nearly to the scope that you did by switching from slow to fast motion.
    It was a great result handheld with the slow motion and appeared super smooth to my eye. Definitely redefines my perception of using any but a Canon DSLR for this type of work. In fact shooting with Christian in Michigan last month was a lesson in just that and reading the above comments we have you to thank for making that happen!
    Great job and we’ll definitely have to talk shop sometime!

    • brandon

      Thanks, John! Sony is going to own the market in the next six months. The handheld stuff I did is definitely smoothed by the 1.5x slow-motion lip synch. It smooths out the bumps in my camera work without seeming so slow as to be unnatural.

      The fast-motion stuff was tough mainly because it was hard to get audible playback in the loud club. And losing the lens didn’t help much, either.

      Pass along some links of your work when you can!

  4. Jared

    Hey Brandon – My first read of your blog and I must say, awesome stuff. I’m just beginning to learn to shoot and this video was very inspiring. It looks better than a lot of commercial music videos and shows the incredible level of quality that can be created by an individual.

    As a student I just had the thought – I really would like to see a video of YOU shooting this footage, mostly to get a feel for the angles and the demands of working in these different environments. I’m sure there would be some great tricks, outtakes, etc as well.

    One last thing: How long would editing something like this take the rest of us mere mortals?

    Great job and thanks for sharing!

    All the Best,

    • Brandon Li

      Thanks so much Jared! Maybe I’ll be totally navel-gazing one day and have someone tail me on a shoot. This music video took me about three days to edit, working off-and-on in my spare time. A novice should give themselves at least a week for an edit like this because they’ll likely still be learning the workflow and software while cutting.

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