From the ASC Award nominated video “Gorilla,” performed by Little Simz.

Music Videos to Shine at 38th Annual ASC Awards

Chuck Minsky, ASC and Christopher Probst, ASC reflect on the inaugural ASC Award focused on excellence in music video cinematography.

Tara Jenkins

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) will present the inaugural Music Video Award during the 38th ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards ceremony on March 3, 2024. Excellence in music video cinematography will be recognized alongside outstanding work in features, episodic television and documentaries. The event will take place at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, and will be available to stream worldwide. The Society’s first-ever Music Video Award nominees are Scott Cunningham, ASC for “Gorilla” (performed by Little Simz); Jon Joffin, ASC for “At Home” (performed by Jon Bryant); and Andrey Nikoleav for “Tanto” (performed Cassie Marin). (You’ll find the full list of ASC Awards nominees here.)

In regard to the inclusion of the new Music Video category, ASC Awards Committee Chair Chuck Minsky, ASC remarks, “I think it’s a great addition. There are lots of cinematographers who just do music videos, or who are learning their craft and are starting by doing music videos, and then moving into narrative features and television. It’s an opportunity for them to be seen by the ASC and be seen by a bigger audience. Many of them are also younger, more diverse, and what a great way to invite them into our awards program.”

Minsky places importance on the music videos he shot early in his career and the innovation inherent in the genre, explaining, “I shot music videos back in the 1980s and ’90s. What’s really interesting is that it’s like a music commercial, but it’s also more than that. It’s not just to sell soap. It’s selling an emotion. That’s an important difference. It’s not just a product that you buy off the shelf. What I like about music videos is that there are far fewer rules — you can pretty much go non-linear, do anything you want to do, go upside down. It’s more emotional than telling the story. I think that’s fantastic. What a great opportunity.”

From the ASC Award-nominated video “At Home,” performed by Jon Bryant.

The lack of set rules in the music video realm inspires Minsky: “If you can imagine it, and the director likes it, you can go for it. I can speak for [music videos], since the 1970s when they really started coming in — it changed the narrative world because of the innovation that was done back then and continues to be done. It’s just a continuum. One great idea becomes another, becomes able to be used on a feature or a documentary. All these lines are converging.”

As the industry evolves, more and more cinematographers not only cut their teeth via music videos, but make a career out of their work in the genre. Chair of the selection committee that organized the Music Video category, Christopher Probst, ASC is known for his work in both the feature film and music video space.

Probst has earned six MTV Video Music Award nominations over his career, as well as four Camerimage award nominations for this short-form work. His video for “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift, featuring Kendrick Lamar, has over 1.5 billion views on Youtube, while the clip he shot for her single “Blank Space” has 3.3 billion views on the platform. He has also worked with artists including Rhianna, Eminem, JZ, Ariana Grande and Justin Timberlake.

From the ASC Award-nominated video “Tanto,” performed by Cassie Marin.

“Coming up and trying to develop a skill set in cinematography, getting onto projects, you’re not going to jump in and become a cinematographer on a Marvel movie right off the bat,” Probst says. “But, you could get onto jobs and start to get experience on music videos. The good thing about music videos is that they span the gamut of different styles, different subject material. There are experimental ideas. You can get a background and experience level very quickly jumping from different music videos and working with different directors and you can really play with a wide range of tools and techniques – oftentimes, some even more advanced things that you don’t get on independent movies, like motion-control and visual-effects work. You can develop those skill sets that pay off later.

“For me, it was a very deliberate choice early on in my career to target music videos and use them to build a body of work and to generate a reel. I would be doing film noir on one job, then one would be high fashion. It could be narrative, gritty, handheld, spherical, anamorphic, black-and-white. All of those things can build a body of experience very quickly. I had so much variety of experience that I didn’t have one sort of ‘calling card’ look. For me, it’s about world creation, establishing a mood and ambiance. Music videos allowed me to do all that experimentation and play in different genres.”

The emotional and technical possibilities within such a short run time continues to fascinate Probst: “When you couple the power of visuals with the power of music, it’s its own sort of unique medium. In three minutes, you can move people to tears. There are certain iconic music videos where every time you hear that song, you think of those visuals. It’s time to really appreciate the art form and the craft and the trailblazing that goes on in music videos. A lot of techniques are experimented on and proven and then eventually get adopted into features. It’s not like we’re picking up the scraps — it’s trailblazing entirely new techniques.”

More information on the 38th Annual ASC Awards can be found here.

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