Monday, September 30, 2013

Cheap Tricks - Friends of P by The Rentals

On Friday I was talking about a music video that was partially funded by a camera phone company. The fact that a major artist would need to turn her music video into an ad for an unrelated product just so she can afford to make a video makes it seem impossible for a smaller act to ever have a music video. Music videos must be outrageously expensive to make, right?

That is obviously not the case. Take a look at the video for "Friends of P" by The Rentals:

I remember reading somewhere that this video was made for $400. Since this is a blog and not a scholarly journal, I consider vague recollections to be substantial enough evidence to say that this video cost exactly $400 to make. This was a long time ago (when cell phones didn't even have cameras) where they probably had to buy a video camera and editing equipment. Now virtually everyone who has upgraded beyond camera phone ownership to a smartphone has a more powerful camera and better video editing equipment than The Rentals could have possibly used. This means you could probably make a music video for your band in a day or two for almost no money.

Let's say you wanted to make exactly this video. Let's say you just recorded it and decided that it will be your first single. Great choice! It's a catchy tune with an easy-to-remember chorus.

First, you'd need to purchase glasses and clothes for your band members.

Probably some of your band members would already own suitable clothing, but you might need to buy a few items. For the glasses, you probably would need to buy all of them. Although, if your band mates are hipsters they might already own soviet glasses.


Famed soviet cellist Mstislav Rostropovich:

Man, Rostropovich glasses are so in right now!

As far as the instruments, I'd assume since you just recorded the song you would already own the instruments or be able to borrow them from the same people you borrowed them from in the first place.

There's no problem if your microphone has a big dent in it.

That just adds to the vibe of the video, just like filming it in black and white.

They don't even use many different shots. Almost the whole video uses 4 basic shots. You have the three people side-by-side like above.

You have the singer's face framed between the other singers' faces.

You have just the singer.

And then you've got the full band shot.

Those 4 make up almost the whole video so you don't have to spend a lot of time setting up new shots. Then you can spend the rest of the day shooting the fancy trick shots.

You have the partial band shots.

Man, you have to totally move the camera to do that!

Then you have the complicated side-by-side faces...

...into a violin solo...

...into face-to-face singing shot.

Finally, you have the shot where the aspect ratio or something got screwed up.

And that's everything. Pretty easy.

The last thing you'd need is the ability to add text to your video.

Have I mentioned that I love title cards in music videos? I guess I should address all that writing that I assume is in Russian. No, this video is not some sort of foreign version that someone uploaded to YouTube. It actually looks like Warner Brothers did, so this is the official YouTube release. I have done no research on this and don't speak Russian put it looks like they added Russian subtitles to the video.

Why was this done? Besides the obvious fact that The Rentals believed that this song had a special appeal to Russian people due to their well-documented love of tone bent Moog synthesizer notes, it adds to the weird propaganda film vibe of the video. No one looks excited at all throughout the video. Everyone is doing their job, but they do not enjoy it. We associate this with the Russians. We imagine that the band members left the video shoot and went to wait in line to buy turnips.

Adding this concept to the video takes what would likely have been a pretty boring live-without-an-audience video and put everything into a special context. For very little money, they were able to spice it up! This video (to me, at least [double parenthetical note: if I do not specify that an opinion in this blog is only held by me, then the opinion is held by all humans]) is fun to watch all the way through. Even though nothing really happens, the lack of motion and expression lets the music and the little things stand out.

Little things like the fact that the guy on the right in the band never seems to play his instrument.

And, the best thing in the video, how insecure the blonde woman is.

Everyone else is looking straight ahead and she is trying to sneak a peak over at them.

Are they still there? Are they still singing? Is this whole video shoot an elaborate ruse to get me to dress like Rostropovich and move my mouth around? I'd better check real quick.



  1. Those are Russian subtitles. And maybe Soviet apartments you see out their window.
    Does "P" stand for Premier? Or Putin? Or PTD?

  2. Without any further evidence we are left to assume that the "P" stands for Prince.