Accomplished music video creator Matt Eastin gives invaluable advice to aspiring directors, editors
Matt Eastin is an accomplished music video editor and director. He’s worked with the likes of Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees and Foster The People.
He’s also on the panel of an exciting competition sponsored by Adobe called Make The Cut.
For the competition, Eastin and Imagine Dragons are releasing exclusive uncut footage from the music video for the band’s new hit single, “Believer.” This is the first-ever music video editing competition.
In the meantime, find a little inspiration by hearing Eastin’s story, from the entertainment show on his college campus to making free music videos for bands to working with the likes of Imagine Dragons.
When did you first get involved in video editing?
[In college], I worked on an entertainment show that was broadcast just around the TVs that were interconnected around the campus. In the hallways, there would be TVs up near the ceiling broadcasting these shows that we would make. When it started, I was actually on camera, which is really funny to think of now because I hate that so much. [Laughs.] It started there. I was watching the editors back in the newsroom and the camera operations and it looked so fun and so I just started doing it—just started staying late and teaching myself and then finally started taking some editing courses. It was really all broadcast stuff at that school at the time. They didn't have a film program. I just started learning, and the software that I learned on was Adobe Premiere, like Adobe Premiere 3.5 or whatever their software was at the time.
I got hired out of college to work on a travel show for women's entertainment where I was a backup cameraman and editor. I did that for a little while, then worked on a children's TV show as a b-roll shooter and editor. I was hired by another company to do a lot of corporate jobs that I wasn't passionate about. They paid well, but I really wanted to be doing music videos. That's always what I wanted to be doing. And so I just started doing free music videos for bands around town because I wanted to rebrand myself as “the music video guy.” I felt like the only way that could ever happen is if I was doing music videos. Like, “the wedding video guy” is never going to get the call from bands to do their music video because he's “the wedding video guy”—so I wanted to be “the music video guy.” I just started doing a whole bunch of free music videos. One of the first ones I did was for a band called Imagine Dragons. It all goes full circle.
What would you consider was your break in the industry?
I definitely got where I am because I was willing to invest in my own brand. Even on a free music video, I'll stay up all night editing it because I want it to be great. I did that for a long time. I lived in Utah. Utah has this shockingly amazing music scene—all these really cool bands. None of them had the money, obviously, because they're all up-and-coming bands. It was really easy for me to start doing videos for all these different bands, trying to establish myself. After some time, a TV network in Utah gave me a 13 to 15 episode contract to do a music TV show where I would travel around the country shooting live performances with bands—shooting concerts, interviewing bands and then highlighting these up-and-coming bands from around the country. I went back to my buddies, Imagine Dragons, and did an episode with them, too. This was right before they blew up and became a household name. What's funny is that when we did the episode, I was still doing them a favor, which is kind of funny now, because every time they call me, I feel like they're doing me a favor.
What tools do you use?
[In the interview for my first job out of college], the guy at this production house asked me, “Do you know how to edit Final Cut Pro?" I just said "Yes," because I thought, “I know how to edit in Premiere, so I'll be able to figure it out in probably a day or two how to edit Final Cut Pro.” That was true. I was kind of forced to edit on Final Cut Pro during the Final Cut Pro heyday. And then when Final Cut X came out, it was just so horrible, at least for me. [Laughs.] I don't want this to sound like a sales pitch because it's absolutely not, but I am a Premiere guy. I am a Premiere nerd. For every day I'm on set shooting a commercial, and I'm using video, I'm sitting in front of Adobe Premiere for 15 days. Honestly, my main tools are—other than the tools of being on set and cameras and lights and equipment—my post-production tool is Adobe Premiere and usually iMac. That's still what I use, even on the big videos that have large budgets.
What do you love most about editing and directing?
I feel like I'm an editor first and a director second. Because I know how to edit, it helps me when I'm on set directing. I'm not just getting a bunch of footage and then handing it to somebody else and saying, “All right, fix it.” I have to live with my mistakes because I directed and then I always edit what I direct. Part of that is so I can hide all of my mistakes, so no one can ever know they were there in the first place because I'm the one cutting them out. Maybe I'm a little bit of a control freak, but I love the control the editor has. I feel like the editor has more control than the director most of the time because they can really change the story, change the feel and the tone and everything. Being the guy in charge on set, and being the guy in charge after the fact, really lets me put my fingerprints on it, and I like that because it felt like an inspiring thing. It's not like I'm making perfect videos. Whenever something doesn't turn out right, I'm definitely the guy to blame, too. [Laughs.]
I still do music videos where I shoot it, I direct it, I edit it and I'll set up the lights. Do it all myself. A lot of times that's a budgetary thing, like I can't afford a crew, but I also really like being that connected to the band, a one-on-one music video. I don't want to sound like I hate working as a team because I love that, too.
What inspired you most about the Imagine Dragons video in particular?
I got a phone call from Mac [Reynolds], their manager. It's not uncommon for him to just call me out of nowhere. They sent me a few demos of the upcoming album. He said, “Hey, what did you think of that demo 'Believer’?'' I'm like, “Oh, it was awesome. It's a big song.” [Mac says], “Do you have any ideas for what you want to do?” [I said], “I'd love to write some treatments and brainstorm some ideas.” He goes, “Well, I got the band, they're here—we're on speaker, and tell us some ideas you have.” It was off the top of my head. I'm like, “Well, there's an idea I've been sitting on for a while.” There's a boxer, and he's fighting an older version of himself, and that struggle. Obviously, people can interpret the video however they want. Dan [Reynolds, Imagine Dragons frontman] is in the prime of his life, and just this idea that he doesn't want to get older, so he's fighting this older version of himself. Then the older boxer—I feel like that when I'm 60, when I look back on the 30-year-old version of myself, I'm probably gonna hate that person, so it's that idea of this internal struggle of growing up and aging. I thought that maybe we could base it off something like that. They liked the idea, and they started saying, “Well, who should we use as the older version of Dan?” The first ideas that were coming out were Dan saying, “Oh, I have this uncle that looks like me, and he's in good shape.” I threw out the idea almost jokingly. I'm like, “You know we ought to get Dolph Lundgren.” He was the Russian guy from Rocky. He was 6 feet 4 inches just like Dan, and his haircut right now looks just like Dan. I'm like, “We need to find someone like that. Someone who has some martial arts experience or some boxing experience.” We all kind of laughed it off, and then a few hours later Mac calls back and says, “Hey, I just got off the phone with Dolph's manager, and he's into it. So we have Dolph now.” Like wait, what? Like we're gonna use Dolph Lundgren? That was really exciting for all of us, that he was willing to jump on board so easily.
The inspiration, though, for the visuals of it: The single art for the single "Believer" was done by the artist Beeple. He's this incredible 3D artist—kind of like world-renowned. They used one of his pieces as their single cover. In the cover, there are the three colored striped bars and some of the shapes and designs of things we tried to use in the video. Obviously, the video is heavily, heavily inspired by his artwork because we tried to make it look like that single art.
How does it feel to have this amazing video reimagined by budding video editors? What do you expect to see from these submissions?
To be totally frank, when I heard about the contest, and the idea of me handing over all my raw footage to basically everyone on the planet, I was really, really intimidated. I thought, “First of all, they're gonna have more time to edit this than I was able to have because I'm under the gun when I'm doing music video stuff. I'm pushing for extra minutes to get mine done.” I was worried, [thinking], “Oh man, some kid from Nebraska is gonna totally show me up.” I was really nervous about that. Then, the more I thought about it, I was actually like, “You know what? That's actually pretty great, that's actually really cool. It's such a cool opportunity for an up-and-coming director/editor to really show what they have, because it's hard to break into. I didn't want to be the one stopping an opportunity like that from happening. Even though I felt really sheepish about all of my raw footage going up, now I'm just excited. I think that whatever the winning edit is, probably even a few of the winning edits, they're going to be really impressive.
What advice do you have for those up-and-coming video editors and directors?
I think my advice is to stay busy. A lot of up-and-coming shooters, editors, directors, they feel like they can't get going until they have some kind of budget to buy a fancy camera, or to hire a legit crew to make their project. My advice is to start making things. Philip Bloom, he's a camera guru. He always says, “Do you wanna know the best camera in the world?” He's like, “It's the one you have.” I totally agree. If all you have is your iPhone camera, start making stuff with your iPhone camera, and start editing that footage, because if you can make your iPhone look good, just think of how good you'll be able to make an Alexa or a Red Dragon when you finally get your hands on a camera like that. So don't wait to get started based on the tools that you have. I say just jump in with both feet.
Find out how to enter the competition here.