Project Background

I had the opportunity to direct a music video for The Quinn Murphy Experience (listen to ‘em on Spotify) during the pandemic. Assembling filmed video content into anything — a movie or TV show, commercial, branded content, or a music video — is a form of design.

In this case study, I break down how I used the Design Thinking framework as a director on this project.

Product design and the entertainment industry have a number of parallels, including collaborative problem solving, considering users or "audiences," and iteration. As the director, I was essentially a lead designer. I developed the concept, hired crew, and oversaw the creative direction of the entire process.

Although the prep and production of this video occurred from January to April 2021, the video was not released until the album was completed in March 2023.


4 Months

My Role


My Contributions

Music Video

Concept Deck

Pre-viz Storyboards

Tools Used

Adobe Creative Suite, especially Premiere and After Effects

A Safety Problem

The Solution

It was late winter 2021 — a year into the pandemic, a weird, in-between time of the world partially reopening even though people were still getting sick. Vaccines were rolling out slowly.

Creating a COVID-safe music video concept that could be executed with minimal in-person contact was a key part of the design behind the music video.

We created a loosely narrative concept with a visual arc that complimented the musical arc within the track.

Visually, we played with the idea of masks, hazmat uniforms, and a larger concept of surveillance. This informed aesthetic decisions while practically keeping the performers and crew safe with a measure of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Process

Read about each phase of the video below:

The band's frontman Quinn is a former colleague with some serious musical talent, so when we discussed finding a project to work on together, he generously sent me an early mix of an album he’d been working on.

I spent 36 hours listening through the tracks, but I kept returning to “In The Green” — a kind of moody track with an evolution and arc; the song started in a completely different place than it began.

I wanted the visuals to mimic the music, with a loose narrative arc that started viewers in one kind of world, and left them in a visually distinct one at the end.

This was essentially the empathize and define phases of the Design Thinking process:

  • How might the visuals echo the musical arc?
  • What kind of narrative might intrigue users and keep them engaged with the video?
  • How could we do this safely and minimize everyone’s  risk of getting COVID?

Next, I moved into an ideation phase as I explored a few concepts for the video through a mix of jotted-down notes and visual mood boards while listening to the song. I landed on an idea that examined the role of surveillance in our contemporary era, essentially asking the following questions:

  1.  In our heavily-photographed, social media-documented, surveillanced world, how many images get captured of a single person over the course of their day?
  1.  How many security cameras record us? How many strangers’ phones do we end up on?
  1. What kind of photographic trail do we leave in any given outing on the camera-lined streets of NYC?

Mood board

The visual “rule” or guardrail of the video was to create a surveillance video vibe, and only cut into a new angle when another camera/recording device visibly entered the frame.

In terms of COVID safety, I explored the idea of dressing the band in hazmat suits and masks. Practically, the suits would help protect Quinn and his band, but I felt they lent a sinister twist on the use of uniforms and masks to obscure oneself from surveillance, or depersonalize oneself from the public.

Next, I needed stakeholder buy in: I had to sell the band on the idea, and I had to have a concept interesting enough to convince a Director of Photography (DP, for short — also called a Cinematographer, it’s all interchangeable) to work on it.

I created the Concept Deck below (plus a written-script — I’m a verbal person and often need to write text-based skeletons before I get visual).

I pitched the idea to Quinn. After a couple of rounds of feedback, some tweaks to ideas about pacing and performance, and some meaningful discussion on the symbols and potential interpretations of the costumes, we reached an agreement on the concept.

Prepping with Rough Mockups of Each Shot

With the approved concept, the next phase of planning began with my Director of Photography, Johnny Sousa (↗).  Essentially, this “prep” phase is some combination of prototyping and testing.

Over the next 4 weeks, we scouted locations, set up mock shots with various lenses, tested different camera settings, and dialed in the visuals to the timing of the song.

BEFORE:  Test Shot 01

AFTER:  Test Shot 01

BEFORE:  Test Shot 02

AFTER:  Final Shot 02

BEFORE:  Test Shot 03

AFTER:  Final Shot 03

We created stills and rough moving visual prototypes of the video with everything but the band performing. We put together a rough edit of everything to test the pacing and if the overall concept was working.

Were we creating an arc? Were we making the visuals distinct enough from Point A to Point B? Could we execute something as we saw it in our heads? If it wasn’t working, how could we figure out another way to accomplish the shot?

Reality Check:  Budget and Logistical Limitations

Johnny became my source of truth and reality check about technical limitations and feasibility of shots based on the gear we had access to.

For example: the final drone shot I wanted for the end of the video? Unlikely to happen. We tried, but with NYC airspace limitations and too small a budget to convince the drone operators we knew to risk citation, we had to figure out another way to get that shot.

The Film Shoot

Schedules were set. Costumes were ordered. Gear was acquired. Call sheets were made. It was time to move into production, which is essentially the implementation phase of the Design Thinking framework.

Things did not quite go as planned — they never do. The band’s energy started waning early in the night. We were taking longer to get the shots than we expected. With a crew of two (myself and Johnny), we couldn’t move as fast as a normal crew would. Some of our talent—the guy who had a huge section skateboarding and was instrumental in the visual progression of the video—bailed at the last minute.

We had to pull the plug early. We’d see what we had and figure out another date to shoot the remaining pieces.

Testing (Again)

This forced paused turned out to be a gift in the creative process, a chance to test and refine the product we had created so far.

We edited what we had, and immediately the gaps, weak spots, and needs were illuminated. This helped us home in on exactly what we needed to shoot (and reshoot, in some cases) to create a stronger product. Our last night was one of the most productive and efficient thanks to that opportunity to test what we had so far.

Despite the iteration and changes during production, the real phase of revision, refinement, and iteration began in the editing process.

This is the process when you’re working with concrete limitations: what do we have? What don’t we have? This is where you see all the failures, successes, and myriad possibilities — what’s working, what’s not. It’s a highly iterative stage where every edit, every choice of shot, every swapping of camera angles is a new direction or version of an idea.

It was clear pretty early on that some of the segments weren’t working. This section we shot of an “ATM” camera was a fun angle, but the performance didn’t work tonally and detracted from the video by taking the audience out of the experience. We cut it, but then we ran into some serious problems with lack of footage in other areas to bridge the gap. I’d planned each shot so specifically to the music, there actually wasn’t enough wiggle room.

I also had to loosen up on my faithfulness to this concept of only introducing an edit when a “new camera” becomes visible in the shot. This was a nice intellectual exercise, but in practice, it was too subtle for most viewers. I had to remember that ultimately, the goal was for the audience to enjoy the video, not be wowed by a cerebral concept.

Color V1:  Raw Footage

Color V2:  Color Correction Option

Color V3:  Final Video

I went through a process of about 3 or 4 versions of the music video. After each stage, I shared it with the stakeholders. Some of the feedback stung. All of it pushed the video to be better.

We rinsed and repeated this process with the color correction, pushing the overall look of the video one way, then another, from shot to shot.

You can view the final music video below:

Is the final product exactly what was in my head? No.

It always evolves. All you can aim for is to get a little closer with each project: better at articulating the vision, better at making calls that support that vision. I’d do things differently in the future: I’d shoot different angles. I’d insist on a different visual direction for the skateboarder. I’d question if the narrative “logic” of camera angles needed to be adhered to as faithfully as it is in the first half of the video.

But the final product is a true collaborative creation born out of the minds, discussions, and experimentation that I did with my DP and Quinn, the musician. And no one got COVID!

A Little Background on My Previous Career

When I say I spent over a decade in the film and TV industry, people frequently ask for clarification on what that means. My role was on actual sets, sitting next to key stakeholders like directors, writers, and creative producers. I was in the middle of the chaos, working with every department from creative leads and managerial heads down to early-career assistants.

I liked getting my hands dirty. On set, you’re literally making the film, episode, commercial, or whatever you’re shooting. A huge part of my job was to think ahead as far as possible and coordinate with departments to make sure we had the correct costumes, props, time of day, camera filters, consistent lighting, and any key story points ready to go before a shoot day.

During the shoot day, my job was to watch for errors, correct them, and stop production if an issue or creative question came up.

I’d make recommendations to the main stakeholders, especially the director.

I’d give actors corrections.

I’d serve as the voice and advocate for the editors, asking questions or gently reminding directors of things we needed to make the story assemble smoothly in the editing process.

Whether or not they ran with my recommendation, I’d note their choice and communicate their decisions to the other departments, to the editors, and ultimately to the studios in a set of concise daily reports that tracked how we were progressing through the shoot: what had we accomplished, what did we owe?