Drake‘s short film Please Forgive Me generated a ton of hype and then landed with a resounding thud. Drake’s convoluted heist story and Indecent Proposal nod wasn’t interesting enough as a film to stand on its own, and didn’t provide enough music to be worth the tag of “companion piece” to Views. You might come away from the short with a feeling that musicians should stay away from the arena of mini-movies (and you’d certainly have plenty of evidence on your side), but there is a way for artists to sit in a director’s chair and emerge largely unscathed. And Drizzy would have seen it had he checked in on what his fellow Canadian Grimes was up to.
The electro-pop singer and producer just dropped The AC!D Reign Chronicles, a nearly 40-minute film that follows Grimes, her brother and her best friend Hana as they traveled across Europe. In spite of being filmed on phones with no crew or budget to speak of, it’s miles more captivating than Please Forgive Me. Here are a few key lessons we learned from Grimes on how to do these films the right way.
Stay Away From “Plot”
There’s a reason musicians become musicians and screenwriters become screenwriters. Their brains just work a bit differently.
Big-name musicmakers are among the best in the world at landing on an idea and exploring that idea in a captivating way for three or four minutes. People who write television shows and movies, however, are much better at stretching an idea across time and keeping it interesting for the length of that time. If you’re a musician and you go into a project like this with a plot in mind, you’ve already lost.
Instead, it’s much better to follow a loose narrative, in the same way that many albums do. Think Beyoncé’s Lemonade. While it loosely followed the story of Beyoncé working through infidelity from her partner, it wouldn’t work as a straight-up movie. It’s not bound by the need to create a story separate from the music and it’s better for it. Similarly, Reign is largely defined by the tour of the same name. It follows Grimes and Hana traveling throughout Europe while they dance and dress like girls from the future.
Drake’s attempt to make himself a gangster in a film based around his music ended up doing neither half justice.
Make It Modular
Not everyone wants to sit through an entire short film from their favorite musician. Give them the option to break it into smaller chunks. Acid Reign can be watched as a whole with additional material or song-by-song as the film is made up of music videos for seven different tracks: four by Grimes (“Butterfly,” “Scream,” “World Princess Part II” and “Belly Of The Beat”) and three by Hana (“Underwater,” “Chimera” and “Avalanche”). Fans can choose whether or not they want to just watch one video on repeat, jump around to the tracks they like or take it all in as a whole. It operates much in the same way that listeners engage with music and doesn’t force them into a new headspace just to follow their fave’s latest project.
Both of these points play into the most important takeaway that can possibly be gleaned from Ac!d Reign.
Stick With What You Know
Even “Thriller” — for all the game-changing cheers it gets — was a bunch of spooky window dressing on a typical song-and-dance music video. The visuals served the song and not the other way around. Reign does this perfectly, providing wonderfully shot scenes while never losing sight of what brought fans in the door in the first place: the music.
Drake made a short film inspired by Views that had very little of the album in it. There was none of the joy of the singles in his dark, gloomy badman flick. On the flip side, all of Reign‘s component parts feel like natural extensions of the music they are representing. Music is what these two artists do really, really well. But only one of them was willing to let that skill guide her foray into film and it shows.