Making Things Click: An Interview with Producer, Casey Nolan

Field Notes: Casey Nolan, Producer and Videographer

“At the end of the day, both sides — commercial and film — are important because they feed each other in a cycle.”

Music’s ability to “click” with a project can make it or break it. Producer Casey Nolan knows this from years of experience as both a freelance filmmaker and producer at Portland-based integrated marketing agency, R/West, where he has worked on projects with brands such as DeMarini, Tonkin and Sorel. While the goal of commercial production is often different than that of film, music can be just as important to the story’s narrative due to shorter lengths and production times — and at the end of the day, it can set one brand apart from another. Nolan’s recent work with DeMarini is a great example of this, and we were fortunate enough to collaborate with the seasoned producer on a series of vignettes, featuring songs that help capture the intense, gritty vibe the sports equipment company aims for.

We chatted with Nolan about the value of working with a team, how commercial productions differs from film, and the strangest job he’s ever worked on.

Marmoset: How did you get started in production work? Did you always see yourself working in the creative industry?

Casey Nolan: A very roundabout way. I had a friend who was a photographer in LA and he wanted to start a production company. At the time, I was working at an architecture firm here in Portland and had no real training or experience in video production. I’d say I was a photo enthusiast at the time. I have always enjoyed photography; in college I was the guy who brought a film camera out to the bars and parties every weekend and then had the film developed a few days later. I have shoeboxes full of ridiculous photos from those pre-Facebook days. That eventually evolved into travel photography — I documented a 6-month trip through Europe and Asia, which caught the eye of my photographer friend in LA.

Despite having no video shooting or editing skills, he was convinced that I had a good eye and could transfer everything over to video. So I quit my job at the architecture firm and the two of us bought an RV and started traveling around the country doing photo and video shoots together. It was trial by fire for the first year, but eventually we got into a groove and did some decent work. After 3 years of that we both wanted to return to our respective homes. I came back to Portland and started doing freelance video work and building a new network in the agency and production worlds.

How has your approach to commercial production evolved over the years?

I wish I had some documentation of that first year — I was just lucky to hit the record button at the right time. But I practiced constantly, reviewed the work regularly and had it critiqued by people who knew what they were talking about. I read books, watched tutorials, spent countless late nights learning how to edit. Eventually everything started to click. Comparing that shit show to where I am today is comical. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of talented people at R/West, and many of my friends work in production at agencies or as freelancers. Just working with a team changes the game for the better. I’m able to focus more on shooting because I can trust my colleagues to do their jobs.  

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever worked on? Why?

I helped shoot a video series for Jägermeister in 2012 that was focused on a random and very interesting group of musicians. Jäger sponsored the tours of Mickey Avalon, Hed PE and Mushroomhead and wanted videos created that had bits of interviews with the band and footage from the shows. We got amazing access with each band — from backstage hangouts to interviews on the tour buses, and all-venue access at each show.

I especially remember Mickey Avalon’s interview being so incoherent that we walked away having no idea if we’d be able to cut an edit from his ramblings. If you aren’t familiar with Mushroomhead, look them up and imagine a couple of skinny pacifists trying to interview them in their tour bus. It was incredible. Apparently, Jagermeister didn’t do much research on the bands they sponsored; in the end, they pulled the plug on the videos after they were shot and edited because the bands were too extreme to represent the brand.

How do you feel working on commercial projects differs from film?

There is a different creative goal. Commercial projects have clients, which are great because they pay the bills and help fund all the gear, but they have a very different definition of “creativity.” More often than not, what a client wants and what either I want or a director wants doesn’t match up. When I’m making a short film with my core group of production friends — the only limit is our imagination and our collective goals. We make films to stoke that creative fire and for the love of making a visual and audio experience for the viewer — we aren’t trying to sell a product. At the end of the day, both sides — commercial and film — are important because they feed each other in a cycle.

Often times in film, music is used to elevate specific scenes/moments that aid to the overall storyline. How do you feel this differs for commercial production?

That still applies in commercial production — sometimes it’s relied on even more to help aid the storyline, because the running times are so much shorter. We have to use every tool at our disposal to get the story across to the viewer and music can really help drive home a concept or change in the narrative. However, many times we have to rely on one specific song for a commercial project — especially if the final running time is less than 2 or 3 minutes. That makes the song especially important, as it sets the tone and vibe of the entire edit. I’ve had projects that were headed into a dead end until we found that perfect song that made everything click.

Can you speak to your recent work with DeMarini a bit more…how do you know when you found the perfect song for the spot? Why do you think it worked so well?

This particular DeMarini video relied on the perfect song more than any previous videos for this client. In the past, we’ve always used VO to tell a story, so music needed to be that perfect balance between getting the viewer pumped up, but not distracting to the VO. For this “Fastpitch Can’t Stop” video, the director wanted to switch gears and not use VO, so we knew that the song had to be really fun and hyped up, but also still have the overall DeMarini “gritty” vibe that fits the brand really well. Additionally, songs with some lyrics were okay since they wouldn’t compete with the VO at all. When Marmoset sent over the Chic Antik song, we knew it was going to work well immediately. The dirty bass really helps drive the edit — it has the gritty vibe we look for with most of the DeMarini songs, and the funky vocals help mix it up to keep it interesting. It was actually one of the quickest first rounds of editing I’ve done for this client because the song was just working so damn well.  

With this project in mind, how do you feel the music of choice adhered to the overall brand? Did you have a general understanding of the direction you wanted to take the music when filming?

This song was a great fit with the overall brand. We try to give DeMarini a hardcore image to help differentiate them in the category, so the choice of music, and the footage, graphics and edit, all help support that. This song makes me want to work out — and pair that with the clips of the talent running in the rain and working out in the gym by themselves really helps create a hardcore story for the viewer. For this particular video, we did have this song picked out ahead of time based on a music search we did with Marmoset. Our director gave some examples of songs that he liked and a general motivational story for the edit, and as usual, we got a bunch of great song selects from your team to make our music search easier. This song immediately stood out as the winner — though usually it’s not so clear cut of a choice.

When briefing clients on an upcoming project, do you usually ask about their music preference or do you wait until you have music paired to picture to share?

I almost always wait and put in music that I think works best before sharing with the client. The way I see it, we are the professionals — we were hired for a reason. So I’ll do what I think is best. More often than not, the client is happy with the music on the first round. 



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