The power of planning: how an indie music video that got 30+ million views in its first week took 1.5 years to make

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An interview with Jensen Reed about his music video “Back to the 90s.”

Planning. It might not be necessary to make great music, but it certainly comes in handy when you’re trying to produce an entertaining music video.

And the video for Ben Giroux & Jensen Reed’s “Back to the 90s” is entertaining from start to finish, with crazy attention to detail, lots of extras, lookalikes, props, and locations to keep you looking and listening and laughing the whole time. The video took a loooooooooong time to plan and execute, but it was worth the wait. In its first week, “Back to the 90s” has been viewed more than 30 million times across YouTube and Facebook.

I’m really interested in the video production process — whether it’s no-budget, shot by a pro in an afternoon, or something more elaborate — so I asked Jensen Reed about what went into the video for “Back to the 90s.”

CR: Can you tell me about the timeline for the production? How long did each phase take?

JR: It took almost a year and a half from concept to finished video. Ben Giroux came to me with the idea of doing a music video that’s a celebration of all things 90s. We both were 90s kids and sensed a movement for 90s nostalgia, so we knew we were on to a solid idea.

A big part of the challenge was incorporating multiple genres into one song effectively. My production partner Christian Hand had the genius idea and I knew we had to figure out a way to execute it. I enlisted my buddy Jared Lee who is an amazing songwriter and artist to help us with the chorus and my man Dirty Hollywood who is pure rock n roll to work out the grunge bridge with us.

Our Cinematographer Zach Salsman absolutely crushed this shoot. Zach and I have worked together on a bunch of my music videos and his eye and talent behind the camera is unmatched.

We shot the video in two long production days. (Show in the video below):

The key to knocking it out so efficiently was the pre-production process that lasted for months…locations, crew, cast, times, logistics etc. It was truly a massive production with over 100 people on set.

One thing that allowed for the shoot to go smoothly was the lyrics. Because we had so many specific 90s references, we knew exactly what shots we needed. Unlike most of my other music videos where we roll the entire song and do a bunch of performance takes, we only shot the snippets of the song in each setup we needed. This also made the original skeleton for the edit come together quickly because we knew which shot went where in the timeline.

Did you call in a lot of favors to get this video done?

There was an immense amount of talent involved in the project that donated their time and expertise or worked for us at a major discount. This was a team effort in every way imaginable.

I found the attention to detail super impressive. Can you talk about scouting locations, gathering props and costumes, finding lookalikes, and so forth?

Locking down an airplane hangar to re-create the vibe of the iconic Backstreet Boys video “I Want It That Way” was the biggest challenge. We found Whiteman airport outside of Los Angeles and the owner was open to cutting us a deal because he was a former film school student and understood the idea of a passion project. All of the locations and minutia involved in a shoot this big were handled masterfully by our Producers Jon Rosenbloom, Scott Thomas Reynolds, and Marc Barnes. They are masters of getting sh*t done!

We secured Bullock and Snow Casting to cast all of the roles and they knocked it out of the park! Every person they cast was incredible. They also got us the amazingly talent Alexander Arzu (who plays the kid we educated about how great the 90s were).

Our Art Department Melissa Lyon and Marissa Bergman took the production to another level with the ridiculous attention to detail in creating spaces covered with 90s paraphernalia. There are so many ‘Easter Eggs’ littered throughout the video for viewers to discover, which has led to many people watching the video over and over. And our Wardrobe Designer Chelsea Kutun found all of the iconic and memorable looks for everyone involved in the shoot.

What happened between the final edit and the launch? How did you prepare to promote the video?

Ben and I edited the video and got it to an almost final point before we enlisted Animators Doug Bresler, Ilana Schwartz, Tony Celano, and Zoran Gvojic to add their magic touch including NBA Jam, Ren & Stimpy, Doug, Celebrity Deathmatch etc. VFX by Jake Akuna was the final piece of post production that added more detail and interesting effects, upping the ante yet again.

We had a live release party in Los Angeles the day before we released the video. It turned out to be one of the most fun parties that any of our 300 guests had been to in a while. We encouraged everyone to dress in their best 90s gear. Jared and I performed a couple of our original songs and we then screened the video and performed “Back to the 90s” live.

We encouraged everyone in attendance to share the video at 10am on Monday, May 1st when it was released to get the ball rolling. It helped tremendously that many people in attendance have a lot of social influence because of their own creative pursuits. We didn’t hire a publicist. We just put it out to the world with the hopes of it being so good that people would instantly want to share and that’s what happened.

What are you most proud of about this video?

I’m most proud of the incredible team that Ben and I assembled to make this project a reality. It’s very rewarding to have so many working parts feel attached to your creative vision and hustle on your behalf. It’s a testament to working hard, respecting others and ultimately fostering a positive environment where everyone can thrive.

What would you do differently next time?

I have to say there isn’t anything we could’ve done better on this one. It’s as near perfect as it gets and 36 Million views speaks to that.

Any advice for an independent musician that’s just starting to think about shooting a music video on a limited budget?

My advice is to collaborate with others and when you find good creative relationships, go back to them again and again. Ben and I have a philosophy of less-is-more, meaning we aim to create a smaller number of projects with high production value versus a bunch of smaller ideas. This is the typical 15 year overnight success story. I have 16 other music videos and Ben has been a working actor for well over a decade, so there is a lot of hustle-equity built up behind the success of “Back to the 90s.”

One technical skill that I believe every musician should have is Video Editing. I’ve edited almost all of my videos. It’s a skill that came very easy to me because I know the story I want to tell and it’s similar to editing audio in Pro Tools. Cinematographers will be much more likely to work with you as an artist when you can handle the 50 hours of post production work it takes to pull select footage and assemble an edit. It also gives the artist creative control over the video and saves a bunch of money.


Check out more of Jensen Reed’s music videos at http://www.jensenreed.com/videos. More from Ben Giroux can be found at http://www.bengiroux.com.

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