Done well, music videos can expand music into multidisciplinary, multisensory works of art. Visuals can add new dimensions of depth and meaning that transcend what is possible with sound alone. Yet by definition, the music video almost always plays ‘second fiddle’ to the song itself – this is, perhaps, until you’re talking about exceptional producers like Miroslav Kiss.
After earning a reputation for producing some of the most intelligent and visually striking music videos in the underground rap scene, Kiss and his brand GRIT Multimedia are branching into the world of storytelling with a series of short films. I got his take on the world of music video production, film-making, and his future direction as a visual artist.
Watch: CIRCUS – a short film by Miroslav Kiss
Talk to me about music videos as an art form. What’s your perspective?
I see the art-form in two fundamental parts. I think the unique relationship between the two makes music videos a separate art-form within the pantheon of filmmaking disciplines.
The first one is its form, or rather, the lack of a rigid form or structure. It’s a very malleable and wild beast if you let it be. Like taking a photograph of a photograph. It’s an abstract interpretation of an already abstract product which is of course the music. In short, a music video can be anything. It can tell a story, it can capture a performance, it can do both or neither. Its job, to me, is to capture the feeling, the pace, the essence of the music, and music genres are limitless, therefore so are music videos.
It’s different from narrative filmmaking because it doesn’t have to follow its rules at all, and in my opinion, the less it does that the better. In conventional storytelling you have to stick to somewhat of a blueprint and you should make sure you’re taking the audience on a clear journey and give them something they can follow, or it won’t make sense, and then you don’t have a narrative. Music videos have no such obligation.
After all, music videos are adverts. They’re mostly a promotional tool and they rarely stand above the music. In so many words, they play second fiddle with only some exceptions
The other one is its purpose. After all, music videos are adverts. They’re mostly a promotional tool and they rarely stand above the music. In so many words, they play second fiddle with only some exceptions and that makes some of the more “artsy” folk uncomfortable. I however don’t think they should stand above. They are what they are. In an ideal world, they’re in perfect harmony with each other. I like the fact that they point to a larger world. A world of an album, or a single, or whatever the release may be. I like helping to build a visual language for any given project, putting the music in context. If I’m allowed to, anyway.
What do you love and what do you hate about music videos – whether your own or other people’s?
I love the stylistic freedom the medium offers. Ideas can just grow naturally and as long as they evoke the essence of the music, like I said, you can do anything. I’ve tried my best to work in that way whenever I was allowed to do so. Luckily I’ve had the good fortune to work with many artists who trusted my vision or shared it almost completely. It’s a cliche but I tend to “hate” my work about 5 minutes after it drops. I spend a lot of time editing and reworking. I don’t ever want to let the projects go, though I have to at some point. I feel like there’s always something more I can do. My very early work shows signs of growing pains so I don’t tend to return to those projects.
I’ve alluded to this slightly, but I guess what I hate is that a lot of the time, especially these days, in both underground indie productions and larger-scale projects, the filmmaker is rarely trusted. I think there tend to be too many cooks in the kitchen and a singular vision is very often lost in the noise of excess. Transition effects, gimmicky overlays, reused concepts. In pop music, the gimmicks tend to revolve around lazy, materialistically focused scenarios. The expensive cars, pretty girls, and a camera moving back and forth on a stabiliser. Go and blindly click on any given video on GRM Daily for example and you’ll watch basically the same video over and over. Some of that has to do with unfair deadlines and a focus on views rather than the art itself. Some of it has to do with the filmmaker’s “it’s good enough” attitude.
In the indie world, I think people tend to misunderstand minimalism. I keep seeing videos that rely on a singular gimmick to carry them, thinking that the absence of visual diversity results in a minimalist aesthetic. When in fact it’s very complicated to pull off a truly minimalist work. Though, when in doubt, make it nostalgic and throw on a film frame or make the video 4:3 to distract from the lack of substance. I know this because I did that for a long time myself.
What’s the story of GRIT Multimedia? What happens with it now?
GRIT started as a podcast in early 2017. Back then I was still studying and working full time as a Graphic Designer. During these podcasts, I would interview artists local to me. I felt there was so much incredible stuff coming out locally, but I couldn’t find a platform that treated these people as the complex and interesting artists that they were. That was really the gist of it. I wanted to provide them with the ‘Zane Lowe’ treatment, and in turn, try to show the community that we have our own scene and the people in it are crazy talented and have something to say.
Most of the guests became my clients later down the line, namely Otis Mensah, Tonia Victoria, Aaron The Poet, and Brandon Gray. They all also became my best friends and that remains true to this day. I started working with them and they were gracious enough to almost be my guinea pigs while I learned the ropes of being a freelance creative – a filmmaker especially. Until around August of 2017, I had never even touched a camera unless it was for the odd college project. But, they trusted me and I’ll forever be thankful for that.
As the years went by, I kept balancing the workload between being a designer, a photographer, a filmmaker, even an events organiser, and artist manager. I wanted to be in control of the way my art is presented and to make sure it’s not being handled poorly by outside sources, by which I mean labels or other management companies. I gave up the events and management side purely due to exhaustion, however, I recommend anyone with ambitions similar to mine to get their hands in as many pots as possible to truly gain an understanding of how these industries operate. It allowed me to meet people and make connections that led to some incredible projects with artists from around the world. Even some that I’ve always dreamt of working with but never really thought it’d be an option. And of course, it showed me the darker side of the entertainment industry and taught me what and who to stay away from.
I’ve always just wanted to do things that stray away from the status quo, hence the tagline “NO STATUS QUO”. It’s a mission statement. A promise I make to myself and to those I work with. It’s a standard to uphold. In terms of what happens with GRIT now, it just hopefully gets more focused. I’ve been making strides towards opening up an office and hiring people who can help me grow GRIT into a business that not only sustains itself but also exists after I’m gone. The plan is to split the company into parts that each deal with one of the disciplines I practice. A design arm that will hopefully help fund everything, including the original content I plan on making. The film arm that will produce videos and original short films and things of that nature, and a photography arm, each being a part of a larger whole. It’s taken me some time to finally be comfortable with getting some help with everything, but I’m finally there.
Tell me about your segue away from music videos. Where are you going now?
It’s a partial segue. As I’ve alluded to, again and again, too much of the same thing breeds uninteresting work. I felt that I was suddenly typecast as “that underground rap video guy” that I never really wanted to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I’ve been able and lucky enough to get to do, but it just got a little stale and it showed. I got too comfortable and somewhat lazy. I forgot why I got into this whole thing in the first place. Hence the plan I described before.
I want to finally tell stories. My own stories. Give people a reason to click on a video that I made because I made it, rather than just being the conduit through which someone else expresses themselves. But again, I’m not totally done with music videos forever. I’m still open to working on anything that excites me and meets my criteria. It just has to be worth it, it has to stimulate me. Otherwise, I’m just a cog in someone else’s machine.
I want to finally tell stories. My own stories. Give people a reason to click on a video that I made because I made it, rather than just being the conduit through which someone else expresses themselves.
I’ve spent the entire year writing things. Screenplays, sketches. short films, even a feature-length script that I’ll save until I have the opportunity to bring to life. Most of all though, I was able to write a project that was picked up by a distributor and I’ll get to make that really soon. I’ve been in pre-production on it for what feels like an eternity, constantly delayed due to the pandemic. I can’t say too much about it right now, and I know that’s such a cliche thing to say, but, I really can’t. Nonetheless, if it all works out, it’ll be the biggest and most exciting thing I’ve ever done. It’s really what allowed and pushed me to finally make the jump to being a storyteller.
Tell me about your latest project, Circus.
CIRCUS is my first short film. It feels a little surreal to say that, given that I have been doing this for a few years now, but I finally got to make it. It’s a short film about and dedicated to child victims of domestic abuse told through the perspective of such a child. It’s a personal and some might say a kind of abstract piece. I look at it almost like one of my illustrations. An expression of a feeling or an experience rather than a narrative so to speak. That decision was deliberate. I wanted to accurately portray what it feels like to be a child going through something they’re too young to comprehend. I was one of those children. The name itself refers to the nickname we gave it as a family to somewhat disguise the severity of what went on, but it’s also kind of bang on. Chaos. In CIRCUS, the audience is not the observer. They are the boy. They only perceive what he perceives. It’s purposely a little difficult to have clarity on what’s going on because he doesn’t. How could he? I wanted the audience to feel his fear, his dread. The same dread that so many millions of children feel every day and are yet incapable of articulating.
Very rarely do you get to see domestic abuse explored from the perspective of a child. An innocence that’s I guess hard to capture. The idea was to show that when you’re in that situation, it becomes almost mundane. A routine. Hence the decision to show the boy come out of his house playing a game as his parents argue. On the surface, it’s just what children do – they play. In these cases, it’s very much a distraction. An escape. However, this routine gets interrupted by the ugly reality of such situations. Something that’s sadly inevitable. Yet, I still wanted to keep it vague. Give the audience the chance and the freedom to fill in the gaps. Kubrick had a great quote that encapsulates CIRCUS as a whole: ‘Incomplete ideas are generous.’ That was the principal I tried to follow. I wanted to avoid the cliches of depicting these types of things. Too much drama, tears, screaming. Giving people all the answers. I don’t think that’s ultimately the role of art. I find it much more satisfying when a piece of art can invite me in and makes me do work to try to find meaning, my own meaning. I truly hope I was able to do that.
I wanted to avoid the cliches of depicting these types of things. Too much drama, tears, screaming. Giving people all the answers. I don’t think that’s ultimately the role of art. I find it much more satisfying when a piece of art can invite me in and makes me do work to try to find meaning, my own meaning.
I can’t go on without mentioning the star of the piece, Laiten. He was just incredible. A first-time actor who took on a pretty big challenge and luckily didn’t really understand what it was all about. Yet he naturally portrayed such genuine vulnerability. The whole piece rests on his shoulders and I will forever be indebted to that young man for being so brave.
NO STATUS QUO.