Heavy Rotation

Mark Kohr, S.F.'s leading music video maker, hasn't had a free moment all year

The fluid variety of approaches seems to work in a business filled with fickle egos. "It's a very organic thing," Kohr says. "There's no real formula or set way to a successful video. Even if you hire the number one guy or girl at some job of image-making, it might not be the most appropriate one for the band."

For Kohr, coming up with the concepts is give-and-take. He describes the making of a Green Day video: "I'll have a brief conversation with Billie, and he'll say something like, 'We thought it would be cool to shoot in an insane asylum and be surrounded by crazy people.' And I'll say OK, and work with that and give it a look, a flow, a camera technique. Maybe the band has no idea, or they know what they don't want -- and I'll work with that. But I don't mind if a band tells me what they want, because maybe it will lead me down a creative alley that I wouldn't have considered." The bottom line, however, is basic: "Generally people don't want to look like fools. I just keep a handle on that."

Evidently, he manages to make them look good, as both bands and bosses only have positive things to say about the director. "Mark is really delightful," says Randy Skinner, vice president of the music video department at Warner Bros. "There's a nice twist that comes with everything he does. Mark just tweaks things enough so they're not normal."

It's difficult to know if this twisted quality is aided or hampered by the breakneck production schedules. Most clips are made in about a week, with little advance prep time. "Music videos can be time-bomb projects," Skinner reveals. "It's usually the fault of the record company, which often doesn't decide on a track until the last minute. The executives have no concept that it takes a period of time to put a video together." Production companies, hungry for the work, usually accommodate the outrageous schedules.

The pace of the business, along with budgets, which are often deducted from band earnings, makes this seem like less than an ideal industry. "It's difficult to make a living in music video," says Andrew Linsk of San Francisco's Commotion Pictures, the company that produced Kohr's first Green Day pieces. "The money isn't great, because when you're doing music video, you've got to fill four minutes, and you've got to shoot a lot. A majority of the budget ends up on the screen. There's only a little left over for rent and food." In the Bay Area, this situation is exacerbated by the small number of major music videos shot here with local crews.

TV commercials are the logical and highly lucrative alternative for production companies and directors. Commotion, which also represented Kohr before he signed with Satellite Films (it was an amiable split, Linsk says), currently works primarily in advertising and video games. According to Linsk, "Commercials are easier -- the budgets are higher, and you can be every bit as creative." (To keep its foot in the music video world, Commotion has created Dork, a new division to tap fresh-out-of-film-school talent. Mattie Sidle, the company's first young Dork director, just happens to be a Kohr protŽgŽ.)

So Kohr is adding commercials to his rŽsumŽ. He's currently in post-production on a Miller Genuine Draft project, a 30-second narrative featuring toy trains. It has a budget roughly four times that of a three-minute music video. The director is also bidding on an even shorter basketball-themed piece for Chevrolet. When asked if they pay well, Kohr's reply is flushed with embarrassed excitement: "You bet. It's unbelievable." The response is a contrast to his more ambivalent interest in the other obvious career move -- directing feature films. "I mean, isn't it everyone's ambition to make a movie?" he asks dourly.

At this point, Kohr may not need to make that leap. His work is progressing quite well, thank you. He has plenty of projects and has assembled workable production teams who use high-end, $900-an-hour editing facilities, which usually come with a free lunch.

At Western Images, a South of Market editing house often used by Kohr (and George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic) catered feasts are delivered to various clients by what looks to be a Waiters on Wheels convention. While taking a break from Green Day, Kohr and his producer, his editor, and his assistant munch on chicken korma and reminisce about the last MTV Music Video Awards, where he was a best director nominee.

"It was all right. I was up for four awards, but didn't win anything. But that's fine," Kohr says facetiously, before slipping into some genuine industry decorum. "I think it's great that Spike [Jonze] got best director because he really deserved it, you know. The body of work he produced over the last year is tremendous."

And what of MTV's afterparty? "It's kind of a fun thing to go to," he says, "though I didn't meet anybody. But you could look across the way and there's Liv Tyler. Hole was right there, Alanis over there, that basketball player Dennis Rodman, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Some girl from The Real World got booted out because she was crashing."

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