Photo courtesy of Justin Hamilton
UEmerging artist Finneas has a rule for each music video that Lake Highlands alumnus Justin Hamilton works on: they must be recorded in one take.
Hamilton has been successful about 8 times now as a director of photography for Finneas, and he plans to continue to tackle these creative challenges with director Sam Bennett.
When making a clip, the director and artist agree on a creative concept or story. It is then up to the cinematographer to perform it visually. It takes a lot of technical skill and creativity, including lighting and choreography behind and in front of the camera, as well as the occasional need to build a contraption to transport the camera through certain frames.
For a Finneas song called “Shelter,” Hamilton used a crane mounted on a Ford F-150 Raptor truck that was crossing the Los Angeles River. He operated a remote control head with the camera on it while in the vehicle. Shot at “blue hour” just after sunset but still clearing the sky, Hamilton says they had a catch to get it right.
“We rehearsed and got it,” he says. “Everyone was very excited when we did it. “
A train also crossed the bridge at the end of the video, creating an unexpected, perfect ending frame, he says.
Hamilton says he and his childhood friend James Daniel used to run around the Lake Highlands making movies. He knew from that age that he was all about the movies. He also spent time in the FTTR group while attending Lake Highlands High School.
“I’ve always had a love for music, so it was fun to merge my love for film and my love for music,” says Hamilton.
Hamilton says his background in documentary cinema prepared him for these projects.
“You have to determine very quickly the best lens choices and what is the best camera position to tell the story,” he says. “It helps you think faster, and it helps you in almost any shooting situation I can think of.”
Hamilton went to the University of Southern California to study film after graduating from LHHS. As soon as he left university, he began to work as an assistant to a sales manager and at the same time undertook personal projects. Ultimately, this led to documentary and non-profit work that required extensive travel.
“After a long stay in Dubai, I decided I just wanted to focus on cinematography and do more things like commercials and music videos,” Hamilton said.
Thanks to these projects, he met Bennett, who directs the clips for Finneas.
Hamilton also recently worked on rising star Olivia Rodrigo. Sour bal concert video. Rodrigo rose to fame during the pandemic and was unable to give an in-person performance of his debut album, making the concert video the concept of choice. The 28-minute film had multiple cameras operating on a single take, with live voices and specially designed lighting installations by Hamilton.
He also enjoys mixing some of these skills into his current film and commercial projects.
“When it comes to making narrative films, feature films, short films like storytelling, I always like films that use the camera to edit the film, rather than cutting between different shots,” he says. .
An independent film by Hamilton, Alleys, recently created in Switzerland and made its way into the festival circuit before being distributed. The Arabic language film was shot in Jordan in 2019. He’s looking for his next feature, but they’re harder to find since the pandemic. A possible future film could even bring Hamilton back to Lake Highlands next year, he says.
Music videos also hold a special place in Hamilton’s heart and will likely continue to be a part of his journey as a filmmaker.
“It’s always a creatively rewarding kind of achievement to work in… There is no product to sell other than the image of the artist, and you get pretty experimental,” says Hamilton. “It’s a pleasant space to work.