go the years, by Dino Scatena - 26th February 2005
The Sydney Morning Herald)
Scatena eyes the first Countdown and beyond to trace
the birth of the Australian music video.
those of us of the Countdown generation, a culture-defining
event took place exactly 30 years ago this week. Literally
overnight, on March 1, 1975, like a scene out of The
Wizard of Oz, Australian television went colour.
for better or worse, we could see the rainbow of satins
in Skyhooks' stage costumes. Young girls across the
nation felt as if they could reach through the screen
and touch the near life-like tones of Daryl Braithwaite's
exposed chest as he crooned: "Summer love, it's
like no other love, oooh yeah ..."
ABC first aired Countdown in late 1974, but it really
wasn't until those early months of 1975 that the show
exploded in popularity. A by-product of its success
was the beginnings of a local music video industry.
The launch of MTV in the United States was still six
month after colour arrived, Paul Drane, a young producer
working in the ABC promotions department in Melbourne,
was given the job of directing Countdown. By then
the original creative team behind the show - Ian
"Molly" Meldrum and ABC producers Michael
Shrimpton and Rob Weekes - had started experimenting
with their own pre-recorded music video sequences
to break up the program's live-cum-mimed, studio action.
of the earliest examples of such purpose-made music
clips included Horror Movie for Skyhooks and Yesterday's
Hero for John Paul Young.
was the beginning of the idea of being able to do
these special sorts of things," Drane recalls.
"We couldn't do it every week because it would
mean a film shoot, therefore it had an expenditure.
We had a very limited budget so I basically had to
save up over a period of a few weeks to be able to
spend money outside our allocated engineering budget
for the live studio shoots. So probably about once
a month, once every six weeks, we would do one. The
budget for such clips would rarely exceed $100."
of Drane's earliest videos stand tall as milestones
in Australian pop music, most notably AC/DC's It's
a Long Way to the Top (with the band performing on
the back of a truck cruising down Melbourne's Swanston
Street) and the comically explosive Jailbreak.
thing is you could do something like that back then,"
he says of the Long Way to the Top clip. "You
could organise it with the city council and it could
be done very quickly. We didn't have to shut the streets
down or stop traffic. These days you'd have the street
shut down for a day. It would be almost impossible.
something like Jailbreak, we put more time into that.
It was very much a production film clip. It was planned
with the explosions. We had to build a set to blow
up. We had to get special-effects people in, Bon [Scott]
getting shot in the back and all that. They started
to evolve gradually into bigger productions."
stayed with Countdown until the end of 1976, before
going off to become an independent film-clip maker.
By that stage, every pop act in the world was producing
video clips to accompany the release of singles. Record
companies were funding such productions. The music
video had made the transition from a television production
gimmick into a record company marketing device.
Countdown undoubtedly made the music-video format
famous in Australia, it obviously didn't invent the
art form. British and US artists had been toying with
conceptual and performance-based video clips to accompany
their studio recordings for decades. There are also
several early Australian examples dating from the
mid-'60s, such as the Loved Ones' clip for their hit
single The Loved One and, a bit later, Daddy Cool's
silly little film about doing the Eagle Rock.
can't even lay claim to being the first Australian
music program to produce in-house music videos. That
kudos goes to its main competitor, Channel Seven's
Sounds Unlimited, created by former radio announcer
Graham Webb. Donnie Sutherland came in as the host
on the very same Saturday morning that television
turned colour. Previously, from February 1974, Webb
had fronted a Sydney-only, Saturday morning video-clip
program - possibly the first of its type in the world
- called the Sat Today Show. Webb had come up with
the idea of a television show made up entirely of
video clips while travelling through Europe. Over
there, new bands such as Abba were producing short
videos specifically for export.
Webb's show first went to air, his entire video clip
library consisted of 25 songs. "I couldn't get
clips for the songs that I wanted on air," Webb
says. "One of them in particular was Everybody's
Talkin by Harry Nilsson. Of course, there was nothing
around for it."
asked a young chap who was working in Seven's newsroom
to go out and shoot some random footage to accompany
the song. That young man just happened to be Russell
Mulcahy, the director who would go on to redefine
the limits of the video-clip medium for the MTV generation.
had a camera and he loved doing filming," Webb
says. "And I said, 'Will you go out and film
some background for this song?' Which he did. He got
$85 for his job."
his part, Mulcahy didn't need any more encouragement.
He soon gave up work at the station to become a full-time
video-clip maker. "The industry started off with
me and a friend, who was a cameraman, in a Holden
with a tripod and a 16-millimetre camera, just driving
around and doing these crazy videos for no money,"
think the first rock videos I did was with a company
called Wizard Records, for bands like Hush and Marcia
Hines. And then I went on and did AC/DC etc. We'd
be in Paddington Town Hall with Hush and drag queens
dancing around them. There were no rules."
1976, Mulcahy was in London making clips for English
acts. Within a couple of years, record companies were
flying him around the world to produce music videos
for all manner of pop artists. On August 1, 1981,
one of Mulcahy's clips, the Buggles' Video Killed
The Radio Star, was used to launch MTV in the US.
spent the '80s producing big-budget videos for many
of the world's biggest pop stars, from the Rolling
Stones to Elton John, Spandau Ballet to Ultravox.
He had creative licence to be as absurd and abstract
as he wanted. Undoubtedly, his most audacious work
came with the many clips he produced for Duran Duran.
in Australia during that time, other young directors,
such as Alex Proyas and Richard Lowenstein, were also
becoming internationally renowned video-clip experts.
All three men are now full-time feature film directors.
for example, hasn't made a video-clip since 1994.
Even with all the money in the world, the medium,
as a creative outlet, has its limitations.
the early days of Countdown and Sounds Unlimited,
music-video clips and music video clip programs have
become as ubiquitous a part of broadcasting as news
bulletins. Aside from what appears on commercial television,
there are now six 24-hour-a-day music stations available
through pay TV. For a long time, it's been difficult
to differentiate music video clips from television
adverts. They are, after all, one and the same.
Australia, the budgets granted by record companies
for music clips are a fraction of what is spent on
artists overseas. For generations of local film-clip
makers, ingenuity rather than money has always been
the key to their craft.
every now and again, the results are world class.
Michael Spiccia, a Sydney director, plans to head
to the US in search of bigger budgets. In recent years,
the 27-year-old - who also makes television commercials
- has produced some epic clips, by local standards.
Most recently he filmed a $160,000 video for the Delta
Goodrem single Mistaken Identity.
average video budget in Australia is between $30,000
and $50,000," Spiccia says. "The ironic
thing is that in the advertising world $160,000 is
piddly, it's nothing. In America and European countries,
there still seems to be a respectable bracket for
music video budgets for the top-end pop stars. Someone
like Britney [Spears] wouldn't be looking at any less
than $1 million. Unfortunately, we never see that
kind of light down here."
inaugural MTV Australia Video
Music Awards, hosted by the Osbournes, will be held
at Luna Park on Thursday.