Read how Alec Basse and Max Moore conceptualize music videos, work with record labels, created their distinct style of moving portraits, and more. Take a peek below, watch their music videos, and follow them on social media.
Alec Basse Instagram
Max Moore Vimeo
Hi, I’m Alec Basse and I am a director/photographer. I’m Max Moore and I am a director/cinematographer.
What is the origin story for you two getting into photography and cinematography and how did you begin working together?
Max: I have been watching movies since I was a little kid because my dad used to collect them. He also worked in the industry as a creative director at Leo Burnett so I was on film sets since I was a kid. Growing up it was never, “go be a lawyer or doctor.” In my family, it was always assumed that you would go into advertising, film, or something creative. I ended up going to Iowa for film and had a productive time despite the school not being the best for film. After college, I came to Chicago and was a PA for a bit. That is actually how Alec and I met. We were both PAing on a commercial set and one day we got to talking about our love for music videos. He already knew all these Chicago bands and I was obsessed with watching music videos at the time so we started recording for Treehouse Sessions Live together and eventually started making full music videos together.
Alec: My family was hyperdramatic growing up. They liked throwing extreme parties. For Halloween, we would hire actors and actresses to come to them and perform. I loved stories and wanted to help tell them. I ended up going to film school at DePaul and found that PAing was a great way to make money, meet people, and stay in the industry while working towards your dream job. We both got to the point where we were sick of PAing and wanted to do something we could both put our own stamp on. Everything truly came together and was solidified for us with the Post Animal “Special Moment” music video.
You have made a name for yourself in the Chicago music scene filming and shooting artists such as Chance the Rapper, Twin Peaks, and Post Animal. How did you become interested in music and how did you integrate yourself so well within the scene here?
Max: Music itself has always been a secondary thing to me. Music videos I see as a way to get a budget to film a story. We are interested in doing narratives rather than performance videos because for us the benefit is being able to tell a story we write.
Alec: That is a big distinction we try to make. We will do the performance-based videos, but our bread and butter are narrative based music videos. Music has always been an interest and love of mine, but I never had the dedication to learn an instrument. My way of entering the music scene has always been with a camera. You begin by shooting photos for a band and then they need a video at some point so your relationship with them continues to grow.
With a perspective from behind the lens, what would you say is the most unique thing about the music scene here in Chicago?
Alec: It is hard to say because I am not engrained in any other city’s music scene. What I always hear from outsiders though is that Chicago’s scene is very welcoming. Anyone of these bands that are on a certain level is super personable. Twin Peaks is a good example, you could talk to any one of them and it would be a great and genuine conversation. I don’t know if it’s that Midwest hospitality or not, but overall it comes off as a very kind scene.
Max: It can feel very connected too because sometimes it seems that everyone making art, music, or film all know each other. I shot a movie in New York and it felt like we were alone on our own little island doing our own project. We were probably surrounded by millions of people doing the same exact thing, but you have no ties to or awareness of them. Chicago feels like everyone is in it together and willing to help each other.
Alec: Yeah, we shot a commercial for Treehouse Records a couple weeks ago and a bunch of band members came out to be in it because they wanted to support what we were doing. I can’t see that really happening in bigger cities and definitely think it’s special to Chicago.
Going more specifically into your work, you have created several music videos for Post Animal, KingJet, Jude Shuma, Smug Joe, and The Walters. Watching each music video, they are very narrative and almost more short films than music videos. What is the collaboration process between you and the artists?
Max: We want artists that will trust us to come up with a story and create a film that expands their music. I think if you are going to make a music video it should be beneficial and a new medium that the song can tap into.
A good example is Post Animal. They are storytellers themselves with their lyrics. We have videos with them where they have been very hands-on and even acting in them. Then there are music videos where they told us to do what we want and left us alone to do so.
Alec: For “Ralphie” it was unique and cool how involved they wanted to be and how they were willing to try different things. Everybody had a say in that video and we pretty much wrote it on the fly, but that way can be a lot of fun too because we aren’t opposed to including the artists. However, for a video like “Special Moment,” it is preferable to have complete control and let the band experience the music video how any other viewer would because at the end of the day it is our creation.
Some of the videos you have created feature the artists acting themselves while others use actors/actresses to portray the story. What are the main differences you’ve noticed with directing artists in their own videos verse actors/actresses?
Alec: The artists and the actors we have dealt with are all not the most experienced with acting, but I don’t think at this point there is much of a difference between directing them. Honestly, sometimes the artists are easier to direct than actors because they are used to being completely free on stage while being watched. If you cast the right persona it is just as good. What we want to work on in the future is a better balance of on set communication when working through a scene without undermining our original story because a little collaboration is always helpful.
Max: I think that is filmmaking in a nutshell. It’s about the mix between having a plan and structure and the serendipitous moments you weren’t expecting and going with them.
Where do the band’s and musician’s record labels come into play?
Alec: Labels can be difficult and they sometimes seem to always have an answer against what you are going for. It is frustrating that labels seem less open than anyone throughout the process. They are supposed to be channeling the creativity and bringing it to the masses, but they sometimes seem to be a roadblock more than anything.
What bothers me most is that with smaller budgets and having to ask for favors from people we know, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot because people will see what we were able to accomplish with a small budget and just assume we can do that every time. The assumption in the industry right now is that people doing favors for free is expected and we don’t like that. We want to be able to financially compensate all the people who help us out because that is what’s fair and what any other industry does. We are in the early stages and still proving our work, but these budgets should be fair for all involved.
Max: For example, we had a small budget for “Special Moment” and thankfully the resources for it fell into place. Alec just knocked on the door of the mansion we shot in and asked if we could use it to shoot a music video and they said yes. Director of Photography Herman Asph also got involved and was able to bring in some great people from his crew. He even brought in his Steadicam operator, Sebastien Audinelle, who is a huge pro. He has done work for Shameless and movies so having him on set was incredible. Without these favors, we would not have been able to make the video that we did.
Alec: Beyond not enough money, we also experience labels not giving us enough time. For “Ralphie” Post Animal gave us the chance to pitch a bunch of different videos and there was one we were all set to make. Then the label didn’t want to fund it and the schedule fell apart. They told us and the band that the video had to be shot in LA and has to be done 15 days from now.
Max: We operate best when we know the artists and can directly sit down with them and communicate our vision with them beyond just a paragraph on a piece of paper. Also, some people see the “Special Moment” music video and that is why they want to approach us in the first place. We assume that based off of that they are into the weird, dark comedy, but that’s not always the case. At one point we pitched for a Kevin Gates music video who we are out of touch with and we wrote a hyper-violent kind of horror movie type pitch.
Alec: Yeah, to give context when a record label asks you to pitch a video idea for them, they send you two to three sentences of what the artist’s vision is. We just took the extreme interpretation of his idea and it was dark-humor and gross, but it gets attention.
Your moving portraits are very specific to your creative lens and craft. Where did you get your original inspiration for these?
Alec: The first one we did was by accident. Our buddy Woody was on the set of one of our Jude Shuma music videos and I got a clip of Woody smoking a cigarette. I thought it was such a good looking shot so I put some music under it and sent it to Max and Woody and from there we agreed we wanted to do more.
Max: At that time too I had just purchased a camera that shot slow motion so we decided to test it out with these motion portraits. Alec has a studio in his garage that he uses to shoot portraits so we met up there and began with Trevor Pritchett putting lipstick on. Then at some point pyrotechnics got involved.
Yes, that leads to my next question. Through these portraits, you have played with fire and light in a very intriguing and eye-catching manner. What is your fascination with these effects and how do you continue to create new and innovative ways to include them?
Alec: The moving portraits just naturally started amping up because we wanted more action and more movement. Not everyone can smoke a cigarette or eat a donut, but you can light a lot of things on fire so it has allowed us to expand these motion portraits. Jake Hirshland from Post Animal was the craziest we went with fire. Cadien Lake James from Twin Peaks held a fiery sword which may be the coolest we went, but the first with pyrotechnics was Joey Purp.
Max: Shooting moving portraits are nice because they only take about twenty minutes to shoot and an hour to edit. Also, we do them for free because we use equipment we already own to shoot them. It is a great way to build a relationship with these artists because it is no skin off their back.
Alec: Instead of just getting a cup of coffee and chatting, you get the cup of coffee together and then you make something. We would love to do more if anyone’s interested!
Beyond staged videos and portraits, you also take some raw and wild concert photos and videos of artists such as Twin Peaks New Years Eve show from 2018. What do you look for when shooting a live show when you know you can’t tell the artists exactly how to look and act?
Max: That was the first and only time we ever did that. The live Treehouse Sessions we started with were a little different because we set and lit it up as we saw fit. With the Twin Peaks show, we found as many of our friends with cameras as possible and asked them to help us shoot it. Overall, we had seven people helping us film the show.
Alec: That was really the only way we could film a show like that though. When you don’t have the control to tell them to do this or look here, then you have to have as many cameras as you can to catch multiple angles and have as much coverage as possible.
With 2019 just beginning what are projects you are looking forward to working on or a resolution you are trying to achieve in regards to your art?
Alec: We want to create more videos like “Special Moment” and find artists that give us full creative direction to tell our stories. I would also love to bust out of the Chicago scene exclusively and make videos for bands from other cities as well.
Max: I think 2018 was the year of favors and making compromises so we could get our foot in the door. It was a productive year, but in 2019 we want to try to be more selective and base our work off of quality over quantity now that we have an established number of videos.
As you continue to make your way and create art through various mediums and content if you had to pick an overall theme or message what exactly do you want to say with your art?
Max: We want to create videos that are weird, different, and unconventional, but still, tell a complete story. Even if it is a performance video it has to have a point of view and an edge to it.
Alec: Again, nothing against performance videos, but if every video we do is that then we aren’t feeding our creative beasts. Being unconventional is how we stay relevant.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy