Changing Hats: Video Director, Johnny Hayes

TPi examines touring video specialists embracing the new virtual music world…

Accomplished Video Director for the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Maroon 5, Johnny Hayes is among the growing number of video specialists trading the physical stage for a virtual one, overseeing a series of shows livestreamed in online video game, Fortnite. Standing firmly at the forefront of the gamification of live music, Fortnite shattered records in 2020 when over 12 million players watched Travis Scott’s Astronomical concert.

Hayes and Show Designer,  Guy Pavelo of Far Right Production welcomed the arrival of a further trio of artist sets on Fortnite including, Dominic Fike, Anderson .Paak and Slushii. The performances were part of the games’ Party Royale Spotlight Series, with the goal of bringing live music to the Fortnite community.

“I’ve certainly never done a show within a video game,” began Hayes, discussing his experience on the project. “This type of show didn’t exist until 2020.”

The Director described how he has altered his directing mindset from what he’d usually produce for an IMAG cut to one that would be watched on a computer and phone screen. “I always consider the display and the attitude of the end user when I’m directing,” stated Hayes. “When I’m cutting for IMAG, I’m thinking of the people in the room at a show. However, the mindset for cutting in a game is very different. Everything happens very quickly in a video game and the average ‘lifespan’ of attention is around 30 seconds, which is something you have to bear in mind when  cutting for in-game shows.”

Video Director, Johnny Hayes with Video Engineer, Lewis McMillan.
Video Director, Johnny Hayes with Video Engineer, Lewis McMillan.

Despite his change in tack, Hayes was pleased to report that the principles and workflow of the shows were like that of a standard live performance. “From the beginning, the team at Fortnite were very concerned that the performances should be live. So at the top of every show, we had a countdown then we were live to the world.” He went on to complement the game creators, which is owned by Epic Games, for leaning in this directions to keep the shows live.

All three performances were filmed at PRG’s LA studio with the supplier also taking on the role of video supplier for the project. For all the shows Hayes made use of the Sony PMW-F55 along with Panasonic robocams for many of his POV shots. “Due to COVID-19 restrictions we were only allowed a few people on site, so I made use of a number of robocams,” stated Hayes. Specifically during Anderson .Paak’s Fortnite show, where eight musicians were on stage,  with a limited number of onsite crew. “We used a Furio robotic camera system alongside a jib to get some dynamic shots without ,the need for a camera operator.”

Hayes’ camera arsenal also boasted a series of Blackmagic Design products. “I really like their products and the options they give you for POV shots, which can be clipped onto instruments and microphone stand.” Hayes, in particular, specified Pocket 6Ks as a FOH shot along with the Micro Studio PRO cameras and URSA Mini Pro.

“The 12G HDR Monitor is one of my favourite products from Blackmagic Design, I used it to focus and sort out my exposure on all three shows,” Hayes commented. “The fact you are able to record straight from it is hugely beneficial.”

With this type of performance still being a relatively new medium, Hayes offered his two cents on the future of in-game live events. “The exposure for the artists is fantastic, it’s such a big space and you can reach a huge audience – especially in times of lockdown,” he explained. “We had over 400,000 people watching live in the game, which doesn’t take into account the viewers watching the show on other platforms such as Twitch.”

This article originally appeared in issue #257 of TPi, which you can read here.