How MTV Plans to Resurrect Music Videos (Hint: By Financing Them)

In the new video for LCD Soundsystem’s song “Pow Pow,” Oscar-nominated Up in the Air star Anna Kendrick struts, flirts, preens, and may or may not be a soul-taking deity. It’s the kind of music video you have to watch more than once to really understand, the kind of esoteric-but-expensive-looking clip you used to see all the time on MTV but haven’t in years. Now, though, the network hopes to bring back the format in a big way, and “Pow Wow” is the first volley in what MTV hopes will be a groundbreaking new series of videos utilizing A-list talent that the channel is actually going to finance itself.

Entitled “Supervideo,” the series is the brainchild of Mean magazine publisher Kashy Khaledi, a 33-year-old who grew up obsessed with music videos and thinks the recent, YouTube-aided rise of Lady Gaga means that it’s high time for a revival of the format. “It says a lot,” Khaledi told Vulture. “It says that there’s a certain nostalgia, that there’s a sort of excitement for the music video again.”

After enlisting big stars to appear in his “Cinemash” series (where actors like Channing Tatum would reenact scenes from Dirty Dancing) and commandeering the cast of Kick-Ass to appear in a video for the Soft Pack’s “Answer to Yourself,” Khaledi met with David Gale, MTV’s executive vice president of new media, to sell him on the idea of financing brand-new videos with big stars and big directors attached. For Gale, the pitch reminded him of why he came to the company.

“When I started at MTV Films, the Michael Bays and David Finchers of the world were all making music videos,” Gale recalled. “Just about anyone who had a vision that was out of the cookie-cutter mainstream of Hollywood, they were making music videos. There’s probably not another media format that provides that kind of latitude, and anybody who’s smart and artistic will see that format as a great one.”

With that mission statement in mind, Khaledi and Gale enticed Training Day writer David Ayer (who’s also directed Harsh Times and Street Kings) to helm the two-day shoot, and Kendrick to star. Khaledi says that Ayer was so excited about the format — and the chance to experiment using Sony’s low-light F35 camera — that he came on a month before shooting and gave the project his full attention. “A lot of these directors have a lot of down time, and they don’t necessarily want to do commercial work,” explained Khaledi. “This is a way for us to work with them and give them a canvas to try new things.”

“I really do approach these more as films than music videos,” said Gale. “From our point of view, we’re financing small movies with great talent using music.” Though budgets are limited, Gale hopes to entice even bigger filmmakers to take part: “Obviously, the better this one does, the more likely we’ll be doing lots of them, but we’re already planning the next few.”

Whether it takes off or not, “For us, it’s worth investing in,” said Gale. “It’s worth creating a buzz for our audience, wherever these things might appear … The business was established where the labels were paying all kinds of money to support their talent. The music-video business became an important one for getting their artists recognition, and MTV was probably the most important place to do that. Clearly, things have changed in so many ways … but we started this as an opportunity where everyone can win.”

How MTV Plans to Resurrect Music Videos (Hint: By Financing Them)