If you’re a diehard Twenty One Pilots fan then you’ve probably heard of Reel Bear Media, a production company started by Mark Eshleman; the man behind the camera. He’s responsible for some of my favourite videos (including an insane live video of Fall Away by Twenty One Pilots ft Dr Blum that I can never stop watching, and pretty much everything he’s been involved in now that I think about it). Mark took the time to answer some questions about his favourite project, how he got into directing and photography.
How did you first get started in photography and directing?
Directing, just shooting video, came first and photography came out of necessity. Ever since I can remember, watching movies was my absolute favorite thing to do. I jumped around ideas of what I wanted to be a lot in elementary school – an actor after I landed a lead role in a third grade school play, zoologist after I discovered Steve Irwin on TV. It wasn’t until seventh grade when I had a video production class that I remembered how addictive creation was in this medium. That tiny class helped me steer my high school experience towards creativity and the arts, later placing me at an art school after graduating.
After college I was lucky enough to land a few quick gigs just capturing content for some local bands. These bands introduced me to an independent tee shirt company out of Columbus that was looking for some video work to promote their brand. The events I covered for them were tiny bar shows their endorsed bands would play – one of those bands being Twenty One Pilots.
I stayed in contact with Tyler Joseph after those shows. One thing led to another and I found a spot on every tour of his, doing what I had been doing for about two years at that point: capturing moments and stories.
Luck is something I am not in the least bit scared to mention in regards to the success of my video production company. Meeting Tyler that year really gave me an opportunity to get stuff done and figure out what it was like to work in this industry.
As the tours and following got bigger my documenting started to include photography so we would have a good-looking Instagram page. I am thrilled in the fact that we have finally brought on a tour photog, Brad Heaton, to take over all things still. I don’t think it’s my strength!
Where did the name ‘Reel Bear Media’ come from?
That name comes from a night of me deciding that I didn’t want my projects to be labeled Mark C. Eshleman Films/Videos/Media or whatever. My vision was for a brand to grow around something anyone could step in and be a part of or cast themselves upon. And that has worked so far. I remember thinking I wanted a film term and an animal followed by Media.
What do you think is the most important part of a successful music video?
I think the art of the music video parallels other art forms. Think about great songs that have captured you or have forced you to listen to them over and over. It’s all about adding addictive elements that leave something for the imagination of the audience to digest and walk away from feeling inspired or challenged. Whenever a treatment is being hashed out I try to rethink how something should be shot or how a twist should happen without making art for art’s sake. It’s so fun and so rewarding.
‘Stressed Out’ has had over 60,000,000 views, how did you feel when you saw how successful the video was and when you continued passing milestones?
Counting plays on YouTube for music videos specifically is something I don’t celebrate too selfishly. Everything has to do with the success of that track and Twenty One Pilots right now. I am just happy I had the opportunity to direct and cut that thing. There are so many jaw-dropping videos I have seen that don’t really gather more than a few hundred thousand views, yet here I am with something I have a part in with over 60 million. The milestone I do spend a lot of time thankful for is the fact that a lot of people know who directed it.
When planning a music video what process do you go through?
It always starts with a lot of doubt and insecurities. My very first step is to get in a very healthy headspace and that involves talking with some of my friends that are both industry professionals and others who are just good friends who love me. They don’t even have to tell me that I am awesome they just have to just show up for lunch and I am forced to remember how good I have it and how lucky I am. That snowballs into me thinking about the fans of the band that these things are always catered towards – not letting them down and giving them something they will cherish. After that it’s all about listening to the track. A lot.
Most directors tend to keep a binder of ideas they collect over time and then just match up songs/bands with those treatments but very often I am working on something from scratch or from a small concept the band already brought to the table. I create a PDF of the treatment that takes the reader through the video linearly with time stamps so they know exactly what to expect. Then the project is storyboarded and a shot list is compiled. Sometime during that process I have a great producer helping me find out when and where to shoot the thing then we shoot the thing. I usually edit myself then it’s off to color then you’re done.
What do you think is the most challenging part of filming a live performance?
In the early days I found myself not shooting enough. It’s easy now because I can plan from experience but those first few shows left me frustrated in the editing room. Depending on the size of the project it’s hard to capture the energy when you aren’t allowed to show anyone under 18 up close on camera. It’s so great to see the emotion on a diehard fan’s face but legal barriers trap us sometimes.
Twenty One Pilots is the easiest band in the world to shoot, though. That is some more luck right there. Directors would kill to have that much energy to work with every night.
Blurryface Live was absolutely amazing, I stayed up ‘till 2 AM to watch a livestream of it – what was it like taking on a project that size and seeing the amazing reaction from fans?
Thank you so much! That project was just south of $100k after bringing in a big production truck, jib, cameras and an A+ crew. Unreal. That was my first time calling shots from a truck like that so I was pretty nervous leading into that weekend. After showing up at load in that feeling kind of just melted away. I felt like I was in my element. At dinner I sat our team down and said something like, “Look, it’s absolutely bonkers that I have this opportunity to direct all of you professionals tonight but no one knows this band’s set better than I do. Let’s have fun tonight.”
We live in a scary age when everyone can post reviews of everything and be heard pretty easily. I couldn’t stop smiling knowing that everyone was posting photos and screen shots congratulating me. Not a lot of directors at my level get that instant gratification – they go unnamed and unknown sometimes (again, at my level.)
Do you have a favourite project that you’ve worked on, or is it like asking you to choose your favourite child?
When I first read this question I immediately gravitated to the last couple episodes of Twenty One Pilots Goes East. Those stories I got from a few of the fans over those couple of weeks make me rethink everything we shoot and produce. There was so much heart in those and I want to always find that.
Secondly, I will never forget the moment I got the call to go out on Parahoy! with Paramore. I was such a huge, huge fan of them since I first heard any of their material but now I get to be friends with all of those lovely people who are even nicer and respectful in person than you would ever guess them to be.
How important do you think the Skeleton Clique have been in your success?
The band’s fan base is the reason they are where they are today. Sure, a lot of bands can stand on stage and say that but the music industry is flabbergasted trying to figure out how so many people are showing up to shows – especially back before Stressed Out hit radio so hard. I mean, they are playing arenas this summer. That’s all because of the fans falling in love with the movement and signing up for something they feel helps them and makes them better. Not many fan bases digest everything that the band creates and posts, this includes these smaller documentary pieces. Usually those go without nearly 10% of the official music video views but these group of individuals eat that up and that seriously motivates me so much to know that it is desired. Everything that gets posted is so important and cared for. It’s the only reason I am allowed to keep going.
I love the pictures you’ve taken; what equipment do you recommend?
Well I can tell you what I use – Canon 5D Mark III with both Canon and Sigma Art lenses. Good glass first.
Do you prefer photography or directing?
Directing by far. Photography is fun and rewarding but my true fulfillment comes from production.
For you, what’s been the best moment of 2015?
2015 was so jam packed with doing and that’s all I want, really. I have opportunities to be better and push myself and others around me. That shoot in Oakland will be something I will always remember.
What are you looking forward to in 2016?
More. Way more. This arena tour gave me an opportunity to not only bring out Brad but to also add a second camera op to capture some additional video content for these short doc pieces we want to release even more frequently. There are also some more tracks from Blurryface that need some visuals added too.
Both you and Twenty One Pilots have continued to grow in success together over the past few years, what’s it been like being part of that journey and having people to share it with?
I am so proud of those two and the entire team that surrounds them. All of this hasn’t changed them – any of them. This is truly the most productive and talented group touring right now, both on and off the stage. To be able to see all of this from the front row is an honor and drives me and inspires me. They’re my family. They want me to do well, too. They give me those chances to do well.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start concert photography?
Shoot a lot. Build a portfolio and show people how good you are. Make sure that every bit of art you put out there has purpose and tells a story of some sort – long or brief. Pour yourself into every frame, every composition, every moment. Undeniable passion births undeniable product.
Keep an eye out for new Reel Bear Media projects, with the Twenty One Pilots US arena tour coming up there’s bound to be a bunch of new, exciting things coming up that you won’t want to miss.
Check him out on social media:
Facebook: Reel Bear Media
This interview took place on 1/2/16.
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Are there any questions you’d have liked to see? Let me know below. I’d love to hear what you think.