Behind every fantastic City Of Music video put out by MPLS.TV is a quiet guy with a knack for challenging himself and upping the ante, so to speak, on everything he does. His goal, really, is to avoid getting bored. What this ethos has borne is the current video-making powerhouse of Dan Huiting, a tall and unassuming guy who is often seen at shows hanging around with some of the Twin Cities’ coolest folks—many of them musicians he’s worked with before, or ones who want to work with him in the future. Huiting works hard, and the list of big-name musicians padding his portfolio is proof that it’s paying off.
His career as a photographer and musician started humbly enough, and it led into his making videos with MPLS.TV. But Huiting’s industriousness and willingness to try new techniques have really catapulted his career. He takes risks. City Of Music now produces videos on a national level with Pitchfork, and one relationship—with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver—has led to a spate of other good gigs. The A.V. Club, curious to find out what makes Huiting tick, recently asked him about his five favorite videos he’s done so far.
The A.V. Club: How did you get your start making music videos?
Dan Huiting: I used to play music. And so one of the bands that I did stuff with needed a video. It was this ridiculous song called “Sharted,” about shitting your pants at a party. And you can still look it up on YouTube.
I liked the process of figuring it out and setting up shots. After that I decided to go to MCTC [Minneapolis Community And Technical College] for film. I had always taken photos, and I figured I could make a career out of this, so I went to MCTC for their cinematography program. And I met some cool folks and the MPLS.TV guys, and began making City Of Music videos with them, and that all got me to where I’m at now.
AVC: How long ago did you begin working with MPLS.TV?
DH: It was probably around two years ago. I think January of 2010 we shot this thing for City Pages and MPLS.TV, “Best New Bands At First Avenue.” That was the first video I ever did with MPLS.TV. We were excited about it, and Chris Cloud, the executive creative director at MPLS.TV, was like, “Hey, we’ve got this City Of Music series where we shoot bands at cool locations.” So I did that. I shot the first one with Kanser. And we kind of practiced together. And then I did it every week for a year, just cranking them out.
AVC: How much planning and time do you put into your videos? It must vary.
DH: There’s more planning now that we’re working with Pitchfork. We used to just get a location, set up some lights, and make it as cool as we could. But now that we’re doing the national thing, I thought it’d be cool to make them a bit more like music videos than just live performances. A lot of times we’re putting in extra footage. There’s an Andew Bird video coming out where we went up in a plane and shot a lot of stuff from the airplane, and we’re going to mix that in. So now it’s all about just going to the next level.
AVC: How did the Pitchfork connection come about?
DH: I was in New York at the [Late Night With] Jimmy Fallon show with Bon Iver backstage, and Ryan Shreiber [Pitchfork founder] was there. My friend Darius [Van Arman], who runs Jagjaguwar, introduced us. I talked to Ryan about how we had had a couple of national bands on City Of Music. We had had Yelle, and I was asking him about how we could get more national bands on our series, and he suggested that we partner up. He said that they could give us access to national bands and we could make our videos, and everybody wins. It was like a quick, two-minute conversation, backstage at 30 Rock, and it turned into this series.
AVC: So let’s get into your favorite videos that you’ve worked on.
DH: I think my first favorite would be the “Calgary” video we did for Bon Iver. We shot it in two days in Justin’s barn and built all of the sets that you see in the video. It was super stressful, and we didn’t get a lot of sleep, but it was cool to push yourself. Andre Durand co-directed and [was the director of photography for] the video, and he had a lot of awesome visual elements that he added to the video. So he was a big part of that.
AVC: How did your relationship with Bon Iver form?
DH: It began with one of my other favorite music videos I’ve worked on—the City Of Music video for Gayngs. That video kind of started my whole career as it is currently. We were doing City Of Music, and we went out to Justin [Vernon]’s studio, and we met Justin. It was one of the best nights of my life, for sure. I reconnected with a lot of people, too, including the Megafaun guys, who I had gone to jazz camp with at Shell Lake, Wisconsin. Phil Cook was my roommate. So I saw Joe [Westerlund] and Brad [Cook] again at the Gayngs thing, and we were all kind of freaking out, like “Holy shit!” because it had been like 15 years since we’d seen each other. We shot that video on a Monday night, and put it out Wednesday morning. So, I think the turnaround and the quality of work kind of caught the eye of Nate Vernon, who’s one of the managers of Bon Iver.
As a result of that, Jagjaguwar called us, and we worked with S. Carey, which was awesome. And then I think it came time to shoot the Bon Iver deluxe videos that were coming out. It was going to be visual accompaniments to the album. So, we started that, and in the middle of that process, they found out they needed an additional video for “Calgary.” They needed it delivered in like a month. They asked if we were capable, and I said, “Sure.” That led into me going on tour with them this past summer and making this film about them, and one thing led to another. All from that original Gayngs City Of Music video.
AVC: What would you say your third favorite video is?
DH: There’s a video with Zoo Animal that we did way back in the day. It’s still one of my favorites. It was the first time I worked with Andre Durand, and it was the first one where I finished it and looked at it, and went, “Whoa. This could go somewhere.” So it’s still one of my favorites. I love the way it looks.
AVC: So for a long time, City Of Music was putting out a new video every week.
DH: Yeah, it was one a week for a long time.
AVC: Do you think that helped you a lot? Because you just had to be an animal, so to speak, turning out a new video every week?
DH: That definitely helped. Just having a deadline, a goal, just pushed me to work harder and make the thing happen at all costs.
AVC: And No. 4?
DH: This Kathleen Edwards video, which is the official video for her single called “Change The Sheets.” It was one of my favorites because I had already toured with Bon Iver, and she was on tour supporting Bon Iver. So, we were in a van together for a week and a half, just hanging out, filming a lot of the stuff she did. I brought all of this time-lapse equipment around, because I wanted to explore that kind of photography. So I shot a lot of time-lapses, motorized time-lapses. And that’s one of the videos I’m proudest of, just because of the level of time lapse. And I’m really happy with how it came together.
AVC: Is that something you try to do with each new video? Take a risk and work with something that you might not know a lot about, and see if it pans out?
DH: That’s exactly what it is. You hit the nail on the head. It’s pushing myself and trying new stuff, and putting myself in the situation where I’m not entirely sure if it will work or not. And that’s what keeps it fresh and exciting for me.
AVC: What’s No. 5?
DH: I think the fifth most exciting video would be this Andrew Bird City Of Music that’s coming out. We shot it at Sound Gallery, and hung up all of these Chinese lanterns, and put in tons of floor lamps and made an awesome set. And then my buddy went up in a plane that had a bunch of cameras strapped to it and took a bunch of sweet aerial footage, which is stuff I haven’t done before. It’s really awesome. I’m getting excited for the video, making it into a true music video. So that’s one of things I’m really excited about right now.
AVC: How do you choose what bands you work with for Pitchfork? Do you keep an eye on who’s coming in through town and then let Pitchfork know that you’re interested?
DH: Yeah, that’s pretty much what we do. Basically, Pitchfork has the pull that gets these acts to work with us, but I pitch the bands, and I talk with Chris Cloud and we discuss who’s coming through town, and then we see if Pitchfork is into it. And then we just shoot the video, maybe the next day after they’ve performed in town, or before the gig during the day.