He flew to Paris in November to shoot a video with Swedish pop star Robyn. He’s in Haiti this week documenting the charity efforts of Artists for Peace & Justice for folks like Ben Stiller and director Paul Haggis.
When we caught up with Dan Huiting a few weeks ago, though, the Minneapolis videographer was about to head to a far less exotic locale, Detroit Lakes, Minn., to work with a far less famous artist, Caroline Smith — and he sounded excited about that, too.
“Caroline is from Detroit Lakes, so it’s a big deal to her,” Huiting said.
To local musicians like Smith, just working with Huiting has become a big deal. The 32-year-old Twin Cities native has almost single-handedly made music videos a viable art form again for bands from the Upper Midwest. His work has ranged from elegant, high-art mini-movies with Bon Iver and Cloud Cult to electrifying live footage with P.O.S. and Trampled by Turtles to a couple of seedy, bath-inducing clips with Prof and Spyder Baybie.
A lot of his work has been traditional MTV-style videos, but Huiting also has a growing number of impressive music clips filmed for his full-time employer TPT (Twin Cities Public Television), which recently launched an aspiring new “Austin City Limits”-style series called “The Lowertown Line” under his visual direction. He also has done a lot of work of late for the internationally viewed Pitchfork.tv, an offshoot of big-kahuna music blogger site Pitchfork.com. The latter gig is what got him to Paris with Robyn, and afforded him the chance to spend full days shooting the likes of Father John Misty, Toro y Moi and Tallest Man on Earth.
Not bad for a guy whose first real videographer job was shooting First Ave’s Best New Bands of 2009 showcase for Mpls.tv and City Pages.
From the videographer’s aw-shucks perspective, the reason local bands are thinking visual again has less to do with his own budding talent, and more to do with growing technology.
“You can film much higher-quality video on cheaper cameras nowadays, it has made it a lot more affordable for bands to fund it themselves,” he said, citing $3,000 as a good starting point for a video budget. And thanks to the music world becoming more and more centered around the web, he said, it’s pretty much a requirement to make a video.
“It’s become such an important thing for a band to have strong visual representations of itself online. I’m as much a diehard music lover as anyone, and the first thing I always look at when I’m looking up a new band now isn’t an mp3 clip anymore, it’s a video. If there isn’t one, I’m disappointed.”
Huiting was musical before he was visual. He played guitar and bass in several little-known bands (“When you’re not the singer/songwriter, you have to find a band you really like,” he explained, “and I never found one, unfortunately”). He finally enrolled in videographer classes at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, where he found another way of making his mark in the local music scene.
“He has this really magical quality where you totally forget he’s holding a camera.” singer Caroline Smith said. “He creates this really comfortable environment while giving you gentle direction. I’ve never worked with anyone else that can make me feel comfortable with a camera attached to his face.”
Dianne Steinbach, TPT’s executive producer of “MN Original” and “Lowertown Line,” thinks Huiting has “this great knack for understanding the musicians he works with and seeing things the way they see it.”
Steinbach and TPT were looking for a videographer to shoot local bands for “MN Original” segments that “don’t all look like they’re shot in the same studio.” Coincidentally or not, Dan’s late father was TPT’s director of operations until 2002, and Steinbach remembered the younger Huiting hanging around the studios when he was a kid. But what really made Dan first stand out were his series of imaginatively shot “City of Music” videos for Mpls.tv and City Pages featuring local bands performing around town on rooftops, under bridges or in rehearsal spaces, green rooms and basements. That urban-space look was carried over to “The Lowertown Line,” a second episode of which is now in the works.
“Location is part of the story, and can say a lot about a band,” Huiting explained.
One of the rehearsal-space montages was with the all-star band Gayngs, which is the one Huiting pinpoints as “when things went to another level.” Gayngs’ most starry member, Justin “Bon Iver” Vernon, later recruited Huiting and another budding videographer, Andre Durand, to helm the candescent and haunting video for “Calgary,” the first from Bon Iver’s Grammy-winning eponymous album. Huiting and friend Ryan Thompson then directed three more mostly unpopulated videos (as in: no humans) off “Bon Iver,” and now there’s talk of Huiting helming a documentary movie on Vernon. “Very loose talk,” he clarified.
Working on “MN Original” has given Huiting the chance to film local artists beyond musicians. For example, he recently shot “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” rehearsals at the Guthrie Theater and a poetry reading at the Loft Literary Center.
“I’ve been out of my comfort zone a lot, which has been great,” he said. “Whatever they’re doing, I get to spend my days working with the most creative people living in Minnesota. You can’t ask for much more inspiration than that.”