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Matt Eastin Jumps In with Both Feet

By Terri Stone

Big egos are practically synonymous with the music and film industries. As a music video director and editor, Matt Eastin lives in both of those worlds, yet this self-effacing guy defies the stereotypes. Find out how he got his start and go behind the scenes of some of his favorite videos.

A HANDS-ON BEGINNING

In college, Eastin was part of his school’s media program. While he hosted an entertainment show for a time, he preferred the other side of the camera, where he shot and edited footage for the university’s newsroom.

His first job after graduation was shooting and editing video for a TV travel show. After he left that gig, he continued with similar roles in broadcast and video companies. Then he grew restless. “I wanted to do my own thing,” says Eastin, “and also work on projects I was passionate about. So I started doing free music videos for local bands with some of my friends.” They called themselves Occidental Saloon.

Then and now, Eastin’s home base is Utah. “Utah doesn’t have a reputation for a strong music scene, but the talent that comes out of the state is shocking. One of the earliest videos Occidental Saloon did—this would have been 2009 or 2010—was for an unknown band named Imagine Dragons.” At the time, no one dreamed that the band would go on to score number-one albums, win a Grammy Award—and become closely linked with Eastin.

These videos emphasized live performance, not conceptual storytelling, and the equipment was likewise straightforward: Eastin shot the Imagine Dragons on a Canon 5D D-SLR camera and recorded the audio with a handheld boom mic. “I remember the band looking at the footage on the back of my D-SLR,” Eastin says, “and they were really excited because they’d never had a video before.”

Eastin also recorded performance videos for Neon Trees, the Moth and the Flame, and other groups. “I was trying to re-brand myself as someone who does music videos,” says Eastin, “and eventually I got that reputation.”

That hard-won reputation led to a 2012 offer to helm Audio-Files, a new series for BYUTV. “It was the coolest job I’ve ever had,” he remembers. “I got to fly around the country to interview and record bands.” Eastin kicked off the series by filming two songs by his old friends, Imagine Dragons. (You can still see those pieces and a few others on the BYUTV website.) When Audio-Files ended, Eastin took on commercial work to pay the bills.

And then Imagine Dragons’ On Top of the World single became popular. The band asked Eastin to create the official music video, and he enthusiastically dove in. He and the band dreamed up an elaborate concept set in an alternate 1969 that involved a faked moon landing, hippies, and Richard Nixon. “I had a whole month, so I was able to micro-manage every bit of it. We even talked about what colors everyone should wear. And we put in about 200 Easter eggs.” 

Eastin says, “I loved doing the On Top of the World video because its retro style was a lot of fun.” Listen closely for the line “One false step for man, one giant deceit for mankind”—that’s Eastin speaking through a karaoke machine. “We recorded it in my basement at 4 AM.” 

In addition to co-directing the video with Corey Fox, Eastin edited it. “I feel like every director should know how to edit,” he says. “If you’re familiar with the editing process, it helps when you’re on set—you know when you have enough footage.”

MAKING ROOTS

The video for Imagine Dragons’ Roots was a very different experience. “The band was on a crazy tour schedule,” Eastin says, “and I got a call from Dan [Reynolds, the band’s lead singer] at 2 am on a Monday night. He says, ‘We’re going to be in New Zealand on Friday and we’ll have a day off. Let’s shoot a music video.’ I said, ‘OK, what do you want the video to be?’ And Dan says, ‘I don’t know, let’s figure out something!’”

The crew was essentially Eastin and Ty Arnold as director of photography. The concept took shape as they filmed. One example is the footage of Dan Reynolds singing lyrics underwater. “Once Ty and I landed and were with the band, Dan was talking about how he was burned out from the tour, and I thought, ‘Man, he’s living underwater right now.’” Off to a hotel bathtub they went.

“The Roots video was very real,” Eastin says. “We weren’t telling Dan how to act. They were natural experiences that we just captured.” 

The home videos in Roots of lead singer Dan Reynolds as a kid are genuine. Eastin says he watched more than 20 hours of video to find the snippets that made it into the final cut.

MAKING SHOTS BROILER REMIX

The premise of the Shots Broiler Remix alternate music video may not sound like much—Reynolds dances his way through Las Vegas, interacting with people on the streets—but it’s exhilarating to watch. “That was real, too,” Eastin says. “Dan was in the moment. He was home, he was in a good mood, and he wanted to go out and listen to his new remix on repeat for three hours and just dance with people.”

Eastin captured the mood with a skeleton crew. Eastin and Aaron Coleman shot the footage. “Aaron was holding my back belt loop and I was yelling directions to Dan, who couldn’t even hear me because he had headphones on,” Eastin says. Meanwhile, Eastin’s wife and Imagine Dragons manager (and Dan Reynolds’ brother) Mac Reynolds were following with clipboards to get model releases. “I’d yell back at them, ‘That was a really good moment, we need a release form!’ It was chaotic and ridiculous, but I love how it turned out.”

Watch this video for an instant pick-me-up.

MAKING BELIEVER

Eastin’s latest Imagine Dragons video is for the single Believer. It depicts Dan Reynolds squaring off against an older version of himself (played by Dolph Lundgren) in a Tron-style boxing ring. From the characters to the set to the crew, everything about the Believer video was big, but Eastin approached editing the footage in his usual manner.

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How would you tell the Believer story? Remix Eastin’s footage and you may win $25,000 in Adobe’s Make the Cut contest.

“My cuts are on beat,” he explains. I’m pretty meticulous about it. I’ve even been critiqued about it. But the song is in charge—I’m just trying to add an accent to it. In Believer, the first 54 seconds of the song is build-up. I knew the first time I heard it that I couldn’t throw the first punch until 55 seconds.”

Eastin says, “I’m really curious to see the Make the Cut contest entries. Maybe someone else will start with punching.”

HOW TO RE-BRAND YOURSELF

While Eastin doesn’t yet make a living on music alone, the re-branding he kick-started years ago with free videos for local bands is a definite success. “A guy who does wedding videos will always be a wedding video guy,” he says. “That’s not a knock against wedding videographers, but you probably won’t get the call to do the commercial or music video. If you keep your day job, you’re so limited in what you can do. It’s almost like you need to jump in with both feet and hope you land on something.”

Eastin still directs and edits the occasional music video pro bono. It’s partially because he loves it, but it’s also savvy marketing. “I’m still trying to maintain that brand for myself,” he explains, “but it’s not like I have a marketing budget, and I don’t always work on cool stuff. So when I share one of my videos on Facebook to help promote myself, 9 times out of 10, it’s a video I didn’t get paid to do. Now I’m advertising, yet it doesn’t look like advertising.”

“I’ve heard arguments that you shouldn’t do free work for exposure,” Eastin continues. “I’m on the other side of that. That exposure goes a long way for me. Doing free music videos is how I got to do the Believer music video.”

You can follow Matt Eastin on Facebook.