It could cost a couple of hundred dollars or half a million: it was a three-minute combination of art and commerce: and in the 1980s, the music video looked like an irresistible cultural force. St Kilda Film Festival this weekend celebrates the form, and highlights four local filmmakers who made some of Australia's most innovative and influential examples.

For a panel discussion, One Step Ahead, they have each chosen three of their own clips to present, and three more that will screen as part of a post-show dance party.

Chris Lofven is the senior member of the group. For Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock, made for about $200 in 1971, he put together a collage of black-and-white footage that showed the band playing around, at a range of Melbourne locations (and South Australia's Myponga Music Festival).

It might be a familiar classic, but the version screening at One Step Ahead has a new element. The National Film and Sound Archive has unearthed a version Lofven had forgotten; it was done as an experiment, with some optical effects in colour.

At that time, there were few outlets for these clips. Then Countdown came along and every band had to have a video. Sometimes, ambitions got out of hand: Lofven recalls a video he made for Shine, by Kids in the Kitchen, as a nightmare assignment, he says cheerfully. It was an extravaganza that was meant to look like the Russian Revolution, a mini-feature produced on a three-night shoot. "It had fireworks and explosions and things being shot from helicopters", and he probably spent the $25,000 budget on the first night of shooting. He's come full circle, he says, his most recent video being for a band called the Curves, an affectionate, retro-style clip for a song called Bus Driver, that was made, like Eagle Rock, for cost.

Ray Argall directed more than 40 videos for the likes of Midnight Oil, Split Enz and Crowded House in the 1980s. "We were young filmmakers in our early to mid-20s, working with musicians the same age. And there was a creative mix." Members of bands like the Models and Split Enz brought ideas to the table, were enthusiastic collaborators and subjects. Midnight Oil had a strong sense of vision for their clips.

It was a licence to explore boundaries, Argall says. "From the record companies' point of view, they were getting 3½ minutes of free advertising, but they didn't expect them to look like commercials. They had money to spend, but [there] were no guidelines or formulas."

Many of the people who made video clips went on to work in TV and to make documentaries and features. For aspiring filmmakers, Argall says, "music videos were keeping us busy and employed. Doing the clips was a fantastic opening, and it kept you working in the same arena."

Paul Goldman, who in the 1980s was part of an outfit known as the Rich Kids, recalls some extravagant times. "The budgets we were dealing with were sometimes stupendously stupid. I made a video for a band called Berlin for half a million dollars."

He has kept a careful count of his output. "I've made 219 videos, but only 19 of them are memorable." Among the clips he has chosen for the panel are the Birthday Party's Nick the Stripper – "dare I say so myself, I think it's one of the all-time great music videos" – and Kylie Minogue's Better the Devil You Know: "It was a game-changer for her, she's said so many times." In the final analysis, he says, performance is his focus. "I admire a lot of music videos that are very beautiful short films or experimental films, but one of the reasons people come to me is because I'm keen to get really memorable performances out of artists."

There was plenty of creative competition among the video teams, the four recall. Goldman says that he regards Richard Lowenstein's seven-minute video for Hunters & Collectors' Talking to a Stranger as "the best video made in this country," but he'll take some of the credit for it. "I'm happy to say that Richard made it as a reply to Nick the Stripper," he says.

Lowenstein and Goldman were students at what was then Swinburne Film and Television School, a year apart, and they were interested in working with the same bands, but their approaches were different.

Many musicians of the 1980s, Lowenstein says, "created these songs that were cinematic, that were almost like film soundtracks. They were roaring up the pop charts but were also like god's gift to filmmakers."

Some of his visual influences, he says, came from growing up around the Melbourne Film Co-op, seeing the works of experimental filmmakers such as Arthur and Corinne Cantrill and Dirk de Bruyn: their images were an inspiration, although not their soundtracks, he says.

Making a clip, he suggests, "You want to do something that has a resonance, so that it stays around. It was being called a disposable art form, but you were trying to do something that transcended the era."

One Step Ahead is at the Astor Theatre on Saturday at 8.30pm. www.stkildafilmfestival.com.au