A. video art: redefining my approach

Redefining my art: A new website, a new Instagram handle (#modularvideo), and a new scanlines account . . .

I’ve been shooting television for decades, acquiring a pretty fair skillset in lighting and photography, so I’ve been really drawn to re-enter the art (my first video art project was decades ago using a Grass Valley 300 switcher, luma-keyed hand-burnished Letraset type, live models, and chroma-keyed goldfish in a tank, all recorded to a Sony BVH-1000 one-inch Type-C machine).

From my spray-painted ode to Pong in the basement of CalArts, witness to numerous Nam Jun Paik-esque installations, and now living a world of super-chipped GLSL-shaders and sub-$500 65" LED screens, video has come a long way.

Traditional narrative filmmaking is difficult to do well (and hella expensive), but I’ve also always been interested in 2D-design and typography (doing some layout and pre-press work in my former marketing career), and video-synthesis may encompass all of this. New tools coming from LZX, combined with gems from BPMC and Syntonie, as well as upcycled consumer and broadcast gear, I feel well-armed to approach this new genre.

But what is it?

I’ve been mentally attempting to craft the “format.” Not in a general, philosophic way, but in a specific, storyboard-like paradigm. Again, stripped of the conformities of narrative filmmaking or traditional television fare, attempting to define my new “format” has been both challenging and exciting.

So inspiration is called for . . . I happened to find that in another eBay find: Leader 408 NTSC pattern-generator; I’ll start with a test-pattern!

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Sources: I’ve been concentrating on building an infrastructure for multiple sources for playback (I shoot all of my own photography and video source-footage). I got some Sony VCRs, all with front-panel tracking controls, plus a very pricey digital playback device, a Roland P-20HD which is excellent for this application.

The Leader test-generator is part of this; another video-source for glitch-fodder. And “different” is always good. I also like the idea of juxtapositioning pristine images with degraded/glitched ones.

I just thought of re-purposing my storyboard software. Very expensive, and I never really used it. I have a couple of character add-on packs. It’s basically a pre-viz app used by director/screenwriters, a crude sort of animation-like creator. Then again, this probably a stupid idea.

I have a fair backlog of raw footage from my short film projects, much of it you will see re-purposed for glitch. Of course I have new plans to shoot video specific for glitching, and have ample tools to tackle the job (e.g., two Super35 digital cine-cameras, a Steadicam, track-dolly, etc.). Already shot some desert footage on my Sony FS100 I’ve yet to ingest. But it’s the more studio set-up stuff I’d like to shoot (I also have a high-speed camera; so like a girl opening a shook-up can Coke at 240fps).

This all follows the same theme I was using back at CalArts: Typical “glamour” images (portrait-like shots of a pretty girl), flash-cut with sweep-table shots of consumer products. This time, I’ll contrast these with the damaged images. Or maybe discarded or naturally degraded or spoiled things, stuff that’s no longer shiny and new, trash. Trying to avoid the perception as a “message” piece (too on the nose); just seeking images with visual contrast.

But the “new” “old” trope, or “pretty” “ugly,” sounds as tired as old shoes now that I write it out load. Like I said, I’m searching for a new approach. A fresh take. Another way of thematically connecting contiguous images.

I also used a lot of transportation motifs, only because I find them interesting. So I have a lot of footage of jet planes, subways, trains; though, a bit short on cars and freeways (will remedy that soon).

I need a vehicle-mount with a PTZ-controllable camera with remote iris-control. Only the Panasonic prosumer camcorders’ LANC-C type connection also carries iris-control data. The pile of used APS-C Sony mirrorless cameras I bought recently don’t.


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I got a shimmer of an idea on how to proceed. I was struck by the high-def beauty of the VFX presets in my new Roland V-02HD MKII switcher. I was pretty impressed with the silhouette preset in particular. It’s cool because it allows you to pick a single color to show in addition to the black-and-white effect (e.g., like the blue bulb in one of the vignettes in the movie Flashdance).

So I’ll start with a live-action sequence of city-ish shots in silhouette with a color-pass, plus shots specifically set-up for this; perhaps low-mode tracking shots of my GF walking in high heels.

The other V-02HD’s color-effects are also very interesting looking, e.g., saturation-offset, hue-offset, etc.:

Creativity . . . the final frontier. The kernel of all art and so difficult to spark. Something new, something “fresh.” Something, not boring. Something lucid and engaging.

So, a gratuitous snapshot of my GF’s legs and my 1990s-era Fender HM Strat. I have to talk her into modeling for me soon to do that Steadicam/track-dolly shot of her in a pair of 4" heels.

Girls & guns:

So I logged onto evike.com tonight, a major SoCal airsoft retailer, searching for prop gun replicas for this new film idea I’ve been toying with. I just ordered a Glock 17 green-gas pistol with full-blowback and an Umarex full-sized H&K 416 replica. Both look super-cool and ultra-realistic.


[Natalie Portman firing a Colt M4A1 in Annihilation.]

This is to arm my GF in full post-apocalypse weapons-glam. Wearing a 3M full-face respirator with an automatic rifle slung over her shoulder should make for a pretty neat image. I do have some footage of a stunt woman wielding a plastic AR-15 spring-gun, which I shot in a parking structure with a Los Angeles Metro train in the background that I still need to ingest.

All this footage is now planned for the Roland V-02HD effects-box, with its silhouette VFX in mind in particular. The graphic abstraction will assist in smoothing over the less-than-perfect wardrobe, props, and acting, making for (hopefully) interesting visuals, rather than just a low-budget attempt at replicating a scene from a Hollywood feature.

Shooting sci-fi on a less-than-shoestring budget is tough, so this will probably just be relegated as “video art.” That’s why the “new format” question; i.e, How to produce cinematic, narrative-style images and integrate them into a non-narrative format that still makes some kind of sense as standalone video content.

Other props: Biohazard personal protective equipment (PPE) is relatively affordable, and actors donned in PPE gear always look somehow interesting, science-ey, and futuristic (e.g., Amy Adams in Arrival).

Perhaps this fictional biological-threat (i.e., the reason for the PPE) has hallucinogenic properties which could serve as the excuse for introducing analog video-synthesizer effects. Have to be ultra-careful here: The line between this actually working and it becoming Velveeta-level cheese is razor-thin.

Weapons:

So I went a little crazy with Evike’s flash sales. I got Annihilation fever and also grabbed an FN SCAR in desert-livery. Why? It’s the rifle Isaac Oscar’s character is pictured with in the bedside photo in Annihilation. It’s a full-metal replica weighing-in at 7.5 lbs., so it’ll have the weight and feel of a real gun. I’m also a model train geek, so I have a ton of weathering materials to better age the somewhat unrealistic paint job of the replica.

SCAR1

I shot some footage of my GF wandering the desolate beachfront in the Salton Sea on a recent road trip. This would be perfect for that.

To aid in shooting-continuity, or in this case, dis-continuity, the main character can wake up in completely different environments when she recovers from her dream-states. Each time, she has to figure out a way to survive.

Dream-state:

This just gets weirder and stupider. Then, she can “wake up” in a club. Can anyone here hook me up with a Los Angeles club to shoot in? And of course, the club has a VJ! So more video-synthesis stuff.

As you can see, my ideas are all over the place. Disparate images, locations, settings. Without the burden of having to write a 120-page script or tell a linear-story, I can do all kinds of stuff. Whether it forms a cohesive whole, or is just a mess of disconnected visuals, who cares? I believe I will make it make sense on some visceral-visual level, at least to my satisfaction.

Some of my favorite dream-sequences: 2001, Altered States, The Cell. The Cell’s lurid, sexually-infused production design and constuming was jaw-dropping.

Space:

My favorite genre. I tried to buy a NASA spacesuit costume once, but the costume house said it was so bad they wouldn’t sell it to me. Any decent ones are tens of thousands of dollars.

Sexy robots:

Absolutely love this sub-genre: Ex Machina, Westworld, Blade Runner. No budget for this kind of high-flying CG.

Mind/machine-interface:

Effects genius Douglas Trumball’s masterwork, Brainstorm, and the James Cameron/Katherine Bigelow film Strange Days are my top-picks. Perhaps even more provocative than sexy robots; e.g., both films portray playback of virtual-pornography recorded by others. No budget for this level of production either, but machine-vision could be a possibility; i.e., using video-synthesis images as an example of a fictitious, crude visual device for the blind where the main character receives an implant with various outcomes.

The Roland V-02HD’s “mosaic” effect could be useful here. Placed judiciously within a simulated human-vision perspective similar to the one which Westworld uses when playing back host memories; i.e, a simple vignette-effect.

Horror:

Really love this genre yet it’s so rarely done well or effectively. I would love to introduce some of these elements somehow. Horror has traditionally been the most bang-for-the-buck movie genre and is how many indie studios jump-started their enterprises (e.g., Lionsgate, A24, Ghost House, etc.).

Also, some real gems in the Black Mirror series and Blumhouse has created an entire brand built around it. I saw Jason Blum as a recent premiere and if I had a script worth shooting, I could’ve just thrown it at him.

L.A. traffic:

Yet another disconnected theme. I’m stuck in traffic a good portion of my day (also, “write what you know”). Somehow, that has to make it in here. Plus, vehicle-mounts and vehicle-to-vehicle shooting always looks good and ups the production value. That Taxi Driver taxicab-in-the-rain montage kind of stuff always works as well.

Plus, various modes of transportation are often easily transformed into metaphors. Here, we have the L.A. Metro and LAX, both past subjects of my lens.

I’ll try to post some Salton Sea footage later. I’ve woken from my drunken stupor (though, I don’t drink). And I think the Groundhog Day meets the Apocalypse may have some promise. I’m loosely inspired by the excellent dystopian novella, “False Dawn,” a pretty f’ing good end-of-the-world tale with a female protagonist. But this will mostly be images and little dialogue. I could use a scene with an army guy in full desert-dress to match my new FN SCAR. Do army guys get to keep all their army stuff?

EAS:

I have the opening frame. This is from a local TV news station, so I can re-create the graphic based on this CBS affiliate’s EAS screen:

FEMA’s Emergency Alert System (a.k.a. Emergency Action Notification system), formally the Emergency Broadcast System: All broadcast stations (and now, cable systems and mobile providers) transmit an EAS graphic and emit an audible buzzer during regular tests of the system.

I can create the background graphic in Pixelmator and import the PNG into an NLE. I recently built a system around the PC-only Magix Vegas NLE (formally Sony Vegas). I’m all macOS, but Vegas is really neat. It’s super-easy to use and very powerful. Third-party effects plug-ins are mostly affordable.

The NLE can produce the CG-crawl in the lower-thirds for displaying the county-specific instructions. I wrote a fairly detailed thread about Vegas on the MW forum here.

I also have access to a broadcast TV master-control room at work, though I don’t know how my bosses would feel about me using it for a personal project. Sure would be cool, though.

A slow-boil . . . like Arrival begins. It starts slowly, and the pacing is perfect. Birdbox also does this well, but much faster.

Now, it’s stupid to start a sci-fi film project with no money. You just end up with a shitty version of a big budget feature. So I’m attempting to structure some sort of narrative-form into a more “art project,” video-synthesis context.

Broadcast TV network:

SMPTEbars-1

Immediately preceding the EAS graphic, I can create simulated screens from a broadcast network control room; as if we are seeing the feed moments before the TD switches to the EAS graphic. Of course these screens are now prime candidates for glitching.

I can try to pull off a couple shots at work with quasi-permission (i.e., hide the identity of the actual network and they might let me do it).

In the War of the Worlds plane crash scene, the WCBS microwave van shown is a relatively accurately equipped newsvan (though a bit dated), complete with CBS logo (since Paramount is owned by Viacom/CBS). I think this attention to accuracy really ups the credibility of the scene.

Typically in a master-control (the room where the national network-feed is switched), there are screens showing each satellite/ingest-point in a crude monospaced font as shown above. They have odd names, some familiar, some not. In L.A., Mount Wilson is one. Anywho, I can show SMPTE-bars full-frame as if the network is just about to experience a national blackout.

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