Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thinking About Flash

As I learn the basics of Flash animation, I’ve been looking around to see what people have been able to do with it. I returned to, a goofy cartoon website I used to like years ago, before I knew what Flash was or that it was the program that was used to make this and so many other cartoons circulating around on the internet.

The piece I looked at was part of a series of cartoons featuring a character named Strong Bad, a sort of macho-voiced goofball in who wears boxing gloves but can somehow still type on a keyboard (if ever there was a reason to love cartoons, this is it).

Strong Bad sits behind a computer screen and reads off an email from a “fan” who asks him if he can videotape his wedding. We see him from behind, and as he reads, we can see the back of his head move with the words he says and his reflection in the computer screen he sits in front of acts like a mirror.

Later, we see a series of vignettes that basically satirize the bad job this character would do if he got the job as a wedding videographer. Fairly simple green and blue backgrounds are used to show grass or sky and help accent the cartoonish feel of this other world. It’s an interesting way of making fun of very real-life phenomena in the context of a world where everything is silly and clearly fabricated and off-base.

Documentary Production Notes

Making a movie can be a serendipitous affair.


In a lot of ways, this is how I look back on the process of making the short documentary “NYC in One Word” with Diana Wong this semester. Not because we didn’t do a lot of planning in advance. It was serendipitous because a lot of unexpected, unsolicited and unusual things happened when we went out to shoot—including the very content our project would be built around.

We set out with one basic idea: we should ask people to describe New York City, in just one word. We went around the Hunter College campus and fanned out around the Upper East Side. Many people (maybe a majority) refused to answer the question on camera. This is one of the unpredictable things about making this kind of documentary. We took it in stride. But the people who did answer the question gave us some rich answers and took the project in a direction we wouldn’t have even considered.

One student decided to go on and on, ruminating about how hard it was to come up with a single word (I counted 211 words), before giving us an entirely made-up word to describe the city. What we ended up doing was intercutting between his long-winded diatribe and the many more concise offerings we got. I wasn’t sure what we would do with such a long ramble; it was at odds with what we’d initially set out to do. But when we got back to the editing room, two essential truths about documentary filmmaking finally hit home. First, be flexible; what you end up with might be better than what you originally envisioned. And second, more than anything else, the real art of this reified art form is the sculpting of raw materials (footage) into a real work (an edited piece).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Look at Editing in a Contemporary Music Video

Jay-Z’s new music video “Empire State of Mind” says just as much with its editing the song does with its lyrics. It opens with a series of still photos form various New York Neighborhoods rapidly flashing across the screen. We get glimpses of street signs in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and various views Manhattan streets. These shots are cut in a precise, yet frenetic way to match exactly on beat as the bass drops before the rest of the audio track.

As the video goes on, there’s a sharp contrast between gracefully moving helicopter and crane shots and statically-framed shots of Jay-Z rapping in various locales throughout the city. The diversity of the city is among the things highlighted by the various sides of the city that we see and the contrast between night and day, motion and stillness, close-ups and wide shots.

The shots also often synch up with shots of part of the city that Jay-Z raps about. At one point, he talks about being in Tribeca at a moment when someone who knows New York well, would recognize that he’s in Tribeca.

This video is a particularly meaningful, dynamic and living example of an editing convention that has risen to prominence in the modern music video: you can be anywhere. Continuity is deliberately done away with and throughout the course of one song whose audio track plays seamlessly throughout the video, the performer (who we maintain an illusion of as performing while we watch) appears in five different outfits, and in at least eight different parts of the city.