K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick! (bop_radar) wrote,
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!

Making 'Paranoid Android'

Paranoid Android feels like a milestone in my history as a vidder. I learnt so much in making it, both about vidding and about the show (Smallville) and the character (Lex). Originally I was going to post notes about the vid with the vid, but I decided against this for two reasons:
1. I didn't want to impose my own reading of the vid on viewers.
2. I realised I had a lot more to say than could be justified as just 'notes'.

So for those who are curious, this was my journey with 'Paranoid Android'.

The vidding process
radioreverie reminded me today that she first fed me the idea for the vid in January 2006, when she sent me a list of vid bunnies she'd had (it pays to keep those, even if you're not a vidder!). I'm ashamed to admit that I'd forgotten that's where it started. It feels like it's been lurking around the back of my brain for a long, long time. With the lyric 'when I am king, you will be first against the wall', it's hard NOT to think of Lex Luthor developing into his future iconic self, with Superman as his adversary. For a long time my thoughts about this song went something along these lines: 'Wow, this is the ultimate Lex song. Someone will totally make this.' Except it slowly dawned on me that there was no guarantee of that, so I shifted to being more and more worried that noone was going to make it. Then I started to feel I should make it.

It took a lot of courage to get me to that point. That may seem absurd, but here are some of the things I found daunting in tackling this vid:
1. It's Smallville's Lex Luthor. Luthor is one of the most iconic supervillains of all time, and Rosenbaum's performance is the most sophisticated and nuanced embodiment of that.
2. It's Radiohead. Their music is sophisticated in a way that I knew would challenge my musicality as a vidder. Their quality is a double-edged sword because poor vidding would be all the more obvious against it. I think most other vidders would agree with me that the idea of vidding to Radiohead is a little, er, scary. It felt like playing dress-ups in your mum's clothes.
3. It's 6.25 minutes long. *headdesk* There are essays out there that say you shouldn't vid anything longer than three minutes. They're probably right. It is very hard to sustain interest, a narrative and emotional intensity over such a long track. However, I knew from the start that cutting the track was not an option (see point 2: Radiohead songs are not made for cutting).
4. It's SEVEN SEASONS of Smallville. We're talking about 7 seasons of 20 episodes or more. That's a hell of a lot of source material. Again, I think fellow vidders will feel my Daunted.
All credit here goes to radioreverie who not only reminded me about the vid idea from time to time (I'm sure it was all part of her Masterplan) but also reassured me when I first tentatively hinted that I might actually make it. I confessed my fears to her and she was completely supportive.

It wasn't until earlier this year that I decided I may as well tackle it myself despite the aforementioned factors. I must say that Season 7's Lex was a big inspiration for that. I know Lex's descent has been a rocky and contentious path for many fans (the whole 'lightswitching' debate raged for years), but I have personally loved it despite that. It has been painful; it has brought me to tears; I have felt strangely disconnected from him for periods only to find myself plunged suddenly back into his point-of-view with staggering intensity. I have longed for him to just break loose already into supervillainy, and then been chilled when he has. Season 6 was a bit rough for me in that I felt Lex was opaque to me for much of the season--in Season 7 I was let back in, which meant that the final dark twists of his journey, as well as the chilling reveals about his childhood, were all the more intense. I'd begun work on 'Paranoid Android' before Descent aired, before Fracture aired. Both of them absolutely thrilled me, gave me heaps to work with and made me more determined that ever that this vid had to see the light of day.

Just to make things harder for myself (cue hysterical laughter) I decided to change my way of vidding. Without going into the tech too much (because I find it hard to follow too!) I changed from clipping in my editing program from vob files and then rendering, to clipping before I imported into the editing program. This meant a great deal less time-consuming rendering (i.e. I didn't have to render every time I changed anything at all about the clip) but did mean that I had to work out in advance what shots I might want to use. I've always vidded very organically--I'm not one of those vidders that has every shot worked out in advance in a storyboard--so I like having a lot at my fingertips. That meant a lot of clipping. 53 Gig of clipping to be precise. (Yes, my true flail-y-ness as a vidder is revealed!)

I went through every episode, keeping notes of any scenes that might be useful. Where I was sure I needed them (e.g. meteor shower from Pilot) I clipped them straight away. But I also consulted my notes a great deal in the later stages of the vid to find clips I'd belatedly discovered I needed. That sounds so organised and linear, but actually it was much messier, because I'm also an impatient vidder, so I started laying out stuff on the timeline before I'd finished clipping. That helped me to see what was and wasn't working straight away, and helped me familiarise myself with the track. I felt like I needed to 'live with' this vid for a long time because of the scope. Watching lots of Lex scenes helped, so did listening to the track over and over. It was a slow process, but I felt like the vid gradually revealed itself to me.

Right from the start I had a clear idea what I wanted to do with some sections. The 'rain down' sequence was where I wanted to use both the blood rain and the meteor shower, but also the reversal process that occurs--with Lex taking on the role of being the one raining down destruction on the rest of the world. Other sections became clear in brainstorming with radioreverie. I remember particularly discussing the 'unborn chicken voices' with her, as well as the use of Helen for 'Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy'. I also had a clear idea of what atmosphere I wanted to set up from the start. Season 3 footage was a goldmine there--since there we saw a literally paranoid Lex. I believe paranoia informs his thinking in a far more subtle way even now, but it was terrific fun to show Lex freaking out about the bugging of his office, suspecting the Kents and Chloe of conspiracy, suspecting Lana of poisoning him, and so on.

I went through at least six drafts of this vid. That's the most I've formally drafted of any vid ever. The first one only radioreverie saw--because she was impatient and kept poking me to see where I'd got. Also, I knew I could trust her to tell me where I was or wasn't on the right track because I knew her vision of the vid was as close to mine as anyone's could be. That trust was in no way misplaced. Showing early drafts to people is pretty nerve-wracking for me (it kind of feels like suddenly being revealed in your underwear in front of your friends) and I'm sure I angsted at her a bit, but she was both reassuring and direct: X needed to go, Y was tonally inappopriate, Z didn't work. But it was awesome. There were whole sequences, whole slabs of vid that got binned thanks to her. And anyone who's seen the finished product should be grateful because she was spot on every time, even if sometimes it was very hard for me to come to terms with.

One example: the original 'chicken voices' sequence used Bad!Lex locking Good!Lex in the basement in Onyx. I loved that shot and I loved the shot of them fusing together afterwards. I thought it would work to show the two aspects of Lex at war with each other. But it totally didn't work visually. It wasn't clear enough what was happening and it took the viewer into too specific an episode context. It had to go. So did a shot of Lex hurling Lionel across the cornfield onto a car after he got his Zod powers. I loved the shot, but it wasn't 'intimate' enough for the 'when you are king' sequence. Again, radioreverie persuaded me and held my hand while I deleted my 'babies'.

Good vidding sessions were followed by less successful vidding sessions. I remember fondly spending hours vidding Nemesis footage to about 30 seconds of vid, only to realise while exporting that it served no purpose whatsover in the vid and didn't (as radioreverie pointed out) even suit that section of the track well tonally. *headdesk*

And then my harddrive crashed. I was out of my mind with worry. I'd had it happen before and lost several vids. I flew into action to try and get the data back--and thanks to my IT-trained boyfriend (all vidders should have one!) got some back. Most of Season 6 files corrupted but I was able to recover the rest and patch back together the vid. In some ways, it was a blessing because I'd hit an emotional wall with the vid, I was stalling, and then losing it made me realise how desperately committed I was. Once I had a harddrive back, it was full steam ahead.

Later drafts were viewed by brokenmnemonic, talitha78 and supacat as well as radioreverie. They each provided feedback of a very different sort. Thankfully the vid was a lot more polished by the time they saw it, so I was testing how it came across to peole who came to it 'blind'--and it was such a thrill to see their reactions, as well as to get some last minute advice on timing and flow and meta. And to have a cheersquad to get me over the line when the 'oh my god I will NEVER get theres' hit. THANK YOU GUYS!

Am I happy with the outcome? Yes. There are a couple of tech errors in the vid I'd like to fix, and I'd love to restyle it using S7 DVD rips when they become available so it's extra purty, but apart from that I'm satisfied.

Would I do anything differently? Despite the rambly process, I can't say that I would because it was such a journey of discovery for me. I could have lived without the harddrive crash angst though. ;)

Smallville's visual landscape
If you've ever read one of my episode reviews for Smallville, you may know that I'm a little obsessed with the visual symbolism in the show. It is highly articulate and often says things about the characters a lot more eloquently than the dialogue does. Smallville has always poured a lot of money and resources into the photography, set design and special effects. It has a very distinct saturated aesthetic that it chooses to break with only for very deliberate purposes. This evokes its comicbook universe origins, but also allows the show to do a lot with colour symbolism I think I've always been pretty attuned to this aspect of the show, but in making 'Paranoid Android' I discovered new aspects of Smallville's visual world, which I believe are revealing.

Dark and light
One of the most interesting things I discovered was really, really obvious. The directors have always used light and dark to represent Clark's relative spheres of safety: the farm is usually flooded with sunlight, Smallville the town/the school/the Talon are all usually quite brightly lit, but where Clark encounters danger, the scenes get darker and more shadowy. When danger, either physical (e.g. meteor-infected freak of the week) or emotional (e.g. an angsty convo with Lex or Lana), invades the barn (which represents Clark's inner world), you can bet there are long shadows. Well, the same holds true for Lex--it's just that it's taken us a lot longer to get there. In the latest couple of seasons, there has been a steady darkening of the Luthorcorp office set. From bright blue and steely grey, through to the pitch black we saw in 'Descent'. This also holds true for Lex's office at the mansion. In early seasons, it was sunny and open. We saw it in darkness only occasionally--when Lex was under attack, for instance, in Shattered. But in Season 6 and Season 7, it was far more common to find Lex sitting in darkness, brooding over the fire, or long shadows cast across the office. You may remember Lana and Lex lying in each others arms in sunlight on the sofa, until a shadow moves over them in 'Vessel'--that's a perfect example of the way light and shade were used to represent different spheres of emotional security for Lex. This discovery made me realise that although it usually feels like the story is told from Clark's perspective, the directors have been equally conscious of showing us visually where things stand for Lex.

Above and below ground
In addition to darkness and light in Lex's office and home spaces, there is also the matter of his relationship with both the Luthorcorp skyscraper and various underground passages. Both represent a move towards future!Lex. The Luthorcorp tower, especially in its Season 7 establishment shot, where it towers over the Daily Planet, is connected with Lex's growth as a public figure and businessman. His ambitions are lofty and he literally knocks Lionel off the tower. At the same time, he's digging deeper and deeper underground.

Things are a little trickier to follow here because 'Level 33.1' has moved locations several times. It is 'underground' not always literally, but figuratively in that it is a hidden or subterranean aspect of Lex's undertakings. In addition to this, we've seen Lex use actual underground tunnels for meetings, for research and for scientific development. He's connected very strongly with this 'underground' facility, and it was important for me, in the vid, to show him in these tunnels towards the end. They are such an ambiguous space for him, I believe, since they allow him to explore secret aspects of himself and his goals in freedom, away from public scrutiny, but they also represent a maze which he gets lost in and a space of danger.

So we are left with the paradox of a Lex who simultaneously wants to look down at the world from his tower and is undermining the world from underneath.

Complicating this dynamic further is the fact that Clark comes from the sky but is also associated with some subterranean locations such as the Kowatche Caves--a space which Lex penetrates in search of answers about him. So Clark too has dual aspects, and I tried to weave these together in the 'rain down' sequence. The aliens may come from outer space but it's under the Earth that Lex first gains some answers about them.

The Lex 'reveal' shot
Smallville has a stock bag of close-ups and camera angles which it uses on a regular basis. This is both good and bad--it can start to feel repetitious, but it also allows the directors to control associations and viewer sympathy through this repetition. One common shot set up is to show one character in extreme close-up with the other one visible over their shoulder, e.g. 1.30 of the vid, where the viewer is privy to Lex's conflicted emotions in his altercation with Clark. Such shots give us the perspective of an individual character without them being exposed to the character they're interacting with.

Another typical shot which you may be familiar with is the shot of Lex turning 180 degrees to face the camera. Usually this is done in two shots: one where we see his body start to turn, and the other an ultra close-up of his face revealing his emotional state. The classic example is 1.49 when Lex turns to see Clark lifting the concrete. The shot I've used at 5.32, from inside Lex's mind in 'Fracture', is also such a shot, though I've cropped it so that we only see the end of the movement. There are dozens of other instances of this shot throughout the series. In fact I coined my own term for it ('the Lex reveal shot') as I was vidding because he does it so often in conversation--usually when he's connecting with his darker half. Sometimes it follows hot on the heels of the 'perspective' shot I mentioned in the previous paragraph; in such instances we get to see the shift from private, inner Lex to the Lex that the public sees. The Lex revealed is usually scathing, bitchy, vicious, chilling, cynical or amused--but every so often he's emotionally completely exposed, as in the shot from 'Shattered' where he sees Clark stop the car. This is a modified version of the 'reveal' shot because he's already facing Clark when it happens, but the swing of his head is still very deliberate. We see him look down and focus internally, processing his emotions, before glancing up again.

I am hesitant to post this section of my notes, as I do want people to bring their own interpretations to the vid. So warning: if you don't want to know what my thinking behind certain sequences was, don't read on!

I very deliberately avoided making an 'argument' with this vid. My intention was to take viewers on a journey into the perspective of Lex Luthor. I believe Radiohead's song is the perfect medium for this, not just because of its epic sweep and mood changes, but also because of its knife-edge balance between neuroticism and cynicism. The lyrics are sarcastic: 'please could you stop the noise'; 'yuppies networking', etc, but also very melodramatic ('When I am king'!). They have a self-aware aspect as well: you get the feeling that the narrator knows they are being a drama queen but is far beyond caring because the world is pissing them off just that damn much. That's SO LEX.

I did not intend this to be a meta vid, but at the same time, my own history with Smallville meta definitely influenced the production of the vid. I was very conscious of the visual symbolism and of remaining true to the direction of the show. For instance, it was important for me to use symbols from the show (like the blood rain, or the sword, or the fireplace) in the context within which we see them in the show, or with the same purpose as they have on the show (to mean the same things)--because they have such strong resonance for viewers, even if only at a subliminal level. Yes, I did use some material 'out of context' (Lex's bloody piano hands come from 'Spell' of all episodes!) but I still tried to remain true to the show by tieing it using it both to reflect Lex's increasing exhaustion with the game-playing of both Lionel and Clark, and to riff off the fact that Lex gets more and more blood on his hands against his will. I don't expect either of those things to come across consciously for viewers as they watch (though it would be cool if they did!) but I hope those links are made at a subconscious level so that they don't jar the viewer.

Certain parts of the song leant themselves to exploring specific aspects of Lex. The line 'Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy' was probably one of the most painful parts of the vid for me to make. It was obvious pretty early that this was the section I would use to reflect on Lex's relationships with women: it said 'Helen' and her post-Lex-death shopping bags to me straight away. However, it's the 'ugliest' part of the vid for me. It's amazing how many of Lex's girls end up dead! Even Lana had to fake her death to get away. Sometimes Lex is directly responsible for their deaths, sometimes it's ambiguous, sometimes it's indirect, sometimes it seems to be tragic luck. But what I found fascinating (chilling) was the way that regardless, Lex washes his hands of these women and maintains his innocence.

This section of the vid is also linked to 'ambition makes you look pretty ugly' and this may be one place where my own meta take on Lex shows: I do believe that Lex feels that a lot of the women who are interested in him are interested because of their own ambition. A justifiable belief given what we've seen! He's played the ambition game with his bedmates since Season 1 (Victoria), and he's quite happy to do so--he just plays it better than any of them. Ambition looks ugly on them because they wind up losing.

Initially I thought this vid would be a lot more about Clark, because Lex is so obsessed with him. And Clark is definitely a defining force in this vid, but from very early on I realised that this vid was also about Lex's relationship with Lionel--and that the two can't actually be unwound from one another. So the vid starts and ends with Lex and Lionel. Lionel's oppressive style of parenting made Lex a paranoid and power-starved child--which we see at the beginning of this vid. As talitha78 said while betaing 'is it really paranoia if they actually are watching you?' Clark drifts into Lex's world, but he becomes confusingly conflated with the messy Luthor politics. He becomes the son that Lionel always wanted and Lex wants to take both of them down. This relies on the viewer remembering the context of the episode but I was pleased to be able to use the shots from Transference where Lionel takes on Clark's body and slams Lex's head into a desk. In 'Asylum' they were also connected as both playing a role (with different degrees of deliberateness) in Lex's electrocution.

Another figure who plays an important role in this vid is Julian. Julian is suggested earlier on with the image of Lex nursing the blanket--and I think that's important because he's submerged in Lex's mind but he;s also a key to unlocking Lex. The main Julian sequence comes at 3.04 until 3.30. I do feel that Lex's cloning of Julian (Grant) and subsequent assassination of him was a very important step on his descent. As a child he took on the burden or responsibility for Julian's death from Lillian. As an adult he recreated that life only to take it away again. In doing so he killed a part of himself--the innocent part. There's a very strong bond between Julian and Lex in Lex's mind, even after he starts dismissing Alexander, his own 'innocent' self. Perhaps this is because it's a lot easier for Lex to love the innocence in someone else (especially someone he can control) than it is to love the innocent aspect of himself. *tear*

Alexander became an important part of the vid too, of course. Not only does he put a face to the lyric 'unborn chicken voices' (though there's more than one there--can anyone catch it?) he also was a perfect way of visually showing the internal conflict that I think Lex feels constantly. Different aspects of Lex are at war with each other and this is very confusing. Part of his evolution into darkness has been to quieten these 'voices'. Is it any wonder he wound up this way when his childhood saw him torn between two overcontrolling parents in Lionel and Lillian? For yes, I do think Lillian was a dark force as well. She certainly is in this vid.

I think most people will be attuned to the Clark parts of this vid, so I don't think I need to say too much about them. I used the 'what's that' lyrics to explore Lex's mesmerised fascination with Clark and what it leads to.

Goodness this is so tl;dr! OMG! I could go on and on, but I think I'll just sum up by listing a few other motifs which I wove through the vid for people to make of them what they will:
- hands--outstretched ones, appealing to Lex, particularly Lionel's; stroking Lex's face (Lionel and Clark)
- sword (Lex disarms Lionel at 1.11 and gets blood spattered on him from the impaling at 5.50)
- the fire (and particularly Lex burning things in it) appears after the intro at 1.10 and before the end sequence at 5.30
- the black gloves (the most obvious being in the paralleled sunflower and Arctic footage)
- televisions and video footage (Lex lives both behind and in front of the camera)
- blood, blood, blood and a lot of it
- rain--which is a metaphor on the show as it is here
- the subconscious as represented by water and dark passages
- the tension between power-ownership and powerlessness, the cycle of violence
- the tension between culpability and innocence in Lex's life and the way these are often confused and conflated for him

The resulting discovery for me in making this vid is, I think, that Lex takes everything painful that happens to him, absorbs it, and fires it back out at the world, employing emotional distancing (including humour) at the same time that he acts with deepseated passion. I guess I knew that before, but I know it on a different level now.

Finally thank you to everyone who watched and left comments. Every piece of feedback is treasured and it makes the months of work worthwhile. :)
Tags: smallville, smallville_meta, vidding, vids

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