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

Making DLZ

The tl;dr description.

DLZ is my first 'big' vid in ages. I got the idea maybe six months or so ago, mid-season-two, but I didn't have the opportunity to work on it in a committed fashion until counteragent won my 'Black Saturday' vid auction. In a strange way, I feel that it is fitting that a vid made to help the survivors of fires described as 'apocalyptic' is about an apocalypse.

TV on the Radio's track is very dense, both musically and lyrically. It's got a claustrophobic relentlessness that really spoke of an endless struggle to me: perfect for capturing the emotion of being inside the resistance.

What I really wanted to make was an ensemble vid about what it meant to be the Resistance. What it meant to live with that burden of knowledge and responsibility, day in day out, and what fears it bred. I always knew Sarah would be central, and for some time I toyed with it being more Sarah-focussed, but I ultimately decided that it would make a better and more interesting vid to look at the themes/fears common to each of the key Resistance characters, rather than just one of them. counteragent validated that decision.

I wanted to make a vid that would stand up to repeat viewings, that viewers willing to spend a little extra time would find rewarding. And I believe I've achieved that, even if it probably does mean that I've lost the 'once only' viewers. I don't mean to be snobby about it, and I really hope it doesn't come across that way, but for this vid, I was vidding mainly for people who were deeply engaged with the source material already and who get a kick out of Terminator's complex moral and philosophical problems, as well as its intense imagery.

I'm grateful to see that some people that don't even know the show are enjoying it on some level: grateful but surprised. It's always fascinating to see how different audiences respond, and even though I wasn't vidding consciously for them, it's cool that people are enjoying it on different levels.

Cameron is central to the vid's narrative, as she is to the show. However, it was very important for me that this not be a 'Cameron' vid. She is, in this vid, seen through the eyes of the human characters. She is the Other and she represents for them 'metal', the machines, all that they are fighting. What does it mean that she is 'one of them', their 'compromise'? She evokes deep primitive fears in them--sometimes unspoken, but always driving them. Sarah, Derek and Jesse each position themselves differently, but all of them make conscious choices about what Cameron 'means', while simultaneously unconsciously being driven by their fears.

It was surprisingly hard to consistently show Cameron as 'machine' or 'Terminator' and not engage with the ways in which she demonstrates 'humanity'. I think there's a natural fascination in the audience with her more 'human' aspects and I couldn't allow that to become too prominent or viewers would start going 'into' Cameron. I do touch on Cameron's origins, partly because the lyric begged for it, partly because I thought it was interesting to explore that she had a physical origin as a human, and that human--Allison--is in a strange way still 'present' in the Resistance, but unwillingly.

At a deeper level, Cameron symbolises what the Resistance feel they must become: killing machines. This is particularly challenging for Sarah who tries to steer a moral course through the present. Future-fighters Derek and Jesse have it 'easier' in the sense that they 'know' who their enemy is. And yet they end up pointing guns at their friends and at each other--is it really so easy?

The lines therefore get blurred between machine and human, not just within Cameron (though she's the perfect symbol of that), but also within the humans. If they can kill, machine-like, on command, what does it mean about their humanity? Who really is the 'death professor' here? The programmed machine, or the human that trains themselves, deliberately, to kill? John and Derek are both shown reacting impassively to deaths, conditioned not to react or to barely react, conditioned to view death as normal.

John is and isn't part of this vid. Like Cameron he has a symbolic function for the other characters. There is no escaping that he is the future leader. But John is 'allowed' (both by me and the other characters) more humanity than Cameron--he is also a character in his own right, and his own experiences in the Resistance are touched on. But I haven't centralised his own internal experience because I feel that it's so huge. It is different to be the person that everyone is fighting for. It is touched on in my vid, but not dealt with in any depth, and I hope that's ok.

Riley, Charlie and Andy
I very much wanted to include these three as they are all, in different ways, members of the Resistance. However they are secondary characters and I could not allow them much screentime in the vid or their stories would take over. Crafting tight little arcs/meta reflection for each of them was really important.
- Riley is a Resistance fighter against her will, a pawn on the chessboard, so I barely show her face. Not because I didn't appreciate her as a character but because her personal experience is so unimportant to the Resistance as a whole (personified by Jesse in this case). It is only John who mourns her.
- Charlie becomes a Resistance fighter through intimacy with and love for Sarah and John. He is the 'normal' guy who is freaked out by Terminators, loses much personally and ends up sacrificing his life to the cause out of love. He doesn't experience the full range of what it means to be a fighter on an ongoing basis but people like him are also part of the Resistance spectrum.
- Andy is a fascinating figure--at once friend and enemy. He's so 'innocent' in the present, but he creates the future he will end up fighting. He is the moral problem the Resistance face day-in, day-out, and he stands for one of many as well. He is the (human) ground that the humans and machines fight over.

Problems, structure and narrative
I've not made many ensemble vids before and never one so thematically complex. The themes create the narrative structure here, not the characters or the chronology. I begin with the deepest fears of the principle fighter: Sarah. Those fears are then unpacked through the vid: why does she feel this way? Why is this her waking nightmare? I then widen the focus to show that some of these fears and experiences are common to other Resistance fighters. Cameron creates the common thread here--so we see the ways Derek and Jesse react to Cameron once we've already seen what she symbolises for Sarah. We come to see that death is central to their stories as well: they must face being both death-bringers and death-fodder. And above all they must keep fighting in the face of the nihilism that this inevitably breeds.

For me, this vid has a very strong structure. I got crit on that in the anon meme and I worked really hard on the narrative here, but one important aspect is that there is 'no escape' in this vid. The characters don't 'get out' at the end, they just become 'more' of what they already are. In that sense I didn't want there to be catharsis at the end, but it was amazingly hard to fight the impulse to create some for the audience--especially in that slow musical refrain at the end.

It took more hours than I can count to come up with my structure. It took a lot of trial and error, and hours spent walking in the park with my headphones on and just thinking. I've listened to this track more than any other track I've vidded, and that's saying something! I let it speak to me on an instinctive level, as I always do, but I also did a lot of heavy intense thinking about the show, and I sometimes got sidetracked and had to get back on course.

The first draft of this vid was a tangled mess. But I was terribly fond of it. It had a lot more 'meta' moments and a lot less continuity. It had some imagery that I thought was terribly clever but which was impossible to grasp at the speed the vid goes. It's bloody fast! But I kind of like that because it gives this overwhelming feeling that there's no time to react before the next thing comes--which is how the characters must feel. I knew the draft had problems but I didn't know how many until my beta, supacat watched it and totally failed to 'get' it. Many hours of conversation later, I knew what I needed to do to fix it. And she was right on the money, but I had to let go some of my 'pet' moments and I procrastinated about that.

Once I had a second vid draft together, it suddenly 'clicked' for supacat and my purpose became clear to her; she was then able to help me hone it. I was still very amused that it was complete opaque in my first draft, but I got excited again about the possibility of it all coming together.

Source discoveries
Can I say what an AMAZING show SCC is?! In the months of sourcing for this vid, I discovered so many more layers in the material, especially in its control of its visual narrative. These are some of them:
- Driving: There was a whole early draft of this vid using the metaphor of driving. It's used on the show in fascinating ways. Who drives whom, who is at the 'wheel' in different scenes, speaks volumes if you care to deconstruct it. Shot choices related to cars (wheel-level shots, versus wide panning landscapes) are intelligent and effective, not just pretty.
- Animal imagery: I milked this quite heavily in the intro of the vid. I find the animal imagery (the pigeon, the turtle, the lion, the caged tiger) some of the most powerful on the show. And of course animals also allow us to reflect on evolution and the relationship between humans and machine: are the machines the predatory animals? or are humans the raw, uncontrolled animal-like predators and machines the cool calculated 'human' figures?
- Sidenote: I hadn't twigged until sourcing for this vid that the recurring polaroid of Sarah has the same kind of dog in it (Alsatian) as we see Allison beside in the future in the final ep. Creeeeeeeepy!
- Loyalty to its origins: I found SO MANY visual call-outs to the T1 and T2 in the show. I can't begin to list them; I guess I was always aware of them in a rough sense but I definitely enjoyed them a lot more 'in close up' as I was sourcing. I think this gives a coherence and consistency to T:TSCC's action sequences and also adds to its cinematic quality.
- Guns: who points them where and when? Who is mistaken for who on the end of a gun? There's a lot of confusion on the show, guns lowered, guns raised, and this continually begs the question 'who is the enemy?' Love it!
- Eyes, hands, feet: My biggest tip to a viewer of my vid is look for these three. I don't know if ANYone will instinctively do so themselves, but trust me there is lots of meta to unpack there if you want it. I ended up using all three as common threads for my own purposes. Running is probably the most obvious metaphor that viewers will pick up on--that ended up being far more effective a central image than driving, far more immediate and physical. There's also a lot going on with hands and eyes, if you care for it: both reflect on humanity or the lack of it, and that came organically from the source. The show textualises eyes as 'the window to the soul'. In a vid with such fluid point of view, eyes became very important--sometimes whose eyes we are seeing through, other times what people's eyes are reflecting or 'saying'. Hands are perhaps less obvious, but Cameron's loss of motor control in crushing the pigeon brings them to the forefront. Hands also teach, touch, reach out to others... all very human things... but they also allow us to hold to a gun and kill.

This is my most effects-heavy vid. I don't think it looks it, and I'm pleased with that. The most obvious effect that people will see is the flickering static image. I've used it as 'punctuation' in the vid. It introduces and marks out different 'phrases', but like punctuation in a sentence, people don't need to be conscious of its purpose, they'll just feel it. It comes from the show itself (important to me), from the chip footage Derek watches of his friends being massacred. It frames the whole vid in 'Terminator vision' which I think is interesting. We begin the vid through the eyes of the hunter, and we end it with the vision going 'black' as the hunter 'dies'. In between there is static, and if I'm wanking my own vid, I'd say the static stands for the space between active life and death--that's the place the Resistance inhabit. I admit that point of view is very fluid in this vid and that may be hard to follow in places, but I'm also hoping it sparks reflection on the part of the viewers.

I have tweaked footage HEAPS in this vid. I've used key frames for the first time. The colour correction is deliberately minimal but every shot was adjusted subtly in some way to make it fit the whole. I wanted the vid to have a rough-edged feel, because the Resistance is not polished.

This is the most 'sensitive' vid I have ever made. Very slight adjustments--one frame, 5% speed adjustment, slight re-centring or zooming--made the most AMAZING amount of difference to the overall success of the vid. As did black space. I used it more in this vid than any vid I can think of and it totally makes things 'pop' a lot more. The early drafts were so damn flat. I've never felt so impelled to find effects to overcome something like that before! It was exciting.

I am personally excited that I pulled off the effects I did and I hope they don't clunk for anyone.

To con or not to con
counteragent very generously said I could submit this vid to Vividcon if I wanted. I opted not to. I learnt a lot last year about what is and isn't a 'con vid' (after being told in not quite so many words that I couldn't possibly understand because I'd never been to one). I feel strongly that this is not a con vid, and I'm fine with that. I don't think one viewing, in a large audience, would really give people the intimate connection that this vid kind of needs. A lounge-room audience is more desireable to me. I'd rather have three people watch it multiple times than 50 watch it once. I think those three people will get a shitload more out of it collectively than the 50 would.

I also think there's nothing wrong with making a vid that requires multiple viewings, damn it! :p

This is not true of all my vids, but it is true of this one, and I'm just glad I understand that so I don't get disappointed by the lack of 'success'.

Ultimately this vid is my love letter to the show, and it wouldn't be true to what I love in that show if it didn't contain complexity, pose questions and offer no simple solutions or neat stories. I hope my vid is shocking rather than sensationalist. I hope one or two viewers connect with in the place where intellect and emotion collide.

(Ha! Mood icon of appropriateness!)
Tags: vidding, vids

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  • 9.11/12 Absolute Justice

    And I have mixed feelings. I do think it's fabulous to see the writers using a show like Smallville to explore and/or riff on DC comics history. And…

  • Smallville 9.06 Crossfire

    Yeah, so, people, I hate the Clois. HATE. I just about combusted with rage at the kiss. I am so incredibly not on board with this. They've lost…

  • Smallville 9.01 Savior

    Eeeee, it's back! In all its confusing, flawed glory! And now with bonus really bad green lighting. The good thing about season premieres is I find…