Groans on Film

I’ve been privileged lately to be part of two satisfying film projects, and one utter failure.

First, the failure. It is a mistake to think that media at your fingertips is under your control. One of the great tricks of the digital age is to replace skill with ease. I don’t deny devotion to digital and online tools to create and do my job. I’m typing this write now in a fluid file that is stored in a Google data center somewhere in the U.S. (And the data centers themselves now pulse under the drapery of creativity.)

However, with capability and a handful of famous, video storytelling is now promised to be as simple as professional photography, as simple as audio recording, as simple as publishing. The power of media democratization has deflated the old Columns and conduits (that’s great!) without a full understanding on how to share in smart, artistic ways (that blows!). It happens, it’s coming, for sure. As I commonly feel, though, we’re mid-step as humans in many manners. The natural storytelling skills across many people to the benefit of many more may well take a generation.

It won’t happen in a week, that’s for sure. That’s also what myself and a coworker attempted to pull off in a small video project. In a little over a week’s time, we were in line to create a short video about our organization that would entice generous donors to put before voters on their Facebook page, with 10 winners receiving a nice chunk of change. We had no budget, little time and just existing footage, professional and otherwise, to use. Those were the problems we thought we had a handle on going in. Then, after we lined up a storyboard that made sense, we started to fill in the blanks. We figured that we were creative people and had enough knowledge of iMovie. We also knew it didn’t have to erase the globe’s memory of Godfrey Reggio (even the early stuff). But pasting together clips does not really make a story, merely footage posing as a movie. I executed on our intentions and found myself staring into a chasm of capability in editing, sound, theme and human expression. In the end, it was a video, that much was sure. But it wasn’t anything we kept online or would share. We understandably did not get picked for any online voting. “Leave it to the professionals,” my cohort wisely summarized. In two other projects, I’m happy to say that I did.

In March, I was in the final mixing and mastering stages with two albums by Fudgy. I’ve grown to enjoy recording vastly more than playing live, which is a perfect fit for Fudgy, a band of friends and associates wandering in and out of our friend’s home studio. As we wouldn’t be performing on stage for any album release, we wanted to do something to mark the occasion that in no way involved that vainest of efforts, a listening party.

Instead, we made videos to watch while we gave out albums at a favorite corner bar. The videos were shown on a tablet with less than stellar audio inside of “The Hypno Dome,” an “actual reality” box created by boxwright, Dug Belan. (Or is it boxsmith? Cardstock luthier? Either way, see it in inaction in the picture above.)

Luckily, one member of Fudgy cohabitates with Cris Siqueira, a creative spitfire who is bigger than Milwaukee really knows. Always a supporter of the lesser arts, Cris was kind enough to take on our charity project. And then she proceeded to make a bonafide, skillful, thought-out music video. I mean, that was the point, but the others we made really just had shit we thought was cool or odd appear as our songs played. Cris, on the other hand, understands elemental aspects of video storytelling – flow, attention, art, whatever best boy grips do – and can harness it for all ranges of projects. What she made, a video look in our all-seeing-eye digital world, completely expanded its soundtrack, the Fudgy tune, “At the Rodeo.” It is transformed and more fun. Funner, if you’d like. It’s also just been accepted into a very slick film festival in Spain this fall. (Updates: picked for Honk Kong Arthouse Festival and FICIE in Spain, as well!) Be able to say you watched it here first:

Now, the other video … I took a director’s role, I suppose, in a video crafted by SRH, a local branding, marketing and video outfit. I had known Kurt, the main director, for years through bands, and framed the project with his partner Leo and an outside talent, Eric Ljung. My organization, a nonprofit that teaches and mentors teens about money, wanted to share and even remind people what life is like as a teen who is just learning financial skills. It may be dry or not as dire as food, housing or, particularly in this ZIP code, crime. But it’s important, and those challenges only encouraged me to seek a team that could put a human face to our program.

The acumen for visual storytelling gave me a jolt, to watch things I knew and expressed in words become scenes, expressions on the screen. The outcome was a stellar “day in the life” representation of Wendasha, whom we’ve really grown to cheer for. And, as we’ve shared her story, we realized its our own, just in her way. You can watch it here.

Enough words, let the videos carry on that unmatched tradition of captivating all of us, regardless of the technology behind or around it, especially when crafted by “the professionals.” Please, enjoy our feature presentations.

About Justin

Justin Kern pays the annual bill to own this domain that contains his name. What you see here is a sampling of how he chooses to use that online space. He lives in Milwaukee and still plays Sega Genesis.
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