Making The Video

I've been doing film work in 8mm since I was 11, moving to 16mm at age 21 and then I got into video in the early 1980s working with the Boop in Los Angeles on a video for their manager who had previously worked with the Bee Gees at The Robert Stigwood Organzation. His people at Polygram needed to see better, closer images so I brought in some 3/4" equipment. Since then I also did work for Warner Brothers on a Nile Rogers video, for Dick Scott Entertainment/Epic Records for a Perfect Gentlemen video and most recently assisted in making a compilation video of all the music acts for Century Media Records.

When I started talks with Victoria L. Bell, who was putting together the Clarissa J Rawkis package in New York, I made arrangements to bring out some digital video equipment to work on interviews and possibly a concept video or two. Because of the popularity of webcasts and cablecasts today even record labels, managers and booking agents would like to see a video if you have one (it got one band I worked with up to the 12th floor at the Capital Records building in Los Angeles because the Manager of A & R wanted to see check it out). So I made a strong stand to have us include one in the planned package.

When Victoria and I first discussed what we were doing to do for the Clarissa J Rawkis songs we had a lot of bright ideas but putting them into execution on a limited budget is not always possible, so you have to think realistic in your concepts for a video!

Her love song ballad "Changes" was all about reflections on love lost and how looking at a picture on the wall reminded you about the good times. Since she had a collage of pictures on her wall already, I suggested we use the whole collage rather than find some boy how would let us use his picture and once again have to secure rights, get parents involved (she and her friends are all under 18 years of age). Also during our still photo shoots we went through all of her outfits so I suggested she work with them for the video as a play on words: Changes. During the shoot she changed her hair. Changed her look. Changed her outfits. So we were building an illusion of metal changes, trying to cheer herself up with a different outfit, a new look but lurking in the shadows was that ick you can't change with lipstick.

This one required a lot of inserts and we didn't want to lip sync for every outfit or change so we just did several takes of her sitting on her bed singing the song in one outfit. The remainder was shot with no attempt to have her sing the song, instead she was left to emote and reflect on how to make herself feel better through her various changes, ending us back on the bed with her almost in tears.

We lighted the room very well for "Changes" and had to control a lot of reflections in windows or make sure that our clamp lights, which were mounted off to the side, were far out of camera view. Some of the lights you see in the video are actually real lights in the room. The overhead light. A desk lamp. A bedstand lamp. We used these as fill lights, plus we had many clamp lights that were moved to new locations as the shooting angle changed from one side of the room, to another, to an over the shoulder shot and then to a low angle shot. There was a lot of coverage to, re-shooting each outfit from many different perspectives.

Clarissa suggest throwing one of her outfits over the camera for one of the opening shot, which we knew we knew would be used over the instrumental intro just before the vocals came in. This one shot took several attempts at different angles before we finally got a takes that worked effectively.

Her key, up tempo song was “Just Get With It,” which conjures images of an encounter at a party or night club. While still in Los Angeles and talking with Victoria Bell in New York over the internet, I asked her if she knew anyone with a strobe or disco ball so we could create an illusion of a dance party setting, she told me there was one already on hand we could use. So that was one problem down.

Next we had to find a room we could dress up correctly, which I didn’t view as a big problem. Clubs are parties are always in the dark, so I decided we’d have to use directed light, probably from color lights or white lights with color gels to cast red, blue and yellow light on the faces and selected room areas.

When I finally arrived in their isolated area in upstate New York I discovered that the disco ball had the color gels already included. I had been expecting that Saturday Night Fever style mirrored ball, but this one projected swirling color light patterns around the room. I also found due to the low light levels that any room would work just fine, all you have to do is remove items that show it to be a garage, dining room, front room or even a back porch. So we pulled all the identifying icons from the shooting area to make the room as bare as possible. If you stop to think about it, that's all a night club really is! A big, darkened, empty space for people and dancing with bare walls and some atmosphere lighting. A private party is no different, you move all the furniture out of one room so everyone has space to mingle!

The light source was a little low, so we boosted it up with a black light, which made a purple cast but it did improve our overall ambient lighting. I tried to use even low wattage lighting but the moment the ambience reach enough foot candles to give color saturation you started seeing this wasn’t a night club, but a room in a house. So we made an executive decision to work exclusively with a 60 watt black light and a 75 watt color gel light source for the whole video.

We were using a Canon DV camera that had “night vision” which is an image amplification process. This not only helped to boost our visual image quality but as a side effect it created a very grainy image that started to make this video look like it was shot on 16mm film instead of digital video.

Video looks like a game show or soap opera. Film looks like primetime television on the networks or a major movie. There is a big difference in the look between these two formats and most people prefer the look of film.

When we viewed the final footage on big screen TV we could see it was a little on the noir or dark side, but it added to the look we were trying to get in the video.

We shot the entire song lip sync using playback from a computer with a CD audio disk. We captured this on the camera internal mic but that was used only for reference in editing the video. We would eventually sync this up to a digital wave file produced by Richard Scarano (who does all her music) to obtain the highest quality audio track. Working totally in digital means you don't have to worry about time code, resolvers or special playback. Any CD player, computer, DAT machine or even an MP3 player will work and the audio will stay within a frame of the picture.

We shot Clarissa from several angles, listened to each other’s suggestions and tried different things. We did about one hour of footage, mostly lip sync material with some inserts.

All of our efforts were concentrated on getting enough Clarissa footage to turn this into something for at least presentations to management, backers and record labels rather than turning this into an elaborate production with other kids, which would have involved parents, release forms and coordiating novices in routines.

During the editing process many of the shots just went by so fast that even the smallest camera movement sometimes shook more than I wanted to see in the finished product on big screen, so I started experimenting with slow motion using the built in tools on our Pinnacle editing system. This prints the same frame several times and used this process to slow down the action anywhere from 3 times to 10 times, depending on the scene.

This process further added to the grainy look of gritty nightclub scene shot for a major motion pictures, it also improved image quality and make the scenes play better.

The first thing I did was to find the angle that looked the best for the lip sync and one of our last shots filled that bill. I put down 4 minutes of continuous lip sync, brought in the digital track and locked these together.

Then I rendered several DV quality AVI files in slow motion and started looking at these against the sound track. Ideally you want to cut a video every 3 to 10 seconds. This means a cut every measure or every other measure. That wasn’t always possible and I sometimes had to dwell on scenes for up to 15 seconds.

In looking at MTV edits they sometiems never care about matching the actors to the action. So people will go from sitting to standing without setting up a transition. They’ll be in a front room one second and the kitchen the next second. So it didn’t matter to me that she was seated in front of the ball in one shot and standing next to it in another.

That ball, in fact, became a key player in the video. I slowed it way down in speed which made it streak and smear in playback. It was a good insert shot to use whenever I needed it!

This is called playing with time and space. We compress an evening at a party into 4 minutes showing her in different places doing different things. Dancing, looking up at the camera, singing, turning, beckoning you to come to her. It’s simply a matter of picking shots that compliment the lyric lines and blend right with the music. You get that much done and it doesn’t matter if the action makes linear sense or not to the viewer. You’re going at them every 5 – 10 seconds with a new shot and they are more interested in looking at her, so seeing her full, close, dancing, crying, kissing to the camera are things at lot of viewers are hoping to see and we gave it to them!

Clarissa quicky got into the swing of having to do dozens of lip sync takes from different angles with percision as we had to match action during editing. Getting lots of coverage is vital to the final video as your concept may have to change once you start editing the footage!

Everyone in the world wants to be a director but few people understand the job, and one thing the director has to do is see the edit in their head as they shoot anything, be it a commercial, a movie or a music video. You also have to remember what you shot, where things were, how the lighting was, where the person’s eyes were focused. These have to match in the different angles when you are doing a one camera shoot.

You also have to think “insert” shot. I got on the floor and shot up her body to the ceiling. I got on top of her and shot down. I danced with her while holding the camera. I did static shots on a tripod. Then we went back and did zooms and close ups.

By now Clarissa was having fun and suggesting poses for different lyric lines. This was pure acting on her part. She’d go from being wild and throwing her arms up to looking apprehensive to blowing a kiss to the camera or giving a big smile. She'd say "let's try this" and we'd shoot it! The more ideas, the more coverage. The more coverage the better the edit.

We shot a 15 to 1 ratio and I ended up only pulling from about a total of 15 minutes raw footage, but the coverage allowed me to make that draw from a big pool of shot choices.

The beauty of doing the work at my leisure is the freedom to take several weeks to look at the shots, try different edits and see how things played. Another benefit was Clarissa rejected my first cut on "Changes" -- actually she only had problems with a few shots -- so I moved on to "Just Get With It." Later I went back to "Changes" and applied more of the slow motion work to that video. I did a total of three different cuts for "Changes" but only one for "Just Get With It" which received immeidate approval from her. In the old days a rejected cut meant spending more money, so artists often just grumbled over the shots they didn't feel good about. Here on my computer it's nothing be free time, so I could accodate her wishes with ease!

Back in the days when I was doing videos for the Boop in Los Angeles we were paying $25 to $50 an hour for ¾” U-Matic editing time at industrial complexes. You have to work real fast and live with your results as your budget starts swelling over thousands of dollars in editing costs and for a struggling band that’s a lot of money for a promotional video back in the 1980s. You also ended up with some cuts that didn't work right after you lived with it for a while but there was no money left to make any changes to the master.

Getting special effects such as slow motion was also expensive and hard to do in the old days. You needed to transfer smaller format to 1” C for slow motion then back again to smaller format. This could cost $200 an hour to generate the effects and you lost a lot of quality while gaining contrast. In fact, the quality of our DV video hold up real well when I check it against broadcast television shows. You start to quickly see that some shows have been copied (we technically call it "duped" or "bumped") so many times that they are blurred, shakey and distorted.

With digital video you do it on the PC. You can do titles. Insert still shots. Do captures. Blue or green screen chroma key (like the weatherman uses to show you the storm map with them in front of it), dissolves, 3-D flying wipes, color correction and even slow motion. All you need is hard drive space and it took 60 GB to handle her two concept videos and the interview footage we shot.

It airs over the web and on cable television starting in April and will be seen on various cable stations around the country over the next few months starting with Cablevision 21 in New York May 8th. We are working on getting a PAL digital video master done so we can hit the foreign markets in the near future in addition to other U.S. markets.

Eventually we plan to have a 24 minute interview with Clarissa, along with two or more of her concept videos to use as a full promotional for foreign record labels, booking, management and even a complete cable access TV show. Plus we realize the digital footage may have value down the line with commercial television when her career blossoms further, so we are saving all the DV tapes and archiving selected AVI cuts to CD-R for posterity.

Initial "JUST GET WITH IT" video airings for Clarissa J Rawkis via Access Central TV:

Cablevision of Woodbury (Nassau County, NY), Wednesday, April 2nd at 10pm
On the Internet on Monday, April 14 at 9pm (Eastern)
Cablevision of Riverhead, NY, Thursday, May 8 at 1am
Cablevision of Brookhaven, NY Thursday, July 3rd at 11pm

You can also see a Windows Media clip from it at her official site:

Also, the full version of "Changes" in low quality Real Video at:

If you have a high quality NTSC DV Mini, S-VHS, VHS or U-Matic video, contact:

Access Central TV

For more information on submitting your music or short non-music video!

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