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Video Masturbation

Video Masturbation

Articles - Directing

No, I’m not talking about the kind of self-abuse induced
by Debbie Does Dallas. But video masturbation is an Old Testament-style
waste as sinful as spilling one’s seed.

Now don’t confuse this with America’s funniest home
videos. If they have nothing else going for them at least they’re
brief. Or the home movie-style video footage your friends and family
force you to watch. If these aren’t brief, at least they contain
familiar faces. I’m talking about the works you’ve witnessed at
film and video festivals. The ponderous video poems. The thrashing
"cutting-edge" art pieces. The vignettes disguised as
features. Or the works    1 you’ve seen at one of
those modern-day circle jerks known as The Open Screening. Rough
assemblages of found footage bolstered by a spunky soundtrack. Or
random footage from a waving camera,  sprinkling its charm upon
the audience like urine on the wind. Again, supported by a spunky

It’s true, we all need to develop our video technique.
And we need some sort of feedback. But the question is: Are you
creating these works with betterment in mind? Or are you merely
trying to see how far you can push your audience’s patience? Don’t
push buttons for the sake of pushing buttons.   Make
your work add up to something meaningful. This doesn’t mean that
you can’t be silly or experimental. It simply means that if you’re
the only one who will be watching your videos you can make them
any way you want. You can videotape the pipes under your kitchen
sink and play Vivaldi in the background. You can make brooding little
movies with brooding actors broodingly smoking cigarettes waiting
for a plot to happen.   But if an audience is involved,
don’t waste their time. This involves some action on your part.
Some introspection and pre-planning. The goal is to be hard on yourself
so your audience won’t be hard on you.


Chances are, if you and a group of friends get together
and wing it, (especially after a few beers), you won’t be as funny
as the skits on Saturday Night Live   Yes, the nature
of video lets you  wing it. You have a camera, a $2 tape, and some
willing friends. The SNL skit seems so simple. But you’ll notice
during the closing credits -they actually use writers. Lots of them.

And have you ever seen a SNL camera person zoom in with
the lens? Or zoom out? No. They exercise a certain amount of self-control.

Cult Sensation

If you take footage and watch it enough times, you’ll
be entertained by the familiarity of it. It’s the same principle
that makes The Rocky Horror Picture Show so successful. It’s
not that every scene is brilliant (although some are), but rather,
the audience gets their thrill from an-ti-ci-pa-ting familiar moments.
Not brilliant moments- familiar moments. The audience is forced
to fill in the blanks left by the moviemakers. Is this something
you want to rely on?

Don’t delude yourself into thinking your project will
become a cult sensation, aided by repeated audience viewings. There’re
too many quirky, vile, obscene projects out there competing for
attention. You’re better off creating a quirky, vile, obscene, yet
competent project. Learn how to use a microphone. Write a good script.
Don’t push your luck with your audience.

But my project is supposed to be weird. Like David Lynch.

Alright. But at least David Lynch uses a light meter.
At least David Lynch uses some decent actors. And good music. What
are you, amid all your arty intentions, doing to sustain your audience’s
interest? Telling an interesting story, perhaps? Did you spend much
time writing your story?

Do you even have a script? And can any of us deny that
even the great Lynch plays with himself on occasion? Eraserhead had some visual moments to be sure. Videoteurs can even gain inspiration
from the ideas and techniques used in that movie. But does anyone
actually enjoy watching Eraserhead? Like Rocky Horror,
multiple-view fans anticipate their favorite scenes, but is anyone
truly interested in this story? Can you tell me what the story is?
Lynch got his foot in the door with Eraserhead and that led
to better movies like The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet,
and Wild at Heart. But the success of these movies doesn’t
make Eraserhead any more watchable. I’m sure Lynch doesn’t
fool himself about this, and neither should you.

Shock Value

Chances are, your audience isn’t all that shockable.
Once you’ve seen Divine eat dog crap, you’ll find there aren’t many
screen taboos left to break. So instead of breaking taboos, find
interesting twists on them. Don’t show drag queens eating dog crap-
show them going to a support group for Drag Queens Who Eat Dog
. But don’t wing it. And always , always leave them wanting

The Basics

Ever read The Joy of Sex?   It’s
like a book on film theory, only the pictures are better. But don’t
let that stop you from reading film theory books. Or learning how
to edit. Videomaking is composed of a lot of little mundane things
that, in the right hands, could add up to something quite nifty.
It’s okay to be trend-setting and anarchic, but unless you find
a way to connect with your audience and sustain their interest,
your ideas are wasted.

Video · Sex

Make love to your audience. A good lover gives pleasure
to the other person. A good moviemaker gives pleasure to his audience.
Catch their eye; flirt; tease. Fill them in on the plot even.

Moviemaking, like lovemaking, is tension and release.
It’s a train ride with tunnels and bridges and a big, loud horn
when you get there. Look, I know you’re deep.   I
know you’re tormented. But so was Tolstoy.   If Tolstoy
had a video camera would he have churned out sloppy, gratuitous,
ambiguous crap?

Be hard (on yourself)

You’re committing your ideas to video. They’ll last
a long time and hopefully will be seen by a lot of people. As a
videoteur you have the opportunity to make an impact, whether you’re
making narratives, documentaries, experimental pieces- whatever.
Don’t take your work lightly. Tackle each project with a sense of
purpose and maturity. And remember, become master o£ your domain,
Queen of your Castle. Unlike the real thing, video masturbation
can make you go blind. MM

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