The era of the classic found-footage film has come to an end. What was once an important, albeit marginal, but in any case very special filmmaking practice, has today, in the age of global mass production and digital audio and video availability, become a matter of course. Successors to the found-footage film circulate through the Internet as film remixes and video mashups in a push-and-pull between popular banality, commercialization and high artistic aspirations.
The key impulses for remixes on the Internet do not come from the film scene, however, but from music production – which has a jump on the rest here primarily for technical reasons. Not only sounds, but also images have long been subject to sampling on the music scene. The works coming out of the clubs, where VJs and their ‘live films’ play an increasingly important role, are therefore often formally and aesthetically on a higher level and more interesting than do-it-yourself pieces found on the movie fan scene, which at the moment is wrapped up in re-enacting cult films and remixing cinema trailers. The film industry in the narrower sense only became aware of the new developments when it began to fear copyright infringements, but then quickly learned how to make money off the trend by embracing it as a way of reinforcing its leading market position, even in the ‘social networks’. By now, however, there are some much more exciting initiatives in the works that are trying to combine film, Internet and art in a meaningful way in collaborative remixing projects.
VJ remixes: Example: “Emergency Broadcast Network” (EBN)
In 1992 Brian Kane developed the video editing software VuJak, regarded as the first VJ tool. VuJak was a reworking of pre-existing digital sound technologies to enable MIDI control of videos in real time. Although the software was not developed further after 1995, it was integrated into Apple’s QuickTime. VuJak made scratching available for the first time for videos as well as sound. Its inventor, Brian Kane, founded the multimedia group Emergency Broadcast Network together with two classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design, Joshua Pearson and Gardner Post. Their first work was a remix project on the Gulf War, which included a cover version of “We Will Rock You” (Queen) featuring George Bush.
The now-defunct group has remained influential as many of its members are still deeply involved today – in the industry as well – in the further development of video on the Internet, including in the current Web 2.0 applications. These biographical intersections between artistic ambition, creative software development and the New Economy are typical of the latest trends, especially in the USA. Another member of EBN, Greg Deocampo, participated in the development of Adobe After Effects and is the founder of the Internet portal iFilm.
EBN’s motto was: »Don’t just watch TV, use it!« The group created remixes from TV programmes – usually accompanied by funky beats – that made critical statements on the media society or current political issues. A nice example, which displays many parallels to other remixes mentioned below is “Electronic Behaviour Control System”. This remix stems from the days of the last presidential election and reflects on the positions of the candidates. The title words were spoken, or sung, in a quick montage composed of TV speeches by Ross Perot, George Bush, Ted Koppel and Bill Clinton.
By contrast, the hotly debated anonymous remix video “Hillary 1984” now making the rounds in the USA, at the end of March 2007, which deals with the Democratic primaries, not only seems completely harmless, but also hardly very imaginative. In the video posted anonymously on YouTube, a not exactly unknown Barack Obama devotee (whose authorship a journalist has since uncovered) has replaced the soundtrack of Apple’s famous Big Brother commercial with a speech by Hillary Clinton (here background information including a link to the video: www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/who-created-hillary-1984_b_43978.html).
A few examples of other remixes by EBN – including the “Electronic Behaviour Control System” cited above – are archived on the homepage of Joshua Pearson: http://www.joshualpearson.com/
Copyright problems: The fake music video “The Grey Album”
An interesting example of a music video remix that has been circulating for years through the Internet is “The Grey Album” from 2004. Like most good remixes, “The Grey Album” skilfully melds material from several sources and consequently has a complicated provenance. The title and content make reference to “The White Album” by the Beatles (1968) and “The Black Album” by Hip-Hop musician Jay-Z (2003), who used Beatles music. In order to circumvent copyright issues, Jay-Z shortly thereafter released an a cappella version, which was practically an open invitation to sampling. This prompted DJ Danger Mouse to quickly bring out “The Grey Album”, which was just as rapidly taken off the market again when Beatles rights-holder EMI took legal action. The controversy led to a worldwide protest on 24 February 2004 in which more than 170 websites took part by illegally posting “The Grey Album” for 24 hours’ time. The day went down in the annals of Internet history as Grey Tuesday (see also: www.greytuesday.org/).
Afterward, a video called “The Grey Album” surfaced. As an anonymously produced and distributed work, it was one of the first so-called ‘viral videos’. Formally speaking, the remix is a music clip, but it is not an official promo since it uses audio and video elements from various sources, for none of which the makers obtained the rights.
The film footage in the black-and-white video comes mainly from the Beatles film “A Hard Day’s Night”. This is supplemented by scenes from performances by Jay-Z and DJ Danger Mouse. The soundtrack is put together from Beatles originals and the above-mentioned a capella song by Jay-Z as well as samplings from DJ Danger Mouse.
About three minutes long, the remix begins with pictures and music from the Beatles and ends with a performance by DJ Danger Mouse. Thanks to skilful montage and computer editing, the video segues between the two almost imperceptibly as a picture and sound fade-in. Paul McCartney as seen on a monitor is suddenly replaced by Jay-Z. Ringo Starr begins to drum to the sound of “Glass Onion”, while John is still singing “Oh yeah!”. Then Ringo seems to be drumming to Jay-Z’s rap beat and John Lennon begins to break-dance. Paul and George are exchanged for two female dancers. In the end, DJ Ringo also disappears from the stage, so that we can now see behind him a video projection with the initials “R+P”, probably an abbreviation of the stage names of the London music-video maker Ramon&Pedro.
“The Grey Video” remix is still on the Web today and is repeatedly mirrored on the servers of fans (here a list of links: http://www.waxy.org/archive/2004/11/18/the_grey.shtml).
“Imagine This” – pop music + politics remixed
The remix video “Imagine This” by John Gallagher (2006) also takes music by the Beatles as its springboard, which itself is in turn an audio sampling of the work of another artist. Unlike most of the remix videos, which can only be viewed on the Internet, this one was also shown at festivals and the cinema.
The success story of this remix begins with an audio sample by the Australian musician Tom Compagnoni, who brought out a CD in early 2005 titled “Mediacracy”. One of the tracks on the CD became world famous: “Imagine This”. To make the track, Compagnoni collected TV recordings of speeches by George W. Bush and took them apart word by word to compile from the results the complete text of the John Lennon song “Imagine”. Fine-tuned and accompanied by the maker’s own music, the sampling uses the original voice of George W. Bush, which is then contrasted with Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, so to speak as commentary or chorus (similar to the fade-overs in “The Grey Video”!).
Compagnoni put his mad Sisyphus work online as an MP3 file. Just two days later, the file had already been downloaded more than 1,000 times and soon thereafter it was being played by radio stations all over the world. Of late, the track has made it into such exotic hit parades as the Top 40 in Latvia, but also onto the BBC hit parade on Radio 1 founded by the legendary John Peel! The complete story can be read on Tom Compagnoni’s website: www.waxaudio.com.au
In February 2006 the Irish video artist, DJ and film producer John Gallagher then released the remix video to Compagnoni’s “Imagine This”. He ‘illustrated’ the sampled soundtrack with a video work similarly patched together out of elements taken from over 40 different film sources. Like the audio track, the “Imagine This” video went around the world with lightning speed and was soon listed as one of the most popular videos on platforms like YouTube. In October 2006 the film opened the Cork Film Festival, where it earned an Honourable Mention and a nomination for the Prix UIP (URL: http://www.cal-tv.net/imaginethis.html).
Although “Imagine This” at first glance looks like a simple agitprop video, it differs from its predecessors, which condensed found-footage material – such as speeches by politicians – into an incendiary montage or simply replaced the soundtrack with one that contrasted sharply with the images seen on the screen. Rather than earlier agitprop and found-footage films, “Imagine This” is reminiscent instead of the works of EBN. However, the tempo and montage are less abstract and rhythmic and more narrative and cinematic. New as well is how the sound is almost lip-synched with the images.
Remarkable in the case of “Imagine This” is that remixes are themselves becoming subject to further remixing, with their digital availability on the Internet enabling global access and editing. This naturally leads to the next step of deliberate, planned collaboration on joint global remixes (such as in the example of MOD Film below).
Cinema, cult films, remixes, DIY and commercial Web 2.0 exploitation
A second strand in the development of remixing began not on the audio-based VJ scene, but in the film-oriented cinema fan culture. On the relevant video-sharing websites, there are innumerable examples of videos based on a cult or favourite film. The spectrum ranges from simple montages of scenes from the original films, to restagings as animated film, to feature film scenes re-enacted to the original soundtrack. The objects of these remixes are usually popular cinema films, i.e. box-office hits from Hollywood. Some particularly popular films or series that have achieved cult status, such as the Star Wars trilogy, even have their own remix communities. Fans are especially fond of imagining the hero of their favourite film meeting up with a hero from another movie – for example “Star Wars Kid vs. Teletubbies”, “Star Wars: The One – Matrix”, “Vader vs. Shatner” or “Godzilla Versus Disco Lando” (http://www.evanmather.com). A keyword search for “Star Wars Video” using the film search engine blinkx alone brings up an incredible 480,000 hits!
Beyond the true fan communities, which occupy themselves in a more or less imaginative way – but often without much distance – with their cult films, the film industry has long recognized the opportunity to turn this trend into (advertising) dollars. While in the early days the industry still castigated and even took action against the illegal use of movie material, some major players – spearheaded by the studios in the Time Warner group – are launching a counter offensive, actively offering film clips especially for remixing. They usually limit these to trailers, which significantly reins in remixers’ creativity, but of course enhances the advertising effect for the film in question.
Paramount Pictures, for example, has set up its own channel on Veoh, whose shareholders include Michael Eisner and Time Warner, that offers trailers for the latest Paramount films for download.
This marketing strategy also features remix competitions such as the “Scanner Darkly Remix Contest” hosted by RES Magazine in co-operation with Warner, which even tried to wrap its project in a cultural mantle (»Hopefully this will be a catalyst for even bolder ideas of remixing movies, music and culture«).
Another example is the “Disturbia Mashup Contest” currently being held by Paramount. For the “Disturbia” competition there is even a link on the relevant Veoh page to a special page on the Eyespot mixer website (see Part 1 of this article) where the user can immediately begin editing the trailer online.
Warner subsidiary New Line Cinema takes things a step further. For its productions “Snakes on a Plane” and “Take the Lead”, the studio even ordered professional remixes of its official trailers! Here, they were walking right into the lion’s den, because they commissioned Addictive TV to do the work – a London producers’ and artists’ group that has made a name for itself with media mashes and bootleg remixes and was already chosen twice as #1 VJ by the readers of the international DJMag.
Addictive TV then in turn closes the circle with the VJ scene and the group Emergency Broadcast Network mentioned at the beginning, whose co-founder Brian Kane now works with Addictive TV. At the same time, Addictive TV forms an intersection with the arts scene, as demonstrated by exhibitions and presentations at prestigious institutions such as Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Kabuki Theater (S.F.), Ageha (Tokyo) and the National Film Theatre (London).
Addictive TV justifies and explains this networking between art, the VJ and remix film scene, and the commercial entertainment industry as follows:
»Today, AV artists are finding new avenues opening up, away from the alternative art and club worlds into more commercial arenas. Predictably there are a few misguided cries about selling out to the corporate beast, but we’d say that if experimental filmmaker Oskar Fischinger, that early genius of visual music, could work for Disney on Fantasia, then it’s OK for others to follow suit. With us, whether it’s art for art’s sake or commercial entertainment, we still make things the way we want. With our recent movie remix, used to promote New Line’s Antonio Bandaras vehicle Take The Lead, we were given total creative freedom – remixing five hours of rushes into a three minute AV track, a dream job as we’re really into work where what you see is what you hear and vice-versa.« (NY Arts Magazine 8/06)
URL for the viral video remix “Take the Lead”: www.addictive.com/clipViewer.php
Collaborative film projects
Apart from the rudimentary beginnings on websites with online editing software (see Part 1 of this article), which are based for the most part on passive offerings, i.e. on making videos by registered members available for reworking, few organized collaborative remix projects have been launched to date.
One high-level remixing project has been pursued for several years now by Michela Ledwidge of Australia (MOD Films, London). Ledwidge has worked in Sydney as a Web designer, IT specialist and filmmaker since the 1990s. With her interactive short film “Horses for Courses” she won the Web3D Art Prize at SIGGRAPH 2001. As her own work straddles several different fields, Ledwidge wants » to build an artistic bridge between film and interactive entertainment, designing the film story as a musical instrument.« Against the backdrop of a drastically changing production, sales and reception environment for film and cinema, Ledwidge pursues aesthetic and technical as well as economic aspects in her endeavours. To this end she founded the production company MOD Films (MOD as in “modification”) in London in 2004. MOD Films conceives and realizes ‘remixable films’ as well as developing the corresponding software tools. The British innovation promotion programme NESTA has provided Ł 125,000 in funding for the project.
The first film realized by MOD Film is “The Sanctuary” – a short fiction film with 3D animation elements and a science fiction plot that was conceived as a prequel for a feature-length film. “The Sanctuary” is at the same time a pilot project in progress in which the thematic, legal, organizational and technical requirements for a ‘remixable film’ are being tested. Therefore, parallel with the shooting, the company was also working on software tools that enable both remixing of the film and the efficient online management of this type of production and its distribution. The latter could prove interesting for the industry, forming the foundation for a sustainable business plan for MOD Film. As a public interface, an Internet forum has been created on the theme.
MOD Film’s aspirations include high production values and working with pros from the film industry. During shooting in Australia, an initial hurdle in this regard was already faced when the authorities refused to issue an exemption certificate for the trade union and copyright violations that are inherent in this kind undertaking. MOD Films insisted on “Some Rights Reserved” instead of “All Rights Reserved”, invoking Creative Commons regulations. As compensation, the actors were offered a salary over the collectively agreed pay scale. Finally, in 2005, a first, linear version could be finished as a 35mm short film and presented to the public in Cannes in 2006.
While MOD Film is putting together a second, preliminary version – which Ledwidge plans to present live on the road as performance or installation with the help of real-time A/V engines similar to the VJ tools – work continues on the actual online project.
The public, remixable version is currently in post-production. MOD Film is working on designing the film’s own Internet platform with a corresponding Application Programming Interface (API). This version will have a structure that has already been tested in some online video games and virtual environments. MOD Film refers to this as a “massively multiplayer movie format”. The company hopes to attract participation by professionals, but also by skilled amateur creative technologists.
The major challenge in terms of content and concept is to create an open structure that offers the user as many elements to freely sample as possible without for example predetermining the narrative path, which would result – as in earlier, failed remix projects – in mere multiple choice. Ledwidge presumes that remixes of “The Sanctuary” will draw less on narrative elements and plot structures than on more abstract aspects such as 3D models, animation or backgrounds. The result is to be put online at www.modfilms.net sometime this year.
What is the future of (remixed) film on the Internet?
It is questionable whether and for how long true community activities and non-commercial video blogs or video sharing websites can continue to exist under the present commercial conditions. At the moment, user-generated content is rapidly metamorphosing into (inexpensive) viral advertising, which, what is worse, also contributes to the fact that at the end of the marketing spiral only those films are promoted that already have huge budgets.
Simultaneously, the relationship between production and audience is heading in a direction in which viewers are given more control over the cinematic experience than television or the cinema itself. Internet-based film viewing should in this sense not be regarded as a further development of television and cinema, but instead as a trend in its own right. In addition to the aspects noted above, films on the Internet actually share many more parallels with home movies, for which the video recorder already gave the consumer a share of the control, including the options to interrupt, fast-forward and create his own ‘montage’ from the material. This is an experience and development that is made even easier by consumers’ ability to burn their own DVDs and especially to save their work on a hard drive. Arguments coming from the realm of cinema claiming that the new brand of film cannot hope to succeed because the images are too small or too wobbly are thus beside the point.
The appeal of participation in collaborative virtual environments is also frequently underestimated. How else to explain why within the shortest space of time millions of people have flocked to Second Life, where the animation and graphics have the quality only of crude building blocks?
Likewise underrated is the attractiveness of exchanging the role of passive consumer for that of a ‘producer’, even if it’s only to disassemble an (expensive) Hollywood cinema trailer on one’s own home desktop. Nor should the fan and do-it-yourself culture be disparaged, which in its ability to rededicate existing material to its own purposes is expressing a desire to reappropriate privatized intellectual property.
It’s encouraging to note as well that, besides amateur works, a whole series of artistically interesting remix films and projects can now be found on the Internet. This trend will certainly not fail to have an impact on the aesthetic of the short film at the cinema and the festivals. Whether these works will be (can be) shown on the screen is another story!
MOD Film + Collaberative Remixability Projects
- Mod Films
- A Swarm of Angels
- The 1 Second Film
- Tulse Luper Journey
- Stray Cinema
- Free Cinema
MashUp + Remix-Lists
Remixed Videos by VJs
Viral Videos + Fan Sites