Saturday (12/7/13) 5:40pm - ... wherein Peter makes a video for a troupe.
This past Friday, Confidence Men did their 100th show. They asked me to come up with a video intro for them. I briefly entertained doing a Saul-Bass sort of thing, and then Jeff explained that it would be kind of a slideshow -- he gave me a set of photos to use, and some copy to accompany it, with spaces in between the phrases where photos should display. I eventually tweaked the copy a bit, and included a bunch of extra photos that weren't in the original set, but what you see is basically what Jeff had in mind. (But I did my best to make it a Saul-Bass sort of thing anyway.)
Oh -- since people have asked: I cut it together using Final Cut Pro X. No After Effects. No Motion. No mucking with the photos in Photoshop. Everything's in FCP X. Earlier drafts of the intro are here and here.
Here's a link to the video. I figured I'd post some notes about what was going through my head as I put it together -- think of it as a DVD commentary, only for a four-minute slideshow, and in text form.
0:00 - left a couple seconds black at the start, figuring there might be some technical hiccup that might somehow eat the first second or so of playback.
0:02 - the song here is "Cassandra", off of Dave Brubeck's Time In. Confidence Men always use jazz in their house music, so I figured I'd pick something by Brubeck (inspired by this Google Doodle) or Ornette Coleman. A quick listen to my one Coleman album = "it would take a far better editor to cut somehow coherent to this whacked-out music", so I went with Brubeck. Jeff made me promise not to use "Take Five" (the way-overplayed Brubeck track), but that was never on my agenda. In fact I went straight to this site ("5 Great Dave Brubeck Songs That Aren't 'Take Five'") and looked over the selections. "Unsquare Dance" is awesome, but was a bit too short for my purposes; plus Google used it for that Saul Bass doodle. "Cassandra" was the right length, and just felt right for the intro.
0:03: The 3x2 "Brady Bunch" grid was a late addition to the video. In earlier versions, I just started with normal slideshow stuff, alternating text and stills at a leisurely pace. That made things start off logy as hell, and it was especially noticeable against the insistent, upbeat start to the song. So I figured it made sense to introduce the guys first, and setting up the grid (and having it fall away at the end) felt like a nice parallel to the "Confidence Men!" title at the end.
0:04: I set up the shots so that each face seems to be looking towards the next face that appears.
0:08: This also lets me introduce the color scheme for the intro. Shots that feature Mike are tinted red; shots that feature Troy are tinted blue; shots that feature Asaf are untinted; shots that feature Tom are tinted purple; shots that feature Ceej are tinted sepia; and shots that feature Jeff are tinted green. (Note that it's really hard to apply a *green* tint to a B/W photo so that it's a noticeable change, but doesn't make the faces look sickly.)
0:09: And there's the first appearance of the 'falling animation'. I first came up with it for the end of the video. I must have unconsciously lifted it from Archer's opening credits.
0:10: Brubeck is still vamping before things really get started, so I figured I would run through six full-screen solo shots (timed to the music of course).
0:14: I think I flipped some of these so that all six guys appear to be looking towards the left.
0:15: This is the same free Hitchcock font that everyone uses. I wanted to create a Saul-Bass-feeling intro for the show, and I had no time, so using a font that screams "Saul Bass" was a handy shortcut. (Some people have pointed out that this video reminds them of the intro to Monsters, Inc. -- this is because we are both tipping our hats to Saul Bass.)
0:17: I like how the name showed up here, with the crazy, spaced-out "MEN". I loved that it bursts out with a two-note phrase, so I could time the two words to that.
0:19: The first of several pictures that I chose because they seemed to convey, "Whuh?"
0:24: I really lucked out here, with the phrase "in that scene" in the video lining up with a three-note phrase in the music. Once I spotted that, I started lining up "that you just saw" with the following four-note phrase, and made "just then" line up with the music, too. I found this really exciting, because I think this choice conveys how jazz-like Mamet's dialog is. Often it's not about the content so much as it's about the rhythms and the repetitions.
0:29: The free Hitchcock font is kind of limited. It doesn't have a lot of typographical symbols. It doesn't have italics or bold. It doesn't even have lowercase letters. And so it became a challenge, trying to convey the feeling of Mamet's dialog through that typeface. You'll notice throughout that I'm varying font sizes all over the place -- in "that you just saw", "you" is really small (implying you'd just mutter it) and "JUST SAW" is very large (implying you'd declaim both words loudly).
0:30: Followed it with a photo that seems to say, "Huh. Okay, that sounds reasonable."
0:35: Two photos of Jeff asking incredulous questions. More timing of words to musical notes. One of the few places where words and photos appear simultaneously; I think I tried unconsciously to vertically align the phrases to Jeff's face. I taper off of that strict matchup -- animating one word at a time -- after this, for several reasons. Most obviously, it's pretty time-consuming. Also, I feel like the audience has 'got it' by now -- yes, Mamet's dialog feels like jazz phrasing. And finally, I think this particular technique gets kind of wearying after a while, and starts to feel tiresome-to-read and gimmicky.
0:39: Picked the photo of Asaf and Jeff seeming to wonder, "Where the hell did that come from?" (In retrospect I could have clipped this down to just Asaf and Jeff, I guess.) I used the vertical strips to add some variety to how the photos show up, and to distract from the low resolution of the photo. Also, compositionally, the photo splits out very nicely into three vertical stripes.
0:42: Judging from the set painting, I'm betting this (blurry) photo was from that original run.
0:48: I picked this because it was just a really nice shot of Asaf. Then I noticed Tom was in it as well. I didn't want to crop Tom out, because I liked the shot composition, too. I briefly entertained putting a small arrow in to indicate who Asaf was, then realized that obviously a giant, bouncing arrow would be a lot of fun.
0:55: I liked slowing the pace way down here (both with the Asaf photo and these lines of text) to match the easier feel of the music. The audience response kind of went dead for a bit, but I think that's okay.
1:06: Like with the arrow, I briefly thought the photo needed visual clarification -- it's all six guys, but two are barely visible in the background -- and figured being officiously over-the-top about it would be funny.
1:10: In an earlier version I had a photo of just five guys in this slot, which was needlessly confusing.
1:12: Again, a word lines up fortuitously with a musical phrase (although I had to make "-cally:" all one thing.
1:13: Jeff looks exactly like he's about to lay it out for you, so this placement was obvious.
1:14: It was, again, fortuitous that the saxophone solo starts up right as I'm getting to the cast list.
1:15: The only colored text in the whole thing, again respecting the color scheme of the video. Originally I figured I'd use those six colors for text throughout, but that just felt "noisy", distracting, and (again) tiresome to watch. White text was simpler, cleaner, and easier on the viewer. But here it's a nice little garnish.
1:17: Note that I'm still gently nudging up the text size on the syllables that I would accent while speaking these names.
1:25: I loved this bit -- the three saxophone phrases feel *exactly* like how you'd parse out the three phrases in the copy. And I had the perfect photo of Mike as he tells you (almost threateningly) what the hell is going on.
1:29: I don't know why I kept "Ceej moving the box" in there. It's just so random and perfect.
1:30: I was using so many wacky and happy stills for this that I wanted to throw in at least one that looked dramatic and sad. Note that I also flipped this one left-to-right. I did that frequently throughout the video, so as to alternate "people looking left" and "people looking right" most of the time.
1:32: I used many, many photos from that Long Cetner show at Out of Bounds.
1:36: Tom Booker lying 'dead' on the floor with a mouthful of foaming Alka-Seltzer was a no-brainer of a choice here.
1:39: I'm told that Tom had long threatened to do this in a show, and was lying there, foaming, when the lights came up. The cast then did a fifteen-minute monoscene, completely ignoring him. He didn't appear in the second act, presumably because his character was dead.
1:45: I'm surprised that these two photos -- Mike thinking "oh god, they're *talking* about us", and Mike thinking "oh yay, it's good things!" -- worked so well in the showing. I didn't know if the audience would piece together that that's what I was going for.
1:46: I'm still timing text to the music, just not word-by-word like at the start.
1:55: In the copy, this list was all one chunk, but it made sense to me to split it out into three separate phrases. Having them track top-left to bottom-right made sense, and clarified that they're a list.
1:57: This is the only non-performance shot in the video. (Or at least, the only shot where they're not onstage.) I tried including publicity shots (like the "dogs playing poker" photo or the "we just killed a clown" photo), but they just felt "off", what with every other shot being from a show. Somehow, this one squeaked by.
2:00: Yay OoB!
2:02: I finally decided to make "Things" have a really small font size, like it was a muttered afterthought. Dunno if that's really Mametian, though.
2:03: Of course, I picked the weirdest show photo I could find for "Things".
2:12: "Improvising Mamet together" felt like a really important phrase, so I let it hang on screen for a bit, and I briefly returned to word-at-a-time animation. That the phrase appeared just as three drumbeats showed up was, again, dumb luck -- so I took advantage of it, matching each word to a beat.
2:16: Fortunately, Jeff gave me a bit of leeway with punctuation, so I added parentheses here, to change up how the copy felt. The small fonts and lower-right placement makes it feel like a completely "un-declaimed" piece of text.
2:18: Picking the happiest photos I could find, through here.
2:26: I loved picking shots that felt matched to go before and after "it's been four and a half years".
2:27: Starting to do wackier things with the text, as we get towards the end. In this case, just slanting the text at jaunty angles.
2:28: SFIT photo -- AFAICT, this is the only performance photo (so far) of Confidence Men doing a festival outside of Austin. (Thus the cruddy resolution -- which isn't so much an issue as the photo only appears briefly.)
2:29: I dunno if "99" is really recognizeable as text in this context.
2:32: I couldn't find a way to fill this phrase with photos in such a way that the timing felt right. I still feel like the Mike-Tom photo hangs onscreen a little too long.
2:37: Again, picked a photo where it felt like the guy in the picture is saying exactly what the copy is saying.
2:39: Some people are above doing a dick joke with kinetic type. I am not those people.
2:41: HAPPIEST PHOTOS
2:51: Crowd went a bit dead here. Ah well.
2:53: Crowd absolutely went wild for the "100th show" text, which I hadn't expected at all. Had I known, I would've left the text up for longer.
2:54: Jeff, in his original batch of photos, made sure to include one picture that had me in it, which I thought was nice. This one has us both me and Asaf looking so confused that I figured it was a nice lead-in to "because numbers."
3:00: Heavily cropped photo -- I glanced at the original and realized Tom looks exactly like somebody who's very smug about knowing math.
3:04: I could've probably picked a more energetic photo here -- I just wanted a shot that felt like the hosting bit from a CM show.
3:07: As the video goes on, I try to up the energy a little bit, with more frequent cuts.
3:12: B. Iden Payne Awards! (They're like the Austin Tonys.)
3:15: I was convinced this was a joke that I was just putting in for me -- both following up "100 shows" with a shot of Asaf looking gobsmacked, and leaving that shot up for so long that it because odd, then dull, then funny again. I was so happy to hear this shot get one laugh at the start, and then another, somewhat-confused laugh towards the end of its four-second duration.
3:19: I just had to mad-lib the hashtag. Again, this is using 'clarification' for comic effect. "You might not know what this stands for -- well, here's the full text." I found it surprisingly difficult to come up with unintended completions for "c#nting", so I found a web site that computed them automatically. It mostly listed odd, nonsensical phrases. I saw "cat hunting" among them and immediately figured, "Yup, that's going in."
3:23: Introducing one last (and possibly funniest) sight gag *right before* the cut -- to the point that the joke is almost imperceptible and requires Zaprudering back through the footage a frame at a time -- is very much a trope on Zero Punctuation, which I've been watching quite a bit of for the last two months.
3:23: Two photos of guys who seem annoyed by all the ignorant completions.
3:28: In my first draft of the piece, where I was just basically laying elements in place at random lengths, drummer Lauren Pascale's credit showed up right near the drum solo. Perfect dumb luck.
3:30: Note that this is the only color photo (note the glasses) in the whole video. It was so blue that I figured I could leave it as-is.
3:37: Again, flipping photos horizontally to alternate the eyelines.
3:38: I was given two photos of Ms. Bernard to use. Fortuitously, she was playing oboe in one and English horn in the other.
3:43: I was given three photos of Ms. Jantsch to use -- I figured I'd just parallel the "vertical stripes" move I'd done earlier in the video.
3:48: Now we're into the home stretch -- one long phrase that's just stretching out "now it's Confidence Men!" to an impossible length. Time to really step up the pace here.
3:49: These two photos are actually in reverse chronological order. In my head, the guys have assumed "And now..." means it's time to forcibly carry off Mike somewhere.
3:55: High-energy shots! Trying to convey anticipiation!
3:59: Animate some text! Energy!
4:00: Photos to convey, "What do they mean by this 'now'?" I'm basically anthropomorphizing the copy, and inventing ways to frustrate him/her.
4:02: Animate some text! More energy!
4:04: Trying to goad the copy into saying, "STOP GOOFING OFF TOM WE NEED TO START THE SHOW"
4:06: Original copy had only one "It's", but I figured three at larger and larger sizes would help build anticipation. Plus, I wanted to buy myself some more time, so I could have a series of timed photos throughout this final build-up on the piano.
4:12: This final build-up has the most cuts, the most group shots, and generally the highest energy.
4:14: Of course, the last words match up with that final piano chord. Originally, I had this in multicolor text. Just "FI N" were in white, and all the non-white letters fell away. But I couldn't do this coloring without making it look like the text copy for a 1960's children's album. (Also, the design concept seems weirdly racist, now that I've written it out like that.)
4:15: This "Archer effect" came to mind right after I read Jeff's copy. In it, he listed the text "Confidence Men!" and after it wrote "fin". I realized after a moment I wasn't actually supposed to show "fin", but I briefly imagined it onscreen, and realized the letters would match up. So I figured all the other letters would fall away, leaving FI N.
4:18: That last nudge is just kind of adorable.
All in all, I was really happy with how it turned out. I especially like that how it's hard to consciously realize that this is just a slideshow -- it's just text alternating with photos. Having really good copy from Jeff helped immensely, and at the risk of immodesty, I think I did great work with the toolset I had -- text style and placement, brief flourishes of animation, simple photo editing, and (above all) *timing* -- to create something much more engaging and meaningful than a run-of-the-mill photo screensaver.