Archive for July, 2010

Video Ephemera and the FFF

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Like I stated in my Video Packratism post, I do have a certain knack for accumulating video. Not just any video, however: the hard-to-find, the rarest of rare, and the crappiest of crap. What I’m getting at is video ephemera, a wordy term for video that was not mean to be saved. So think about store training tapes, out-of-print film, amateur audition videos, home movies, store giveaways, instructional videos, safety videos- the list goes on. Anything weird and wacky that nobody would ever think somebody would save and watch more than once in their own lifetime.

To me, these videos are more than just something to be discarded. Every video has its own personality and story that could all be lost with the compacting of a trash truck. So call me crazy, but I strive to save these types of videos and share them with others. I’m not alone in my efforts, as others are doing the same thing. Right now, there are people capturing trashed VHS tapes to a digital format in an attempt to put old blood in an otherwise glossed-over body of modern video. It isn’t an easy task doing something like this, and while knowing how to hook up a VCR might take you through some of the ride, there is still more to consider.

You need to know your hardware and your software, how to make old components talk to newer ones, and how to be patient when a recording goes wrong two hours in. Different players are always needed and sought, such as Laserdisc, Betamax, CED, Hi8, and VHS. Then you need to break this down even further. VHS decks with quasi s-vhs playback, or an s-vhs deck all in itself, 4-heads, flying erase heards, etc. Combine that with Macrovision defeating gear, time base correctors, video processors, and detailers to get the best picture, and then pipe it all into a DVD recorder, a capture card, or a camcorder. After a while your head will start to spin.

I’d have to say that part of video ephemera is the challenge. From hunting down a diamond in the rough to fighting tooth and nail to get a good quality rip in digital form. There is also the excitement of watching a video that few have seen, and was not meant for your eyes.

Having said that, I’d like to bring your attention to something called The Found Footage Festival which is an event hosted by two filmmakers who share all sorts of strange videos they have found at garage sales and thrift shops. They show little bits of tapes edited together for the best video (who wants to watch an hour long video for one interesting scene?) and provide commentaries during and in between the segments. These commentaries go from purely informative to observational humor. In a way, FFF is keeping ephemera alive. Many people simply chalk it up as a common video mixtape (a mix of video clips assembled into a video which is then released online) but I think that the commentary and research done for the different segments sets FFF apart. Other people are unhappy with the idea that many segments in FFF could actually other people’s uploads which have been spread online already and are simply taken without credit. Personal views aside I can put myself behind any mixtape, whether it be released freely or with a set price.

Video ephemera is not for everyone. Some people may not be interested in the thought of clunky VHS tapes winding up and down to produce a jittery image. For most people these days, if you cannot get a high definition digital download, a video is not worth seeing. For those of you who trip over Laserdisc players in the morning and trade war stories about circumventing copy protection, digitizing your analog media might be a fun and interesting project for you.

Please rewind this tape and remove it from the machine.

Pioneer One

Monday, July 26th, 2010

About a year ago there was a stir of a new movie on Bittorrent sites. This movie was called The Lionshare and got a lot of attention because it was only released via torrents. That’s right, no DVD release, no theater time, just a torrent download for anyone who wanted it. It was distributed by this interesting company (I guess you could call it a company) called VODO that distributes indie films via torrents. Now why you would need some sort of service like this, I do not know. I suppose that this kind of thing may help get your film out there, but I don’t even know how many people had heard of VODO before The Lionshare, and I wonder if The Lionshare helped out VODO more than vice versa. I do understand the need for a like-minded distribution site. It can be hard to track down more of the same genre of stuff when all you have to go on are torrent links and word of mouth.

So as for The Lionshare, I watched it a few months after I downloaded it. I was mostly deterred from the reviews. The minority seemed to like the film and praised it as an honest look into the life of a twenty-something in modern day, but the majority of reviews I read said the movie was nothing more than a bore, and showed the limits of releasing a film in this manor. I got around to watching it and have to say my opinion lies somewhere in the middle. I think that the movie starts out beautifully, but loses momentum before you really start to learn anything about the characters. Without ruining the story, I’ll tell you that a guy goes on a blind date with a girl, and she invites him to a torrent site, and it follows the guy. This might be as far as this reflects the life of someone today. Women and technology are always good subjects, but I feel that the movie starts to get too hip considering anything besides this.

About two months ago, I found another link in The Lionshare’s universe. There was a Kickstarter (see my previous post) project dealing with a new science fiction show released only on Bittorrent. At this time, internet only television has become an interest phenomena. I’ve seen billboards all over the sity for a show released only online called Reinvent The Wheels which looks to be more of a mainstream thing following a niche concept. This science fiction show, Pioneer One, is a television episode by the same crew that pulled off The Lionshare, and I have to say that I like this work much better. Without giving away too much, it has a watered-down X-Files vibe that I really enjoyed, and centers around a strange piece of debris that lands in the United States. The production value for this is also much higher and looks professional, there there are hiccups. After watching the first episode, I was sad that there were no more. The Kickstarter was only made to produce one episode, so who knows if more will ever be created.

So give these videos a try if you see something you like. Both are available freely on torrent sites and I’m sure there are direct download links up somewhere by now. You might just end up having some new favorite media.