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10.20.02 Surfacing for Air

My mother is wondering where I am, so I guess it's time to surface.

For the past month or more I have been deep into video-making -- trying to turn interviews with 8 teenagers into something interesting and compelling... and short. The complication was that I actually had a client, who commissioned me for this video with a real purpose in mind -- recruiting kids into a program that helps poor or disorganized teens finish high school and go on to college.

I recruited a woman I work with to do the interviews while I filmed. Then I sat and stared at the results until a pattern emerged. There is a popular philosophy in youth development called "Circle of Courage." Youth have 4 needs to be addressed: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. What the kids told us in their interviews fits those categories, so that became the structure.

It took me ages to get the words all lined up and then approved by my client. I could tell she had her doubts because the looks of that early video were so dull - medium shots of kids holding a microphone in flat dim lighting. But once I had the voices, then I could go on to play with the visuals.

Here's where I got swallowed up into the world of After Effects. I wasn't even quite sure what After Effects was supposed to do to video except that it was All The Rage and with my new computer, I now had the disk space for it. What I learned was that all those beautiful motion graphics on commercials and TV program titles are done in After Effects or something like it. I started learning it as fast as I could in order to turn my dull graphics into something that would catch the eye of seventh-graders. It's the kind of program where you can kill a whole evening on a 15-second clip and be totally unaware that time has passed.

My problem was that my project was not 15 seconds long, but seven minutes. Seven minutes: for me that was like producing "Apocalypse Now."

The other issue of course was music. I've been stuck on the fact that music contributes to the overall emotion of a piece. A must-have. But what music to urban middle-schoolers like? Hip hop, of course. I've learned to enjoy hip hop myself, but I spent days trying to match hip-hop beats to my actors sweet words and youthful voices. Frustration. Last Saturday night about 10:30 I threw in the towel. Erased my music track and started over with more comfortable blues riffs. Perfect.

This video-making is complex. Structure, voices, visuals, music. Then getting it all on tape. But I have to say, I love the all-absorbing quality of it. My day job has been very frustrating, full of people problems -- the kind that make you mutter obsessively to yourself. Plunging into Video World makes it all go away... lots of problems, but the solutions are yours to create.

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