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Meet the Creators

The following interview was conducted by email over the course of a few days. The usual disclaimers definitely apply: omissions and errors are most likely mine. I've not made any changes to the authors' answers other than to format the paragraphs, run a cursory spellcheck, and interleave answers from Dan, Terry and Eric after each question. This may be confusing occasionally, for which I apologize.

I definitely regret starting the interview as late as I did. The first round of answers inspired several more, and when the second round of answers began arriving, it was only the looming deadline which prevented me from asking further questions. I had tons of fun asking stuff, and I think the answers are fascinating. Thanks guys.

Interview questions are done in the name of 'Not a Newsletter' (NaN)...

NaN: What was your AX submission (source anime, AMV title, song used)?

Eric: My AX submission was Trigun and Cowboy Bebop, Tainted Donuts, Siroi Yami No Naka by ShakkaZombie.

Dan & Terry: Who Wants to Live Forever by Queen to Kenshin by Sony Picture Entertainment.

NaN: Can you give some insight into your creative process? How did you choose the sources you came up with? What sort of creative process do you go through to come up with an outline for an AMV? Do you storyboard, discuss with somebody, ponder silently?

Dan: I was always a fan of Highlander (the original movie).

NaN: Not 'The Quickening'? ;^)~

Dan: No I really didn't care for 'The Quickening'. It could have been real good but sadly it failed on many levels. I think they really missed the boat on this one. The other movies only got worse.

Dan: When I saw the Kenshin OVAs I remembered the music and particularly the song Who Wants to Live Forever, I thought the themes in the song and Kenshin were well matched. It took Terry's getting a video system to bring it to life.

Terry: Blame it on Dan. I was normal until I met him.

Dan: Although I had the subject and song in mind, it took a lot of convincing to get Terry started. Once he got involved he began to see the light.

Terry: One late night I got into the death of the girl in the very beginning of the video. I got to calling her Akane (the girls who were killed had names but which was who was never identified). That name made the difference, I began to see the cruelty up close and personal. I got so deep into the scene that it was difficult to watch the screen. We had to be careful of bloodshed on the screen so I toned it down a lot before anyone, even Dan, saw it, but the calculated cheapness of life went to my core ... and we had the beginning of a strong story.

Dan: We argue a lot, each individual perceives thing differently. You have to be patient and see the other guy's perspective - or you wind up strangling the other person. In the end, you kind of pick and choose your battles.

NaN: Can you give an example where you 'chose your battle'? Terry?

Terry: Nothing specific would illustrate much. I put my foot in my mouth over two areas; first, the mechanical. If I can't figure how to do it in iMovie we're outta luck. Second, if the part in question doesn't contribute to a coherent story and a well timed sense of climax and closure - or plain drags - I get balky.

NaN [choosing battles]: Dan?

Dan: Well, while we were working on The Kenshin OVA music video. I can recall a couple of times when we disagreed. One was the use of slow motion. Terry used it at times to stretch some scenes out. I thought it made the clips jerky and unnatural. But Terry insisted that the scene was key and that there wasn't enough of it without stretching it out. So Terry's view won out. But I let my thoughts be known. The other thing that bothered me was holding a freeze frame too long. While I do agree that freezing a frame to drive a point home can be useful. If you do it too long it becomes obvious and can interrupt the flow of the video. Example: If when watching the video you have time to think, (Hey why did it stop?) You've done it too long. Terry can sometimes be very unwilling to make a change. But in his defense I still think most of what's right about it is Terry's doing.

Terry [returning to the creative process]: Dan wanted to cover the entire song with some sort of picture quickly and then go back and see what could be done after that. I think this works. It's based on serendipity, you get to see how images inter react and follow a thread to see what it will do. It's a very exhaustive method, allowing you to trial a number of possibilities. Fortunately, digital video allows you to keep these threads intact for different versions. We had thirteen roughly completed versions to Kenshin before we were ready to call it quits.

NaN: How on earth did you know which version to pick? Hold a lottery?

Dan: It's more of a matter of the current version having the most right with it. In other words we started out with the first rough version. Then we made changes to it, some changes we liked and kept. Other changes sometimes didn't work, so they went to the round file. At the end of an editing session we would save it as the next version. Kenshin 1, kenshin 2 and so on.

Terry: It's not like each is its own masterpiece, the threads are related, how they play out in each case is different. Usually we quit working on a thread when it starts getting thin. We don't throw them away (they get put onto tape - don't forget that DV is effectively lossless) for future reference. Sometimes we go back to one of these tapes when a new vector on an old thread opens and it gets a new version. I can't recall there ever being a problem of anything but the most recent version being also the most current.

Dan: We know a lot of what we start with won't be on the final product, it just gets things rolling so you can see what works. Sometimes they do in ways that you never anticipated - and wham, you're off where you never meant to go.

Eric's response [on creative process]: It vary's from project to project - some are more involved than others.

At one extreme, I capture the song and the anime and immediately start to edit. I match the lyrics with scenes from the anime then fill in the blanks the best I can. This is mostly a trial and error method. Often, I'm surprised with the end result - sometimes the video is very different from my original vision. I used this method a lot for some of my earlier videos.

At the other extreme, I put a lot of work into planning the video before touching the computer. I spend several days doing pre-production work. This includes watching the anime all the way through and taking notes on key scenes and events. I especially look for scenes which may work well with particular lyrics or moods in the music. I also listen to the song over and over and write out a map of what's happening when. For example, I'll break the song up into measures and note how it changes from measure to measure. Usually, the song ends up being divided into 2 or 3 second parts. I try to map out what I'd like to see happening at each point in the video. I then capture the audio and video and start to edit based on my notes. I frequently make revisions during the course of the video but the end product is fairly close to what I originally envisioned. My 2001 Anime Expo entry used this method. In fact, some of the scenes had to be fudged together to match the outline.

The idea for Tainted Donuts came about as follows:

The idea materialized after watching Tom Jansen cosplay as Wolfwood (the priest from Trigun). For his act, he did a lip synch of Jules' Ezekial 25:17 dialog from Pulp Fiction. While watching the cosplay, I thought that the song Misirlou (by Dick Dale and his Del-tones, featured in Pulp Fiction) would go well with Trigun footage. Then I thought that it would also go well with Cowboy Bebop footage. Then I thought that it would go well with both Trigun and Cowboy Bebop footage together. The idea of a Cowboy Bebop/Trigun crossover video bounced around in my head for about a year before I began working on it. During that time, I decided that Misirlou was too short and fast for the video.

I chose to use the song Siroi Yami No Naka by Shakkazombie for several reasons. First, it's in Japanese. Since I don't speak Japanese, it gave me an excuse to ignore the lyrics and make up my own story. The song also features two male vocalists, which allowed me to create a dialog between Spike and Jet. By casting one vocalist as Jet and the other as Spike, I could use the song to tell a story from their point of view. I also wanted to do something different. I imagine that many western themes would have worked well for the video - but that would've been a bit too cliche. The use of Japanese hip hop music seemed more experimental and original.

NaN: Do you have a lot of Japanese hip hop in your music collection, or was this just a happy serendipity?

Eric: Serendipity? What does that mean? I know I should know (it sounds familiar) but I'm stupid. Let's see...according to the dictionary, serendipity means "the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for." Hmm...yeah. That sounds right on. Finding a song for the video was difficult. I contemplated using the song "Bad Doggie, No Biscuit" from the Cowboy Bebop OST #1 (it's a really jazzy, fast song - really good for chase scenes and gunfights). I decided against it, though. It seems like an easy way out - of course a song from the Cowboy Bebop OST would go well with Cowboy Bebop footage. As such, I wanted to find a song that sounded like "Bad Doggie, No Biscuit" but isn't "Bad Doggie, No Biscuit." I remembered that one of the Cowboy Bebop artbooks had pictures of non-Cowboy Bebop CDs in it. I assumed that they were inspirations for the music of Cowboy Bebop, so I decided to investigate. After downloading several songs (this was during the golden age of napster) by ShakkaZombie, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Herbie Hancock, I found that I had a lot of cool music but nothing similar to "Bad Doggie, No Biscuit." I put these songs aside and started searching through Blues albums and mp3's.

After hearing "Siroi Yami No Naka," I contemplated using it for a Cowboy Bebop video. I thought it would be neat to make a video in which Jet and Spike were hanging out, trying to entertain themselves. I was going to have Spike rent a Bruce Lee tape, practice kung-foo, and (unsuccessfully) attempt to use it on several people (que Ed's father from episode 24). I was going to have Jet watch a TV commercial advertising a new video game system (que the Brain Scratch device from episode 23), buy the system, and find that he could only play Pong with it. Like Tainted Donuts, the video would pretend that the lyrics were dialog between Jet and Spike.

After working on two other Cowboy Bebop videos, I was getting tired of Cowboy Bebop videos. Since the AX deadline was approaching and I wanted to submit the crossover video, I decided to go with something completely different and combine the two ideas.

"Big Blue" is the only Japanese hip hop album I own. I'm interested in buying a few others but I'll have to wait until I have more money to spare.

NaN: For Dan and Terry, how did you allot roles in the creation of the AMV?

Dan: There are no set rules, but if you kind of categorized, Terry, with the video gear, handles the mechanicals. I'm the one with the source material and I tend to originate the ideas.

Terry: I concur, Dan's the one that brings the ideas up. My usual reaction is to roll my eyes. Only after he harasses me a while do I begin to come around.

NaN: How long was the idea incubating before you began production work on the video? Did you discard a lot of work along the way?

Eric: My 2001 Anime Expo entry incubated for about a year. Along the way, I worked on other, easier projects. I've had to discard many videos along the way. Often, I'll get an idea for a music video in the middle of a project. Though I'm excited about the new idea at the time, I tend to lose interest by the time I'm done my current project. This wasn't the case with the 2001 AX entry - it always seemed like a good idea.

Terry: That, of course, varies with the project. Do we discard ideas? My land lady is threatening to terminate my lease because of all the dead ideas cluttering the yard outside.

Dan: The idea for Kenshin was running around my head for a long time - at least a year before. It was when Terry got the video stuff things became a reality. I have always wanted to participate in AX. I'm not an artist, I don't dress up, so this was finally a way to participate. There's also a certain amount of anonymity, if it falls flat on its face you can sort of fade into the background and no one is the wiser.

NaN: For the hardware/software geeks, what setup did you use? What media did you submit to AX?

Terry: We submitted on DV. I was at MacCamp when I was introduced to iMovie. It is the modern version of 8mm movies - the very basic. It was at that time also free. I liked the idea of seeing what I could do with the most simple of systems so I have chosen to limit myself to that palette. I am already feeling limited, but this way whatever we do is based on our skills and imagination. It's a very pure vision.

I should also mention that my only computer is a laptop. I have no concept why anyone would limit their computer to a desk. The expansion bays on this computer allow me to swap in and out Zips, hard drives, batteries, floppies, CD-R and DVD. It's very powerful.

Eric: Compaq Presario PC 700 mHz Athalon processor 384 megs of cheap ram 3 UDMA hard drives 1 SCSI hard drive Pinnacle DC50 capture card Adobe Premier Adobe Photoshop Adobe After Effects

The video was submitted on a miniDV tape

NaN: Can you describe the groundrules for entering AX's competition?

Eric: The AX competition has several strict guidelines regarding the content of its entries. Videos can't be over 7 minutes long. Videos must also be at least 70% music-to-anime footage. This disqualifies parody videos which don't rely on music.

The competition also has guidelines regarding the content of the video. These guidelines are a little fuzzy. Essentially, entrants must be PG-13 or lower. Nudity and graphic sex scenes are frowned upon. Violence is a little more acceptable, depending on the venue (I have a feeling that some of the videos shown in the 2001 contest would have been cut from the 2000 contest to satisfy Disney).

This year, entries had to be submitted about two months prior to the convention. Entries were sorted out by category (determined by AX judges - I don't envy the people who have to make those decisions) and prejudged (another responsibility I don't envy).

Dan: Anyone is free to submit an AMV, the deadline was May fourth. The basic rules were that no music video could be longer than seven minutes - including intros and so forth. The general rule of thumb was to keep it under a PG-13 category, but the reality is that there is a lot of leeway used. They were a lot more sticky at Disneyland than this year. There are three categories; Action Adventure, Drama and Comedy. Comedy is usually the most popular. You are allowed no more than two entries in total. By the way, the authors didn't get to pick which category their works competed in. I thought that was kinda strange.

NaN: For Dan and Eric, who attended the creator's get-together, any experiences you want to share?

Dan: Not knowing or 'being' anyone, it was kind of hard to touch base with other creators. This was my first time so I didn't know the rules, so to speak. Our video didn't make the cut so I didn't have much to start a conversation with. Primarily I went to get early tickets, but it was fun to watch some of the previous winners on the big screen at the party. A number of people had brought copies of their videos to share, which I thought was very nice. There seems to be a definite hierarchy, some people are well known by their past work, sometimes I wonder if they are advantaged in the contest.

Eric: I was a bit nervous going into the get-together. Thinking back, I should have been more outgoing. At the time, I felt like a nobody. As such, I was a bit of a wall-flower. Rather than handing out the CD-R's I burned for the event, I put them on a chair and let people take them as they wished. In hindsight, I think I left a bad impression. Rather than seeming shy, I probably came across as a bit of a dick. I should have handed out the CD-R's personally. I should have also introduced myself to several of the people, especially Brad DeMoss (considering that I sent him a contribution to the Dance Dance Revolution Non-Stop Mega-Mix) and Sean Thorsdon (considering that I acted as a proxy for him at the Sakuracon contest).

NaN: All of you have already worked through this at various meetings, but how much time went into the creation of the video? Feel free to break it down anyway you want.

Eric: About two months. It was a bit of an obsession - I would generally arrive home from work, eat, and spend 4 or 5 hours working on it (longer on weekends). As the deadline approached, work sessions tended to get longer. I'd frequently work until I couldn't stay awake. The night before the deadline was an all-nighter. I eventually finished doing all I could do and dropped the entry off at the post office. I worked a little more on it during the following week. However, I was pretty burnt out so I only ended up making minor changes and burning archival copies onto CD-Rs.

Dan: I had the idea and worked with Terry to get it started. When we had something to show we took it to the club. We had about a half hour discussion after the showing. I was surprised there was that much interest.

Terry: There were massive hours of drudge editing. iMovie and Firewire are still developing. This was our first original project and my first significant experience in nonlinear editing. I sometimes wonder if learning nonlinear was harder because of my experience on the old linear tape systems. It did get very frustrating at times.

NaN: So you have an extensive background in editing then, Terry?

Terry: Yeah, I have some, nothing to shout about. Local work for TV and industrial stuff.

Terry [returning to the workflow]: The clubs face-to-face interest, the members' strong background in media and their effective questions / comments were a huge boost. To me this NOVA showing was the best part of the whole experience. Even getting farther in the contest wouldn't have been bigger. Having all of us together in one big process made the Kenshin video a part of NOVA. When Eric later brought Donuts to the meeting I felt a real satisfaction and pride in his work too. NOVA can be a lot more than watching video - it's great support for our individual efforts.

NaN: Following is the touchy question. At first blush, it also has an obvious answer for each of you. But I believe there are deeper ruminations to be uncovered if you feel comfortable discussing it. How did you, Eric, feel about the admission into the final round entries, then the enthusiastic reaction of the audience, then selection for category winner, and finally overall winner? Dan and Terry, I'm sure you wish you had been allowed to compete, but a detailed account of both why you didn't get in and how you felt would be nice. I don't think anyone will accuse you of sour grapes if you share.

Dan: Of course we were disappointed. I can't but help feel we weren't allowed to get out of the starting gate. After a while though, I got to thinking that they must have had some really good music videos.

I found the categories were kind of mishmash, less so with the comedy than others, but I guess this allows AX some fudge factor that in turn allows them to accept entries that might otherwise have difficulties fitting. Did this squeeze us out by allowing some questionable entries in our category, which was limited to ten finalists? Who knows, my guess is we got hit harder by Kenshin Fatigue and Queen (the band) Fatigue. No Kenshin entries (there were more than 12) made it into the final. I was actually told by the director of the music video contest that essentially Queen songs were 'the kiss of death' - we had no idea before hand.

Eric: I was extremely nervous about admission into the final round. I was also a bit disappointed that Dan and Terry weren't admitted. Though I'm ashamed to admit it, I was very concerned about how well the video would do. After working on a video for so long, I find that I become desensitized to it. Additionally, I recognized a few of the names of the people I was up against. As suspected, it was a very tough category. I just about gave up all hope after seeing the first video, "Right Now" by Tim Park. That one had me rolling in the aisle. I think the contest may have turned out differently if my video was shown first (they don't call it the spot-o-death for nothing). All of the entries in the category were top notch. For some reason, I have difficulty remembering my feelings after my video played. I felt naked at the time. There was quite a reaction (all of the videos in this category received quite a reaction). I guess I was stunned. It was loud but silent. I must have been excited - when it came time for audience judging, I found myself screaming (not for my video, of course). It's been years since I screamed. When I won the category, again I was stunned. I felt really guilty and embarrassed for winning the category. I felt bad for those who worked hard but didn't win. I felt that I fooled everyone. At the same time, I felt pretty dang happy and a bit proud. Winning best overall wasn't as bad in terms of guilt - probably because I knew that the two people I was up against had already won something. I was extremely nervous throughout the entire event. Nervous and confused. When I went up to receive the best overall award, I didn't know what to do. I almost left the DVD player on stage because I wasn't sure whether or not it would be appropriate to take it back to my seat (the box was a little wider than the seats were). I'm really glad that I didn't win any of the judges awards. I felt that the "Right Now" video really deserved to win something and was happy to see it take the Judges Award for Outstanding Merit (or something like that). What a rush the whole thing was! Winning didn't sink in until long after the convention. Slowly, I'm overcoming my guilt. As I do so, I'm gaining more of a sense of, "wow, that was pretty cool."

NaN: Beside your own AMV, which ones did you like, and for what reasons?

Eric: As I mentioned, I liked "Right Now." I thought it was humorous, well done, and original. I also thought that it was brutally honest. In fact, the part about "Right now Disney is delaying the release of any other Studio Ghibli Film. Right now Disney is (something about paying a lot of money to make another cheesy musical)." really pissed my off. Not at the creator of the video but at Disney. The author knew his audience well. The video was especially tailored for an anime crowd.

I also liked the Mambo number 5 video. I didn't think I would. I thought it would be tedious - within 5 seconds, you have a pretty good idea what the video will be like. Oddly, it wasn't tedious. It was entertaining and a joy to watch.

The "Jinnai and the Bugrom Live!" video was also pretty good. Jinnai's lip syncing and facial expressions were right on. I have a feeling that they author put a lot of work into the lip syncing, especially considering that many of the syncs were done while Jinnai was moving and/or stuff in the background was moving. I suspect that he used some complicated compositing and tedious editing to accomplish this. I wish I could get the song out of my head.

I'm Super was fun to watch. Skittles!

Shirou Shonen was pretty entertaining. Although it may be detrimental to admit this, I've liked the song ever since I first heard it. The casting of Tuxedo Mask, Vash the Stampede, and Carrot worked well.

The "I'll Probably Survive" video definitely makes me look forward to the upcoming release of Gate Keepers. It looks like a pretty cool show.

I liked all three of the Lost in Space videos.

I also liked "Soul of an Angel", especially the later half. The author put a lot of work into timing the cuts and timing multiple video tracks to different parts of the music. This is the type of video that one needs to watch over and over - it's hard to catch everything with one viewing. It takes a while to figure at what's happening where and why. Very symmetrical. Very organized.

"Memories" was a beautiful video. I was especially impressed with some of the compound effect transitions. The pacing of the video was also especially good. I also liked the editing - how the scenes were arranged such that parallels could be drawn between the different Miazaki films. The first time I saw the video, I wondered where the author was going with the black and white photo transitions. Fortunately, he brought it together such that it made sense in the end.

The raccoons video (Rhapsody in Green) was also beautiful. Very nice aesthetics. I liked the themes of the video - family and friends. Very sad but good ending.

All the videos (even the ones I haven't mentioned) were outstanding. I'd like to comment on all of them but I'd like to finish this message.

Dan: Aside from Eric's? I liked 'Right Now' by Tim Park. I thought it was original in his taking a song and parodying the song's original music video in anime. The video works on several levels including in its own right.

Terry: There was only one other video that in my mind gave Eric a run for his money; 'Soul of an Angel'. Both editors (Justin Emerson and Eric) clearly have what it takes to play professionally on the national scene.

NaN: Any regrets, things you'd do differently now that you've been through the experience?

Terry: None. It's grand to be editing for myself. All my 'what if's get to be looked after - if you don't like it, that makes it your problem - and there's a groove you get in a good session that involves you better than any thing except. . .

Working with Dan is great too. I'd be limited to what I could imagine if I were alone. He is always showing me ideas that sound off the wall - until I let them soak through - and then I realize we're off in a direction I would never know was there.

Dan: The biggest of course is not making it into the video contest. But I don't regret doing it. I learned a few things so it wasn't a waste of time. I learned not to use Queen songs or subjects that are likely to be overdone. These were probably the two biggest factors, that led to our downfall. But we'll be back again to compete next year.

Eric: You know the CD-R's I handed out? I made some mistakes when encoding a few of the videos. That was pretty embarrassing.

Of course, I already mentioned that I wish I had behaved differently at the creator get-together. My behavior during the creation of the video wasn't appropriate either.

I wish I didn't feel sorry for myself so much.

There are things I'd like to change in the video. I'm shelving it for now.

NaN: For Everybody, the Uber-fanboy question: What is your advice to others seeking to succeed in AMVs?

Dan: Be original and creative because, that's what makes the really good ideas stand out. You never know when something creative will strike, so write it down. Sometimes idea's can fade very quickly so make the most of them.

Terry: A bunch. Let's see; if your music has lyrics be sure they are plainly understandable and tell a clear story when connected with the pictures you add (see 'Soul of an Angel'). Be sure that you don't just illustrate the song - it's already telling its own story - use your pictures to provide cinematic tension that brings a new, unique facet to the work. Don't sit there wishing. If you don't have your own video stuff there are people who do - partner up. The list goes on...

Eric: Don't worry about what other people will think. First and foremost, make videos for yourself. Only do videos you feel compelled to do. Try to combine good ideas with other good ideas. If making an AMVs for competitions, try to determine how your video will stand out among the other videos in the competition. Find videos you like. Determine why you like them. Try to incorporate this into your videos in an original manner. Find videos you don't like. Determine why you didn't like them. Make a set of "to do and not to do" rules. Try to find creative ways to make a good video which breaks some of these rules

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