Owen Mason-Hill created this video under the supervision of Christian Keathley at Middlebury College. First published in Notes on Videographic Criticism on October 15, 2020.
This is one of the best videographic epigraphs I've ever watched. My first question is a technical one: what programs and effects did you use to achieve the stunning visuals? And how did those programs/effects shape the piece? In other words, did you play around with visual effects in creating this essay, or did you go into the essay knowing which video effects you were going to use?
This project was edited entirely in Adobe Premiere and is more so a product of my lack of experience with the application than any sort of groundbreaking technical achievement. I opened Premiere for the first time just a year ago and after a fruitless attempt to master the application in one sitting, I found it much more effective to search for effect as I needed them. For example, this was really my first time working with color in any sophisticated way, so most of this project was spent watching videos and reading articles about Premiere’s Lumetri color panel and experimenting with color wheels and the Ultra Key effect — which allowed me to key out certain colors and replace them with new ones. The bulk of the editing was spent manipulating keyframes and finding the right combination of saturation that would allow me to achieve the effects I wanted; I’m sure a more experienced editor could’ve edited this piece in half the time. Along with some key-framed text boxes, the project was really quite simple in its effects and only flows as well as it does because of the hours spent manipulating each effect frame by frame. I’m almost certain there was an easier way to do it, but I really wanted this to be an experimental piece where I didn’t feel self conscious about trying out new color techniques.
How did the parameters of the videographic epigraph assignment shape the piece? Was there something you added to the piece because of the assignment, or something you would have liked to have done but didn't because it fell outside the parameters?
My idea for this epigraph was to really build the video around the text. In my first attempt at it last spring, I had a really difficult time finding a body of text that I liked and the project suffered because of it. This time, I really put in the time to find some text that lended itself well to this kind of work and Schrader’s piece was really incredible. It seemed perfect for this project, each sentence had a clear link to some sort of visual representation. After that, it was really about finding clever ways to integrate the text into the video. The real secret of this project was handpicking the sentences and rearranging their order to suit the scene I had. I’ve watched a good number of epigraphs both made by students in my class and elsewhere and found that trying to cram a whole essay into a three minute video wasn’t effective; I was much more captivated by the pieces that used text sparingly and impact fully. Another aspect of the prompt that really helped me was when it called for the complete overhaul of the soundtrack. The characters in these clips spork really quickly and after watching it with the soundtrack muted I found that it was much more legible; their snappy dialogue only bogged down the emphasis and readability of the text which was the real focal point of the piece. I took out the sound completely and added back some of the score used later in the film and synched up a lot of the cuts with it. I always enjoy when audio and visuals are linked. After a few instances of linkage, the viewer comes to expect edits when they hear auditory cues; it really primes you for the next thing. You always want to include moments of surprise, but adding certain expectations can help keep the focus on what is important rather than any sort of apprehension for what is to come.
In videographic criticism, a lot of people seem to be drawn to Wes Anderson's work. Why do you think that is? And what drew you to his work?
Wes Anderson’s films are so audiovisually exciting; he seems to be the director who puts the most emphasis on creating this sort of hyper-saturated world that’s so delightful to work with. It’s seen in dominating red of the elevator, the rich purple of the uniforms, the subdued pink of the interiors. It’s like choosing to work with a palette of the most mesmerizing colors available; you just can’t beat the stimulating beauty of his films. There’s an element of ‘play’ that Anderson’s films are imbued with — this idea of ‘play’ is beautifully dissected in this Nerdwriter1 video essay reflection on the passing of Robin Williams. Anderson’s films are an exaggerated reality where characters walk, talk, and act in the most perfect and stylized way. This is what makes them so alluring to makers of videographic work: his ability to play with what the world could be is very inspiring. He also injects so much whimsy into his work; whether it be in the delightfully charming eagerness of Zero or the light and dainty music that plays overhead. Along with this, Anderson commands such an iconic and overpowering directorial aesthetic, tempting me to try to steal authorship from him. It’s such an impossible task — to rework the aesthetic of a director with possibly the most recognizable style — that its appeal is undeniable. It’s so difficult yet rewarding to try to take ownership of any aspect of his work, making the challenge all the more fun. In trying to rework his material, I created this wonderful dialogue wherein I would slip in and out of his aesthetic, at times leaning in to it while in others stripping it of its luster. That’s the element of ‘play’ that his work embodies, it opens itself up to this interaction, this back-and-forth that is so exciting.
What is something you learned in the process of making this video, either about the film or the written text?
For me, this project was really an experimentation with color. My eagerness for editing far surpasses my aptitude for it, so allowing myself the chance to manipulate different aspects of shots was really educational. I began to learn what effects are really effective and what kinds of shots lend themselves to this type of editing. I’m also working towards creating more polished work that feels less like a student project. That’s why I spend time creating little title cards and editing to the beat of the soundtrack; I think it creates a more refined and enjoyable viewing experience. It’s also been fun to receive such positive feedback from my peers and viewers. The video only has 75 views at the moment of writing this, but it’s such an explosion from the five family members and one professor that previously viewed my work. It’s an odd feeling to have strangers watch and react to my work, but I’ve found it to be much more joyful than I would have thought. I was driven to Anderson’s films because I thought they lended themselves so wonderfully to this type of videographic work, and while I think my initial thoughts were right, I’ve only found that it makes me want to try to work with other filmmakers all the more. It’s one thing to make an already bright and saturated film look beautiful, but to make something that isn’t in the same aesthetic appealing to viewers seems like a worthy challenge. I’m really quite happy with this last project, but I’m even more excited about the next one.