Digital training ground

Jack Sheridan

Jack Sheridan, Beats is a Drug

Jack Sheridan, Beats is a Drug

The music video is a sorely undervalued form that is finally gaining broader recognition through dedicated festivals, DVDs and the rising profile of many music video directors. With its potential for wide exhibition and emphasis on innovative style, the video clip poses an exciting challenge for short filmmakers and is increasingly an area in which digital filmmakers cut their teeth. Twelve clips were produced in South Australia last year under the 4 Minute Wonders initiative, to accompany tracks selected in Triple J’s Unearthed competition. These works screened alongside international clips produced under similar schemes at this year’s Adelaide Fringe.

The 4 Minute Wonders were funded by the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC) and the ABC, largely thanks to the efforts of SAFC Project Officer Heather Croall. Observing the success of the original scheme in Scotland, Croall created 4 Minute Wonders in Australia to encourage digital filmmaking in the music video format.

The project criteria were a strong narrative, the use of digital media and collaboration between professional and emerging animators and filmmakers. The emphasis on digital and new media extended throughout the process, from development (the music tracks were downloaded and treatments submitted online) through production (digital production techniques were requisite) to multi-platform exhibition. The clips were released on DVD, screened on ABC TV and at festivals such as the Adelaide Fringe and Edinburgh Film Festival, but were primarily intended for showcasing online at www.abc.net.au/4minutewonders.

Daryl Watson and I applied successfully to make a video for the hip hop track Beats is a Drug by Adelaide Unearthed winners Snap 2 Zero. This song is a dark, choppy and evocative piece. We pitched a noir/horror/sci-fi/romance story in which ‘the beats’ are literally a drug, in the form of a glowing red mini-disc designed by a beautiful woman for her cyber-junkie lover. In order to ingest this drug, her lover undertakes extensive surgery to transform his tongue and jaw into a monstrous manga-inspired arachnid mini-disc player.

The mutating jaw was the major digital component of our video. Given the budget and time constraints, our approach was to concentrate the majority of our resources on this effect, with most of the remaining clip directed as live action. Thanks largely to the combined talents of seasoned cinematographer Ian Jones A.C.S. (The Tracker) and emerging local animation house PRA (People’s Republic of Animation), this 3D jaw effect is near seamless. As a director of drama my primary concern is telling stories entertainingly, without succumbing to the siren call of spectacle. It is gratifying, however, to hear a whole cinema gasp in unison at the sight of a man’s mouth doing what it shouldn’t do!

As a ‘traditional’ filmmaker with little experience in the fashionable but ill-defined world of ‘new media’, I was drawn to the 4 Minute Wonders initiative by a desire to expand my digital horizons. My problems with the specious categorisation of media aside, I am always keen to equip myself with new knowledge and tools that will help me tell screen stories to greater effect.

4 Minute Wonders provided many other emerging creative teams with the opportunity to express themselves digitally. The Bumblebeez’ Step Back was transformed into a Spike Jonze-style video in which a tacky cult leader and his 1980s-style brethren hole up in a Waco-esque retreat to await the coming of a UFO. Matt Bate and Martin Potter’s use of grainy verite-style footage shot on a single chip mini-DV camera works well with the lo-fi production of the Bumblebeez’ song.

Another clip which takes its cue from the 80s is Red Rocket, Amy Gebhardt and Jain Moralee’s clip for the group Fast Trains. Here, teenage fad culture is epitomised in the attire of a gang of kids wearing 80s costumes. In this clip and Liz and Kath Dooley’s Sunshine for Amber Suite, an outsider liberates himself from conformity through his colourful imaginings. Gebhardt’s protagonist brightens his world with Flash-animated animals, whereas the Dooleys’ drag-queen office worker transforms his parents’ house into a 2D aeroplane that flies through Dali and Magritte-inspired clouds.

Other clips of note include PRA’s The Bomb for The Fuzz, which cleverly uses ‘2 and-a-half-D’ animation to render Betty Boop-style strippers bursting open to reveal giant killer bugs that eat male patrons. Luke Gibbs’ You Are Expendable for Yunyu features a teddy bear violently destroyed by his fickle mistress, rendered in Waking Life-style sketchy animation. Both clips play upon male fear of the Other.

Credit must go to the SAFC and the ABC for investing in digital music video production. A liberated former film snob, I’m now itching for the chance to utilise my knowledge of digital techniques on my next production.

4 Minute Wonders, various filmmakers, FringeHUB, Adelaide Fringe 2004, March 1-3

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 25

© Jack Sheridan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2004