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    Fifty-Four-X Monster Stack

            We’ve all seen at least one of them. Some are cute and make us smile. Others evoke tears. Many do both. They’re commonplace at weddings as well as funerals. Sometimes you pay somebody else for it. Other times you do it yourself or ask a friend to help. Fifteen years ago, they were strictly the province of professionals. Now, thanks to the digital revolution, almost anybody can do one.
             I’m referring to The Photo Montage. Or as I like to think of them: The Personal Music Video.
             In case I’ve lost you, what I’m talking about is simply a short film that consists of photographs, and sometimes footage, put to music and edited together, usually with simple transitions from one photo to the next. They can run from a few minutes to almost an hour. At a wedding, the bride and groom will show one that displays pictures of the two of them throughout the course of their relationship, put to some of “their songs”. At milestone birthday parties, the guest of honor gets to watch all sorts of embarrassing shots of themselves when they were fat with braces, put to the rock ‘n’ roll music that they loved in high school.
             I like photo montages. When done correctly, they can be very moving, beautiful, artistic, creations that pay homage to the film’s subject. When done badly, they can be a train wreck. For everybody. Luckily, I haven’t seen many of those.
             I’ve done quite a few photo montages, both professionally and for the fun of it. I’ve even taught an adult education class on how to do them. Mine are usually different from what most people are used to. Some of that is because of my own “brand” of creativity. Some of that is because I’m a musician, and within the film I use music very differently than a non-musician would. And some of that is because of how I feel about this form of media and how I approach the process of creating it.
             Most people that do these types of films gather a bunch of photos, often times string them together chronologically, and lay some music underneath. I’m not knocking that. It works. But if you want to create something special, you have to take it to another level. I do. And so can you.
             I treat a photo montage like an MTV caliber Personal Music Video.
             A music video for a rock band is made to sell that band. Well I believe a photo montage should “sell” the person, or the couple, or whoever the film is made about. That means making creative choices that are designed to illicit very strong emotional responses from the audience without over-sentimentalizing. Specifically, I want to bring out the essence of that person and put it on the screen for all to see. My goal is to create something that helps the person feel great about themselves. I want them to absolutely love who they see on the screen. And to do that, I have to first love them. And I do. Whether I’ve met them or not.
             I spend many hours with photographs of the person the film is about. I spend hours looking at pictures of their friends and family, of listening to their favorite music, of hearing the stories behind the pictures from people they know. All of this allows me to get to know the person. And through that, I gradually grow, in a way, to love them. I’ve gone through this phenomenon with every photo montage I’ve ever done, and it’s a beautiful experience. It’s a connecting experience. It’s what I love most about doing them. If I already know the person, by the time I’m done, I feel even more connected to them. I love them ever more.
             Like painting a picture of somebody with images and sounds, I want to bring out what’s special about the person. I want to convey their unique self. I want to make them look good, and bring out their beauty, their sex appeal, their passion, their vulnerability, their....whatever. Whatever help makes them who they are. When I watch a good music video of a band, I come away loving that band. They’re sexy. They’re cool. They rock. They’re wild. They’re funny. They’re sensitive souls. Whatever and whoever they are, it gets communicated in a good music video. What I relate to is the essence of that band. Even if it’s a fabricated, marketing driven essence, in this context, it doesn’t really matter. It works. I’m connected to them. I identify with them, or with whatever they stand for.
             When I do this for a photo montage, it’s a little different in that I’m always going for what’s real. I’m trying to extract something I see in the person and present it, embellish it, and weave it in with the rest of them to create something that people can connect to. We all have everything in us. Some of it is just easier to see, easier to identify. If I wanted to create a film that painted an “unflattering” portrait of somebody, I would first connect to that in them that is “unflattering”. Say their selfishness. Or their greed. Or their temper. It’s all there. If I look hard enough, I’ll find it. It’s in all of us.
             But if I want to create a true MTV caliber Personal Music Video of the person, an homage to them that tells some kind of story, I focus on that which makes them who they are. All that beautiful stuff that’s uniquely theirs. That’s there too. So I look for it. And I find it.
             I encourage you to create a Personal Music Video for someone you love. Not the garden variety, simple photo montage kind, as nice as that may be. Give them something special. Give them a bona fide tribute to who they are.
             In the second part of this post, I’ll help you do that by sharing what I’ve learned and getting into some specifics.
             By the way, the title has absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote. It’s a play in football that sounds cool, and I wanted to use it as a title. Seemed as good a time as any.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and an MTV amount of Wrongs) Reserved.

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