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    Fifty-Four-X Monster Stack (Part 2)

            In part one of this post, dated Tuesday, March 24, I told you that I’d get into some specifics about what I’ve learned in creating exceptional video photo montages, or as I refer to them, Personal Music Videos. So here we go.
             The first thing I do is go through all of the pictures that are potentially going to make it into the film. This happens in several stages. My first look at them is a quick glance, like I’m thumbing through a magazine. What I want is an overall first impression. That gives me some idea of what, and who, I’m working with. It’s a quick inspection of the raw material. I make little mental notes as I go through the pictures, pausing on some longer than others, but not lingering on any photo too long.
             The next step is to spend some time with each photograph and try to extract something from it. What is it about the picture that strikes me? An emotion? An atmosphere? A look? A color? Maybe it’s a beautifully composed shot, or one with a great sunset where the people make less of an impact than mother nature. Whatever it is, each photo I choose says something to me. The ones that don’t, I leave out. It’s at this stage that I begin thinking about sequencing.
             Through these steps, I’m gradually getting to know the subject of the film. I’m not just looking at what the photograph is saying to me. I’m paying attention to what’s going on in the pictures, and noticing patterns and recurring themes. I see what the person does, how they dress, what kind of expressions they make, the places they go, what they’re into, the people they spend time with.
             It’s usually around now that I put on some music. Either music I’ve been given to work with, or something I’ve come up with already from my own collection. The pictures have already started to play music in my head, and if they haven’t, I scour my iTunes library for something that strikes me, given the images I’ve seen. Sometimes, the right music comes to me at this stage, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I don’t force it.
             In this third phase, from the photos I’ve chosen, I’m now examining each picture. I’m studying my subject intensely. I’m putting together whatever I already know about them with what the photos are saying to me about them. Through this process, I start to decide who this person is and what exactly I want to communicate about them in the film.
             In step two, I was looking for a general “something”. Now, I’m determining what that “something” is. What is the subject saying to me in this photo? I’m happy? I’m horny? I’m excited? What do I see in them, whether they’re saying it or not? Maybe I think they look hot in the picture, even if they themselves don’t. Maybe I see some anxiety behind a smile, or maybe their body is betraying their expression. I start piecing this all together, and I get to know them, a little deeper, every minute I spend with them.
             Sometimes, if I’m in a time crunch, I combine steps two and three together. That is, I find what pictures say something to me and I determine what that something is, all in one step. And it’s also important to note that sometimes, the picture will say something different to me later in the process, after I’ve been working on this for many hours, than it does in the beginning. I have to stay open to that. I don’t want to close off something I get later just because it’s different than what I picked up earlier. Sometimes, that means putting the picture in a different place, or doing something different with it than I originally intended. In the process of developing a skeleton, or even a detailed plan, it’s imperative to remain open to inspiration, new information, and especially to crazy ideas that come out of nowhere.
             Once I’ve got the pictures I want, and a solid idea of what they’re saying to me, the process becomes more fluid. Because music is so important to this process (remember I refer to these as MTV Caliber Personal Music Videos), I’m always thinking in terms of music. What I’m looking to do is match the right picture not only with the right music, but with the right section of that music. It’s not enough just to lay some photos over a good song selection. For maximum impact, you want to find that verse or chorus or words or seconds of a song that embellish, augment, or sometimes contrast, with what the image is saying to you.
             The stronger you can identify with the emotions that are coming up for you as you do this, the better your finished product. Pay attention to what’s happening inside of you, and use that in your creative choices. If, for example, the subject is attractive to you, even sexy, then let that come up. Imagine what being with the person would be like. Fantasize even. Put yourself in the picture with them. Take them out of the picture and put them with you, doing....whatever you want.
             If this sounds like I’m trying to get you to make a porno video, that’s not quite it. But what I am stressing is for you to identify as strongly as you can with the subject of the film, even if that means fantasizing about sleeping with them. I admit, I’ve done this. It’s harmless, and it helps me make a better film (as well as being fun to do). Besides, it’s a perfect place to use the old “anything for my art” phrase. After all, they’re only photographs.
             Use timing in the music to your advantage. Make cuts on the beat instead of randomly in the middle of one. Zoom way in on some photographs and linger on say, the subject’s eyes, or lips, or smile. Don’t just pan across, or up and down, a photo for the sake of panning. Have a reason for starting one place and finishing in another. Then reverse it, and see how that works.
             Remember I said that what we’re shooting for is an MTV Caliber Personal Music Video. Watch some of your favorite videos and cop some ideas from them. Sell the subject as best you can. That is, make them look good. Paint them in a most glowing light. Make creative choices that accomplish that, with everything from photo selection, to editing decisions, to music selection. Remind yourself that you want whoever sees this film to know and love the subject a little more when it’s over.
            By the way, I’m available for creation of, or consultation for, Personal Music Videos. Contact me via email:, which you can easily do on the left side of every page under the orange heading "Contact Me Here".

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a film festival full of Wrongs) Reserved.

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