Thursday, March 08, 2007

Going to School on Porn

Music videos have always shared something with pornographic films. Many of the same, smaller San Fernando Valley soundstages are used for both kinds of production. The same kind of “outlaw” personalities were involved with making porn and promos. Heck, Eddie Van Halen is even writing skin flick scores these days.

In the early days of videos when clips were shot on, um, video – the same camera packages were often used on successive days by different companies. There is an old story about an music video camera assistant turning in all the tapes he found in the case after a Cyndi Lauper video shoot and the editor finding a tape of Debbie doing Dallas that had been left with the camera equipment a day/week earlier. So the editor cuts the blue footage in with Miss Lauper’s music vid performance because the editor assumed they shot it for a reason. The label was, understandably, a bit surprised. That story is probably just apocryphal, but it illuminates how similar the roots of music videos and adult movies are.

Oh, and the sexy girls. Music videos have long used sexy girls, and often the very same ones that appear in Chatsworth’s finest films. In one, the girls are the product in the other – the girls are the product OR they are used to decorate the product. This is not a new rap-based phenomenon. Girls on Film, anyone?

But there is a new change on the horizon that is already filtering through the world of pornography that is sure to really change music videos. High definition. The NYTimes even had a piece about how the newest 1080p technology is sending ripples through the adult industry.
“They have discovered that the technology is sometimes not so sexy. The high-definition format is accentuating imperfections in the actors — from a little extra cellulite on a leg to wrinkles around the eyes.

Hollywood is dealing with similar problems, but they are more pronounced for pornographers, who rely on close-ups and who, because of their quick adoption of the new format, are facing the issue more immediately than mainstream entertainment companies.”

Many lower budgeted MV shoots already go down on 24p cameras and in returning to their roots, videos have found a way to save money, especially as video camera technology improves. What does all this new picture resolution mean for videos? Is a new day dawning of visual cornucopias and precise frame-rates? Computer says no.

First up, most major labels still want to shoot everything on 35mm - at least with the "Hollywood" (and mostly non-rock) jobs that i work on. Yes, it baffles the mind why label (or management) Luddites demand this when 16mm or 24p look fine once they are transferred to television (or YouToogle) but remember that these are big corporations run by people as old as your parents. Old people are scared of the tech. Like Grandma who doesn’t trust her shiny Dell so she prints out every jpeg of the grandkids otherwise she might not really “have” it.

Labels seem to believe that glossy film (just like the movies use!!) is the only way to make their star artists look good. On some big budget diva jobs (Mariah, Janet, et al) that does make some sense. But budgetarily and technically, the vast majority of music videos could and should be shot on high def video. But that brings us to …

Would hi def be too clear and crisp for music videos? If the porn industry is worried about pimples on Jenna Jameson’s butt, imagine what Ray Kay or Bernard Gourley will have to do with the $200 per day “dancers” in the next Yung Joc video.

Emo video sets made out of cardboard and dubateen will not seem properly “edgy and intense” when 24p video picks up every last detail like the clothespins and gaffers tape on the backdrop or the clumps in the bassist's eyeliner. Is there enough time for Tony P’s or Saline Project’s computers to render all the effects for their next video if they have to make the images look Hi-Def sharp?

But here is one thing that might save music videos from the “over-teching” effect of Hi-Def, at least temporarily. No one watches videos on TV anymore.

While porn is going to Hi-Def so single guys can fire up the 42-inch plasma flat-screen for Assraelis, music videos are now being seen mostly on laptop screens after the carefully telecine-ed film has been filtered through layers and layers of compression software. It doesn’t matter that the video was shot on Hi-Def or 35mm, if the final product is seen on a web browser.

All that may be changing as new ways of delivering video arrive – a topic I have written on before, including the belief inside the industry that picture quality is vital. Maybe AppleTV will be the wave of the future and THAT will mean all the art-direction currently on Fuse will look worse than a middle school play.

Now that I think of it, maybe the “scratched up Etch-a-Sketch” quality of YouToogle isn’t such a bad thing.

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Comments:
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Might HD split people into two camps: those who like its ability to humanize, and those who like its potential for plasticity?

Those concepts are easy to understand in the porn world, but I think HD's effect on music video will be a bit less clear. Perhaps, as HD vids become more widely seen, HD will force directors/DPs to become more artistic - to rely less on the cheap-and-easy solution of girls, girls, girls, and more on their own brains.
 
Speaking as a commissioner for a major label we certainly do not demand that everything be shot on film, with so many cameras now using 35mm lenses adapters and prism adapters like movietube we are perfectly happy to shoot on tape, at the end of the day it's all about the quality of the DP.
 
There is a difference to 35mm vs 16mm even when transferred to SD tape or youtube. Take a look at Patrick Daughters' videos that have been shot in anamorphic. Super 16 stocks have become very grain free admittedly (even frustratingly) but they tend to flake emulsion and scratches are more magnified.

The funny thing is how we don't finish in hidef though. No future proofing on that when it comes to legacy content that all the major labels want for DVDs in the future and so on.

I think gordan is right that it's about the lenses and not the camera body or negative ultimately. I still think all forms of video up to hd 24p still have a look though that unfortunately the viewer associates with cheap. I wish more people shooting videos on those lower end formats would think of a way to incorporate the nature of the format into their idea, like say that Johan 'Oceans' video.

I thought this was going to be about the number of videos that have been made that feature hardcore sexual content... Tease.
 
Shooting HD or film is not the issue, it's what you finish your project on. All videos are still finished NTSC (lower res) on Digibeta or Beta SP. Most networks still demand Beta SP (archaic). So we're not really seeing that extra resolution provided by these new cameras. Once we start finishing our projects on HD, or 2k, or 4k in the future, then it will become a problem. Moreso, you're right to say that these cameras are sharp but it's also true that cinematographers have been diffusing the lens (filters, stockings) to soften sometimes unpleasingly sharp images. They will continue doing so in the future (with filters, in the telecine, or in post).

Cheers
 
Cant say why the music videos of today have to be skin flicks as there are other places that are more suitable for the said purpose. But I feel this has become the current trend of people and there are hardly any signs of them being changing to the conventional ways.

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