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VMAs 2011: Best Cinematography

15 Aug

How do you judge cinematography in a music video? On the one hand it’s effectively the same craft as feature film photography, and requires the same eye. Yet the form does need to be considered separately. These videos are almost never going to be seen on the big screen and a good DP should be conscious that the vast majority of the audience will be watching on TV or a computer. Breathtaking wide visuals won’t be as effective as sharp use of contrast or color. It’s far too easy for impressive framing to seem silly or slight in a small YouTube window.

Thankfully, this batch of nominees know what they’re doing. These DPs have an extraordinary amount of experience between them, having framed films like “Enter the Void” and “Top Gun.” The work itself is also wildly varied, from the epic midnight spook of “Hurricane” to the ebullient summer breezes of “Teenage Dream.” Yet there’s also a wonderful experimental fraternity among these videos. They cut back and forth between images connected primarily through thematic intuition, using impressively framed visual symbols to illustrate the music. Such loose metaphor depends not only on high quality editing and direction but also clarity in each individual shot. These nominees more than meet that challenge. Continue reading

VMAs 2011: Best Editing

11 Aug

In many ways the editor is more important to music videos than any other form of short film. Editing is, in essence, the rhythm of cinema and the way a video is pieced together to accompany a song can make or break the final product. It’s not simply the act of arranging cuts according to the beats of the music, but rather an artistic process that ideally adds to the larger experience of the video. A good music video editor is conscious of the musical rhythm and responds to it, but doesn’t take orders from it.

This year’s crop of nominees includes a wild variety of editing styles, from the fairly conventional to the visionary. Relative newcomers are named alongside seasoned professionals, like last year’s two-time consecutive winner Jarrett Fijal (“E.T.”). There are films on this list that take editing and put it front and center as the main attraction, sometimes to almost dangerous results. These craftspeople are at the height of their discipline and even they occasionally induce epileptic seizures we all know it’s for a good cause. Continue reading

VMAs 2011: Best Special Effects

10 Aug

This is an difficult category. Last year’s winner, Muse’s “Uprising,” is full of obvious effects work that culminates in a giant teddy bear revolution. Yet in 2009 Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” took home the title for much subtler work, which is actually somewhat difficult to initially spot. This year’s spread is similarly diverse. Some of the videos just use basic effects to spice up an otherwise conventional film while others take advantage of impressive CG imagery to create strange self-contained worlds.

The craftsmanship is quite good across the board, yet that’s not always enough. Winners in the category are sometimes just autopilot wins for a popular video, but more often tend to be very impressive examples of over the top effects tied to the themes of the song. Think Robbie Williams’ down to the bone striptease in “Rock DJ” or the crazy robots in Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.” The best effects engineers in this category not only experiment with fancy CG imagery but help their films build a clear visual milieu. Continue reading

Music Videos as Short Films: Counting Down to the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards

10 Aug

Music videos are the most successful, widely watched and easily accessible short films. It’s been that way at least since video killed the radio star and MTV showed up thirty years ago. They may not be theatrically released, but as media consumption gets more fluid and platforms become nebulous it seems appropriate to open up any definition of short film. It follows that music videos should be part of the conversation, along with all the exciting new web-based filmmaking that has been spawned by YouTube.

Therefore, it seems the MTV VMAs must be one of the more prestigious awards in the world of short film, along with festival prizes and the three short Oscars. So as a bit of an experiment I’d like to take the prizes a bit more seriously than most and have a countdown here at ShortStack. I’ll round up one category each weekday leading up to the awards and then finish off with Best New Artist and Video of the Year on the weekend of the ceremony. Things will kick off later today with Best Special Effects.

Hope you enjoy it! To get you in the mood here’s the first ever Best Special Effects winner: Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.”