The mediageek zine is part of the mediageek TM family of brands. try our saucy weblog and zesty radio show at www.mediageek.org.
head mediageek paul riismandel contact the mediageek firstname.lastname@example.org
contributors aj michel, jason pankoke layout queen ellen knutson
this zine is available for 2 ppd (cash or stamps only) p.o. box 2102 champaign, il 61825-2102
born on date june, 2003
this zine will stay fresh for 730 days after opening, or your money back.
Mediageekery- welcome from the editor
Welcome to the first print project in the growing mediageek media empire... such as it is. I ve been using the mediageek tm brand name for more than three years. It started out as a name for a website and weblog (mediageek.org) where I document independent and grassroots media, as well as news about the media industry and regulation that I think is important to people concerned about media democracy.
The name then got transferred to a weekly radio show that I do on my local community station, which covers similar ground to the website, but in a different form and forum. I think it s disempowering to just hear about all the bad things going on in our media environment or to view the media as a big them to which we can only be spectators. So a big part of my radio show is trying to introduce and interview people who are media makers themselves or active in empowering people to create their own media.
This zine is another way that I ve wanted to share that message- the message that all of us are mediamakers. The tools are there and we just need to use them. And, most importantly, the world is more fun, enjoyable, livable, and, yes, better place when more people take ahold of the media and use it to their own ends.
One question I ask most of my interview guests is what made you decide to make media make whatever your project is? Or, more to the point what made you think you could even do it? As one might expect, the answers are diverse. For some people, making media is almost a natural outgrowth of their personality and being they can barely imagine what life would be like without doing it.
On the other hand, other people tell me that they never considered making a zine or a video, but then there was some overriding motivation that made them just have to do it.
But in almost all eases there seems to be this almost revelatory moment when they realize that they can make media. When they realize that, yes, I can make a zine, or a video, or a radio show, or a poster and somebody will read it, and maybe even like it.
Somewhere, sometime, media got demystified. Maybe a teacher or mentor challenged her to write or pick up a camera. Or perhaps a friend with a passion for radio dragged him into doing a program.
Then, in just a moment or two, this media thing, which all our lives we were told was just for professionals with years of training and indoctrination, could be used, created and manipulated by us.
This zine is an attempt to lend some expression to these moments and thoughts, along with instruction and motivation. Sometimes all we need to know is that somebody else, just like us, has done it. But sometimes we also need a little direction and information.
I hope you will be able to find a little of that here, and in future issues.
At this point I also feel like I should explain why, with a website and radio show, and at the ripe age of 31, I decided to make a zine. My first reason is that I ve wanted to make a zine for more than ten years, and I finally got an excuse to get off my ass and do it.
More seriously, the bigger reason is that I think communication does and should happen in many forms and many forums. I know I m not the first person to recognize this, but it s hard to drag a computer with you on the bus, or into the bathroom to do some reading. Sure, I guess with a new ultralight, super-Palm-handheld-pocket-cell-phone laptop-PDA it might be a little easier to read the mediageek website in those places. Yet, how many people actually can, and want to?
I hope the mediageek zine might reach people who don t or can t read the website or hear the radio show.
Also, it s aesthetic. I like print, I like books, magazines and zines. I go nuts up at Quimby s bookstore in Chicago. I want to communicate in that form, too. I also think that some of my more long-form pieces read better in print never mind that it s easier to put it down midway and pick it up to continue later. And it s much easier to actually use a how-to segment with the zine in front of you. I bet most people just end up printing out any really useful how-to info they find on the net- so it all ends up in print anyway.
Finally, I want to thank the folks who encouraged me to make mediageek into a zine Aj Michel, editor of Low Hug and several fun one-off zines like Laundry Basket, who is also the resident Zine Queen/Zine Lady on the mediageek radio show, and Jason Pankoke, editor of MicroFilm magazine. Both of these fine folks have pieces in this publication. I also must thank Ellen Knutson for her kind encouragement, support, and graphic
and layout skill. Without you three, there would be no mediageek zine, although I accept full and complete blame whenever necessary.
mediageek a person who, like a computer geek, delves Into the inner working of media both to understand it and to back it. A mediageek doesn t accept the rules and restrictions of the mainstream media, circumventing and jamming them by doing it him or herself.
a radical media call to arms- a manifesto of sorts by paul riismandel
The tools are at hand. The tools to communicate and create media are omnipresent and attainable for just about everyone in the developed world. And yet, overwhelmingly we are content to sit by and watch, spectate and consume, rather than create.
Media consumption, however, also is a giving over, a surrender. A giving over of time and attention, a surrender of control.
We re living at a point in time where human communication is everywhere, whether we want it or not. From billboards to PA systems, booming stereos to skywriters, not to mention the media we supposedly elect to consume, like TV and magazines, we are constantly bombarded with messages that we have very little control over.
In many situations our only control is the choice to pay attention
or to shut it off.
I argue we have another choice create.
Plenty has been written in the recent past about the onslaught of media consolidation, fueled by the co-joining forces of corporate greed and government acquiescence. Especially in the alternative/underground/radical/left press, we hear how fewer and fewer corporations are owning the vast majority of (commercialized) media-outlets.
But what are we to do about it?
As I write this, the Federal Communications Commission just decided the fate of a bunch of media ownership rules that until now just barely held back the last few frontiers of corporate media consolidation. The most significant, is the rule that keeps the same company from owning both your daily newspaper and a TV station in your town. As the FCC s Commissioner and the media industry have their way, you ll have several different flavors of vanilla in your news. Eat up, be happy, buy, and shut up.
The elimination of these few rules, and that this should happen with minimal public notice, support and the barest of majority, is not remarkable, except for the sheer audacity with which it has been executed.
The winners here can afford audacity, they ve paid dearly for it, and they had no intent to lose. This decision and most government decisions was bought and paid for. The fact that two FCC commissioners stridently and vocally objected only lends credibility to the facade of democracy and fairness.
But it was hopeless. Every procedural and political remedy proposed is hopeless.
Throughout months of public hearings held without the FCC s blessing, throughout multiple online petition campaigns and other activism, what has been the solution?
Write the FCC. Call your congressional representative. Lobby. Beg. Grovel.
Since when has any kind of victory been won through begging?
Yes, we are up against a savvy political media machine. We have an appointed president with no discernible qualifications, hand picked to head up a government that s run by men that we didn t choose either. But they are savvy media makers. From carefully arranging backdrop scenery behind the president s public appearances, to having the commander-in-chief copilot a fighter jet onto an aircraft carrier, their every public mediated move is premeditated and precisely designed to create an image and provoke a reaction.
What s most audacious about it is that they don t deny it or lie about it. No, the great paper of record, the New York Times, fawningly reports on it, like it were an homage to the Wendy s Where s the Beef? lady or some other clever ad campaign.
But we re not dumb. If you ask almost anyone, she knows she s being manipulated, she knows it s a sham, she knows it s more movie than reality. But it doesn t matter. Just like it doesn t matter that we know Old Yeller is just an old movie we still cry when that dog gets shot. Yeah, it doesn t make sense. So what? Perhaps we ll be better off if we just recognize this rather than trying to fight it head on.
So how do we fight this new political media machine? Is this a monster that can be fought with regulation? With laws? With lobbying?
Really. How and why do we expect that the well paid Hessians of power who masquerade as our elected officials and appointed regulators would turn around and bite the hand that s really been feeding them?
The only chance we have is to fight media with media. We have the tools, now is the time to use them.
The power to communicate with media has been available in the US for over a century the first American newspaper publishers were independent printers, not big corporations. The same for radio the first broadcasters were hobbyists and experimenters, not companies. Corporate America didn t see the value in radio until they invented the commercial announcement. (Before that, they just thought you broadcast radio programs to give people a reason to buy radios.)
Print and radio- these technologies are still with us, but they re even cheaper and easier than ever to harness and use. But we have new ones, like video and Internet. But that s not all We often forget great old standbys like spray-paint, wheat-paste and magic markers.
The opportunity to create, leave or send a message for someone else is everyone around us everyday, but we rarely take this opportunity for anything but the most mundane of tasks.
Why? Why do we leave the power unharnessed?
Rules? laziness ? Fear ?
If it s fear, then it s fear of failure. The fear that leaves millions of cool ideas and projects undone.
It s a fear driven by unrealistic expectations and the imagined judgments of the blockbuster mindset.
We re all so submerged in a world of big media that anything else looks small by comparison. The most popular books sell tens of thousands, the hottest CDs sell multiple millions, and even the crappiest prime time television shows reach millions. The bombarded message is bigger is better! Who s on top is most important! Who s sexiest? Richest? Who s #1 and who s #2? Is my favorite song gonna get beat out by somebody else s favorite song? Oh, can you believe the new blockbuster movie didn t beat the last blockbusters opening sales?
After a while, a few hundred copies of a zine doesn t seem so remarkable. In fact, it starts to look downright pathetic. But only if we buy into blockbuster mentality.
We must ask the question why is it so important to be big? Why must we be #1? Why do we even care enough to count?
Big blockbuster media takes all the fun out of it and turns creativity into a horse race. But it s a fixed race. Just a few big, powerful players who jockey for position. None ever really lose and nobody wins for long, except for the rest of us who are forbidden from entering the game.
If we oppose their message and their methods, then we have no business playing their game. It s rigged, and simply accepting their rules changes everything.
Not playing by the big media rules means not accepting their values. It means recognizing that every creative act, every communication, is valuable and worthwhile, whether it reaches two people or two thousand.
Now more than ever we have the tools and the impetus to communicate ourselves. But we can t be fighting ourselves while we fight the commercialized carpet bombing we forced to endure every waking hour.
We fight back by communicating back. By countering the messages we dislike and by projecting ideas and visions of how we think things, the world, can be better.
It can be fun, funny, and lighthearted, or deadly serious. I don t think it matters how you communicate, what matters is that you do it.
I often measure the vibrancy of a community by seeing what kind of communications are growing out between the cracks in the media pavement. What kind of posters are up? If I go to a cafe, record store or some other public space, do I see flyers and handbills around for shows and grassroots events? Is there meaningful graffiti- not just tags (though they have their uses) but words of protest or stencils intended to break people out of their slumber?
In a large city the appearance of these signals can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Sometimes they indicate an area where artists and other creative people live, or sometimes it s just a hip place. But I notice that the more hip a place becomes, the less interesting, less vibrant and more homogenized, and ultimately corporatized these signals become.
What s so funny about it is how simple it is. It doesn t require lots of schooling and skill, just a message a pen and maybe a photocopier.
Simplicity is sometimes mistaken for insignificance.
But notice how in the newer hip neighborhoods and cities, as they become more cleaned up, gentrified and yuppified, those cracks in the sidewalk disappear. Under the argument that they re eyesores, the posters get taken down, and the stencils get painted over. The forces of local power take back control and in their place you see billboards and Starbucks.
Well, if those posters and stencils and flyers and pamphlets were so insignificant, then why all the effort to get rid of them?
Independent, radical, underground, grassroots media matters. It makes a difference.
It s true that any one zinc or poster or song or website might not have the same sort of massive impact as Star Wars or Harry Potter. But that s not the point.
The point is that thousands and millions of zines, posters and pirate radio stations make an enormous collective impact, bigger than any blockbuster movie can muster. It s a kind of impact that big media is too seared of, because it sucks away the power of the blockbuster.
Every hour you spend writing a zine is an hour you spend not consuming some big media product. The same for every hour you spend shooting a video, painting a picture, writing a song or making a stencil. But what s so amazing about it, is not only have you expressed yourself creatively, but you then have the opportunity to share your work with someone else to offer that person a new perspective and a new alternative to another hour of Must See TV
We can take back the media by taking back our attention and blotting out their messages with ours. We start by taking back the spaces that are easy flyering our neighborhoods, making public access TV shows, distributing zines.
The next step is an incursion into corporate media territory. Pirate radio, droplifting CDs into stores, reclaiming billboards are just a few methods of varying legality.
One activist in Modesto California has been protesting the invasion of corporate news media in his community, just so that they can exploit the Laci Peterson murder. All he does is simply stand behind the newspeople on camera with signs criticizing the corporate media. He sure does piss off Fox News, but as long as we still have some sort of 1st Amendment, that s his right to do so.
Even if only a few of us take up the call, it makes some difference. But that difference grows with each person who dives in and takes the chance of devoting an hour to creation instead of consumption.
I do not claim nor guarantee that a growing movement of independent, people-created media will by itself overthrow the corporate media and their corrupt political mouthpieces who license it. Change like that will require many kinds of movement and force. But I do claim that this overthrow cannot happen without that media.
I, for one, would rather spend ten hours slaving over a word processor, a photocopier, behind a camera or stapling flyers than one hour lobbying and begging to get just a little bit of our media back, pleeeeeaaasse?
Let s rewrite the rules and create our own game. The more people who choose to play with us, the fewer who will be seduced to the blockbuster game down the block.
The slow sapping of their power will probably be intolerable (for them).
And then the fun starts.
the di in diy do it and fuck everything else!
A.J. Michel, Editrix, Low Hug Productions
Independent media creators jump into this culture for hundreds of different reasons. Speaking from the zine encampment, I had many impetuses for entering the zine pool after reading them for over ten years. I was a total magazine whore, but never really satisfied with most of what I brought home to read in bed with me. I was getting more satisfaction out of 36 page photocopied digest-sized zines than thick, glossy alternative magazines. I needed an outlet for my writing and that of my frustrated writer friends none of us write for a living, and most of us aren t doing what we want either. I can indulge my obsession with office supplies and spend hours in front of the computer, nose inches from the screen, playing with fonts and layout. Get mail and have my own mailbox key. Create something that is mine alone and have complete control over the finished publication. I didn t get into zines for lofty reasons like smash the state, but because I was unsatisfied, bored, and zines were just cool.
In the five years since I opened my PO Box, I ve produced 9 issues of Low Hug and 5 one-shot projects, written for a bunch of other zines, read hundreds of zines, gotten in nasty fights on zine message boards, written letters, received good reviews, inaccurate reviews, and a few reviews that really pissed me off. Gone to cons, formed friendships through letters and came to the realization that zining has kept me sane.
I ve learned a few lessons as well. Unfortunately, in a culture where there are no written rules, there are many unwritten rules that you re supposed to somehow know and follow. There s zine creators you don t dare criticize. There s topics you re not supposed to write about. Don t slip and step out of line on a message board, less you be banned forever. Don t make your zine too well designed or it will lack heart. You haven t been through enough to write about [insert topic here]. How dare you want to cover your expenses for publishing your zine don t you know that zines should be free? How dare you review anything released by a major label/publisher/ studio. How dare you use products from Microsoft you should be using an old manual typewriter and recycled paper.
Obviously, these are exaggerations, but all these unwritten rules have been thrown around the zine world at one time or another. This is discouraging to new zine creators it can feel like not only can you not publish in the real (i.e., glossy and mainstream) world because you re not slick enough, you re shut out of the zine world for being too slick.
In reference to these unwritten rules of self-publishing that have developed over the years, I say the same thing I said to the written rules of mainstream publishing fuck them with an unlubricated ten foot pole. Repeat fuck them.
To every other potential zine creator out there, perhaps intimidated and hung up on getting their project i started, ignore everything else and embrace the DI in DIY Ignore the self-appointed critics, superstars and
elf gatekeepers and make a zine. Stop worrying and start writing, cutting, photocopying and pasting. You can start small the important thing is that you start. Your first zine can be one page folded in eighths, copied on the sly at work. It can have a press run of 10. It can be about how much you love Avril Lavigne. It can be about how much you hate Avril Lavigne. What s important is that it s your writing and creation about how much you love or hate Avril Lavigne, not some glossy publisher s rag.
In his famous 10 Minute Film School lecture Robert Rodriguez first asks Do you want to be a filmmaker? It s a trick question, because for Rodriguez, there is no want.
Wrong! You ARE a filmmaker The moment you think about that you want to be a filmmaker you re that. Make yourself a business card that says you re a filmmaker pass them out to your friends, soon as you get that over with and you ve got it in your mind that you re one you ll be one, you ll start thinking like one. Don t dream about being a filmmaker you are a filmmaker
To paraphrase Rodriguez, you ARE a zinemaker. If you ve read enough zines (and face it, if you know what zines are you probably have) you know how to make a zine. You know what you like and what you don t. You know what works, in both content and design. You ve absorbed plenty of ideas and if you want to use some of them fine, but if you want to throw all those ideas away, that s fine too. Once you open your PO Box, you are a zinemaker.
Your first zine will be the most difficult issue you ever do. I joke that it took me eight years to finish my first issue. The second issue will be a little bit easier, and once you get past #3, you re in it for the long haul. If you reach a point where zining becomes not fun anymore, take a break from your project. Consider doing a completely new one-shot about a totally new subject. Try to do a minizine in 24 hours. Write for other people s compilation zine projects.
Simply put Fuck the mainstream rules, fuck the indie rules, stop worrying about how to make a zine, and just make your zine. After all, DIY is not a passive action.
You are a zinemaker.
helpful zine making tools
- hints from Aj Michel
While the only supplies you really need to make a zine are a few sheets of blank paper and a pen with black ink, if you become a regular zinc creator there are a few inexpensive tools that will make your life easier.
A good pair of scissors is certainly acceptable, but not for precision cutting. A basic X-Acto knife hand the classic #I I blade is $23, and a pack of 15 refill blades is $5.
Cutting mats are made of thick rubber or plastic and usually printed with a 1 grid. They re self healing so you won t cut through the mat while using the X-Acto. Expect to pay about $5 for a 9 x 12 mat aimed at the scrapbooking crowd, or a higher quality 12 x 18 mat for about $12. If you don t want to buy a cutting mat, you can always use old phone books, newspapers, or cardboard under your paper.
If you re making quartersized zines, or have a large amount of paper to cut, consider a rotary trimmer, which is basically a round blade mounted on a track. There are a wide range of rotary trimmers available, from cheap $ 10 models to $100 professional models. Another option is to do it at the copy shop. One of my favorite tricks to play at Kinko s (where I don t get my zine copied, but do covet their heavy-duty rotary trimmer) is to come in, make a few copies and then proceed to use their trimmer for the stack of copies I brought along.
Cheap gluesticks (3/$1 at back-to-school time) are a zine editor s best friend clean, neat, not goopy like Elmer s glue or rubber cement. I also really like MonoAqua Liquid Glue ($2) which comes in a two-ended pen-like dispenser, narrow and wide tips. Clear plastic tape is also helpful to have around, but use it sparingly, as it creates shadows on photocopies where it is used.
Although it may seem like a large investment, a long-armed stapler is really the best way to bind your finished zines. Stanley Bostich makes a basic long-arm stapler that sells for about $30. This truly beats stapling into the carpet and then folding over the prongs. You don t need fancy saddle staplers for zine binding, but if your copy shop has one that you can use for free, take them up on it.
Folding bones ($8), which resemble traditional letter openers but are much heavier and made of plastic or Teflon, will save your fingernails when it comes to folding. The backs of plastic spoons also work well to make a clean fold.
Odds and Ends (things you can probably liberate from work)
Colored highlighters or pencils are an easy and cheap way to add spot color to your pages. Correction fluid (WiteOut or Liquid Paper) is an essential. A sturdy metal ruler (12 or 18 ) for using with the X-Acto blade. A small plastic T-square can be had for a few bucks. The usual office supplies paper clips, post-its, pens, file folders, envelopes are always helpful to have around when you re making a zine.
PO Boxes and Private Mail Boxes
Before you buy any of the zine-making supplies detailed above, your first purchase should be a post office box (POB) or a private mail box (PMB). Prices vary throughout the country, but expect to pay about $50 a year for an official US Post Office Box (less in rural areas), and a bit more for a private mail box (PMB) from a store like Mailboxes Inc. Using either a POB or a PMB will help keep you safe in the often strange world of zinedom. After all, would you give your home address to anyone who asked? Donny Smith of Dwan Zine has written an excellent series entitled The Home of Zineland Security, available on the Xerography Debt site (http //www.leekinginc.com/xeroxdebt/zinelalid.htm) that addresses many safe zining concerns.
However, there are a few print resources out there worth a read. Bill Brent s Make a Zine contains lots of great, straightforward advice on all aspects of zinc creation, from layout to distribution. Brent, publisher of the long-running Black Sheets sex zine gives great advice without being too teachy.
Quite dated but still worth the read for historical reasons are Factsheet 5 creator Mike Gunderloy s two tracts Why Publish? and How to Publish a Fanzine, both out of print but easily available in PDF at the Zine Resource Guide site (http //vrvvw.zinebook.com/ resource/gunder.html)
Alex Wrekk of Microcosm Publishing and Brainscan zine assembled Stolen Sharpie Revolution in 2002, a 96-page guide to all sorts of DIY techniques, from zine making to putting out a record. It s available by sending $3 to Microcosm Publishing, PO Box 14332, Portland OR 972930332. Note Stolen Sharpie Revolution will be updated and expanded in 2003.
Shawn Granton, the artist behind Ten Foot Rule Industries created a little booklet entitled DIY Comix An Instructional Pamphlet for his comic workshop tour. It s got lots of practical advice, current resources, and a good sense of humor, which is always needed when making a zine or comic. It s available by sending one first-class stamp to Shawn Granton, PO Box 14185, Portland OR 972930185.
Jeffrey Yamaguchi of Working for the Man zine, the Bookmouth.com site, and the creative force behind 52projects.com (whew!) has a great resource called Get the Word Out that includes moneysaving tricks, advice on DIY
promotion, and interviews with many DIY media creators. Most of it is available online http //www.bookmouth.coiTi/ getthewordout.html
Aj Michel is the creator of Low Hug, a zine exploring the intersection between the popular and the personal. It has been described as, Unpretentious and honest, although not necessarily exciting, which she considers a compliment. Get more information at http //Iowhug.blogspot.com or email email@example.com
so you wanna shoot some videos-
no-nonsense tips for getting yourself a camcorder.
Video is a great medium for creative communication, and with the advent of the camcorder it has gotten cheaper and easier. Even more important is that it constantly gets easier to distribute video. Many communities have (frequently underutilized) public access TV which lets you beam your video into homes all over your city. If you keep your videos short the Internet can be a good way to get your video around, and, of course, there s always the lowly VHS videocassette.
In every issue of the mediageek zine I ll give a simple tutorial about some aspect of video-like shooting, editing or distribution. The focus is on easy and cheap methods, not the top-of-the-line gear or the newest marketing hype. The governing principle here is that equipment is useless if you don t use it, so the focus is getting you started and producing with whatever you can get your hot little hands on.
But before you have any video you ve gotta shoot it, so that means you gotta have something to shoot it with. So this first article focuses on selecting a video camera.
Starting Off- If you ve got it, use it!
First off, I have to say that if you already have or have access to a camcorder, then start using it. Now! I m as big of a geargeek as the next video nerd, but you don t need the newest superzoom ultramini digital video camera to get your idea onto the screen. Just a camera.
So even if you re hauling around your Dad s old VHS shoulder mount camera that he taped your grade-school graduation with in 1985, if it works, start shooting. If you haven t shot much video, or you haven t shot in a while, this should whet your appetite and get your creative juices flowing.
By screwing around with whatever camcorder you can get your hands on you ll find out if this is something you want to spend more time (and money) on. If you get bored with it soon, then you ll be glad that you didn t drop $1000 on a new digital camcorder. And if you find that you re jazzed about video and wished you had something better, then you ll be much more sure that you ll get some use out that new(er) cam.
Format- Cheapo analog or Pricier digital?
The Format question revolves around two questions, what kind of tape? And, analog or digital? They re interrelated, but by-and-large, the biggest question is how much you want to spend.
ANALOG VHS, VHSC, SVHS, 8 mm and Hi-8
Do not buy a new analog camcorder. You ll see them at Wal-Mart and on the home shopping channels and they ll look great and be super cheap. But don t do it. It s last decade s technology and so they typically have the lowest-grade parts and features- like the $25 boom box or $40 VCR. It ll work, but it probably won t last. You don t want a disposable camcorder when you re still spending $300.
Buy used! If you want to go super cheap you re better off buying a used analog camcorder. Note that analog camcorders do not plug right into your computer like you see in the iMac commercial, but they will plug into your TV or VHS VCR for viewing, copying and simple editing. You can buy an analog capture device for your computer that ll plug into your USB port but once you ve plunked down another $100 $200 for that thing, you might as well have spent the extra to get a digital camcorder.
That said, an analog camcorder still takes video, and the better ones (HI8 and SVHS) take very good video. Here s a guide to the different analog formats
VHS (full-size cassette)
These cams use the full-size VHS tape like your VCR uses. They haven t made a consumer version of these since the early 90s. But most of them were made pretty well, so if you can find one that s working, it ll probably last a while (but the battery will probably be shot more on that later). A full-size VHS camcorder is convenient because the tapes are everywhere and they re cheap. Plus, you can shove them right into your VCR. The downside is that the camcorders will be older and the quality isn t great though sometimes the low-resolution can make for fun experimenting. Don t pay a lot for one of these I probably wouldn t shell out more than $100, if that.
VHS-C (compact cassette)
In my humble opinion this format is crap and I would never own one. VHSC camcorders use a small version of VHS tape that you (an play in your VHS VCR using an adapter. So, basically, it s a hack. The tapes are more expensive, the adapters can be wonky, and because much less tape fits in the little cassette you can only get about 20 minutes per tape, compared to 120 minutes for full-size VHS. The quality is no better than regular VHS, so the only advantage is size, which isn t necessarily an advantage.
This is an upgrade from standard VHS and the cassettes come in both full size and compact size (SVHSC). My advice for the cassette size remains the same avoid the compact version, SVHSC. Otherwise, Super VHS has improved resolution and color compared to regular VHS. Until recently, SVHS was used a lot in small production companies and in institutional video because of its good balance between quality and cost. That said, you have to use more expensive SVHS cassettes (around $6 each, compared to $1-$2 for regular VHS) and they re harder to find. Consumer versions of SVHS cams tend to be the compact kind, so if you find full-size cams they tend to be aimed at the pro market, which means that the overall build quality will be very good, but they re also more expensive. Don t pay more than $200.
Not to be confused with 8mm or Super 8 movie film, 8mm video is a format that Sony developed specifically for consumer camcorders, so they could make cameras that were much smaller than the hulking shouldermount VHS cams. The quality is about the same as VHS, but the cassettes are much smaller while still holding 2 hours of video. So you have all the advantages of VHSC without the disadvantages. The biggest drawback of 8mm is that the tapes don t work in your home VCR (but then, neither do digital tapes) so instead you have to plug your camcorder into your TV or VCR. Sony s been making these for more than 10 years so good used ones should be easy to find and tapes are plentiful and cheap. Don t pay more than $150 or so.
This is an update on 8mm that gives much higher quality picture and sound. Until digital video came along in the late 90s, Hi-8 was the format of choice for indie video producers, documentarians and journalists working on a budget. In fact some of the higher-end Hi-8 cams from a few years ago will have better parts and optics (lenses) than the cheaper digital cams you can buy today, so they can be a good value. Hi-8 cams use tapes that are the same size as 8 mm but have different tape stock inside, so they cost more and are a little harder to find. But you can use regular 8 mm tapes in your Hi-8 cam but you ll get regular 8 mm quality. You should he able to find a good Hi-8 camcorder for around $200 or less.
Final Analog Price Advice
Don t pay more than $250 for a used analog camcorder, and try to pay much less. Used and refurbished digital camcorders can be had for around $300, so you re better off scrounging up an additional $50 bucks to go digital.
DIGITAL FORMATS DIGITAL8 & miniDV
Digital video gives you a sharp, high quality picture that comes within spitting difference of true broadcast quality for very cheap, and so that is the way of the future. If you can afford to spend a little more to get digital, you should, but only if you re sure you ll use the camcorder. If you want to edit video on your computer or create videos for the Internet then you absolutely want to go digital.
Sony introduced this kind of camcorder to take advantage of the huge installed base of 8mm and Hi8 camcorders and to give people using them a good way to step up to digital. These cams use plain old 8mm or HI8 tapes but record a digital signal on them. So, the tapes are pretty easy to find and pretty cheap. However, you can t play back a tape you recorded in your digital 8 camcorder in an analog 8mm or Hi8 cam. A Digital8cam is great to have if you already have an old 8 or HI8 camcorder and/or have a bunch of old 8mm or Hi8 tapes that you have stuff recorded on. This is because you can play back your old analog 8/Hi8 tapes in a Digital8 cam right into your computer. However, otherwise I don t recommend Digital8 cams, since they represent the low end of the market and because Hi8 tapes are bigger and bulkier than miniDV (below). Digital8 cams are also bigger and heavier than DV cams, sometimes twice as much. If you decide you want to go for a Digital 8 camcorder, stick with Sony, but I wouldn t pay more than, say, $500 600, new or used.
miniDV (also called simply, DV)
This is the dominant format for digital camcorders, so it is the one I recommend if you go digital. The tapes used to be pretty expensive ($10+) but have really dropped in the last year. If you buy 5 or more you can find them in stores or online for about $3$5 each. They re still more expensive than VHS or 8 mm tape, but that will probably cease to be true in another year or so. The big jump in quality is more than worth it. Almost all DV camcorders have a firewire port (also called iLink or IEEE1394) to hook it up to your computer for editing. Even the cheapest DV camcorders have very good picture quality, so it s hard to go wrong. How much you should pay really depends on how much you can afford and what features you want.
OTHER ODD DIGITAL FORMATS (to avoid)
There are a couple of other digital camcorder formats out there, but I recommend you avoid them. They re both kind of experimental and not well supported.
This is super small version of DV, so the tapes are tiny and fragile. The tapes are also really expensive and the digital recording format is different than miniDV.
Finally, there are only a couple of cameras that use these tapes, so this format might go away.
Hitachi offers a few camcorders that record onto recordable DVDs instead of tape. It s a cool idea, but it s not ready for prime time. The 3 DVDs are expensive, and don t work in most DVD players. Plus, the digital format (MPEG2) is different than DV, and more difficult to edit as well
Essential Must-Have Camcorder Features
If you ve decided you re going to buy a camcorder then it makes sense to buy one with the basic necessary features. I highly recommend that any camcorder you pay real money for have these basic and essential features -otherwise at some later point you ll wish you had them and be jonesin for an upgrade. (if you get one as a gift, acquire one for free or already have one, then beggars can t be choosers. Don t whine- Just go shoot some video!)
Microphone Jack- The microphones built in to most camcorders are pretty cheap and kind of an afterthought, so they don t pick up great quality audio. But even more problematic is that the mic is on the camera, which is typically several feet or yards away from your subject, meaning there s a bunch of space for the sound to travel, picking up noise and echo on the way. There are lots of situations where you ll want an external microphone to put closer to your subject or to even pump in sound from an external mixer, such as if you re recording a speech or a band. If you don t have a microphone jack, you can t do this, and it s not something you can add later so look for it. If the cam you re looking to buy doesn t have a mic jack, then pass on it- it that essential.
Headphone Jack- I work in institutional video, and I don t know how many times somebody has brought me a video tape where the sound was clouded in noise, too faint or not there at all, and the person was asking me to try and fix it. Well, the truth is you can t polish a turd. If you didn t record it well in the first place, then you re never going to get it back. So, like a viewfinder lets you know what picture you re actually recording to tape, a set of headphones lets you know exactly what sound you re recording. This is too important to do without.
Viewfinder- This may sound obvious, but Sharp, in particular, has a whole line of camcorders where you just look at the big LCD screen. This might seem fine, until you re in bright direct sunlight and it washes out the screen. But because a viewfinder has a little rubber housing around it, you can still use it in direct daylight. Don t get me wrong, a swing out LCD can be a great thing to have, but it doesn t replace a viewfinder.
Important Camcorder Features
These are some features that I think are important, but you can do without if necessary. These features tend to show up on more expensive camcorders, but I ve been surprised by some inexpensive cams that have them.
Manual Focus- It seems like the whole world runs on auto-focus, but sometimes it just doesn t work. Have you ever seen a video where you just have a person standing on a dark stage and out of nowhere the picture goes out of focus then back in? That s auto-focus screwing up. Some manufacturers auto-focus is better than other s but none is perfect. For some situations, being able to set the focus yourself is the only way to get a rock solid picture. Or, if you re more inclined to making impressionistic and artistic videos, you might want to purposely take things out of focus. In either case, being able to set this yourself can be an asset. In consumer camcorders under $1000 Sony seems to be the only company that offers a real focus ring like you d find on an SLR film camera, and this is the best and most intuitive manual focus method. Canon and Panasonic tend to let you focus using a little wheel which is less intuitive and more awkward though it works in a pinch.
Manual Exposure- Exposure controls how much light makes it through the lens and onto the video pickup device. Like auto-focus, sometimes auto-exposure just gets it wrong, causing you to end up with a very dark or an overexposed whiteout picture. A bad backlight behind your subject- like sun through a window-can make you end up with a shadow instead of a person, but being able to open up your exposure to compensate can let you see the person s face. Being able to change the exposure yourself can mean the difference between total darkness and actually seeing something.
Useless Camcorder Features
There are lots of whizbang gizmo features that manufacturers load on their camcorders to make them more appealing, like nickel slot machines. However, by and large, these features offer little utility and are of little value, even if they occasionally do some cool stuff. These days it s hard to find camcorders that don t have these extra doodads, so you can t avoid them. Just don t be fooled into thinking that they re worth anything, and don t be tricked into paying more just to get them.
Digital Zoom / Super Zooms (like 120x zoom) There s two types of zoom, optical and digital. Despite the natural tendency to think anything digital is superior, don t be fooled here. Optical zoom is what the camcorder s lenses create and is the high quality zoom. A good quality optical zoom ratio is lOx or more. A lOx zoom literally means you can see something lOx bigger. Digital zoom just takes the picture and magnifies it, warts and all. Digital zoom is like putting a picture into a photocopier and enlarging it you don t see things more clearly, it just gets bigger and more pixilated. There s very few situations, if any, where digital zoom is useful, and most experienced videographers leave it turned off.
Digital Effects- This feature allows you to shoot in black and white and do all sorts of cheesy things that make your video look like the early days of MTV But you ll find that don t use them too much, unless you re hooked on the visuals of Hey Ricky. Worse, if you record something in a crazy effect and decide later you don t like it, you re out of luck you can t reverse it.
Still Picture Mode- On paper this sounds like a good idea, be able to shoot stills and video with the same camera. In practice I don t know anyone who does it. Video cams are still much bigger than still digital cams, arid it s a big pain in the ass to download pics off your video camera. On top of that, a $200 digital still cam now gives better quality stills than an
$800 digital camcorder. It doesn t hurt to have the feature there, just don t pay more to get it.
Camcorders can cost quite a bit of money, so it pays to do your research and be careful. Ever see those Best Buy commercials that say how you can go there and play with their stuff? Well, do it. Screw around with m their camcorders and see what you like and don t like. If you have a friend with a cam, ask if you can mess around with it and see if you d like to have one like it.
It can be a good idea to buy one locally, if only it s easier to return it or get repairs if there are problems. Camcorders are almost always cheaper by mail order or online, but it s also a lot harder to get customer service.
If you re online check out some review sites. I think Epinions.com is pretty good, because it s written by consumers, not experts. The reviews tend to be less critical of absolute picture quality while focusing on usability and durability. It s in consumer review areas where you ll find out what camcorders tend to suffer early deaths and which ones last. Other good forums are CNet.com reviews and even the customer reviews on Amazon.com.
On-line auctions like Ebay and Ubid.com can be a great way to cut a cheap deal on some stuff, but you re always taking more risk than with a regular store. I bought my Panasonic DV camcorder on Ubid.com for about $350 and it was a great deal, but I would have been more reticent to buy a $1000 cam there. It never hurts to be cautious. In our modern consumerist society, there will always be another deal around the corner.
I won t give advice on specific models because these can change rapidly and I d like this advice to be useful for more than a few months. Especially working in institutional audio and video services I ve had firsthand experience with what brands of equipment stand up and which ones fail. So here are a few general brand recommendations.
Sony- Sony s camcorders are pretty consistently well built, well designed and a pleasure to use. I m not crazy about Sony s cheaper consumer electronics, but their video stuff in general is pretty well put-together.
Canon- They make good photo equipment and their camcorders are no exception. Canon s cams tend to be smaller than Sony s, which is something to keep in mind if size is an issue. They re cheapest cams are also cheaper than Sony s without sacrificing much quality.
Panasonic- I have less experience with Panasonic cams, although I ve had mine for two years without a problem. In general it seems to me that the Panasonies are a little less easy to use and less feature-rich, but they also tend to be cheaper. I ve heard that their quality control can also be less good, but I haven t experienced that myself. I will note that t if you happen to be looking for a used full-size VHS or S VHS cam then you can t do better than a Panasonic.
OK, but Not Great
Sharp- This company sometimes designs and builds some great products, and sometimes they put out crap. Their camcorders seem to fall on both sides of this line. Their old full-size VHS cams tended to be pretty good, while they re later 8 mm cams were pretty chintzy. Sharp also sells those view-cams without viewfinders that I recommend avoiding. But if you find a Sharp camcorder you like, it ll probably be fine.
JVC- Their camcorders tend to lack the essential features I list until you get into the more expensive range. But once you re into the higher-end stuff, you might as well buy a Sony or Canon. Still, you can often find JVC cams for dirt-cheap, which might make it worthwhile. I ve heard about quality problems, but haven t experienced any first-hand.
Shot in the Dark
There are a lot of cheaper brands out there or companies that no longer make camcorders. Sometimes these companies don t build their own, so that RCA cam might actually be a JVC in disguise. Sometimes they quit making cams because they sucked at it. In any event, buy these brands with caution. If it s a kick-ass super-cheap deal (a DV cam for $99?) then it may be worth the risk. But if you can buy one of the above brands for close to the same money, you re better off passing.
RCA- I don t think they make their own cams. Some of them are Samsungs in disguise. Pretty much the cheap end of the market and not worth the bother.
Samsung- I ve heard conflicting info about them. In general the quality of their products has been getting better. But, by way of comparison, Sony, Canon, Panasonic and JVC all make cams for pros and Samsung does not.
Not On This List
If you don t see the brand of the cam you re looking at listed here, then I d pass- unless, of course, the deal is incredible ($3 and kiss on the cheek?). In the 80s nearly every electronics company marketed some kind of camcorder although most were manufactured by one of a few companies. If it s one of these older cams from a company no longer associated with high-quality electronics (Sylvania and Sanyo come to mind) then caution is my advice. But if it s fifteen years old and still working, then it can t be too much of a lemon. Otherwise, there will always be another deal around the corner for those who are smart and patient.
Used Camcorders- Things to look out for
Try it out.
you re buying a used camcorder it s best that you try it out and make sure it works. If the person selling it doesn t have a blank tape, it s worth it to find one and double-check. Just because the camcorder powers on and you see a picture in the viewfinder, that doesn t mean it actually records something to tape. Make sure you record some video and play it back. If it s a VHS cam, see if you can t also try playing back that tape in a VHS VCR. If you re buying on Ebay, then you re just going to have to trust the seller.
Until the mid-90s camcorders used Nickel-Cadmium batteries (Ni-Cads). In addition to being highly-toxic, they also have a limited life-span and have to be properly taken care of. However, most people did not read their instruction manual to learn how to properly charge these batteries. So if you re buying an older 8mm or VHS cam don t be surprised if the batteries are shot. If it s a Sony or Canon you can probably find replacements for not too much money. If it s a VHS camcorder or some other brand, you might not find batteries at all. (I understand that you can still get batteries for old Panasonic cams, but it might not be cheap). A camcorder isn t completely useless if you have to be tethered to a wall outlet, but does nonetheless constrain what you can do with it.
now QUIT reading and shoot some video!
CHICAGO ROCKS, ST. LOUIS ROLLS
Docs on Indie Scenes
Not ten years ago, the Big Record Labels took notice of ChampaignUrbana, Illinois a little midwest college town, and home to mediageek and raided our modest rock scene for talent. The likes of Poster Children, Honcho Overload, Menthol, and Hum signed contracts that could have been their first step towards coexisting with the music-making elite, but their various relationships with the Big Record Labels all petered out in various ways. Today, after a sullen half-decade of relative inertia, homegrown acts such as Absinthe Blind, The Red Hot Valentines, and Temple of Low Men have done their part to put the nay-sayers in their place and jack all things local music back into high gear. Complemented by a quarterly zine (Innocent Words), a student-run Internet calendar (www.OpeningBands.com), and the resurrection of the beloved, band-friendly club The Blind Pig (as a slightly different hybrid species, Cowboy Monkey), all seems well whether or not the Big Record Labels ever descend upon us again.
Rollercoaster pulses are nothing new when it comes to the waxing and waning of a music scene, yet Scott Petersen s Out of the Loop (Headache Productions, 1997, 87 minutes) and Matt Meyer s STL 2000 (IBC Shadows Music, 2001, 104 minutes) make ( or quite interesting viewing, if at times bittersweet. Independent musicians everywhere will empathize with the tales recounted in both productions furthermore, Out of the Loop and STL 2000 illustrate vividly the recent trials of Champaign Urbana s rock-and-rollers via cultural microcosms not so far away. Petersen, currently a film production consultant in Los Angeles, interviewed numerous personalities with Chicago s mid-Nineties fever pitch when the music industry was branding the Windy City as their next Seattle. Conversely, Meyer s grittier take captures a year in the St. Louis punk scene, one that is rife with diehard supporters and talent but lacking in momentum or anything close to a buzz band.
Wisely narrowing his scope to concentrate on the band/label dynamic percolating in Chicago at the time, Peterson allows Out of the Loop s colorful menagerie free reign to talk about the ups and downs of the business. You ll recognize at least some of the featured musicians whether or not you hail from the Land of Lincoln The Jesus Lizard, Red Red Meat, Pulsars, Triple Fast Action, Seam, Sister Machine Gun, YumYum, Die Warzau, Eleventh Dream Day, and the Wesley Willis Fiasco. Central to this film are Veruca Salt s Louise Post and Nina Gordon, whose stories of rough and tumble, media-assisted ascent provide counterbalance to the snails-pace climb of their contemporaries.
Fans familiar with the rigmarole that bands traditionally face will find nothing particularly new discussed in Out of the Loop, although that absolutely does not take away from its enjoyment factor. We can forgive Petersen for mildly doting on then it girls Post and Gordon, who enliven their reasonable screen time with sass, insight, and a sweet acoustic rendition of Good Disaster, an eventual B-side single to Volcano Girls. Some of the best commentary comes from the outrageously blunt Steve Albini, one of Chicago s best-known studio engineers who brandishes fiery independence (and disdain for major label overlording) at the drop of a hat. Practically all the aforementioned bands also get a chance to sling anecdotes and advice, from the meat-and-potatoes grounding of Eleventh Dream Day s Rick Rizzo to the bafflingly cryptic aura of diagnosed schizophrenic Willis.
Chief among Out of the Loop s other virtues is its generous concert footage, which affords the film its primary glimpse into the bands creative drive. While it is obvious that Peterson makes copious use of his zoom lens to add visual variety to several one-man-crew shoots, the vibrancy of what he captures makes up for the sometimes awkward photography. Starting with the awesome sight of the Jesus Lizard s David Yow prancing about the stage of an American Legion hall while crowd surfers float by, very little of the music is short of magnetic. Petersen taped additional non-concert renditions of Pulsars Owed to the Devil, a catchy dig on the industry that nonetheless helped earn brothers Harry and Dave Trumfio a record contract, and the exquisite Jealous of the Stars, performed by Chris Holmes offbeat guitar strings keyboard combo YumYum.
Additional segments feature rock critics Bill Wyman (ex Chicago Reader) and Jim DeRogatis (Chicago Sun Times) and several club owners postulating what direction the scene might take. This indirectly feeds into the primary conflict of interest thread Petersen incorporates, the purchase of ailing industrial label Wax Trax! by lofty TVT. How does a corporation deal with taking under its wing an independent known for treating artists like family and singlehandedly birthing a sub-genre without destroying it? Graceful thoughts on the matter are provided by Wax Trax! cofounder Dannie Flesher, while faithful label stalwarts Chris Randell (Sister Machine Gun), Jim Marcus (Die Warzau), and Chris Conelly (Ministry) spin cautious optimism about how autonomous Flesher can remain under bureaucratic thumb. Luckily, Wax Trax! persists to this day with several of its signature artists still on board.
On the other hand, a running gag involving Petersen s futile attempts to snag Chicago supergroup Smashing Pumpkins for an interview simply draws attention to t lie short life spans of most rock bands. Hindsight now tells us t that only Sister Machine Gun regularly releases albums anymore, while a Gordonless Veruca Salt and Fiascoless Willis make waves sporadically. Chris Holmes dusts off YumYum for occasional club dates while the durable Eleventh Dream Day continues 20 years of grunge-pop finesse by playing gigs once in a blue moon. The Pumpkins, the Jesus Lizard, and Triple Fast Action indeed called it quits, while Seam, Red Red Meat, Pulsars, and Die Warzau might still be together, but one would be hard-pressed to know based on all the outdated band bios and fan pages online. Many of these folks probably have marched forth in subsequent bands or solo efforts, but their presence has diminished since the heyday. As Scott Giampino of Touch and Go Records quips with a wistful smile just before the end credits roll, Reality sets in, you know? Not everybody s gonna be a rock star.
True, but try telling it to the rough around-the edges punk quartet rocking out before dozens of kids in a dank St. Louis basement. With dust on the floor and sweat salting their eyes in primitive fits of clamor and fuzz, this is how many groups truly begin. Although its raw production values pale compared to Out of the Loop, the more recent STL 2000 gamely stitches together a scene portrait with garage-rock spit that feels more complete than its predecessor in describing what a scene really is, warts and all. Debut filmmaker Matt Meyer can t help but ignore the record business angle- it seems that dimension doesn t even exist for this motley crew- and instead concentrates on the backbone that supports such a milieu on the Mississippi.
One thing that Meyer shares with Petersen is a relative unobtrusiveness in capturing the subject matter. This shows admirable restraint on the part of Meyer, who is an active member of the St. Louis underground and has fronted the giddy pop-punk outfit Ded Bugs for several years. Humbly setting aside any mention of his own band, the director turns his camera on everyone else from forerunners Ultraman and Whoppers Taste Good (featured in gloriously faded VHS archive footage) to established acts like Not Waving But Drowning (hardcore), Sexicolor (powerpop), and The Trip Daddys (psychobilly). In two lengthy segments we follow highschool bands with stars in their eyes, Wreckless Angels and The 4sum 5sum. It is a wiry Angels performance in the aforementioned basement that kicks things off, while the charismatic 5sums enter a half-baked battle of the bands.
Whereas most of the personalities in Out of the Loop acted moderately comfortable on where they stood in their careers at the time, an underlying frustration permeates STL 200(ls interviewees. Lightly pressed to offer his opinion on the St. Louis scene, an opinionated fan in a record store hems and haws before blurting, A lot of good bands, [but] no one comes to the shows, my friend! Another patron laments that punk legends Agent Orange could only attract 30 fans during a recent visit. It seems that the lack of professional progress with the area s music talent, along with the fleeting presence of major acts passing through town, has been on many minds lately.
Not that the St. Louis contingent has ever been completely stagnant. Meyer paces recollections by the likes of Ultraman singer Tim Jamison and the Ringocoifed personality Beatle Bob throughout the documentary that paint a sketchy picture of the city s rock history. The legacy includes such wellknown stars as Chuck Berry and Ike and Tina Turner, along with more recent major-label acts like The Urge and Gravity Kills, For the most part, however, gravity has seemingly anchored the scene into place with little room to move beyond familiar haunts.
Meyer also deposits several nuggets courtesy of the bands supporters to give his audience an idea of the scene s questionable health. Former Whoppers Taste Good member Gary Phillips talks frankly about putting out his music zine Motion Sickness while aged socialite Dancin Bobbie spins odd tales in the back of a club. Local writer Thomas Crane and radio jockey Jeff Kopper Kopp give us a look at how community radio station KDHX 88.1 FM supports St. Louis music unlike the area s commercial stations. Shannon Hall of the musty dive The Creepy Crawl amusingly notes how he ll give every band a single chance to strike lightning on his stage, while Lisa Turallo of The Side Door explains how she feels bands have to earn their opportunity to play her club. Several groups are shown hammering away in the Centro Sociale, an artist-run collective that (closes down on Christmas 2000 after a surprise two-year run. Sadly, this his event brings STL 2000 itself to a close, apart from a New Years 2001 toast elsewhere, and it reminds us yet again that even the best intentions don t necessarily breed longevity.
If Meyer s espose can be criticized, it is in the respect that he might be trying too hard to afford everyone their say in the spirit of 1 giving this film his do-it-yourself all, like his fellow punks attempt for their music. Many segments run too long, such as an extremely (I dry practice session with Sexicolor and a trip to Steak n Shake with Wreckless Angels that eavesdrops to little effect. Commentary could have been safely whittled down to its core in several instances, just as the lie numerous concert numbers might have received judicious editing for the sake of pacing. Given the not-quite-happy tone of the film, (I ragging things along only accentuates the negative when it seems that the director s logical goal is to unearth the multiple diamonds in the rough and make them sing, so to speak.
What Meyer ultimately provides, with some help from veteran St. Louis genre filmmakers Eric Stanze and Todd Tevlin (Ice from the Sun, Scrapbook), is indeed of great value to people living under the shadow of the Arch or any other scene where the kids complain about , making it better. If people really want to reinvigorate their own cultural landscape, maybe it takes a hell of a lot more than nursing a beer in public every once in a while. Just like in Out of the Loop, STL 2000 proves that there s nothing like witnessing gladtobe haulingass Midwestern work ethic to get that point across.
Contact Scott Petersen a at film@core. com for more information on Out of the Loop and his newest documentary, Scrabylon, about the world of Scrabble competitions. Also, contact Matt Meyer through www.dedbugs.eom for more information about STL 2000, or get the scoop on the St. Louis scene today at www.stlpunk.com.
Jason Pankoke publishes Micro-Film magazine, which provides the skinny on indie flicks that gleefully prosper well beyond the insidious reach of Hollywood. He also recently co-edited the compilation zine- 30- with A.j. Michel, featuring essays by thirtysomethings active in alternative culture. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shoot some video for a change-
a review of the Guerrilla Video Primer
This video is an excellent introduction to shooting and editing video aimed at indie documentarians who are interested in making video not just for the sake of shooting video, but to shake shit up. Although this primer is useful to anyone who wants to get into videomaking, the Guerrilla Video Primer is most useful to those wanting to get into the streets to document the world as they see and experience it. And it accomplishes this task with aplomb, managing to offer something useful to both the newbie, who s never touched a camera, and the experienced videographer.
The Primer is divided into three sections. The first introduces camcorder corder and shooting basics, including advice on buying a camcorder and buying gear to assemble into your kit. It doesn t focus on specific models or brands, which makes things a little less specific, but also means the advice won t be out of date in year s time.
The second part focuses on shooting video at an event or on the where news happens. This part is less technical and more strategic. It s obvious that the producers are experienced at capturing images in tense and difficult situations and have given a lot of thought to dos and don ts. Just because you know how to operate a camera doesn t mean you won t be a nuisance, make an ass out of yourself, or, endanger yourself and others. From respecting your interview subjects and getting the appropriate shots to avoiding arrest and getting your finished tape out of hostile regions or countries, there s a treasure trove of practical advice here that should be a must-see for all aspiring indie videographers.
The last part covers organizing, editing and distributing your footage. This section is more about general principles and concepts than specific technology how-tos. Editing hardware and software changes all the time, but the advice here is timeless and applicable to all video projects. The questions of storytelling, pacing and communicating to your audience are always important.
This video is so chock full of great info that it s almost too much to absorb in one sitting. But the breezy narration and pace, combined with some truly beautiful scenery much of the shooting how-to was shot in the forests of the Northwest-keep it lively and interesting, without getting bogged down. After the first half-hour I found myself wanting to try out some of the ideas and techniques I saw. So it might be helpful to watch the tape in a few sittings, giving yourself the chance to absorb and play with some of the tips and strategies.
I ve watched the tape with our local Independet Media Center s video group, which has both video beginners and more experienced videographers. The Guerrilla Video Primer provided good fuel for discussion, especially about solving particular problems ( hey, the first time I shot video that happened to me, too... ). Everyone seemed to get something out of it, and nobody said it was too complex or too boring and simple.
I can t recommend this video enough to any budding indymedia videographer. There s also a companion workbook that I haven t seen but intend to get a copy of (or several) as an aide to our local budding video producers. On top of that, the Cascadia Media Collective is a great bunch of folks putting their DIY where their mouths are.
18 ppd. US/ 20 CA/ 22 World/
Cascadia Media Collective
PO Box 703
Eugene, OR 97440
end-zine the sense of place
You might have noticed in this little zine several references to Champaign Urbana, IL, the place where it was conceived, produced, and the burg where all contributing writers happen to live (right now). That these crazy twin cities infuse this zine isn t accidental. In fact, at least for mediaqeek, it s unavoidable.
I ve talked to people who are just itching to move to somewhere better, somewhere cooler, where there s more of a scene, where there s more action. More bands, better clubs, bookstores, hip cafes, alternative weeklies and art. If only they could just get there, then they d be ready to bust out with plans and projects.
Sure, maybe. But what was it like in one of these cool places, maybe Portland, OR or Austin, TX, before they were happening?
My point is that it all had to start somewhere. At some point one person got it in her head that she was going to get up and make that thing she just had to make. She made a zine, started a band, painted a mural or wheatpasted a screed on a post. Then someone else said
Hey, that kicks ass. I can do that.
And so on.
Then there was a scene, and that made it worth being there.
As much as I ve spent years trying to deny it for myself, place infuses what we do. More significantly, what we do infuses the place. It s hard for me to think of my mediaqeek endeavors detached from the place where they were born.
If I hadn t been stuck in grad school in what seemed to be farm towns isolated in nowhere Central Illinois, then I wouldn t have found my favorite community radio station, WEFT a station foolish enough not only to let an overconfident 22 year-old on the air, but to even elect him as chair of their programming committee. I wouldn t have gotten a taste of real community media, where old time country music coexists with underground rap and death metal.
This dose of truly independent grassroots communication was utterly intoxicating and I couldn t kick it. As cliche as it sounds, it changed my life.
Now, I could have ended up at some other community radio station, like WORT in Madison, Wl or KGNU in Boulder, CO, and the story might be the same. I m not claiming that WEFT and Champaign are so exceptional, except for me I landed here, not there.
What really made it for me was having people around me to share it with. Like minded folks and misfits who just aren t willing to swallow what the mainstream feeds us.
Yet, I completely understand that for a lot of people the place where they are is not so comfortable or happy. Hey, I know that Champaign Urbana is that miserable place for a lot of people who feely they are stuck here. But there s also a part of me that thinks they re not quite so happy because they haven t found that place for them within the place.
I think those of us who dare to believe we can create media are part of the force that makes a place worth being in. We re the individuals who come together to create a scene.
Compared to Portland, Austin or Madison, Champaign Urbana is pretty far off the cool map (and / probably wouldn t mind being in those other cities, either.. they re pretty nice, too), And yet in my ten years here I ve watched a slow explosion of culture bursting from independent media. Starting with the seeds community radio, these little prairie towns have grown one of the largest Independent Media Centers, a vibrant local music scene and a very new blossom of independent publications. All 100 miles in any direction from a major city to suckle from.
It happened here because somebody started it here.
So my parting shot for this zine is another exhortation to go out and make something, but to also make it where you are. You might love your hometown, or you might hate it, and have no power to leave. In either case, sharing a little bit of yourself- or the source of your enmity- might make it better.
If you re afraid of ridicule or retribution, make it anonymous. Put it out there in the dead of night wearing a black hooded sweatshirt.
Don t cede your place to the suffocation of the mainstream. Don t surrender to those who make you hate your place.
In the morning when you pass by that stack of pamphlets, the flyer or stencil, you ll know that it s something you made, and that sometime in the day it will affect somebody else. That person might say, Hey, I can do that.
Then it s out of your hands. Then it might just get interesting.