Song Videos by Mary S. Van Deusen


I came into Star Trek fandom in 1984, on the death of my mother. Grieving for her was too hard. Grieving for Kirk or Spock when they appeared to die, let some of the steam out of the teapot. It was only in 1985 that I believe I saw my first song videos - Starsky and Hutch. I never knew that any other videos existed in any other fandoms. The people that I knew were just moving from the earliest type of video making, that is, they were no longer using stop watches to time clips that were assemble edited together and then copied with the audio cable attached to an audio source. Instead, Pam Perry had purchased an RCA 800 VCR, which allowed one to lay down an audio track, and then insert edit scenes into it. I immediately went out and bought one. My husband Paul, as usual, figured out how it worked, and I made a bunch of Starsky and Hutch videos.

With this machine, there was an accuracy of about 3 frames (3/30th of a second), always in the same direction. This meant that as long as I could tolerate the rainbow that formed at the edit point, I could redo the edit over and over and over again to learn to pace the video to the song rhythm. But the source machine was not controlled by the record machine, so though I knew WHERE the video would go, I never knew WHAT video would go there. Frustrating, but I have an incredibly patient nature, so I just did and redid and redid.

On this machine I made almost all my Star Trek videos, as well as those early Starsky and Hutch ones.

Wanting more control, we investigated and discovered the Beta 1000 machines. With two of them, you could tie them together and they would roll back together, roll forward and the edit would happen where you had set. It was like magic. It was on these machines that I did most of my subsequent work. Instead of a rainbow, though, the first frame of the edit would shear, often turning partially black and white. This machine was 1 frame accurate, so it was heaven to use.

Most of the sophistication I developed was on these two Beta machines. My style of working is to usually begin an edit at the beginning of the word part of the music phrase, leaving the intervening music with the preceding clip. I set my in and out points on the recorder, then I did the arithmetic to discover how long the interval was. Next I went to the source machine and found the appropriate clip. I would play the video and hit pause on the fly, looking for the end point by emotion. Then I would backtime to find the in point that let the clip I inserted end when I wanted. Of course, this has to adjust to reality if your clips aren't the right size to fit, or whatever. For a slow song, moving to the beginning of the music phrase interlude, instead of starting at the words, gives you a slurring effect that works with the rhythm.

Of all the people I taught, the one that I remember picking up the most advanced ideas was DJ Driscoll. I usually didn't explain how to make a music note match with a video moment, since it was a more complicated mathematical description, but DJ was eager and open and absorbed like a sponge. (For those interested, you keep, say, the in point of the record position, but use as your out point the moment before the sound you want. Calculate that interval. Find the action on the source machine and set an out point just before. Then calculate backwards to that in point. Go back to the record machine and set the proper out point to the end of the music phrase. Recalculate. Go back to the source machine and verify that you're in a good position when you hit that interval end. Then edit.)

After some hundred videos or so, I admit I was getting a little pressed by the walls of the box. I was still obsessed, but I wanted more of a challenge. A vice president at IBM Research, where I worked in computer language design, was giving a talk on Pursuit of Excellence. I stopped him after the talk and explained that I gave my hobbies everything and gave him the rest. I asked if he could reverse that. He picked up my name badge off my chest and asked who my manager was. Understand that my hair was dirty, my blue jeans were dirty. This was just spur of the minute instinct. But he asked me to lunch and we talked. My hands were shaking so much I almost lost the soup in the spoon. Later, my manager came into my office and said that Abe told him I was good people and that he was giving me an International Multimedia Magazine. My first thought was, "What's that?"

Well, I wanted a challenge.

My husband found two 1" broadcast machines in various offices that were there to do physical simulation, and got permission to pull them together. He proceded to figure out how they worked, and I proceded to experiment with working to voice instead of music. I got fan friends to help and turned out some strange little pieces - Caren Parnes talking about her art, Crystal Ann Taylor talking about Indian art, Lyn Bates and her husband Roger talking about squeezing balls to improve your pistol grip (Roger explaining that it was important to squeeze the right sort of balls), and three shooting stances.

By the time IBM sent me to a class on video production, I was pretty confident of the general theory. Paul had worked out the kinks in the machines and I learned to edit on the consoles of the two machines hooked together. It was just like working on the Beta 1000s, except that it was completely accurate and the picture was phenomenal! We also found a special effects generator meant for u-matics and tried it. This turned the source 30 frames accurate. In other words, every edit was an adventure. When we did the Star Wars, One Step Forward, each one of those effects could take up to 40 tries until you were close enough to tolerate. And you had to decide if you were close enough, because the next edit might leave you so far away as to be crazy. Luckily, I hate special effects. My personal instinct is for straight edits and the use of fancy theoretical transitions - matched objects, matched words, that sort of thing.

Eventually Paul left his IBM group and created a half million dollar studio around my magazine. It was the most amazing few years you can possibly imagine. I could take on any video I wanted, using any techniques I wanted to learn, and the VP had almost no interest in looking over my shoulder. When he wanted an overnight video for a keynote address he was giving, I told him his only option was a music video. So I spent the afternoon and all night working to the music of a friend with a song in the top ten in Ireland. The video showed the first time full motion video was playing in a window on a computer screen. This was state of the art with a capital A. At around 6am I was done, and Paul went to copy the video. Unfortunately, he pressed record instead of copy and destroyed everything we'd done. Because we were on the consoles, there was no record. I just stood quietly for a few minutes, then said let's start again. Luckily, I have a really good short term visual memory, and I was able to reproduce the whole music video in time for Abe to take it away. But WHAT a night!

Paul eventually wrote an edit controller that made life a lot simpler. Suddenly we had a record of everything we did, and logging the source footage became a joy.

I did a lot of IBM Research music videos after that, and Abe took them all to conferences. Every time I had a production, I hired good cameramen, then had them teach me when we finished early. I went to a special effects studio to do one video, hired in a steadicam operator for another. It was truly magic. Every year I went to the National Association of Broadcasters convention and the one for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Early on, non-linear editors were just coming out. To understand them, I wrote a white paper describing the advantages and disadvantages of each and turned it into an IBM paper. The next year I went back to the manufacturers and gave them copies. Went to visit the next day and found they'd faxed the paper around the country and that everyone had spent the previous night of this big convention reading my twenty-some page paper. We got invites to Hollywood and toured a special effects studio with the director, and I was able to take xeroxes of the paper trail of the film data through a movie production. I spent most of my time with the associate editor, since the editor and director smoked cigars!

And whenever I had to teach anyone video production, I always did it by making them make a music video. It's a much more exacting discipline. Work to music, and working to voice is easy.

When we left IBM on early retirement, we took Paul's computer programmed edit controller and bought two Super VHS machines and started a small video production business. Usually videos about computers, though I did agree to film a funeral for a crying stranger. Since the sisters threw a fight over the casket and the funeral director tried to keep them from breaking the casket, I figured that she had chosen me wisely, since I could get right into their faces and not blink an eyelid. IBM gave us retraining money, so I took a couple of courses from Rockport ME - editing the scene with the editor of The Pawnbroker, and screenplay writing.

The latter was the problem. From the moment I saw the screenplay form, I was hooked and video making just fell away. A screenplay is a box, just like a music video. And it requires so much emotional control to write. You write just enough to excite your collaborators of the future, but not enough to make them feel they have no creative space. My first movie script was read by 16 agents and 6 offered to represent it. I took an agent in the NY book community who agented John Grisham, and they subbed me out to Writers and Artists. They said my second was better than my first. Sad story. Two year, no way out contract and my agent stole from Grisham. Sigh. Tried with one of the other agents I had turned down to later write a Forever Knight script after the producer agreed to read one from us. My agent mailed on Tuesday, the producer called him on Thursday. They wanted a Canadian writer. Besides, all my characters had left the show!!!!

On urging from the local cable station, I agreed to let them show all of my music videos. I built half hour sets and designed posters which went up all around town for the weekly show. Those posters actually became collectibles! When I first left IBM, I had spent the first year in front of the bedroom window with a camera videotaping birds. So I think the first program I did for Cable 8 was my birds, flowers and a solar eclipse. Then I started taping all over town and produced seasonal sets - summer and autumn and winter in town. One incredibly kind gentleman from the station was enthusiastic over my videos, so I gave him a video workshop and taught him web design. In return, he built me a kaleidescope that would go over my camera, so I was able to include kaleidescopes in my Christmas set.

My next distraction was genealogy. I was trying to find my father's poetry, and I found my 5th great grandfather, Henry Livingston. I spent YEARS! trying to spread the word that Clement Moore stole the poem from Henry. Believe it or not, that got me a two page write up in People Magazine and an interview on Good Morning, America. But it was another distraction from music videos. I did get more knowledgeable about 18th century music, and I do expect to use some of the music from Henry's 1780 music manuscript to make more Christmas pieces.

We're now editing with the AVID Express Pro digital editing system. I knew AVID from the day they were a tiny little corner display at NAB, so it's wonderfully exciting to be actually working on one of these now. We have it set up in the motor home and it works beautifully, unless the power drops to the unit, all the disks break down and the dog goes into nervous spasms. Needless to say, I back up constantly.

It should be remembered that I'm not a professional making fan videos, I'm a fan that was able to turn my passion into a career, and you have my deepest wishes that you, too, will be able to meld your worlds together. I'm a fan. And I'm proud of it.


Song videos are made as amateur, non-profit productions, and are not intended to infringe on the rights of any copyright holder of video or music. No one who has copies of my song videos has my permission to make profit from them.

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Copyright © 1996, Mary S. Van Deusen