Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Music Video: History of Promos

This week at the BFI, I am running a day on music video. Here are the presentations.

Videos shown in the presentation:

Len Lye: Colourbox 1935
Nat King Cole: Frim Fram Sauce
Scopitones: Pussycat a-gogo
Beatles: can't buy me love
Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody
Madonna: Open Your Heart
Michael Jackson: thriller
Miley Cyrus: Wrecking Ball
Lily Allen: Hard Out Here

Some of the student videos shown are here:

Music Video: Corin Hardy

This week I am running a session at the BFI with Corin Hardy. His work can be seen here and his blog is here.

Corin is known for his imaginative animations, often making music videos that don’t feature the artist at all. His approach is heavily influenced by his interest in the horror genre, fuelled by viewing lots of horror films in his teenage years, when he first started experimenting with animation. His first short film, Butterfly, is available to download for £1.49 on iTunes, and is well worth the investment. He currently has a number of horror projects in pre-production, which will ultimately lead to his feature film debut!

In a  workshop project one weekend, Corin worked with a group of beginners to produce a video response to the track Fuzzbox by Bomb the Bass featuring Jon Spencer. With no budget but complete freedom, Corin was able to get the group to formulate their ideas and pull together a bunch of props to make a highly imaginative and borderline pornographic (!) animation. ‘Fuzzbox’ referred to the guitar pedal, but the group gave it a sexual meaning and this is the result.

Corin’s video for the Prodigy’s ‘Warriors Dance’ saw him return to a technique he had used as a teenager, cutting up cigarette boxes to make figures to animate. The band were unavailable for the video, as they were on tour, which once again gave him free rein. In this case, they are like ants dancing in the bar while the humans are away.

For an earlier video for little known band The Horrors, Corin used a different animation technique; this time, the band were present- shot against a white background, having to imagine what might happen to them if they were under attack from various creatures. He then printed out every third frame of the video on paper, creating a pile 1500 sheets high, spread the paper around his living room and with large quantities of ink drew and splattered the sheets to create this amazing spectacle. Corin is proud of the success of this video- which you will note has close to 2 million hits on youtube- not bad for a little known band!

To make animations like these is a very lengthy process and on a low budget, which most of these videos are, that means the work is not that well paid! A more recent music promo for Biffy Clyro is live action, but draws upon his interest in horror, with reference to films like 'Deliverance' and 'The Wicker Man' as well as the Mexican festival of the dead. Corin's blog is at; Follow Corin on twitter 

If you are making a music video for your A level (or another media course) it is well worth considering the option of animation which might allow you to take it into really different and unusual areas; but beware, it is an immensely time consuming process- even if the performers don't answer back!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Principles for Production: Getting the Best Out of Your Students’ Media Production Work

This post contains all the links to material shown on my course for teachers at the English and Media Centre on 26 November. 

Some questions raised during the day:

What do we assume know already when they start our courses?
What strategies do we use to build up their skills with equipment?
What is more important: process or product?
How can we help students do better peer feedback?
What is meant by research? By planning? By evidence of process?
How do we ensure success for everyone in the class? 
How do we stretch everyone?  
What is  the relationship of practice to media concepts and theory 
How do we keep assessment fair but also simple?
How do we plan a unit of work to maximise both active production and critical reflection?

Thank you to everyone who attended and made it such an enjoyable day.

We focussed on a number of activities which can be done with students to build up skills:

Activity1 Sweding – and
Sweding is always a good ice-breaker!

This activity is a multiple task, featuring a phone call with a series of pre-determined shots, the exchange of an object, and an explosion!

Activity 2 The Phone Call- (part of this whole piece)

The shoot-out is a classic piece of editing, worth doing as an early task.

Activity 3 The shoot out-,

The preliminary task, set as part of the OCR A level, is a useful way to learn to understand continuity editing for any course:

Activity 4 Continuity task:

Re-makes are a really good way to build skills:

The Jamie's Dream School Trailer is followed by the original; also featured here are a  Juno titles re-make, a playlist of music video re-makes and some horror trailers. 

A different kind of re-make, in which each group shoots their own version of a script and then compare choices made with the real version helps with analytical skills. The Holby script is available online.
Activity 11: shooting from a script- Holby City

This is great! We made six second adverts with random products, audiences and objects to appear in the shot. One is here:

Activity 13: re-make a titles sequence using lego:

Latymer Showcase  Really strong production work for GCSE and A level

Activity 14: CD cover meme and ‘creativity’: The group made their own!

Activity 17: Invoices, Top trumps, Islands, Opies
(you may have to hunt for some of these, but there are loads of great tasks on here!)

After effects:

Dave, Kirsty, Rebecca and Mary, Michael


  • Assume Nothing, Organise Everything
  • Build up Skills
  • Learning is Recursive, So must be Practical Work
  • Process is vital to Learning; Product is important for self-esteem
  • Streeeeeeeeeeeeeetch everyone!
  • Theory and Practice go hand in hand
  • Soft Skills are crucial; Production helps develop them!
  • Peer Learning needs managing, but is often the best way of learning
  • Steal from everybody, but share with everybody too
  • All should have fun!
Photos of Top Tips from each group done at end of day:

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Music Video Controversy

Every so often, music video becomes the object of a bit of a moral panic, where various writers and groups offer their opinion on how dangerous the form might be for young people, usually citing a particular example as having 'gone too far' and suggesting that the boundaries have been pushed just that bit further. Often, this leads to calls for new regulations, usually in the form of age restrictions.

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy about two videos in particular:  Miley Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' and Lily Allen's 'Hard out Here'. In this week's blog, I'll point you to a bit of context and some of the evidence, so that you can decide for yourself.

History of Controversy

As I have indicated, this controversy is nothing new. Given that music videos are aimed at a youthful audience, it is no surprise that they frequently depict things that older generations might be likely to disapprove of; the format also allows quite a lot of freedom in terms of structure- music videos don't have to tell a story or even 'make sense' and work as an 'interpretation' of the song. Back in 1966, the BBC banned this promo film for The Kinks' 'Dead End Street' because it didn't like them making fun of funerals; Duran Duran made a series of high budget  videos in the early 80s featuring scatily clad models in raunchy poses, one of which, featuring the girls mud wrestling, was banned by the BBC: 'Girls on Film'. And in 1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax was banned both as a song and as a video, because of its explicitly sexual theme, especially gay sex. In 1989 there was huge controversy over Madonna's 'Like A Prayer', which was described by the Pope as blasphemous, as it appeared to show Madonna kissing a black Christ-like figure and even had overtones of oral sex between them. It also showed burning crucifixes, which always guarantees controversy. Several Madonna videos have created controversy over the years, another notable one being 'Justify My Love' which features simulated sado-masochistic sex.

Eminem's Stan, (violence against women) Marilyn Manson's Coma White (for recreating the Kennedy assassination) and The Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up (drug-taking, vomiting and sex) all similarly stirred up controversy, outright bans or cuts to their videos before the watershed. And just about everything on MTV Base at some time or another has earned disapproval, particularly on the grounds of explicit sexuality and the representation of gender. So controversy and attempts to ban or censor music videos are nothing new. 

Arguments against music video

It is too easy to simply dismiss anyone who complains about a music video as a killjoy. The arguments are often much more complex than they might appear to be at first sight. Undoubtedly,  music videos do exploit controversial themes in order to sell more product and it is all too easy to stir up interest with some questionable sexual material and particularly women on display for male pleasure. Some recent articles about the Miley Cyrus video are here: The Mail Online asks if she has 'finally gone too far' in an article which has almost as many screengrabs from the video as it does words! Typically, The Daily Mail loves to condemn something by simultaneously showing the reader to titillate them. The Guardian adopts a more critical approach, arguing that the message of Miley's video is that young women should be sexually available. Miley herself offers an argument which suggests that the message of the song is expressed more in the opening than in the scantily-clad parts of the video:

"I think the video is much more, if people get past the point that I'm naked and you actually look at me you can tell that I actually look more broken then even the song sounds," Cyrus said. "The song is a pop ballad. It's one of these songs that everyone is going to relate to, everyone has felt that feeling at one point."

The video is directed by fashion photographer, Terry Richardson; a number of commentators have raised concerns about the exploitation of young models in his photos, slipping into pornography at times, making him a dubious choice as director for Miley's video. The video, and Miley's appearance 'twerking' at the MTV awards, has been a focus of the backlash against music video recently, leading to calls in the Uk for legislation and the involvement of politicians. The debate hotted up when Sinead O'Connor, whose famous video for 'Nothing Compares to U' is clearly the inspiration for the opening of Wrecking Ball, sent an open letter to Miley saying she was being 'pimped' by the music industry. Annie Lennox also weighed in with some views, posting them on her facebook page. 

Whatever you think about it, it is hard to deny that it's a hit! The video broke all records for the number of views on Vevo in the first 24 hours and became the fastest ever to 100 million views on the channel. Given that streaming views count towards chart positions in the USA, that helped it to reach the top, in a way that the song itself probably would not have done.

In the past, of course, pre-internet, it might have been possible to age restrict the audience for a music video, either by banning it from TV or not playing it till late at night, or even by cutting bits of it out to play a 'safe' version. With the online age, that is not really feasible, as any kind of age restriction can be by-passed relatively easily.

A key assumption of much of the coverage is that the video has a particular 'meaning' that the young audience will take from it. This is problematic, and it is rare to find, in any moral panic around the media, any evidence of how audiences actually respond to particular texts. This is particularly interesting in the case of Lily Allen's video, which is clearly designed to be a parody of mainstream videos' treatment of women, which immediately won quite a lot of praise from people pleased with her mockery of sexism, but quickly faced a backlash as many people started to question the representation of race in the video, as the black dancers appeared to be objectified by it. So while Lily Allen was arguing that the industry objectified and demeaned women in the interests of men, her video appeared to be doing the same to black women in the interests of white.

Here are the articles by Suzanne Moore, in the Guardian, Lily Allen defending the video, and Ellie Mae O'Hagan discussing it in relation to debates about feminism. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

More interesting stuff

I'm continuing with my theme from earlier in the term of stuff you might find useful...

1. This was tweeted last week and is pretty amazing: what famous websites looked like back in 1998

Google, Hotmail, Amazon and Apple are all on there and its worth thinking not just about how the look of them has changed in that time, but also how significant the changes have been to the media as a result. Google was just one of many search engines, but gradually it has supplanted them all and become the biggest single company on the internet. Amazon has more or less put all bookshops out of business and Apple has become the dominant force in computers and phones.

2. In a previous post, I pointed you to a site offering free documentaries online- well here you can stream 'classic' movies, some dating back to the 1930s, but including, Cannibal !- The musical, the first feature by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, so 'classic' is a pretty open term!

3. Digital Footprints...

A really interesting project on how surveillance operates in all our lives...

Ultimate Footprint: A Day in Digital Life from Johan Jakobson on Vimeo.

More on the full project here


Here are some of the resources from this week's student event at the BFI South Bank

Four film openings on which I will show at the event

Catch Me If You Can

Good as a graphic titles sequence and an illustration of how a film-maker can suggest things about character and narrative as well as establish a sense of place in an opening. A very large number of titles integrated into the graphics, which serve as a good model for thinking about how titles need to be used in student film openings too.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

In this sequence, we looked particularly at the fragments of narrative (a kind of back story) and at the way the titles appear in red on black with a little 'bleed' each time, but of particular interest is the use of sound, which is quite 'layered' with the Johnny Cash song, the heartbeat noise, the bits of dialogue and other little stings which link with the images.

Napoleon Dynamite

This sequence is a really novel way of representing the titles, but also gives us a sense of the characters, even though only one character appears and then only on his ID card.


This sequence was used illustrate a method for analysing titles on a time
line, more of which is here

Links to some of the student films shown on the day are here.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Death of the album part 2

Last week, I blogged about the decline in album sales. This week a little more about the art form before it ups and dies!

Album Cover Art Work

There are lots of good sites for album cover artwork. This one has some interesting and quirky choices: - well worth a look!

Make your own album cover

If you are making an album cover as part of an A level task, you need some practice. One of my favourite tasks, which proves that anyone can be creative, is this one, also known as the internet CD cover meme creator, to be found in various locations on the web. Here's what you do:

1. Get a band name:
Use the title of a randomly-generated Wikipedia article. You HAVE to use the title of the page you land upon!

2. Get an album title: 
Use the last four or five words from the last quote on this page of random quotations

3. Get your image:
Use the random images  generator from Flickr's last seven days you HAVE to use the third image, whatever it is

4. Drop image and words into Photoshop:
Adjust your band name and album title by changing the font, colour and size and maybe putting a bit of layer effect on. Resize your image so that it is the right size for the front of an album. If you want, you can turn colour into black and white, but you can’t add anything else to the image!

5. Upload it to one of the random generated CD cover sites

and here are some that people made earlier...

Album Cover re-make

A second task I like is the re-make. This involves taking an existing album cover and re-making it as closely as possible with your own models- or even yourself. Will certainly involve some work in Photoshop and maybe some costumes and makeup skills. Here’s three I found, involving cats, lego and a well-known actor. A task like this means you pay a lot of attention to the way in which images are constructed and helps build your skills for your own.

Buying albums

Alan Cross' blog lists 10 possible reasons for the decline of album sales. He argues that maybe people have lost interest in the idea of buying a set of songs and that they prefer to select individual tracks from all over the place as the playlist for their lives. I’ll come back to this below, talking about mixtapes. Amongst his other suggestions, he talks about the impact of piracy and suggests that maybe with better connections these days, streaming services seem to be a better option, ‘accessing’ rather than ‘possessing’ new releases.

Back in the day… the release of a new album by an artist or band that you liked was often a big deal. I can remember going to buy some albums on the day they came out, just like people do today with video games. Just as now, you could copy albums off your mates, in those days onto cassette, but it was never the same as actually having the 12 inch LP. I tended to tape stuff that I would never have bought, and then tape stuff that I had bought so that I could still play it on other devices- this was the early days of the Walkman. Just like today, in fact, when I have MP3s of lots of odd individual tracks, but most of my albums I have as physical CDs and then ripped versions on my laptop, ipad and phone.

The beauty of the album is that it is a ‘collection’. Programmes like ‘classic albums’ show the ‘making of’ or the way in which such collections are put together, but I think you can tell when a lot has gone into this process as whatever the rest of an artist’s work is like, a good album will have a particular ‘feel’ or sound, marking it out as a distinct set of work. If thought has gone into this, the cover will do the same so that the two things- the sound and the visuals will forever evoke one another.

the art of the mixtape

Ever made a mixtape? Whether it is physically on a tape or a CD or just a digital mix uploaded to facebook or soundcloud or wherever, the mixtape is the ultimate album, made not by a band or an artist but by a fan or listener, ideally for someone else. This excellent article here says everythingyou need to know about how to make a good mixtape

Monday, 4 November 2013

Death of the album?- part 1

Seeing a few tweets from my friend @rathmoremedia about the decline in sales of albums (LPs, 33s or records as we used to call them!) made me think a bit about the whole art form and whether it can survive.

Saturday's Guardian reported under the headline: Is the album dead? Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Elton John hit by dramatic US sales slump- As artists speak out over rise in streaming, industry tries to adapt to new habits of digital consumers that album sales in the Uk have declined from 800m in 2002 to just over 300m in 2012 and last week in the USA fell to a new low of 4.49m (presumably for the week). Now that doesn't sound like the album is dead, but it is quite a big decline.

Not surprisingly, amongst younger consumers, sales are much lower than they used to be; the generation that has grown up with music available online has tended both to pirate music more and to stream it more, whether it be on a service like Spotify or just via youtube. So it is no surprise to see that the sales of Miley Cyrus' album Bangerz have dropped very quickly after the initial sales to fans took it to No.1. What is perhaps more significant is the drop in sales of more established artists like Elton John, who might be expected to still have a big ageing fan market. The Guardian reports that in its third week in the US, his latest album sold only 11,000 copies.

LPs were first introduced as vinyl 12 inch records in 1948. They could play about 22 minutes on each side (you had to flip them over half way through the album!) though some later modifications stretched this a bit. Unlike digital formats they were not indestructable and one of the pains of them was that if they got scratched you could hear the scratch when you played them next time. Though some would say that is the beauty of LPs, the signs of wear became part of the experience. As the format really took off with rock musicians in the 1960s, leading to some of the massive selling albums of the 1970s, the whole 10-12 song album became the norm and, rather like a book or a film, was the format of the artistic statement that the band or individual artist wanted to make.

A big part of this, of course, was the artwork, which became not just packaging, but a key part of the experience. Many album covers have become iconic as a result; have a look at this selection of black and white covers here, which I recently spotted in a tweet from my friend @GeorgeEBlack. Several of my all-time favourites are there, I realised. When vinyl started to be replaced by CD, a number of things changed- some for the better, some maybe for the worse. Though the CD format meant you could fit on nearly 80 minutes and everything was on one side of the disk, the size of it meant that some of the aesthetic pleasure of the album cover got a bit lost- you can't see it so well on a five inch square as on a 12"! Some people have even suggested that the 80 minute format led to a bit of self indulgence as artists put on tracks which would never have made the cut on a 44 minute disk.

The further move to digital, via sites like iTunes, meant that if you just downloaded it, first of all the file was compressed so that the quality isn't so good and secondly that well, in a sense it didn't really exist at all. You can hear it, yes, but you can't actually hold a digital album in your hands. As with most things in the digital era, it's all very convenient- I can carry all my album collection on my iPod if I want to- but maybe something has been lost.

I'll consider this further next week with more on album artwork, the experience of buying albums, some of my favourite albums and the art of the mixtape...

follow me on twitter @petesmediablog