Video Poetry Pre-Production

The video poetry project is in full pre-production chaos, perfect time to give an update on the process. I’ve been pulling ideas from the back reaches of my brain, shooting video, writing poetry, and listening to music from DJCue, all in an effort to build up the video poetry project. Here’s a breakdown of the pre-production journey so far, but first a recap. In July DJCue won the video poetry CreativeInvite contest on Talenthouse, where people submitted music and I picked one to work with. The goal of our collaboration is to create some original short films using his music and my video. How it has come together so far…

The Theme

The theme is as abstract as ever, and I want to pull together the main components together and produce some magic (I know, that sounds like a load of abstract bullshit). This allows me to start from a few different directions. For example, write a poem and try to storyboard a film from it, shoot random film footage and cut it to music and then add poetry, any variation of the two and everything in between. The reason I’m making this seem so chaotic is that I’m still experimenting with the video poetry work flow, and as it is when I stare down a blank canvas, I’m a little freaked out it will all suck in the end. I see video poetry as a format in between the Art Film and the Short Film.

In an art film you try to communicate some abstract concept without dialogue, and the result generally loops on a monitor in a gallery or installation somewhere (that you need to watch looping for two hours before you get a sense that you might perhaps – sort of, will eventually figure out what the fuck it is about). In contrast, the short film communicates a story in a compact timeline, but is more likely to include traditional elements like a script, shot list, planning, etc. What I want to do here is to have a combination of the two, communicate an abstract concept as you might find in my mind and the traditional film workflow (as I learned it from Vincent LaForet on CreativeLive). This is more inline with how I create images in Photoshop or painting, where I begin with a base image or idea and then build around and layer it, the result being something I didn’t necessarily plan for from the beginning. The elements we have to mix and layer are music (from DJCue), poetry, and video.


The beauty of the video project is that DJCue handles the music production and I focus only the on video and poetry. Spinning in his bedroom/studio he mixes up productions for SoundCloud, Restorm and any manner of use in life in between. This adds a certain dynamic to the workflow, I don’t know exactly what he has in mind, he just creates stuff and sends it over, this challenges me to create poetry and video mixes which build on and complement his music. Check out his stuff on SoundCloud, Twitter (@therealdjcue), Talenthouse, and his blog.


This is probably the most difficult part (aside from finalizing the final edit of the film). I hear music in my head, remixes of stuff from my past and I get inspiration to put words together, ending up in what you might call poetry or spoken word. But the words sometimes have a tempo of their own, and don’t always mix so well with music when I try to put them together later on. Visual imagery also has it’s own tempo, and if you start by just shooting from a story board, chances are you won’t end up with the right mix between the music and the words, I guess this is the conundrum from whence the profession of film editor arose from. My feeling is that it’s best to start with the visual arrangement in flexible blocks (let’s call them mini scenes) and then add the audio in the studio after adding in the soundtrack.


For video, we need tools. Tools include, my Sony NEX VG10 camera, audio via a Zoom H4, various lenses, and a Jag35 Field runner rig. Now that I have some ideas in my mind for other shots I realize I need a slider, or linear motion control device (to move the camera on a set of rails). I picked up an Atlas FLT, which will be needed when I head to Berlin.

Location Berlin

I like the concept of the urban landscape, and now that video is part of the equation, it makes sense to put together some footage in one of my favorite cities, Berlin – where I’ve much writing you could call poetry. I haven’t been there since 2010 when I visited the UXcamp. The idea this time is to go back for the Google Developer day and take a few days to shoot around the city with my VG10 and an Atlas FLT slider. Where? There are a number of options. My first goal is heading back to Beelitz, an abandoned hospital complex south of the city. Goal two, the Teufel-berg in the former West sector. Goal three…there’s too many goals to list in a place like Berlin.

I shot for a day in Beelitz in 2010, and fell in love with the place like most people do when they visit. The hospital was established in the late 1800’s and was taken over by the Russians after Berlin was taken in 1945. If you venture through the corridors you’ll still find Russian articles all over the place. It’s probably the most popular urbex location in Germany, on par with the Packard plant in Detroit, Michigan. Unlike the Packard plant, parts of Beelitz are being renovated, meaning parts are no longer accessible. However, the main surgery building was still open in 2010, and I want to get back there and shoot before it’s gone. The inside of the buildings are covered with grafitti, and all manner of creepy writings that will freak you out when the wind slams a door closed as you walk the corridors alone. Rumor has it however, well, not rumor but more fact, that some one died in Beelitz while exploring the ruins around 2010, and now the place is guarded, also to avoid further vandalism from hooligans haunting the forest.

The Teufelsberg translates directly as Devil Mountain. After the war Berlin needed to be rebuilt, and all of the trash, broken buildings and such were piled on top of one another and eventually the Teufelberg was formed. During the Cold War the NSA built a monitoring station there to snoop on the East, and the building with funky octadome radio installation is still standing. It’s unclear how open it will be here, but internet recon suggests it should be accessible, I may however defer to other places if it doesn’t work out.

Location Zurich

It’s always good to team up with other creative folks on projects, and my main collaborator in Zurich is the photographer Ethan Oelman. We do projects together where he focused on photography and I focus on video, and then I mix the two together in a short video, our last finished collaboration was the video Dancing with Water. Lately we met up in downtown Zurich with a Med-student-model he works with. I took footage of her before the sun went down, and then I assisted Ethan as a light man, walking around with a softbox on a boom while he did the shooting.

Animation Experimentation

Many times when I’m shooting still images I have a short movie playing in my head. The Bratz image series in particular is something I always wanted to animate, to have the scene include some elements of interaction. Now that I’m picked up Photoshop CS5 this is a realistic project. How it will fit into the poetry concept I’m still debating in my heads, but the potential is there to create some active elements that work into the shot video of the project. I started out with a simple Toy Wars image with some plastic Army Men and Cleo de Nile from Monster Highschool. Using the Puppet Warp tool in Photoshop I did some masking and warping to create a few animation frames of the American flag waving in the wind. Then I’ll scale that up to animating the sergeant and background elements (still to be imagined).

Bringing it All Together

So, that’s the plan. Shots form Zurich and Berlin, likely mixed up with strange animations of Bratz dolls and and Army Men battling in a new world apocalypse landscape.

Bratz War Images

On my last trip back to Detroit I marched with the Nain Rouge, and then had a little buying madness toy-spree at Toys R Us. I also picked up a Cleo de Nile doll at Meijer one night after playing trivia at a bar during some low-level Thundersnow. Anyways, I then raided the toy chest that is the basement at my parent’s place and put together some small war sets with the various objects/subjects/toys. I took what I had to work with, that included a super old Estes model rocket, some plastic army soldiers, a landscape, a .50 cal sniper rifle from a G.I.Joe, some tanks, and, I guess that was about it. This is sort of an ongoing project. Every time I head back to Michigan I find another collection of toys to use, I setup a small stage, do some shot arrangements, and then bring the images back to Switzerland for post-processing in Photoshop. In these images I’ve added a lot of overlays from Rome, Zurich, Tokyo, and Detroit. Images of concrete and walls were added as well to texture the images, and the odd-sun flare is thrown in as well when needed. I’ve since picked up a copy of Strata Foto 3D, and am investigating the possibility of creating 3D models of the Bratz, Cleo de Nile, and various toys, and doing the images or a short movie all in the computer, but I need to learn me some 3D skillz first.

Anyways…enjoy…Bratz War

A Walk in LA – Street Bratz Photos

Bratz-1-2.jpgAfter hiking out of the San Jacinto wilderness in California I slept on a couch in an apartment in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. On Sunday I took a walk in LA with Eric Wech, the famous comedian. It wasn’t a full day of walking, we had to drive of course. It’s impossible to walk in LA. Das Ziel of our hunt was graffiti. I wanted to shoot some with my new Canon G10 to continue my project of capturing graffiti images of all the cities I visit like Zurich. We stopped somewhere on Sunset Blvd. and started walking around. We found our way to Echo park, an oasis in the LA jungle with a lake with paddle boats. The local community was out enjoying the beautiful Sunday and a sidewalk sale from the locals started up. I was in a curious mood and we checked out the offerings. Most of it was pointless stuff I could never use, as I was set to fly back to Switzerland in a week. Nothing that is, till I met a nice Latino mother with a box full of Bratz dolls. $3 a piece she said, “Hells yes I says in my heads.” I picked up two Bratz, one with Go-Go boots, one with respectably unrealistic high-heels. I didn’t want to be too weird, so I just bought the two. The concept was easy, take the Bratz dolls around the LA streets and record the excursion with my Canon G10.

Bratz-1-7.jpgWhile the Bratz dolls provided tons of cheap fun on the streets of LA and San Diego it was obvious to me that more characters would need to be added. The key was contrast, as with camera lighting, contrast is needed in the subject matter. For some reason, I felt that nothing short of a vintage Godzilla would contrast correctly with the Bratz. This proved difficult to find, and I stepped into a toy store in Horton plaza in downtown San Diego. The store clerk asked if he could help me find something, and I promptly said I needed a Godzilla or giant lizard to go with my pair of Bratz. He laughed joyfully into the air and I could tell that he was down with the adventure. There were no Godzillas in the store, so he recommended a T-rex at first, but then brought up the idea of a large alligator. See, the alligator has proportions close to that to that of the Bratz, and I agreed. My credit card came out and the alligator joined the Bratz street shoot.

Bratz-1-5.jpgShooting on the street is a pretty cool photo project when visiting a city. You find a cool spot, unload a Bratz from your bag and set her plastic heels on the pavement. With the Canon G10 I underexposed the background and then added a reduced flash to the exposure. This allowed me to balance the power of the sun and fill in shadows around the Bratz. The challenge is to keep things fresh, so it drives you to keep moving, thinking up places and backgrounds. The fact that you’re shooting from street level means you’re challenging your photo eye in new ways and forcing a new perspective on to your visualization capabilities. A day later I was tooling around downtown San Diego, and happened to step into Sam Goody, on the hunt for a copy of the High Fidelity soundtrack. I found a used copy at a sweet price and realized that Sam Goody also sells various assortments of tripped-out toys and action figures. It was a hard decision: should I go with the Hellboy, Nite Owl from Watchmen, no…a bobble head Joker, and two freaky creatures. The Joker was only $10 on sale, I couldn’t resist. Now I had an entourage of Bratz, an alligator, two Freaky Creatures, and a bobble head Joker.

Bratz-1.jpgI shot the Bratz with my Canon G10, generally using the on-camera flash to fill-in shadows and balance the sun exposure. Generally I would want to shoot with an off-camera strobe, but I decided to go light on this trip and leave the lights at home. The relative size of the Bratz dolls versus the flash is very good, meaning you have nice control over the exposure of the Bratz doll, and can easily over-power the exposure of the sun. Excellent training ground for setting up future shots with “real” models. You would think people might find it weird to see a man walking around LA and San Diego with a Bratz doll and camera, but when you’re wearing Levi jeans and a green Berlin sweater, folks only look upon you with interest and merriment. I kept my assortment of toys, Brats, Freaky Creatures, alligator, etc. in my Mountain Smith backcountry briefcase and pulled them out whenever I felt the inspiration. On the San Digo trolley, at the train tracks, on the beach, during breakfast, at the Oceanside Triathelon, whenever I had few minutes to kill and felt bored. That’s the point of vacation, doing new things. What comes next? Well, the Bratz are in Switzerland now, and the possibilites are endless.

The full set of so-far processed and edited photos can be found at the Flickr Bratz Set.