I do not envy Trent Reznor for the task he has chosen. His band, Nine Inch Nails (NIN), is hosting a film festival with YouTube, in which fans create videos using the band’s new albums, Ghosts I-IV. 515 videos have been submitted since news of the film festival was released in mid-March. That’s a lot of video to screen.
I’ve visited NIN’s YouTube page a number of times and viewed a bunch of the entries. Here are my observations. There are quite a few videos that appear to be no more than random nature shots. For as much as Trent and Company tried not to influence how these videos turned out, it seems that people took the lovely nature photos that accompanied the albums to heart and used them for inspiration. In addition to nature scenes, there seems to be a preponderance of black and white footage, more so than you’d normally see on the YouTubes. I have to wonder if people think that black and white is an easy way to convey angst, of which Trent has quite the history of expressing. In fact, there’s so much unusual imagery (closeups of things you can’t recognize) in this group of videos, that methinks people are attempting to channel Trent. (A laudable goal, to be sure, as the guy’s pretty creative.)
I’m not Trent, but I’ll make my own effort to channel him by telling you what I’d be looking for if I were judging the NIN film festival videos.
First, you’ve got to grab my attention and grab it fast. If you haven’t piqued my curiosity within a minute’s time, I’ll stop watching. Actually, it’d be even better if you’d catch my attention within the first 30 seconds of the video. Not much time, but them’s the breaks. Hook me immediately and do it with . . .
A story! A random series of images, no matter how beautiful, doesn’t cut it. Yawn. I’m so sleepy. Give me a character I want to watch and put that character into an interesting situation. Give me baited breath ’til the end.
Trent’s made this exercise a difficult one for us because he hasn’t provided lyrics, which naturally provide a story structure for music and lend themselves to imagery. It’s up to us to invent the story and the first step in that is to listen to the music. Some of the videos I watched weren’t as integrated with the music as they could have been. This would be key for me in judging the videos. Trent’s given us the music to see what we’ll do with it and if we treat it as an afterthought, that’s not gonna sit well.
A small thing that helps to make a video memorable is to give it a title. And I don’t mean the title of which Ghosts song was used. In introducing the film festival, Trent indicated that the songs were given these 1 Ghosts, 2 Ghosts, 3 Ghosts, etc. titles because they were meant to be placeholder names that didn’t suggest much of anything. The videos I watched that included a title other than Ghosts stayed in my mind longer.
Finally, although fans may want to pay homage to NIN by trying to figure out what Trent likes or what he’d do, I’d go my own way. Yes, the music suggests certain moods, but Trent lives with his moods everyday. Why not try to surprise him (and the rest of us) with a video that shows your personality?
Okay, I’m done channeling Trent, the film festival judge. Now, I’ll give you links to a few of the videos that I liked. (You’ll notice they all have titles.)
Bill Posters Prosecuted – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22FNbKu9biU – While the imagery gets repetitive, what works about this video is that the creator added lyrics, which provides an underlying story.
The Idea of Autumn – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VC56fkbaLNg – This video contains unusual, random imagery that works very well with the music. The imagery and music work in concert.
This Hillbilly Life – The War, part one – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2qIrxcsQoU – This video is a good example of making the film festival personal. It is a documentary interview of the creator’s father, who’s talking about his war experience.
A Ghost’s Memory: NIN Ghosts I – Tracks 09 & 02 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILqI0PV-sGU – While I normally click off of videos that use film footage from other sources, this old-fashioned footage, taken from a 1915 film, was riveting. The video was a good juxtaposition of old footage with new music.
The Warehouse – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xXPqWqFVCg – Of all the videos I watched, this was my favorite. The story hooked me instantly and was suspenseful through the end. The music was appropriately used to build tension.
While I may come off as being overly critical in this post, let me tell you that I understand the making of a video is no easy task. I had a video class in high school and a group of us had to put together a film of quite some length. (That’s my way of saying I don’t remember how many minutes long it was supposed to be.) Just getting enough stuff on tape for editing was a job and a half. Editing was another job and a half and getting everything to work with music was a pain. I can’t look at that video without cringing.
It remains to be seen as to whether I’ll have enough time to enter anything into NIN’s film festival. For one, I have a steep learning curve in figuring out how to use film editing software. Also, there’s that little problem of not owning a video camera . . . .