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Making a Half-hour Fanvid Via Public Access

Thinking of doing a fanvid but don't have any equipment? Try a public access station near you. This article by N. Torres is based on his own public access fanvid making experience.

I've made one fanvid so far: "Moonbase Nine: Episode 1: The Adventures of Officer Fender", and I made it via a Public Access Station in New York. I was asked to write something about that experience. This article is the result.

I am assuming you have already been through some kind of Orientation Course, and have been to classes with other students to learn the policies, and the ins and outs of editing and producing a show, have done your studio internships and have graduated to becoming a Producer of Public Access Shows. If not, don't get discouraged, when I first started out in Public Access I put an ad on a bulletin board at the station asking for help from any producers interested in producing my shows which were short story readings. One producer jumped at the chance of helping me and did numerous shows for me, before eventually asking me nicely to try producing the shows myself, which I did. But that's another story altogether. My point being, you might find a producer who doesn't really know what he wants to do next, wants to try something different, or just wants to do it for the hell of it. All they can do is say no. If you hit a roadblock in this respect, you might just have to sign up for courses at your local PA station and take it from there. Most important, make certain your local Public Access station has blue screen capabilities.

The short video for my first experiment "The Adventures of Officer Fender," already existed. I had penned the script a long time ago and had also co-directed the project. It was shown in several places then completely dropped out of sight. A while passed and we even went on to make a feature-length video based on the same quirky character entitled "Fender Saves The World." Both videos were made with grants provided by the Public Access station. I had briefly considered doing a riff of the feature digital video we had made which was a full 77-minutes long! But as I watched the feature no jokes came to mind, yeah, maybe a couple of sketches, but no shadowrama-type humor. Then I thought of the short we had done, and suddenly jokes were coming to mind. So, I got in touch with producer Ross Byron and he said cool. He was more than willing to let me do the feature video but I wanted to start out with something small. He provided me with a complete mini-dv copy of the short video.

I suggest you go with your gut feeling. Attach yourself to a film or video that you have a good feeling about. You don't have to like the damn thing, you just have to have a good feeling about the humor it will inspire. You don't have to go with an established Hollywood film. You can make the film yourself, or perhaps you've already made it and it's sitting in the top shelf of your closet gathering dust. Perhaps you already know someone who made a short film, a friend or family member. Track the film down, get the person's permission (if you can), transfer the film to video, or duplicate the video for your own use. Start off with a short, this will expose you quickly to the ins and outs of making a fanvid, and chances are, because it's a short, you'll actually come very close to finishing the project. A full length project takes a hell of a lot more time and energy and money. My short featured easy to shoot sequences: Robber robs cops, cops chase robber, robber kills all of Fender's partners, Fender gets robber in the end. It was that simple a plot. Your own plot might include: Martian lands on earth, tries to date girls, girls go on rampage, Martian goes home with severe bruises to his ego. You can work from a skeleton script like we did -- it had dialogue and action but the actors pretty much determined what exactly was going to be said and done, we improvised a hell of a lot.

My experience has been with Public Access, and policies may vary from station to station, but, chances are, you'll meet up with opposition if your project happens to be a Hollywood film, even some low-budget piece of junk made by an independent. Public Access does not want to get in trouble because you used a product (experiment) you did not get permission to use. So, you may have to do some searching for the right project, put up some ads in films schools, actually attend some local film festivals looking for the right project. It won't hurt to walk up to the film-maker and tell him your intentions -- he might even be a fan of MST3K and be intrigued by your suggestion. On the other hand he might be totally turned off, and you'll have to be prepared for that too. To avoid all of this, shoot a fifteen-minute film yourself. Once it is finished you can begin to create sketches that will wrap-around your film, call them the Host Segments. Then you can begin the whole process of writing the jokes based on your movie, called the Theater Segments. You're going to have to decide if you're going to use people and/or bots in your production. I myself went with one human and a sock puppet made to look like a talking plant. Use your imagination. There is no limit to the possibilities. Chances are Public Access is not going to allow you to duplicate the Satellite of Love and Deep 13 sets in their studios, so you're going to have to get creative and original.

If you're lucky, your PA station will have its own prop room, with costumes and other items you can use for your show. The prop room at my PA station was closed down, but, then it wasn't much of a prop room and was very disorganized to begin with, just a bunch of stuff thrown into the room carelessly. That room now serves a more productive purpose, housing the electrical cables, microphones, and other things producers need to do their shows.

If you're unlucky, you're going to have to provide the props and costumes and sets yourself. Perhaps there is no space whatsoever to house your set at your given PA station? Hey, that's not entirely a bad thing, because sometimes props and sets end up getting used on other people's shows. How'd you like to turn on your teevee set one day only to see someone else using your set without your permission? Hey, in Public Access everything is up for grabs. Who will you complain to that isn't going to frown from that day on on your project? In PA there is a rule against harrassing other producers or staff. You'll just have to swallow your pride. Or. Bring the set in a van on the same day you're going to shoot your show, and take it with you when you leave. Or. Go without a set entirely. Or. Use blue screen to create your background.

Write the theater segments and host segments and rehearse rehearse rehearse. Hopefully, you'll be working with people who understand what you're trying to do. Be they friends or family members. Otherwise, you'll end up like I did, with a cast and crew that were not fans of the original show, which means you'll have to describe as best you can what exactly it is you are trying to achieve. Do not assume they understand. I repeat. Do not assume they understand. Some people don't even know how to tell a joke let alone produce a funny comedy show. If you have to edit bad language or some other nasty thing out of the program, do it. I had to edit out long action sequences which dealt with nothing but running. Split your short video into several segments, two or three of them, so you can intersperse your host segments.

Give yourself three to four hours to shoot the host segments, and three to four hours to shoot the blue screen (theater) segments. I am not kidding here. It may seem like you're asking too much from the studio people, but, that's untrue. We ran into technical difficulties, lighting problems, a VCR deck broke down, the blue screen wasn't working right, some crew did not show up and that caused problems and delays, etc, etc, etc. Anything can happen.

Shoot the show, edit the show, hand the tape in, broadcast the show, make copies for friends, and relatives, and other interested parties. Then decide if you want to do another show via Public Access again, or through some other route. I, myself, ran into quite a number of problems, but, I still wouldn't give up the chance of trying to do another show via Public Access again.

Finally, you may have to exchange favors, like helping someone out on their show. Or writing for or acting in someone else's show. Public Access is utlimately a sharing back and forth of talents.

This article was written 24 August 2004 by N. Torres for this website at the request of The Author.