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Total Recut Interviews Jonathan McIntosh About Buffy vs. Edward

2009-12-24 00:23:30        Posted by: ikat381        Category: Remix Culture

Here's an interview with Jonathan McIntosh where we discuss his Buffy vs. Edward remix, the vidding community, and the greater value of video remixing.

TR: What did you want to accomplish with Buffy vs Edward?

JM: I wanted to create a remix dealing with the subtleties of gender and romance in mainstream media, not an easy task in mash-up form. I had seen the Twilight movie and I read the first couple of books and I was horrified by the fact that the Twilight series takes all the progress in gender roles and reverts it back at least 200 years. My goal was to show Edward Cullen’s controlling and overprotective behaviour for what it is, and to do that in a sort of funny way, and to have that done by a strong female character from a different series. I thought one of the best ways to do that would be to have Buffy the Vampire Slayer meet him. Juxtaposing these two characters highlights how backwards the Twilight series is in terms of gender, really how anti-feminist it is. That was the goal: to make it funny but also highlight the patriarchal nature and stalkeriness of Edward.

TR: Why use remix to make your point about Twilight? Why not shoot your own parody?

JM: If you were writing a paper on the Twilight film, you would quote what Edward said from the movie. Same with remix – I want to quote what he’s actually saying. I want you to be able to see him say it and have all of the filmic and narrative elements present. So the lighting is there, the tone that he uses, the camera angle, all from the actual shots in the movie. It’s more powerful, more poetic, it’s more believable, it’s funnier, and it has a higher impact, because it’s the actual actor in the actual scenes.

Also, for good or bad reasons, high production values tend to equal legitimacy in our mainstream media culture. People will respond to something that they know. And what they know, because they see it everyday on TV or in the movies, is high production values – a certain style, certain lighting, etc. So using the actual clips lends legitimacy to the critique, I think. It’s an easier way to relate to an audience that’s already familiar with the source material.

TR: In what way did vidding and the vidding community influence this remix?

JM: I am in no way an expert on vidding, but for those who might not be aware, it’s an artform that’s been around since the mid-seventies. It’s deeply connected to fan cultures and fan fiction, just extended into video form. There’s a rich history of mostly women remixing (or “vidding”) pop culture narratives. And sometimes these vids, as they’re called, are making an argument, or doing a character study, or doing in-depth looks at various relationships, etc. It’s like using video to create literary criticism of TV and movies.

The sympathetic nature and fannish quality of vidding is one of the things that I think makes it work so well. Initially it took a while before I understood how powerful, important, and sometimes subversive it was as a remixing genre.

Lots of vids will celebrate shows, relationships, subtexts or storylines – especially ones that break standard or stereotypical gender roles or narratives. While many other vids have an argument to make, and some of them will subtly (or no so subtly) criticize various aspects of a beloved TV show: characters, story lines, or the lack of queer characters, or the lack of strong female characters, etc. The idea is that you can enjoy something from the mass media but still criticize certain aspects of it to varying degrees. That’s a subtle understanding that seems to me a little bit lacking in many of the more political videos from my own remix genre.

A lot of political remix work can be really fantastic but it’s sort of based on ridicule. So it’s ridiculing the TV show, or it’s ridiculing the source. Sometimes, certain situations call for just flat out ridicule – I agree with that and I think it can be very important. But other times, conversations require a sort of subtle, respectful, and still pointed analysis, especially if you want to talk about race, class, gender, or sexuality. This is where, I think, vidding often succeeds in ways that political remix video sometimes does not.

I don’t know if I would have been able to envision making something that’s a 6-minute narrative about gender roles, as in Buffy Vs Edward, if I had not been influenced by the vidding community. As a political remixer, I was fortunate to be schooled by vidders like Laura Shapiro, and also by Francesca Coppa, who is a founding member of the Organization for Transformative Works. By listening to them and watching a large body of vidding work, I learned about how to make more complex and subtle analyses of mass media in remix form. I’m certainly very sympathetic to Buffy and the whole Buffy universe (it’s my all time favourite TV show), and that comes through in my remix. So the audience is not supposed to go “Oh, see how TV is stupid?” They’re supposed to go “Oh, see how Buffy was awesome!” I kinda pit the Buffy TV show against the Twilight movie to deal with gender in a more complex way than I had done previously. So I would say that vidding was essential to me being even able to imagine doing something like this, even though I would not call Buffy vs. Edward a “vid”.

TR: Can you talk about any of the technical challenges of Buffy vs Edward?

JM: I found that it was really hard to find convincing ways to have characters interact from totally different sources. One tool that was really helpful was fan transcripts: people take TV shows that they love, or movies, and they transcribe them and put them online. With Google’s advanced search I was able to find fan scripts for all the episodes of Buffy. I’d search for certain phrases or words, and I’d go through them quickly and say “Oh, well I know that Buffy now says this kind of thing in episode 44 so I’ll go look at the episode and see if it works.” And sometimes the transcripts even have notes on location or time of day, so I know if there’s a certain environment, and if Buffy’s saying something there, then maybe I can use it. Luckily Buffy was 140 episodes or thereabouts, so I had a lot to draw from. But Twilight was 2 hours. I almost used every single frame of Edward.

TR: What political purpose do you think video remixing serves in general?

JM: Remixing is a form of critical media literacy that I think is becoming increasingly important to our culture. Just by viewing a remix, you are consciously or subconsciously noticing all the different sources – a movie, a song, a news clip, an actor – and in your head you’re kinda deconstructing them, because there’s all these different parts that have been pulled apart, re-framed, re-contextualized and put back together.

On the flip side, when someone is making a remix, even a simple one, they are literally deconstructing mass media and then creatively reconstructing it. So they’re engaging with mass media messages to make something new in a way that is analytical and creative. Lessig calls this the “read-write culture.” Corporate media traditionally operates as “read-only.” But now with remix, culture can be more “read-write” and more participatory (provided you have technology, the time and the money to participate). So I think that just the remix form itself has a lot of value.

In terms of the content of online video remix, it could be anything. It depends on the people who are making it. Remixes can challenge the sort of oppressive, sound-byte driven messages of mass-media, or they can just repeat mainstream messages back in remix form.

Obviously I hope for people to be subversive and critical in their remix work and to challenge mass media messages and myths, especially in terms of the more oppressive aspects of corporate culture. The extra value comes when we remix the source material and also remix the message. If you’re just regurgitating what the media tells you, including all the stereotypes, racism, sexism, hatred, and so on, then I find much less value in that, because it’s not remixing the message, it’s just remixing the material.

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