Interview

Documenting the vidders: A conversation with Bradcpu

Counteragent

[0.1] Abstract—Interview with Bradcpu, conducted by Counteragent.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Fan vid; Mashup

Counteragent. 2012. "Documenting the Vidders: A Conversation with Bradcpu." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9. doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0423.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Bradcpu is a vidder and a vid community moderator. He was a cojudge of the Friendly Neighborhood Video Awards, a tournament-style vid contest with explicitly articulated aesthetic and technical rules, and he currently cojudges The Fourth Wall video awards. He is a moderator of the Vid Commentary community, dedicated to analysis and critical commentary. Brad is also the director of the Vidder Profiles, a series of short documentary films by and about vidders. Each profile features "excerpts from the vidder's work from throughout the years along with an interview with the vidder about his or her style, approach, and general thoughts on vidding" (Vidder Profile series intro post, http://vid-commentary.livejournal.com/3658.html). The series was founded in 2009, and as of this writing, nine vidders have been profiled so far. You can find out more about the series by checking out Fanlore's page on the Vidder Profiles (http://fanlore.org/wiki/Vidder_Profile).

[1.2] This interview was conducted by Counteragent, a vidder particularly known for her meta vids—that is, vids about vidding or about the fan community itself. Her vid "Destiny Calling" celebrates the 35-year history of media vidding fandom, and her Supernatural vid "Still Alive," about the show and its fandom, was the subject of Katherina Freund's essay, "'I'm glad we got burned, think of all the things we learned': Fandom Conflict and Context in Counteragent's 'Still Alive,'" which appeared in Transformative Works and Culture's fourth issue (doi:10.3983/twc.2010.0187). This interview was conducted online and edited for clarity.

2. The Vidder Profiles

[2.1] Q: What made you want to make the Vidder Profiles?

[2.2] BC: A few years ago, a gift community was created on LJ for kiki_miserychic's birthday. I wanted to show her how much I admired her work but didn't have a lot of time to dedicate to a vid project. So I just slapped together a very very basic "top 5 favorite moments from your vids," with a cheesy #5–#1 countdown between them. I regretted that when all of the gifts were revealed and I saw what other people had made. For instance, Charmax made her amazing "Unnatural Selection" vid for it.

[2.3] Over the next few days, I started thinking about how I could revise and expand my idea, maybe even with the vidder commenting on the moments in question and how they came about. Around that time, I saw an early version of dragonchic's "Break Teen Spirit in Four Minutes" Club Vivid vid for "Wanted," and it included one of the most memorable segments I've ever seen in a vid. So I asked dragonchic about that segment, then eventually asked her if she'd be willing to put her thoughts down on audio. The project expanded until it covered many of her recent vids and her thoughts about vidding.

[2.4] I really enjoyed doing it, and thought "Hey, I could sucker other people into doing this and gain even more knowledge! Muahahahaah!" Except without the laugh…For all you know. No one can prove anything.

[2.5] I showed dragonchic's now-finished profile to other people—kiki_miserychic and Charmax first—and they said they'd be willing to do the same thing. Within a few months, I had a half-dozen interviews and a folder filled with vidders' catalogues.

[2.6] Q: They are so complex! And yet seem totally effortless. In brief, what's your process for making them? Do you start with questions and then pick vids to illustrate their answers, like vidding to a song source?

[2.7] BC: I take more or less the same approach I do when writing a story for a newspaper or magazine: I gather the facts, then look for patterns and metaphors and start and end points, and try to put it all together in a way that tells a story.

[2.8] So, first, I watch all of the vidder's available work. Then I come up with questions based on things I've seen about their work that I find uniquely appealing. Once the responses come back, I try to choose clips that illustrate the vidder's point, or that sync with emotional tone of the sentiment or comment.

[2.9] In other words, the comments dictate the clip choices, not the other way around.

[2.10] Q: One of the things I love so much about the vidder profiles is that the subjects come off as quite self-actualized. You actually almost believe their claims that they've found a balance between public reception of their work and internal fulfillment. Were you trying to bring that out?

[2.11] BC: I think inside each of us is the person we want to be. I think there's a little bit of perfection in all of us. Especially these people. I like highlighting that because these people really do feel like heroes to me, each in his or her own way, and I want to show why.

[2.12] Q: In a few words, what are your favorite moments in each profile? I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours!

[2.13] BC: Oh god, really? I mean…it's basically a matter of picking my favorite moment from my favorite vids. I'm usually just relieved if the vidder doesn't get offended by how I've used the clips.

[2.14] As far as my influence, and how they're recontextualized within the profile, I guess in general I'm pretty happy with how most of the profiles begin and end. I try to start them with a thesis statement, and end them with a sort of summation. In that way, the beginning of Mister Anderson's profile is maybe my favorite. But I kind of like all of the openings, to be honest.

Video 1. Mister Anderson's profile, from the Vidder Profiles by Bradcpu (2010).

[2.15] Q: I think you did a great job with the thesis and conclusion statements! I like the beginning of each as well; I particularly loved that you chose a picture to represent some of the vidders—very meta-viddy. You also make some wonderful analytical connections. For example, in Mister Anderson's voice-over, he contrasts being an editor for pay and an editor for love, and you visually pair that comment with Iron Man's Tony Stark discovering he had few, if any, limits to his power. Or the way you juxtapose Charmax's wry surprise at finding herself a champion of female characters/femmeslash ("[is it] odd to think strong minded women are awesome[?]") with Alias's Sydney stroking the wall with her [riding] crop.

Video 2. Charmax's profile, from the Vidder Profiles by Bradcpu (2009).

3. Vidding for fun and profit

[3.1] Q: You're a professional editor in real life, right? How did you get into vidding for fun, not profit?

[3.2] BC: Well, the vidding came first, and that led to the professional editing.

[3.3] It started for me the same way that I suspect it has for many other vidders: hearing music and seeing clips from TV shows in my head, lining up with the music and lyrics of the song.

[3.4] Back when Angel season 1 was airing, I remember watching the scene in the episode "Five By Five" in which Faith is dancing and fighting, and picturing that scene mixed with shots from her whole character arc to that song. The idea kept gnawing at me, and at one point I thought about looking into the cost of mixing equipment (the kind that was used at TV stations at the time) in order to make it. But the years went by, and it faded a bit.

[3.5] In 2007, an online friend who, like me, was into writing Firefly fan fiction, suggested I give vidding a try. I had never even heard of vidding, much less seen a vid. She sent me software and instructions, and I literally followed her step-by-step e-mail for how to make a clip and place it in Windows Movie Maker, in order to make my first vid. Yeah, I made about 10 more in the next two months. This is your brain on vid farr.

[3.6] I think I was three vids in before I ever watched a vid by someone else. I got a lot less awful after doing so. Imagine that.

[3.7] Q: Imagine that, indeed! I always tell new vidders to watch more vids than they think they need to. Trust me, guys, you need to. We all do.

4. Two meta vids: "Hard Sun" (with Laura Shapiro) and "CITIHALL*"

[4.1] Q: Let's compare and contrast your vids "Hard Sun" (2009, Firefly, made with Laura Shapiro) and "CITIHALL*" (2010, Futurama). I think that together they paint a fantastically nuanced view of geek culture (and of vidding culture specifically, but I think it's larger than that). Am I way off?

[4.2] BC: It wasn't what I set out to do, but I hope you're right. Can you be right, please? 'Cause that sounds awesome and I want to be that. All I know is what I set out to do with each.

[4.3] With "Hard Sun," I wanted to express what Firefly and fandom—specifically, Firefly fandom—mean to me. It's something shared. Painful, yes, but in the end it's something that unites us.

Video 3. "Hard Sun," Firefly fan vid, by Bradcpu and Laura Shapiro (2009).

[4.4] Q: Painful because Firefly only lasted one season? Because what I got from that vid was joyous obsession and a sense of a strong community. Which sums up the happy sides of fandom, to me. I also got, "You can totally use original footage in a vid, especially a metavid," which was obviously eye-opening to me as a vidder. (I used original footage in my most recent vid, "Coin Operated Boy" [2011, Supernatural.])

[4.5] BC: It's quite flattering that it influenced you in that way! I never set out to influence anyone, so hearing something like that is…quite surreal.

[4.6] Yes, I've always found Firefly a bit bittersweet because, despite all of the joy surrounding the show and the fandom, it only lasted a half-season (plus a glorious but quite downbeat movie) and that Firefly—the one the fans all fell in love with—is never coming back. Not the way it was. So in a sense it's like celebrating a memory. When friends tell me they're about to watch Firefly for the first time, I always feel a mixture of envy and sympathy.

[4.7] "CITIHALL*" was, um, a bit different. I set out to make a celebratory "FU" to Fox, after the syndicated ratings basically forced them to bring Futurama back to the air several years after it had been canceled. At the same time, I thought it would be fun to show what it would be like if the inmates ran the prison of network television. (And sometimes I feel like they do, for better or worse. Everyone does indeed love Hypnotoad.) ["Everybody Loves Hypnotoad" is a television show within Futurama; the show's entire focus is the Hypnotoad, a toad with large, oscillating eyes who keeps viewers, well, hypnotized.]

[4.8] Q: Are the inmates the fans or the "real" producers? I think you're saying it's both? When I saw the vid, I definitely saw the heroes as fans who've suddenly gained creative control. So to me it was a celebration of fans' power (getting the show back on the air), but a reminder about the potential limits of fan-influenced media. Sometimes the stories fans most want to hear are not the most dramatically generative ones. (We tend to clamor for reconciliation a lot, for one.)

[4.9] You can watch "CITIHALL*" and say, "Haha, good thing we fans aren't in charge," and yet the very quality of the vid itself is its own counterargument. It's funny, it's pointed, it works on at least three different levels, and it's a sublime example of remix culture (a lot of people I saw it with couldn't believe the song hadn't been written for the vid). So what does separate the best fan producers from the real, anointed producers? Not talent, as far as I can tell.

[4.10] So if "Hard Sun" is about the shared source-love and the community it creates, "CITIHALL*" gently lampoons fans' endless armchair quarterbacking while proving that sometimes the armchair quarterbacks are pretty awesome.

Video 4. "CITIHALL*," Futurama fan vid, by Bradcpu (2010).

[4.11] BC: Remixers are pretty awesome, aren't they? While making "CITIHALL*," I remember certain other shows being renewed over cries of "NOOOooooOOOO!" from the shows' hardcore viewers—fan bases that had been propping up (and, some would say, having an influence on the canon) for years. I was somewhat baffled, both by the renewals and the reactions. Then those fan bases immediately went gaga once again over the shows once they returned to the air.

[4.12] I definitely do not claim to understand The TV Powers That Be or fandom. Sometimes they seem difficult to separate. Sure is fun to vid, though!

5. Criteria for recommending, analyzing, and judging fan vids

[5.1] Q: Not only do many of your best known vids have a heavy meta-analysis component ("Hard Sun," "CITIHALL*"), but you also tend to recommend vids heavy on community/social critique (e.g., Luminosity, "She's So Heavy," 2005, Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Sisabet and Sweetestdrain, "On the Prowl," 2010, multi; Jarrow, "Tandemonium," 2010, Battlestar Galactica). You're a sophisticated evaluator of the vidding community, having previously cojudged the Friendly Neighborhood Video Awards, currently judging at The Fourth Wall, and directing these vidder profiles. What do you enjoy about the analytical power of vids, and what are their limitations?

[5.2] BC: I think meta vids are arguments, or statements, and like all such things, they invite agreement and disagreement (or confusion, if they're poorly made). And because they focus on subject matter and source material and people about which most of us are very very passionate, they invite very strong agreement and disagreement.

[5.3] That's why I think meta vids that make their points in an especially effective, impactful way are among the most admirable of all fannish creations. They can be evocative and uniquely powerful. But using beloved images and actors and shows to make a statement to/about the audience can also be a risky thing. It can be easy for vids like that to come across as the vidder having warped the beloved images in order to use them in a selfish and insulting way.

[5.4] I've watched a metavid before and felt angry and hurt because I felt the vidder took the images out of context specifically to make them seem socially reprehensible, while ignoring the clips within the same scenes that ruin the argument. Then I quietly listened to everyone react with "Wow, that show and everyone involved with it is the devil!" (Paraphrasing, but you get the idea. I hope.) I honestly hope no one has ever felt that way about one of my vids.

[5.5] Q: Yeah, ditto for mine but I strongly suspect that is not the case. It's hard to know where to draw that line of condemnation, though. I essentially think it's an emotional choice, not a logical one. One person's shit-stirring-attention-whoring vid may be another's desperate, personal cry. There are a number of vids I don't agree with (and thus don't like) even if I think they've made legitimate points well. (Which is not to say all vids are created equal. Some are definitely more cogent.)

[5.6] Vidding is a blunt instrument for all its complexity. Every vidder is guilty of cutting clips that ignore their context or the fluctuations in canon that may negate them. In essence, that is what all vids do—they say, "this is the way I want you to see this source."

[5.7] The hypothesis one starts out with has to be very, very simple to be effective, especially in a meta vid, where you are expecting the audience to parse the meta and original meanings for each clip at the same time. So a vid pointing out that sexual engagement without specific consent in Dollhouse is rape ("It Depends On What You Pay," by Gianduja Kiss, 2009, Dollhouse) isn't going to showcase complex character arcs or even original authorial intent. It can't, not if it's going to make any sense.

[5.8] BC: I agree, and the vid you used as an example does that extremely well. I agree, as well, about the fact that the reaction to vids (particularly meta vids) can be a very personal thing.

[5.9] One of the reasons I love vidding so much is because of the escapism it offers me. I've worked in a newsroom for the last 15 years, always on deadline, and constantly immersed in real-world current events, social strife, and tragedies. Vidding gives me both an escape from that and a different kind of creative outlet. Because of that, I usually tend to gravitate more toward sci-fi and steer clear of more gritty, real-world shows and fandoms. Even TV or movie versions of real-world gore or crime actually make me physically ill.

[5.10] When doing meta vids, I try to focus on things that unite us as fans—shared experiences and common bonds. As a viewer, I often have a negative reaction to vids that manipulate these shows in order to make a critical statement about the show, the fandom, or real-world society as a whole—mainly because I see these shows, and vidding itself, as my escape from such things. I prefer less Fox News in my vidding. Those kinds of personal reactions to vids can be very strong, and can vary so much from person to person. That's something over which the vidder has little control, and that's probably the biggest limitation I've run across in the medium.

[5.11] But I don't think the vidder should be able to control such personal reactions. All that matters is that the vidder creates what he or she wants to create, and does it with a very well-made vid. That's what the vidder has control over: the clarity, skill, and flair with which the statement is made.

[5.12] Q: Yeah, agreed. The only thing you can do is make the best, most coherent piece you can. And if your piece has negative aspects, you have to search your own soul and make sure you think it's something that needs saying, that it's not just a bid for attention.

[5.13] Your point about escapism is interesting. For me, the nuclear fusion that powers fandom is and always will be squee: our enthusiasm and joy. Without squee, we are shriveled harpies. But I don't think that escapism and meta-analysis are opposites. They can exist in the same vid, and certainly within the same vidder's oeuvre. My favorite vidders make all kinds of vids, from the "OMG*THIS*SHIP*IZ*CUUUUTE" vid to the "Huh, let's take a look at the fannish practice of XYZ again, shall we?" vid.

6. A male vidder in a female vidding culture

[6.1] Q: Live-action media vidding on LiveJournal has a female-centric history and mostly female participants. Is it weird being a dude here?

[6.2] BC: I feel weird pretty much everywhere. So, status quo.

[6.3] The gender divide is definitely something that's not easy to miss. I'm drawn to vid mostly female characters and 'ships, and the opposite is true for most of the people I've run across in vidding. Feminism and m/m slash are more popular topics among my vidder friends than TV shows or fandom itself. I certainly don't see any of that as a bad thing (!), it's just hard to miss the fact that I'm very clearly a minority in the community.

[6.4] There have been times when I've been in a group of vidders and they've made some angry, sweeping generalizations about men, specifically about men my age and my race and my sexuality, apparently without realizing I was even there. I suppose that's a compliment, now that I think about it, but at the time I just felt rather alone. Those situations have been the (very rare) exceptions, though. Through vidding, I've met some of the best friends of my life. And I've never felt as though I belong somewhere as much as I do here.

[6.5] Q: Aw! Well, this weirdo is glad you're here. And I do believe you've just summed up why we love the community even more than we love the sources that inspire it. As a sidenote, I find the online aspect of the community very freeing because it comes without a lot of the baggage of in-person interactions. I'm glad I got the chance to know the attendees of Vividcon through their work first and vice versa. I don't want to have to worry if this vid makes my ass look fat, you know?

[6.6] BC: Well said! It really changes everything when you get to know someone first through their work. It's like seeing their soul before you see their face.

[6.7] Q: Final question: You can only do one for the rest of your life: make vids or watch other people's vids. What do you choose?

[6.8] BC: I've gotta vid.





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