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On Video

Electric Productions

Article from International Musician & Recording World, January 1985

The last of the current series finds James Betteridge and some Geisha Girls involved. We have the negatives, Jim...

Mike Brown with The Boys From Brazil

Possibly the most common objective in the minds of a band when they make a promotional video of themselves is to get that promo a showing on Channel 4's The Tube.

A few simple sums is enough to tell you that the chances of that occurring are of the same order as the likelihood of CBS's head of A&R hopping in the BM' and coming round in person with six-figure cheque in hand on receipt of your accordion/vocal demo of All Along The Watchtower, slim-ish.

A year ago this month The Tube ran a demo of a tune called I'ma Teapot from a band called the Geisha Girls, and as a consequence of that showing the band rose from total obscurity to a position of relative fame.

Two of the major stumbling blocks for such a project are usually the union requirements for a full technical crew at full union rates of pay — very expensive; and the IBA's minimum technical standards for television broadcasts — also very costly. However, this video was shot with absolutely no union crew members and on low band U-matic, a format which is so far below the required technical standard as to be generally considered a veritable insult to any true union pro's eyeballs. The whole thing cost less then £300 to produce.

The way around it all was to class the promo as a home movie, thereby exempting it from all such nasty interferences. And as for the secret route into the sacred inner caucus of Tube producer/directors: just lob a cassette in the post with a letter asking them to give it a quick look: simple but, in this case, effective.

There's actually no more to be learned from this incident regarding how to get your promo on The Tube, except that it has to be a well made, entertaining production. Video director Mark Chapman is also the keyboard player in the band, and so it was that one cold and rainy Friday night in November — can this boy paint a picture, or what? I went to see him and the Gals do their particular biz at Camden's famous and noisy club, Dingwalls. It was here that Mark recounted his own initial surprise at the success and told me of some of the policies and techniques involved in making the promo.

"Although we did a 1" C-format copy for the actual broadcast Tea Pot was actually shot and mastered on low-band U-matic, and we were as surprised as anybody when Channel 4 accepted it."

What happened as a result of that?

"We didn't actually get any overnight record deals, but the girls did get an interview on The Tube, which was a good plug for them; plus we got management, an agency deal and some very positive reactions — Tom Robinson said it was his favourite video and Thomas Dolby and Boy George said it was their favourite single. Also, TVS (Television South) gave it a showing, without even a mention of union problems. It basically put us in a position to turn pro, even though there wasn't actually much money in it."

Female Subjugation

I'm a Teapot is based on the time-honoured theme of the subjugation of women, by men, into the roles of household utilities such as teapots, vacuum cleaners, etc. Mark was keen to point out that, following what must have been for Queen a fairly disturbing result to the viewers poll, their next single was entitled I Want To Break Free in which a repressed housewife character (old Fred himself) is seen moping about the shop using vacuum cleaners and the like whilst referring to the doleful plight of 'er indoors. Coincidence or plagiarism? The Queen camp say the former, Mark and the girls say... possibly not. Who can tell? And who's got the money or time to find out in the courts?

The money to make the Teapot video was put up by a 'businessman' and would-be producer, in return for the rights to whatever was shot. A warning is in order here, because through this agreement the band became liable to pay said individual £700 for the Tube showing, even though they didn't get paid that much themselves. Don't you just love 'businessmen'?

The whole thing was shot in six hours, and the basic hire costs were approximately as follows:

Good quality camera — £100/day
Portable low band U-matic VCR — £40/day
Monitor — £10
20min tapes — £10

They used a local community centre (Southill in Reading) U-matic edit suite at a cost of £5/hr, dry hire — ie without an operator. In terms of cost, it is definitely advisable to try and get use of such a non-profit making set-up, as professional suites can cost up to £15/hr. This latter price will generally include an operator, but the equipment is so simple to use that within an hour you'll probably have mastered its basic operation on your own. Of course, this doesn't make you a good editor, just as knowing how to operate a mixer doesn't make you a good recording engineer, but at a third the price you can afford to spend a little more time experimenting and getting it to look right. Although there are a number of basic do's and don'ts in editing, it's largely a matter of feel. Incidentally, The Southill Centre, which is run by a man called Barry Gibson, puts out its own publication called Independent Video that could be of great help to anyone interested in lower cost video production.

If you're using indoor/stage performance style settings, Mark advises the use of at least 10k watts of white lighting plus about 10k watts of colours to add atmosphere:

"It's essential to keep a good level of white light up all the time to maintain good contrast and low noise, but the right amount of colour also has to be added to stop it having that clinical, Top of the Pops look. In low-light situations, you may not see the noise when you first shoot it, but when you start to edit and copy, it comes up very quickly. It's a matter of experience, knowing what you can get away with.

"Even when using low band it's important to work with as high a quality camera as possible. We used an 'almost broadcast quality' three-tube camera, the JVC 310, for the whole thing, which made a big difference to the final product. Fully broadcast spec cameras cost in the region of £25,000 and the difference in quality between that and modern cameras, such as the 310, costing somewhere between £5-7,000, is minimal. The JVC is particularly good for this type of work because it maintains a really strong contrast even in low light conditions, and that's important in terms of keeping picture noise to a minimum.

"Another much underrated piece of equipment is the tripod. Hand held is okay for up to five seconds on a wide angle shot, but as soon as you zoom in, any jitter becomes really noticeable. You can now get an 'almost broadcast quality' tripod for around £250, and it's absolutely necessary, especially for less experienced operators.

Slave of Love

The second Geisha Girls promo has now been shot for the new single Slave of Love. It follows that theme of the subjugation of women, by men, into... you know the style. Not all the girls' tunes are on the same topic, it's just that currently the best two are. As with the first single, it is to be released on the band's own label, Dog Breath Records.

After the Tube success, Mark was inundated with requests from impoverished bands to do a video of them for four pence. In order to satisfy the demand and keep prices down, he formed a company called Electric Productions with his two colleagues Mick Brown and Tim Paine. The company now has access to its own edit suite and much of its own equipment and the idea is to hire all the necessary extras, and to produce a live video plus a promo of about four bands at a time. The live shoots are arranged by hiring a hall in their home town of Reading and promoting an actual concert at which the bands perform.

At the time of writing this had already been successfully accomplished twice. It's quite a sophisticated set up involving four cameras, a large lighting rig and an eight-track Otari tape recorder which is used to record the sound straight out of the eight subgroups of the PA mixer. It should cost each band considerably less than £300 to be included in the deal, which involves both the live recording and the promo being included on a compilation tape which will be put on sale, locally and then nationally, for around £12.

The idea is not primarily to produce a means of attracting record company attention, but rather to create an entertaining video package that stands up in its own right. Whether it sells or not remains to be seen. Electric Productions would be pleased to hear from any interesting bands, well known or otherwise for future productions.

The Tearful Farewell

This is to be the last in the current On Video series, and how fitting that we should end on a note of success. There will undoubtedly be occasional articles under the same banner in the future, and at least one of them will involve the future antics of Electric Productions and some more advice from the now famous Mark Chapman. Let us know of any interesting video projects that you might be involved with; marking your envelope 'On Video' will ensure that it gets into the right hands. Until then, farewell.

Addresses: Electric Productions, (Contact Details)
Independent Video Magazine from Barry Wilson, (Contact Details).

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Electric Fire

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Rebel Rabble

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Jan 1985

Feature by James Betteridge

Previous article in this issue:

> Electric Fire

Next article in this issue:

> Rebel Rabble

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