Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bring MC Chris' Rhymes to Life or: The Rise of Music Video Contests

Geek rap stalwart MC Chris is having a you-make-the-video contest for his new ode to the ladies, Nrrrd Girl. If the lyrics touch your heart (and they will) and you feel you can further illuminate the song's meaning with your video/animation mastery, enter the contest by February 29th for a chance to....what exactly? It's not clear, but probably the honor of having made an official MC Chris video, and possibly something else. There's no prize like a su-prize!

In related news, Chris will be a guest on Comic Book Club at the People's Improv Theater in NYC this Tuesday, January 22nd. He'll talk comics with the CBC hosts and classic comic artist Jim Starlin, and do a song or two to seal the deal. Tickets are surprisingly still available, only five bucks plus a dollar service charge.

In the wild west of user-generated new media, fan-made video contests have been embraced by a lot of mainstream artists in recent years. The winning entries vary widely in originality and profesionalism, but one tends to get what one pays for.

After the jump, we review high-profile winners and evaluate what it takes to give away your filmmaking talents for no royalties or monetary payment whatsoever. Take that, striking writers!

Kurt Nishimura won the infamous Decemberist Video Contest, one of the first challenges that promised the prize of a broadcast debut. Fans were challenged to build a video around footage of the band playing in front of a green screen, an idea Stephen Colbert contends was shamelessly stolen from his own Green Screen Challenge. The controversy culminated in a guitar battle between the Decemberist guy and Mr. Colbert, the humor of which was somewhat diminished when the Decemberists guy performed a yawner of a solo, which there's really no excuse for in the age of Guitar Hero. You might have gotten away with that in like, the 90s, but post-2005 nerds have been re-educated in the ways of the shred.

The winning video is something of a snooze itself, with a simple storyline stretched thin over the song's near four minute runtime. However, Nishimura did come up with the rather ingenious idea of encasing the pre-existing footage within a television set inside the world of the video, allowing total freedom to develop a storyline with original footage without having to use cutaways to get back to the band. More kudos for the muted cinematography, which makes everything feel a bit more professional, despite limited locations and not so polished actors.

By the way, here's the winner of the Colbert Contest, which can always use a second viewing.

From a pool of around 100 entries, Incubus selected both a Grand Prize Winner and a Band/Fan Pick. Wait, so who chose the Grand Prize Winner, the record company? Ooh, I hate those guys! The Grand Prize went to a film schoolie rape nightmare/fantasy with a generous helping of After Effects filters. The fan/band pick by Carlos Oliveira featured no band footage but instead a super emo-cartoon. Again, the problem here is a good idea stretched out to interminable lengths, achieved in case by having the characters move around verrrry slowly. But the art itself grabs you, and the story has a nice mix of literal lyric interpretation and angsty big eyed cartoons people. This entry did end up getting broadcast after all, though with cuts of the band interspliced. It's actually an improvement, and does a lot to improve the pacing issues.

Original Version

Broadcast Version

Bjork fans got the chance to create a video for Innocence, off the phenomenal Volta EP. The winning entry (chosen out of a whopping 500 submissions) was by Fred & Annabelle of France. Now THIS is a video. Perhaps there was a higher incentive for serious artists to submit their work, since Bjork has a rich history of groundbreaking music videos by the likes of Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham. This video fits snugly into that proud lineage, even including some familiar bear and robot imagery. The breadth of CG techniques on display here sometimes venture a tiny bit into demo territory, they come on so abruptly, but over all the images match the feel of the music perfectly. Also, please note this video features not footage of Bjork, but a computer generated Bjork. Amazing stuff.

Here's Levi Ahmu's winning video for the Smashing Pumpkins song, Tarantula. When did they get back together? Chosen from a mere 60-something entries, this is another After Effects party that looks like Ray of Light meets some of the newer iPod Commercials, with some disaster porn thrown in about 1:45 in. At least it's relatively short.

You may notice all of these winners heavily feature band members. This is due to the fact that these are all commercially distributed artists, and music videos are basically commercials in one form or another. MC Chris, however, is self-distributing his new album, so I'd guess the pressure to advertise his image may not be necessary for the win. You never know though, there's little Chris cartoons all over his merch. I'm guess there will be a lot of flash cartoon entries, given the web savviness and abundance of time I'd expect his fan base to have.

Personal Epilogue:

I'm entertaining the idea of pulling a Nrrrd Girl video together myself. I only heard the song a few days ago while aimlessly browsing my way further into late night depression, and the song helped put me in better spirits. Lyrics like "She might seem shy in person, it's no lie/She's always nervous/But the verdict is she's worth it/She gets crap but don't deserve it" and "She's romantic, known to panic/With anxiety attacks/Literary, it's so scary/Reading Brontes back to back/" really hit home, because some of those qualities hit home personally, and others remind me of the kind of girl I fall for. The whole thing got me a little choked up, and maybe a reaction like that is worth mining for video ideas.

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