Magazine article American Cinematographer

Prize-Winning Video Demands 'True Grit'

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Prize-Winning Video Demands 'True Grit'

Article excerpt

It was a dream come true. A kiss from Madonna on MTV, a check for $25,000, write-ups in national newspapers, an appearance on "Good Morning America."

"It felt like we'd won the lottery," said Clifford Guest, who with Angel Gracia, won Madonna's "Make My Video" contest on MTV last year for their video rendition of her song "True Blue."

Guest and Gracia could be contemporary heroes of a Horatio Alger novel. Before the contest, the two young Florida filmmakers were working on student and low budget films. They had won awards in school, including a Student Oscar for Gracia, but out in the real world of filmmaking, they were having a tough go at it. Guest, also a musician, served as a recording engineer for local studios.

But when Gracia saw the MTV ad for the contest and phoned Guest, the course of these men's lives changed.

They had little money and even less time. With just ten days to conceive the script, do pre-production, shoot, edit, and mail their entry to New York, Guest and Gracia pooled their savings, and set themselves into high gear.

Gracia picked up a cassette of "True Blue" and listened to it during the 40minute drive from his Key Biscayne house to Guest's Lauderhill residence. During the drive, he imagined the song set to a contemporary "Miami Vice" theme, shot in color with nighttime exteriors. But when Guest heard it, he envisioned a different era.

After listening to the lyrics, Guest thought "True Blue" had a '50s groove to it. Both men saw it as a romance about first love, and agreed that it should be done in black and white. Their only concern at the time, was locating clothing and cars from the era. With the clock ticking away, and less than $1000 to spend, the two men had to find a quick solution.

Florida International University supplied costumes. The grandmother of lead actor Bill Fitzgibbon had a vintage '56 Thunderbird on hand. Fitzgibbon gave everyone a good laugh because he'd never driven the car, or had experience driving a stick shift. During some of the driving sequences, the car had to be pushed.

Fitzgibbon's leading lady turned out to be Annabelle Gracia, Angel Gracias sister. Other actors in the video were students from Marshall Cohen's drama class at Coral Gables High School.

Using a Sony CCD color video camera, a Sony 4800 ¾" portable video deck, and a camera control unit to alter contrast, Guest and Gracia went out on location for four days. They shot on the grounds of Coral Gables High School, in the cafeteria, and in the classroom. They taped exteriors in a park and by a river, and interiors at a local soda shop and inside homes. No location permits were required of the team, and the homes that appeared in the video belonged to friends and to Fitzgibbon's grandmother.

Although Guest believes there is a professor at the University of Miami who cites "True Blue" as an example to his Super-8 class, Guest wants to go on record that "True Blue" was shot on video tape. "We wanted to shoot on film, but we didn't have the money or the time to look at dailies," said Guest. "But we did follow a film philosophy, and we went out of our way to make sure the videos looked like film. We made sure we didn't keep the signal clean. Anytime we could, we added grain. This made it look more like old film," added Guest.

"The more demand you put on the video electronics, the more pronounced the grain," continued Gracia. Both men are tight-lipped about the process they used to put the final touches on the tape to make it look like film, but Guest and Gracia have given it a name. "We call the device a 'gagger,' because it 'gags' out the tape and makes it look like film," maintained Guest.

"As far as we knew, there was no way to take the color out-using the camera. But we got hold of an old ¾" deck from Florida International University, and with that, we were able to take it from color to black and white. When you lose generations on tape, it usually makes the image look bad. …

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