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Open Video in Practice

How a remix was made–and how it could have been easier.
August 18, 2009

In June, after six months of editing, a New York video artist named Jonathan McIntosh finally released his opus: a six-minute video depicting an ill-fated relationship between lead characters of two unconnected TV shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight.

Monster mashup: A New York video artist relied on fan-created text transcripts of dialogue to help create a video-remix relationship between characters played by Robert Pattinson and Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Key to this effort, ­McIntosh says, was finding clips with the right bits of dialogue, so he could figure out how to convincingly interweave them. To do this, he conducted Google text searches of websites, such as twiztv.com, that carry fan-­transcribed dialogue. But finding the spots on the videos where the dialogue appeared remained a laborious manual process.

Open video standards could change all that. “My using Google searches on fan transcript websites is just the tip of the iceberg of what would be possible for finding video clips to use,” he says. “I could imagine a set of people out on the Web picking through shows like Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly, and building a searchable database of clips where they said various things.” Searches for words and dialogue would lead you to the actual video clips containing the dialogue, not just text transcripts; you could then lift these video clips out and patch them together with ease, as if they were text. Over time, websites could arise containing finely honed video-clip archives of statements made by politicians, TV pundits, and pop stars. Other archives might contain thematically or temporally related video clips. This would have saved McIntosh the work of finding clips himself from hours of video.

But as it was, McIntosh’s video editing was a long slog. His downloads (using a popular file-­sharing application) arrived in a format called .AVI. To make this work more smoothly with his editing software–FinalCut Pro, which costs about $1,000–he converted the raw footage into .MOV using free software called MPEG Streamclip. At the end of the process, he had to compress the finished work–using a type of compression called H246, among others–so that he could upload it to various websites. “I’ve gotten good at knowing which video software to use, and how, but it took me quite some time,” he says. “With open standards, this would become a whole lot easier for casual Internet users.”

McIntosh later posted English-­language subtitles for his finished work on ­dotsub.com, whereupon fans around the world eagerly wrote translations–21 in all, most recently Swedish. The video has been watched many millions of times.

­McIntosh’s video remix occupies a gray area of copyright law, but no media company has attempted to take it down. Arguably, he’s given the vampire franchises a better shot at eternal life–in DVD rentals and sales.

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