I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

How to Mash: An Interview with Mr. Scradam

by Tom Winkelspecht
July 31, 2013

Mr. Scradam is a multi-media artist whose pieces combine music, visual effects manipulation, and old fashioned video-splicing. He’s done everything from live performances to his current project, a free form art film. Mr. Scradam was kind enough to sit down and talk to us about his work.

Namag: So, how did you get started with your videos? Where is all this coming from?

Mr. Scradam: I’ve been told by my parents that as a kid I used to watch our VHS tapes of certain movies back-to-back, especially Ghostbusters (1984). When I was old enough to use the VCR by myself I would watch it through the credits, rewind it, and watch it again. I used to set up my own movie marathons for myself when I was probably six or seven years old. I had a capture card for my computer and started editing weird videos when I was in 7th grade, which would have been 1997 or 1998.

NAMag: What all needs to be done to assemble and produce one of your videos? What’s the basic process?

Mr. Scradam: For the music video mash-ups, I started with the songs, which each took a lot of effort to edit and time correctly. John Carpenter vs. NYC featured a lot of original beat work layered over the John Carpenter instrumentals, which were topped off by some of my favorite vocalists from the 90s hardcore rap scene in New York City. The last track I put together was actually John Carpenter’s band, The Coup de Villes, performing Big Trouble in Little China, which was used as a promotional tool for the movie back in 1986. “Got Your Money” by ODB seemed to work oddly well with that track. I realized each song had its own music video. So it was an easy leap for me to go from mashing up the songs to mashing up their videos. I actually downloaded each of them from YouTube and matched them in Premiere, adding some custom compositing in After Effects. I hadn’t anticipated how crazy it would turn out with both of the original music videos already including footage spliced out of movies. Big Trouble in Little China features the band and shots from the movie. Got Your Money features ODB in a club and scenes from Dolemite movies. It was confusing to edit and I’m pretty sure it’s confusing to watch at times.

NAMag: In addition to stand-alones and music videos, you also do connected video series like Dawn of the Android and your ongoing Attack of the Mutagenic Alien Polymorphs. How is creating an abstract narrative from decontextualized media more challenging?

Mr. Scradam: Thanks for asking about those, I really enjoy making them. I like to call it the Dawn of the Android series, with additional segments that will get made eventually. I already have the story in mind for the sequel to Attack of the Mutagenic Alien Polymorphs, and then a basic concept of where it will end up after that. Part of my goal has been to impose a narrative on recycled footage from movies that inspire me. Post-production is my passion, but I still get the urge to write my own stories to share with people. It would have been really hard to know which direction to take the series if it didn’t start from the music, though. The themes and mood of each chapter are largely inspired by The TV People songs. I had a general post apocalypse story in mind featuring the coming android revolution, but the songs really brought the story to life for me. The series has given me an amazing opportunity to experiment with visual story-telling, and I always knew I wanted to keep that alive. I thought up the entire plot arch of Attack of the Mutagenic Alien Polymorphs when I was only half finished with Dawn of the Android. Knowing when to stop planning and to start editing is a major challenge for me. I tend to assemble gigantic sums of footage for each of these projects then end up using only a fraction. I can be more direct in my decision making process for other stand-alone videos, to the point where it becomes more of a technical exercise than an expression of what my personal aesthetic actually is.

NAMag: It’s fairly obvious that pop culture is an important part of your work. What makes stuff like old video games, monster movies and stock footage so useful to you?

Mr. Scradam: Growing up in a California suburb I was exposed to an interesting mix of high pressure advertisement and easy access to radical crap. I remember having Nerf guns, Micro Machines, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers action figures. I still love the “Crossfire” jingle from when I was a kid. You’ll get caught up in the… CROSSFIRE! Cable was new and big and we had it, so I got to watch all sorts of bizarre movies and low budget cable TV programming. And the video games were hot back in the day. We didn’t discriminate between Sega and Super Nintendo, we had both. When Sega CD came out we got that too. I spent my childhood consuming that stuff. Sports weren’t really my thing. I wanted to be an artist at an early age, and those were the influences I immediately started pulling from. I wrote fan fiction and parody lyrics to pop songs (I loved Weird Al). I guess I’ve never grown out of it. Another early formative experience was my brother Max Capacity and I making Analog Medium, which started back in 2003 (I think). We basically intellectualized an approach to making and consuming art that persists in both of our work to this day. It started with looking at the cross section of analog and digital platforms: films that have been digitized, broadcasts that have been recorded, games that have been photographed, etc.

NAMag: It seems like there is a large population on the internet who see video art or mashups or gifs as maybe not as artistic or creative as other, more traditional media. How would you respond to that?

Mr. Scradam: Each new medium that comes out has to endure the same criticism. I used to think motion pictures were pretty much the most highly evolved medium of artistic expression. A grand collaboration of arts, crafts, and technology (not to mention financing) that wouldn’t be possible without the advancements that came before. Now I think different forms of internet art are at the forefront of how art in general is evolving. When art historians look back at the broad trends happening today, I doubt they will spend much time concentrating on our oil paintings and operas. Know what I mean?

NAMag: Do you feel the [video mash-up/video artist] artistic community has grown/is growing since you first started experimenting?

Mr. Scradam: More than ever I see communities on the internet full of users who support each other’s work and their love for experimental video. There are millions of flavors of video on the internet, but people with similar tastes tend to gravitate toward each other. YouTube has made a lot of improvements to the social media aspects of the site, but I especially enjoy Tumblr. I started fairly slow, gaining momentum over the three years I’ve been using the site. The ease of sharing other people’s work really allows people to curate their blogs to fit their own tastes, and their homepages can really end up being an insightful look into that person’s identity and interests. I was glad to see a lot of Tumblr users were already interested in the same art I enjoy, so I never really had to adjust my approach to fit in.

NAMag: You do live performances, too, right? How do you approach putting together material for that?

Mr. Scradam: I haven’t performed for a while, but I really have been meaning to, I swear. I’ve used a few different programs to project visuals on the fly while connected to video projectors in music venue settings, and I always have fun doing it. I approach it similarly to how a DJ might approach mixing. I prepare a range of material to use, knowing I probably won’t get to all of it. I also really don’t want to run out of stuff before the show is over. I know the basics of what I want to do, which visuals and effects I want to use and how to trigger them and tweak them live, but then I just wing it after that. I also try to do something original for the hardware set-up in each case. For example, for Project-Ionin San Francisco, I had my computer receiving a line from the audio mixer, allowing me to automatically synch certain aspects of the visuals to the live band performing music. Sprites would jump up and down the screen responding to the band leader’s voice and other fun stuff like that.

NAMag: What does the future hold for Mr. Scradam?

Mr. Scradam: I’m working on more mash-up music videos which will be compiled into a special edition DVD for Kool Keith vs. Goblin and Friends. I just started a new mash-up mix called The Quatermass Files. There will be more videos in the Dawn of the Android series eventually, and more songs coming out of The TV People. But first and foremost, I have a pet project that I want to plug hard. TBD: The Movie is my attempt to assemble a team of internet savvy artists and collaborators who will work together to create an original motion picture. The movie will be entirely crowd-sourced and crowd-funded. There’s an Indiegogo campaign running right now. We’re trying to raise $1,500 for pre-production development costs, which would cover the creation of a script, advertising, and pre-production planning. We already have a lot of great stuff posted on tbd-movie.tumblr.com, including surveys, story submissions, and original artwork. It’s a great way to lend your voice to a truly collaborative art project, and there are a lot of ways to get involved, even if you can’t spare the money to help get it funded. All submissions will be considered. Come check us out!

Tom Winkelspecht lives in New Jersey. He is currently in a creative writing graduate program.  The rest of his time is spent between watching movies, plotting his return to Chicago, and writing. He can be found in the usual places: Tumblr and Twitter.