Holy Cow Lisa

December 21st, 2012 | by Bianca Giaever

If you’re looking for the perfect story about love and heartbreak for the holidays, we found it for you. Transom featured the work of our summer intern, Bianca Giaever, earlier this year, but when she sent us this multimedia story she just finished at her college, we decided we had to feature this one too.Bianca’s blend of image and voice and music is elegant; audio drives the story, which functions just fine without pictures, but the pictures make it sing. Her style is surprising, charming, and sophisticated. She also writes well about her process and her failures. And if you’re like us, you’ll be humming the title song for days… “Holy Cow Lisa.” Jay A

About Holy Cow Lisa

First off, I’d like to thank the radio gods for Jad Abumrad’s recent Transom post about feeling like throwing up, because that’s how I felt the entire time I was making this film. My friends, who were already concerned about my post-break-up emotional state, really thought I was losing it when I started asking them to pile cinderblocks on my chest. My process was like cooking a crazy soup; tossing in visuals and praying there would be enough to occupy all the audio.

I had 6 weeks to make this movie for my college’s film production class, and spent the first 3 of them failing at filming other ideas (a hot air balloon maker who was demanding a $1,000 deposit, just to name one). In the depths of despair, I decided to stop filming and spend a week recording as much audio as possible in search of a narrative.

I went with an idea to start recording “conversations with people I admire.” I was feeling extremely heartbroken and alone at the time, and I think deep down I wanted someone to say they knew how I felt and that it would be OK. So I had a conversation about heartbreak with Gregg Humphery, my college adviser, who you hear and see pictured in the film.

I was also inspired by Dr. Phil, Starlee Kine’s piece on This American Life that taught me these were valid emotions worth making a piece about. And by For Sale, Jay Allison’s piece on This American Life which taught me that if you share something personal about yourself with others, they’ll often share something personal back with you. As far as films go, I was really inspired by the fast paced multimedia in this short film about visual artist John Baldessari. Lastly, the music was inspired by Andy Mills’ work with the band Dogs on Tour for the way they manage to weave their songs with radio stories.

The biggest challenge in making the piece was finding a balance between the audio, visuals, music, and graphics so that they all contributed to the story harmoniously. From my experience watching other radio stories turned movies (Storycorps animations, This American Life TV show), I was aware of the major challenges that might arise:

  1. The visuals are overly literal and/or don’t contribute anything to the narrative
  2. The visuals are distracting or make the story more confusing
  3. People are imagining something better in their head from just the audio

I then tried to identify why I thought my story should be told visually:

  1. To simultaneously tell the parallel storyline of my own heartbreak
  2. To convey the abstract feeling of being heartbroken (with some humor as well)
  3. To create a style of unexpected, super vibrant visuals (glitter!)

I liked being playfully literal (the images of cows, the song repeating the words “holy cow lisa”), but I was aware that this would become tiresome very quickly. It was a delicate balance. I was also lucky that Gregg was willing to participate in a couple of long, tedious film shoots. Compared to doing a radio story, this can be a lot to ask of someone. During our film shoot I tried to collect as much footage of Gregg as possible and decided on where it fit best in the story after the fact. I didn’t end up using about 2/3 of it, selecting only the shots that I thought added depth to the audio. For example, I took the tracking shot of him in his dining room with an idea that it would fit well with a slow and reflective portion of the audio. Through trial and error in editing I found that it worked the best with the audio of him reflecting on the meaning of life’s disappointments.

During the editing process I learned to stop asking for feedback because it was all very conflicting and I was forced to really trust my instincts. Since I didn’t have any footage of me and Gregg talking (which would have been pretty boring anyway) the one major difficulty I faced was establishing our relationship and who we were as characters. I tried to do this by beginning with just audio of him talking directly to me and then showing him for the first time when he started to talk about himself, but it’s a problem I’m still struggling with.

Technical Details

For those interested, I edited this in Adobe Premiere on a PC and used Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator for the “graphics” (which were mostly just words). All the fonts were either on the computer or downloaded from dafont.com. The effects were video effects that Premiere offers. I mostly used positioning and scaling to change the size of images and move them around. The one more complicated effect is in the credits’ sequence when Ian steps to the side and the words “Design by Ian Stewart” appear. I had to go through each of those 12 frames and erase his name where his body would be blocking it.

If you like the music you hear, you can find more from the bands here:


Request for Other Work

If you have any thoughts on this, or know of any work that qualifies as similar “multimedia art” or radio stories with visuals, please contribute to the conversation and post it!

photo of Bianca Giaever

Bianca Giaever

About Bianca Giaever

Bianca Giaever is a senior at Middlebury College, graduating in February 2013 and planning to work in radio. She spent this past summer interning at Atlantic Public Media, where she developed a passion for making and listening to Sonic IDs. She also enjoys producing pieces for Vermont Public Radio, experimenting with audio slideshows, animation, and short films, and organizing the Middlebury Moth-UP. Her radio piece, Forgiveness, premiered on Transom this past fall.

35 Comments on “Holy Cow Lisa”

  • vsimmonds says:

    This is wonderful Bianca! Really inspiring. And all the more so that it was done on a PC! Keep making and sharing please!

    • Bianca Giaever says:

      Haha yes, the PC is the kicker! I actually loved working in Premiere, and from what I’ve heard it’s much better than the latest version of Final Cut.

  • This is a wonderful piece! Well Done. Keep going. Never give up!!

    Nubar Alexanian

  • Audrey Quinn says:

    Holy cow Bianca! I’ll be looking to this for inspiration for all my films moving forward. Pairing appropriate images with audio narratives is tough, and you nailed it.

  • Evan Roberts says:

    I love this! Let’s make movies! If you visit Austin, I’ll buy you lunch.


  • reglof says:

    Wonderful. Thanks for letting it all breathe

  • Jad Abumrad says:

    Bianca, this is really sweet. and quietly moving. I love that you chose to examine your own heartbreak by paying such close to attention to Greg’s. And he’s wonderful. And very clever but understated use of visuals!

    • Bianca Giaever says:

      Thank you Jad, I’m glad you liked it. The process really was like wandering through a dark forest, and I returned to that image of yours many times while making this. So thanks (again) for all that you do to encourage risk taking and discomfort!

  • Viki Merrick says:

    Lookit what you made out of one of the big disappointments!!! Images and phrases of this piece keep reappearing in my mind ( or my heart’s mind) and in my ear which is testimony to the powerful revealing of the deeper story that you told without, er, telling it. I’m glad you suffered with the tricky balance of the all elements – it really pays off.

    I loved the fact that we never see Gregg talking, it has the surprising effect of making your quiet voice/story very succinct – (he’s a great megaphone) – and yet you say it’s a problem you are still struggling with. Can you say more about that?

    • Bianca Giaever says:

      Thank you Viki! I also like that you never see Gregg talking. I said it’s a problem I’m still struggling with because there were a couple people (my grandmother, my next door neighbor…) who told me they weren’t completely sure that the voice they heard belonged to the man in the video. Even though I think most people got it, it’s pretty important that people make that connection. So if a few people were left behind that’s a problem I would ideally like to fix. That feedback also came from people of an older generation, so it could just be a matter of adjusting to a newer style of quick cuts and abstract visuals.

      • Michael Cohen says:

        I am nearly 70 and I got it. So I don’t think that’s it. Some people just have to see lips moving to make that sort of connection. I am impressed and think you did a fine job.

      • David Nollman says:

        I’m 65 and like Michael Cohen who is 70 I got it too (and absolutely loved it). I understand your struggle and, if you want to fix it, that’s ok but you might also consider that what you consider to be a liability might really be an asset. The piece evokes emotions and reflections with which anyone, young people like you and older folks like Michael and me, have felt and experienced. That you or I or anyone watching and listening can’t pin the voice to Gregg actually gives emphasis to the message that really counts, that the voice, the one that gives the piece its real impact, is, by the empathy it inspires, — mine! or, by extension, that of any person, young or old, who experiences it. To me, the joy of this piece is that it touches and moves all of us, young or old, who have ever heard the words “I don’t love you anymore”.

  • Mark says:

    Great film! What camera did you shoot this on?
    Mark in Oz

  • Eric Drachman says:

    This is so sweet and touching, simple and complex, Bianca. I guess it takes a struggle to produce something so understated and self-assured. Congratulations.

  • Bianca Giaever says:

    Hey Mark! I shot it on a Sony FS100 – a GREAT camera that I borrowed from my college. I will be sad to graduate and leave it…

  • congrats to Bianca- Holy Cow Lisa is now a Vimeo Staff Pick:

  • aridanielshapiro says:

    This was just wonderful!! I LOVED watching it! Thanks for the treat.

  • lizwason says:

    This is awesome, and it’s beautifully shot.

  • Jay Allison says:

    If you liked the music in this piece, and why wouldn’t you, you should visit Kickstarter to help fund the first album of the group, Alpenglow: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alpenglow/alpenglows-debut-album

  • Sarah Kate Kramer says:

    Trusting your instincts worked because you have great instincts! I really loved this. It’s really difficult to make a narrative out of an emotional state, but you succeeded.

    And ay yay yay…Cinderblocks on your chest…let’s just hope Gregg is right and it only happens once!

  • François says:

    Hi Bianca,
    Would you have a french version (subtitles) ? We are organizing a festival near Paris, in France, are were be pleased to present this film.
    I let you some informations of the Festival:
    La première édition du festival de film Des à-Côtés, se tiendra à LYONS LA FORET, du 16 au 20 mai 2013

    Le festival est ouvert au court métrage, moyen métrage de fiction ou de documentaire, au film d’animation et au film expérimental, aux productions insolites et autres films bruts.
    Si vous souhaitez participer, merci d’envoyer un DVD de votre réalisation accompagné de vos coordonnées, adresse mail et adresse postale.
    La participation implique d’adhérer à l’association le festival des A côtés. Si votre fest sélectionné une demande d’adhésion vous sera envoyée.
    Contact : Festival des A côtés – 3, route des maisons blanches 27480 Lyons la Forêt
    Mail : festivaldesacotes@yahoo.fr

  • If you enjoyed this film, definitely check out my new one that I’ve just finished: https://vimeo.com/58659769


    • NeephPress says:

      They’re both great Bianca. Tender, playful, funny and inventive. Can you say anything about your process for coming up with a way to structure and shape your audio and visuals. (Do you do a lot of storyboarding?) Do you start with the audio? (PS: My two cents…I love that you never see Gregg talking. Somehow it adds a kind of intimacy, as if we’re hearing in, rather than being talked at…)

      • Thank you, and that’s very well put about feeling lie we’re hearing in. I love that. To answer your question, I did start with getting my audio pretty much how I wanted it, and then I storyboarded out the visuals to accompany the audio.

  • Dave Ash says:

    Very well done, Bianca. Excellent blending of music, image, and video. From one filmmaker to another, you have a very bright future.

  • Debra says:

    Bianca, Thank you. I really appreciate what you made. Your piece took me back to the greatest heartbreak of my life, but didn’t leave me there.

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