Intro from Jay Allison: 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.”
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:
- The visuals are overly literal and/or don’t contribute anything to the narrative
- The visuals are distracting or make the story more confusing
- 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:
- To simultaneously tell the parallel storyline of my own heartbreak
- To convey the abstract feeling of being heartbroken (with some humor as well)
- 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.
Transom knows from struggling.
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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!