Nexus

Nexus Productions was a small editing facility that opened circa 1977. It was historically important and yet I see next to nothing about it on the web.  In my own small way I’d like to fill that gap a little with this blog entry.

I started free-lancing there as a CMX editor in 1981. (CMX was the brand name for the industry standard computer editing system that dominated the late 70’s and 80’s.)  It may seem extraordinary now but entrusting a high-end editing room to a free-lancer then was unheard of.  Alfred (Al) Muller gave me my big break at a freelance editor.  I’ll return to the novelty of freelance editing a little later.

As I understand it, principals Al Muller and Girish Bhargava were staff editors at Editel. (Editel was effectively a ‘finishing school for NY’s top editor who went off to start their own facilities.)  Editel was considered the biggest and possible the best video facility in New York City in the 70’s & 80’s.  Sadly for me it was about the only facility I did not freelance at (during the 1980s).

Girish was a very popular creative *editor* – a ‘cutter’ not a button-pusher.  This when film editors often looked down their noses at video editors as just that.  Girish had a following especially with WNET performing arts producers.

At some point in the 70s computer off-line editing evolved using the same CMX computer used in the big on-line rooms with the hi-fidelity  2″ or 1″ tape machines.  The off-line room would use u-Matic aka 3/4 machines with lower-rez vizcode copies of the original tapes.  Off-line rooms were common in LA (the long-from capital) but much less so in NYC.  I believe Al & Girish built a business based on Girish, doing the off-line cut and Al ‘conforming’ it in a 1″ on-line room.

Doing an off-line edit was all about keeping a record or a ‘list’ aka EDL (edit decision list).  Nexus was one of the few places in NYC experienced with specialized list management software (including ‘trace software).

Between just having one on-line room and the homey, unintimidating vibe, Nexus was considered a ’boutique.’  You have to remember that most facilities then looked like the interiors of submarine and were rarely located in regular office buildings for a variety of reasons.

By the time I started working at Nexus they had a third  edit room, an “inter-format” room, see below.

Inter-format editing was a step on the way to YouTube, ie. video as a commonplace.  The first phase of that process was the porta-pak and the TBC.  Together they resulted in the possibility of inexpensively shooting video for broadcast. The next phase came with U-matic decks that could be controlled via time-code that allowed editing directly from the camera-originals to a hi-fidelity format like 1″.  The inter-format room above was a fine example, though the heavy-duty U-matic decks are just out of view. In the hands of a pro, few would ever know a inexpensive small format was used.  This was another important step in the ‘democratization of television’ or the the video version of “freedom of the press for those who can afford the printing press.”

Finally there is the community dimension or maybe I should say “market niche.”  Though Nexus had many regular mainstream clients, its signature was a stable of PBS, cultural and indie producers… this would include video-artists.  This ad is a wonderful snapshot of that time and place.

I list here some names I recognized that pop-out for me.  It reflects the mix of categories described above. Merrill Brockway, Andy Warhol, Hal Tulchin, Jack Morton, Elizabeth Swados, Jeff Schon, Bill Viola, Marlen Hecht, Bill Boggs, Ken Lorber, John Godfrey, Chuck Liotta, Charles Libin, Don Monroe, Juan Downey, Mike Smith, Emile Ardolino, Steve Lawrence, Jay Dubin, Meredith Monk.

I ran into Al Muller at ABC where he was working shortly before he died.  I’ll end here with a link to his obit.

MULLER, ALFRED – Alfred Muller was born in the small town of Templin, Germany on February 14, 1940

*

Posted in Off-line Tape Editing (Linear Days), Uncategorized, Video Art | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Deluxe off-line tape editing room.

Back in the days of tape editing (pre-1990 for most East Coast folks) this  was a state of the art off-line editing room.

It was in a facility called Post Perfect in the (then) Daily News building on E. 42nd St.  The year was 1988 and the project was Encyclopedia, a HBO series created by the Children’s Television Workshop. I was the Senior Editor on that series, which was a lot of fun.  It was edu-tainment program that used SNL type sketches to teach things to adolescents. The cast of players was great and Hal Wilner was the music director.

To have a big suite (room) like this was pretty luxurious then, but today’s standards is was huge.  The tech aspect most worth remarking on was the trace software that came bundled with the Grass Valley editing system. Grass Valley (GV) and Sony both modeled their (tape) editing systems on what was then the industry standard, CMX.  I think GV had an edge thanks to this trace software… which I will now explain.

Before non-linear editing caught on, editing was all about copying from a ‘play’ deck to a ‘record’ deck using the 3/4″ U-matic format.  If you had to revise your “first cut” you’d copy it to the point where changes had to be made, make the changes, then copy the balance.  Using a computerized log the editing system kept of timecode values (assisted/confirmed for humans by visual timecode) this was called an EDL or Edit Decision List was kept for each sequence.  Note the computer was *not* a personal computer and ran only this software in an edit setting.

Once you had copied the edit so many times (to make say… version 7) the trace software could trace back to a the original timecodes to derive what should be a perfect record of the edit, (that had now been copied many times).  The next step was do do an on-line conform with the master tapes (then 1″ reel-to-reel) using this clean & traced list to automate the process.

The skill set for off-line editor doing the creative editing and keeping a good record was called “list management.”  It was pretty arcane.  In the early 80s the only place I remember that routinely used trace software was Nexus.  I hope write about this historic, innovative facility another time.

Posted in Off-line Tape Editing (Linear Days) | Tagged | Leave a comment

Early Long-form on the Avid

As Wiki would say “this article is a stub”  I want to link to background material on other sites and not clutter the main article, so this is a test.

After about six months helping Avid launch Media Composer in NYC, I went to work for UK based Directors International who were starting up a NY office to produce a documentary series on Muhammad Ali.  It was my job to set-up three Avid systems and train the staff of (film) editors and assistants to migrate their skills into this brave new world.  Before 1990, the Avid system was in ‘beta.’  To my knowledge this was the first integrated deployment of 3 Avid systems (later 4) working on the same long-form project.

There we many ‘firsts’ – among them, this was my first non-editing job. For a year from Spring 1990 to 1991 I was training, coordinating and general admin of the Avid systems and staff.  It was hard and exhilarating, because every day was filled with firsts.  I/we were inventing it as we went.

Before I start this story in earnest, I’d like to back up and talk about video and the Mac.  The Avid Media Composer was the most ambitious and sophistocated system, but not the first to attempt post-production work on a Macintosh.  I was first exposed to this wave of products at a MacWorld Expo in Jan. 89.  I have to confirm it but i’m pretty sure these systems were being demo’d at that San Francisco show.

click this thumbnail to see some early Mac/video spec sheets

Posted in Early Avid (Mac based non-linear editing) | 2 Comments

Before the Web, It Was Public-Access

I love the way this article draws parallels between cable Public Access of the 70s & 80s with the web and YouTube, it’s true!  Featured here is artist Jaime Davidovich who I work with in the 70s.  He was a lot of fun and a real pioneer. Great to see this little known chapter of tech & culture history get some ink.

 

Before the Web, It Was Public-Access

 

Posted in Manhattan Cable, Public Access | Leave a comment

Early Video of the Talking Heads

I was a founding member of a video group – Metropolis Video – that was among the first to shoot at CBGBs (1975). We were friends & colleagues working at Manhattan Cable Public Access. What made our effort special was 3 camera coverage, lights and board sound. Here is a sample.

This clip appears on a retrospective compilation for the Talking Heads call “Chronology.” Metropolis Video licensed these 1975 videos for this project, other MV nuggets include Blondie and Heartbreakers videos with Richard Hell.  (Note we only license as film-makers, interested parties must secure all other clearances.)

http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2011/12/13/143581537/first-watch-talking-heads-chronology

Posted in Public Access | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Editing area used by Synapse

This is where editing took place for the Synapse Visiting Artists Program.  This was the corner in the Master Control Room of the TV studio at the S. I. Newhouse School of Communications at SU.  The people at Newhouse took a dim view of the video freak rebels who made up Synapse (my tribe).  So you can imagine what a coup it was when Synapse got the grant money that could pay the School for access to make art with visiting artists.  The actual hands-on was still controlled by the engineering staff but the lunatics controlled the asylum 😉

To the right on the counter I see the lower-format machines like the the 1/2″ reel-to-reel and 3/4″ U-Matic decks that would have been the format that the indie folk shot on.  Editing was done on the big broadcast machines – using 2″ tape on the Ampex 1200s.  On the rack to the left would have been the all important CVS Digital Time Base Corrector.  This box changed the whole game (circa early 70s) and made it possible for indies to shoot and make video that could air on television.  The lower budget Sony machines had mechanisms that were too shaky to deliver the precise broadcast (timebase) spec.  So the TBC magically took the shaky signal and usually could made it rock solid, ready to air.  The first people I remember pioneering this path to television were TVTV (aka Top Value Television).

Posted in Synapse, Visiting Artists | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Synapse Visiting Artists Program brochure

In talking about the Synapse Visiting Artists Program at Syracuse University, I’m aware there is not a lot on the web about it* – so I’ll try to fill in some here.  I was involved with the program from 1974-76, on staff for 75/6.  If WNET’s TV Lab was Hertz, I suppose we were Avis.  Both organizations were funded by the New York State Council on the Arts.  NYSCA was kind of the Mother of Video Art in the 70’s. I hope my colleagues and mentors from Synapse post a list of the artists that participated, because it was prolific.  Here is a portion of a brochure, though after my time there gives the gist of what it was about.  It mentions CMX editing, whereas in my time there it was strictly the more primitive Editec.

*Notable exceptions c/o experimentaltvcenter.org and http://www.vasulka.org

 

Posted in Visiting Artists | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment