Video Streaming Services and Design (A Comparison of The Criterion Channel and Mubi)

A rant that becomes a comparison of how The Criterion Channel and Mubi designed their services.

This is an odd thing for me to write. Anyone who knows me would be quick to point out that I am not a design person. In any way, shape or form. I am someone who will complain, at great lengths, about poorly designed things. I may, in fits of desperation, blurt out my thoughts on how to improve something that is terribly designed. Despite this, in my heart of hearts, I am not someone who knows much about or is capable of sharing in an insightful manner about design.

Which is why I have chosen today to write about video streaming services and how they are designed. First and foremost a revelation I had of late – I have been lumping all streaming services into the same category. Which is to say that when I think of Netflix I regard them in the same manner as I regard The Criterion Channel, Disney Plus, and Peacock TV. Which is completely wrong.

One of many titles that have disappeared from HBO Max (and broken my heart)

Let us address one streaming service first: HBO Max. My frustration with HBO Max over the past two months has stemmed from me being positively baffled as to 1) why so many shows and films are disappearing from their service and 2) why they have so little new content I want to watch. If you think of HBO Max as being the same kind of entity as Netflix, a streaming service which creates new films and television shows (and apparently games) as well as hosting films and shows they did not make then what HBO Max has been doing is bizarre. Yet if you think of HBO Max as a different iteration of the HBO channel then what they are doing gets downgraded to weird.

For the longest time I have wondered why so many films made by Warner Brothers are not on HBO Max. That is because I assumed, incorrectly, that the good people at HBO would be trying to gather all of their properties (since they are owned by Warner Brothers) to their streaming service. Instead they seem to be following the HBO model of getting new films and shows onto their service for a limited amount of time and expecting subscribers to watch what is offered and be happy about it. The creation of films and shows for their service seems to operate independently of the content available on the service.

I belabor this point because it is easy to mistake HBO Max as being a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu because they do not offer purchases/rentals through their service and because they make original content. Part of this is a design problem and part of this is a streaming service problem. I don’t claim to have the capacity to fix either but today I would like to make an example out of two services in the hope that this might lead to overall changes to streaming services and, potentially, benefit the rest of us.

The two services in question are Mubi and The Criterion Channel. To begin, since The Criterion Collection has been available to stream I have been using services that allow one to do so. First they were on Netflix, then Hulu then FilmStruck and for the past three years there has been The Criterion Channel. Other than FilmStruck I have used/belonged to these services when The Criterion Collection has been available to stream.

In that time I believe I have watched a handful of films. Part of the reason for the lack of watching is and has been the terrible design displaying their offerings. Netflix has always been lackluster in presenting the movies and shows on their site. Between the ever changing poster images, buried subcategories and the carousel main view, finding what they offer has never been easy. The Criterion Collection had it’s own menu when it was on the site but the offerings were small and changed on a regular basis. I am not sure if I watched anything while Netflix had it.

The same was true with Hulu whose design was only slightly better because at the time they had a Staff Picks section which often showcased excellent films the service offered that were buried deep in their catalogue. Which I believe is why when FilmStruck launched I never subscribed to the service (despite having a subscription to nearly everything else and hearing wonderful things about FilmStruck).

For some reason when I heard that they were launching The Criterion Channel I believed I would love the service. I signed up before it launched, was given this weird thing and have been a subscriber, despite watching almost nothing, ever since.

In some ways it feels a bit like Patton Oswalt’s bit regarding giving money to NPR. You do it because you believe in the work and you appreciate the service but dear God don’t make me listen to it.

But rather then run them down unfairly I would like to provide some evidence to what I would like to call “The Design Problem of The Criterion Channel”.

First and I don’t know how to explain it, the design is pretentious. The moment I open the app or go to the site I am bothered by the look and design of everything. The black and white (I see the grey as well) color scheme just shouts “We are important!” and makes me want to go elsewhere. At the time of this writing this is the splash page when you visit from your computer.

I’d like to point out that the image itself changes depending on whether or not your browser is full screen. The above image is full screen, you can see only Michelle Yeoh’s eyes are visible. Whereas,

This is what you get if your browser is not full screen.

So the site is incorrectly formatted (at least for with Firefox and Safari). There are four menus at the top which are unhelpful. You can Browse, Search go to All Films or, bizarrely leave this site to visit Now as someone who likes language and uses many streaming services (listed in no particular order here: Netflix, Amazon, The Criterion Channel, Mubi, Hulu, Disney+, The Roku Channel, Plex TV, Kanopy, Hoopla, HBO Max, PBS and Apple TV) I cannot say with confidence what the difference between the Search menu and the Browse menu are. Let’s find out.

Clicking on Browse takes you to their main page, which resembles the app. Here you have the carousel view of their content with the main large image at the top of the screen. As of today it looks like this –

This is a screen recording of what it is like to scroll down through this page (recorded last month when I started writing this, be kind to me) –

I don’t share this for the sake of overkill, if I am going to criticize I’d like to do it correctly and be fair. This is a ton of information. They have so much on this site and it is organized in many different ways. The problem, I find, is that it is too much. I find that when I want to watch something I need to have it already found and in my list before I get to the site, otherwise I end up scrolling, clicking and looking for an hour. At which point I’ve either run out of time to watch something or I no longer have a sense of what I’d like to watch.

It is also interesting to note that the header, with the menu options, does not follow you as you scroll through their offerings. Meaning if you decided you’d rather search than browse, you have to scroll all the way to top to do so. It’s not a big deal but it’s poor design.

Clicking on the Search menu brings up a search bar. Using this leads to interesting results. This morning I was curious which films they had from the director Park Chan-wook. When I searched using the app on my television I had quite a few results, many having nothing directly to do with the director. Searching now on the website I get these results –

My final comments regarding this site/app would be the All Films menu. When you click on it you get the following page –

Personally I love this. To be able to sort and filter the entire catalogue in this manner is appealing. Their filter options are great as they allow you to sort by genres, decades, countries and directors. I think those are interesting and unique filtering parameters. The sort option lets you do so by title, director, year and country. Again, I like this, it’s different and allows you to get creative with what you watch. I certainly have bouts where I want to watch films from a particular country or time period. The thing I would note here, which is not a design issue, is the total number of films.

I recognize that what they offer changes on a monthly basis and that there are strange and mysterious reasons as to why certain films can be shown at certain times – but 2,849 is a small selection. Part of my frustration with this site and all streaming services in particular is the limited selection of films and shows. I’d rather see services merging (or sharing with one another or creating some new entity) in order to have more offerings than this current situation where I have 14 services and often (very often) cannot stream what I wish to because it is not available. Today that happened with I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (and yesterday it was Oldboy and so on…).

I am relatively new to Mubi. I joined their service two months ago so I am seeing them with fresh eyes. Why did I join them? Because they had a holiday special of getting three months of service for $1 a month. I could not resist and I am glad I didn’t.

As of this writing this is what the homepage (and app) looks like. First and foremost – look at the color. Look at the titles (and text). Instead of trying to impress me with a splash page telling me the site is a ‘Movie Lover’s Dream’ their main image is of their Film of The Day. I love that feature.

I love that the search bar is built into the top of the screen and they highlight the current tab I am using. The tab next to Now Showing is their Watchlist (List) which is great to have available at the top of the screen. Their version of (minus the selling of DVDs and Blu-rays) is Notebook which has plenty of great written content for those of us who also like to read about film. Mubi Go, which is a separate membership, is their weekly service that allows you to go and see a film in theaters. Your account icon is by default Totoro (points for this) and then a drop down menu with numerous other options.

To say I prefer this design and interface is an understatement. They’ve managed to make it welcoming, packed full of useful (and familiar) features, but also convey that this is a place to watch movies. If you look at the screen recording below you will see that what they do with their site is similar to The Criterion Channel (many different categories, the carousel display). To me, because of how it is designed and interacts with the mouse, I find it helpful and not overwhelming.

When I scroll over a film in my Watchlist is shows a check mark to convey this information. Titles that will be leaving the site soon have a banner on their image which informs me of this. Comparing the two main pages what I see is that Mubi has considerably larger images, which I find pleasing and appropriate for a film site. I would like to note that their header also does not follow when you scroll which is disappointing. As you can see from the screen recording the site goes on for a ways and having the header follow you would be a welcome feature.

I’d like to conclude with a comparison of how the two services handle the presentation of the same film. I give you: Lady Vengeance.

Right away I feel my point is made. The Criterion Channel has so much unused, negative space. The entire right bottom corner is empty. The Criterion Channel has a poster for the film and then their own little display they do for films. This feels unnecessary and redundant. My eye is drawn to the grey bars in the middle of the screen which are the least important pieces of information being.

When you look at Mubi, the image dominates the page. The faces are clearly seen and yet all of the information concerning the film is there and easy to read. The screen has the playhead in the middle to indicate how easily you can watch the film but it is small and tasteful, not obscuring the image.

Among the things I think Mubi does better (or I just appreciate) – they offer the title of the film in its original language. Both sites are in English because that’s what I speak, but this feels respectful. I also like that in addition to the synopsis they have the “Our Take” for their films. I have found that I no longer bother reading the synopsis because I want to hear what this person has to say about this film. This is the personal, human touch I long for when it comes to film recommendations.

I’ve done a final screen recording to try and convey the differences.

As you can see with The Criterion Channel the image I captured is all of the information they provide for the film. For many films they have supplemental videos that they include at the bottom of the page. The Criterion channel has an astounding number of “extras” for their films but due to how the site is designed you may miss many of them without knowing. I have had two versions of the same film in My List not realizing that one link is for the movie and the other is for their collection concerning the film. This would be easy to fix.

With Mubi they show you the collections the film belongs to, the awards the films have won and the director and cast pictures which you can then click on to see more about. They embed the trailer on the page (despite having a link to it above) they have articles from their Notebook section and reviews about the film on the page that you can read in their entirety. After which they have reviews from other people who subscribe to Mubi and they conclude with Related Films.

I find this so pleasing and helpful and vastly superior to how The Criterion Channel has designed their site. It feels unfair to make comments about their offerings because I know they have just as many as Mubi. Unfortunately they have not showcased them in a user-friendly manner like Mubi and I think this is why I use their site so little.

Thank you for joining me on this strange deep-dive into the websites of Mubi and The Criterion Channel. I’m not entirely sure how this happened but I am glad it did.

A Rant About Finding Movies

A rant about streaming, options, design and wanting to hold things in my hand.

The year is 2003. The place, Austin, Texas. My wife and I have been living here for several months and in that time have joined numerous video stores. We started with Blockbuster and Hollywood video, which are close to our home. Stopping in what I thought think is a record store I find another location, still quite close to home, that has a more diverse selection of movies. Soon I discover I cannot find films I want, so I continue outward, always searching.

This leads me to eventually join ten video stores in Austin. I soon discover the strengths of the locations. The video store on Sixth street has an incredible selection of foreign films. Vulcan Video has the best selection of television shows. There is a location on 35th street that is fun to go to and I never figure out what it offers that sets it apart. The central library has a great selection of movies as well.

Which is why when discussing the film, Leonard Part 6, I did not think it would be difficult to rent the film and show it to my wife. I am intelligent, for once, in attempting to track down this film and I call the video stores to see if it is in stock. After I exhaust the places I have a membership to I take out the phone book, flip through the yellow pages and call everyone else. Soon Austin is exhausted and nearly am I. But I persevere. Somehow a place in Hutto, Texas, has a copy.

The man on the phone is confused by my request. He pronounces Leonard as ‘Leo-nard’. I ask him if he can physically check to make sure the VHS tape is in the store. Annoyed but willing, he does. When it is located I ask if he can set it aside for me, as I do not want to drive to Hutto and find it has been rented. He states he cannot do this and I will have to take my chances. Thankfully Leonard Part 6, even before what has come to pass with Bill Cosby, has been a long reviled film.

I live in North Austin so the drive to Hutto is not a long one. I have to choose between going through Round Rock or Pflugerville. I opt for Flugerville. There is little to say about Hutto. Leonard Part 6 is still there and I rent it. When I return it there is a decent sized baseball field nearby and I go and watch some of the game. It’s odd because I don’t like baseball, but it is a beautiful night and for some reason staying and watching is a lovely thing to do.

I recount this silly tale of tracking down a film because at the time it struck my wife as an absurd amount of effort all just to watch a movie. Over the past few months I have become increasingly annoyed with the amount of effort I am spending to find movies I wish to watch. I have also come to realize that unlike before streaming, I am often not choosing what to watch but I am being steered toward limited choices and selecting one of those.

Anyone familiar with the old, bad, video stores can appreciate that the images thrust upon us when we open our streaming services are similar to walking into the displays at Blockbuster. Between what accosted you just inside the door you also had to contend with the New Releases wall, which with Blockbuster would consist of a handful of titles with dozens of copies. It was marketing and it was effective.

Which is why I only went to Blockbuster or Hollywood video if I knew what I wanted beforehand or if what I was looking for was a new release and I desired to only make one stop to pick up a copy. Typically, depending on where I have lived, I would go to smaller more interesting video stores if I was looking for something to watch. I would wander through the isles, look at the displays and try and find something.

As much as people bemoan the loss of connecting with others in the video store what I miss was coming across title after title I had not heard of. Being able to pick up the box and look it over, coming to a conclusion as to whether I wanted to watch this film based on what was in my hand is something I miss. There is something lost in online browsing, of not having a tactile object in your hand and that makes browsing a lesser experience.

What also diminishes the experience are the limitations. I can appreciate that streaming services have licensing issues to contend with and that these issues impact which titles they can offer. It’s one of the reasons why I think streaming is poor choice compared to physical stores. While streaming services films are held on hard drives and have fewer concerns about physical space, they are undoubtedly hampered by financial concerns regarding licensing. Physical media, for whatever reason, is not affected by this.

Which is why, today in 2023, when I look at what Netflix DVD has to offer I am surprised at how many films I cannot find available to stream, anywhere, I can rent from them. Case in point: lately I have been watching the films of Park Chan-wook. He’s someone I did not take to when Oldboy was lavished with praise. I didn’t because the trailer made me think the film would not be to my liking. Having seen his recent films, The Handmaiden and Decision to Leave in particular, has ignited my interest in his older works.

Only, where do you watch his films? In an earlier post I wrote about the streaming services I use. There are quite a few (14?). Enough so that I often use two different sites, Just Watch and Plex, to try and find films I wish to stream. Between those two sites I am usually able to locate which service has which films. It is a clunky, horrible system for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it means I end up having queues/watch lists/my lists on many different sites with the same films in them. Or I put a film onto one of these lists, don’t watch it right away and when I come back to see the film it is gone from the site. But returning to Park Chan-wook I’ve found it hard to track down a number of his films, including Oldboy, which is one of his best known works.

Several of his films are only available for streaming (by which I mean you don’t have to pay to view the film because the site is either free or you have a subscription) on one service. Amazon has The Handmaiden and Mubi has Decision to Leave. Oldboy and I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay are not available to stream/rent/purchase via any site at the moment. His television show, Little Drummer Girl (with Florence Pugh, Michael Shannon and Alexander Skarsgard) can be rented or purchased but not streamed. The film I have been most intrigued about, Thirst, must be rented or purchased.

So, I’ve driven that point into the ground. It’s true for many other filmmakers as well. Yet, if we look at the catalogue for Mr. Park on Netflix DVD we see:

Aside from The Little Drummer Girl they have the films I mentioned (and a few others) that I wish to see. The same is true for several other filmmakers whose films, for some reason, are difficult to find online.

So I write all of this because I know that physical video stores are not going to come back. As much as we get excited about certain things (Drive-In theaters during the pandemic) their time has passed. Most of us have gotten used to the convenience of streaming and don’t wish to go back to the old ways of in person shopping for something to watch. My frustration is that streaming hasn’t properly replaced the video store. We live in a strange, in-between time, where we are getting something half-baked that doesn’t please us but not everyone has realized this yet. Let’s call it the age of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”. For anyone who experienced that – we ate it because we were told butter was bad for us. We didn’t like the substitute but what else could we do? It’s time to wake up, people.

Part of me thinks it might be time to go back to DVD’s (Blu-rays) in the mail. Using Redbox again. The problem, as I have stated above, is that the streaming companies are playing weird games due to rights and licensing. Which means services have titles one month but not the next. That a site like HBO, which is owned by Warner Brothers, will have all the Harry Potter movies this month but not this summer. It also means they may never have movies from another studio because of some issue between them.

Which is not my concern, nor yours, dear reader. We just want to watch the thing we heard/read/saw a poster for. We’d like to see it sooner rather than later. We’d like to not be spending $80 a month in fees to over ten streaming sites that we need other sites to help up locate titles on. If we are doing all of this we’d like the movies to at least be available somewhere, especially if they are recent and well known.

When was this released again? We can’t even rent it right now?

All of this is to ignore the more common and irritating aspect of streaming which pertains to poorly designed sites that are difficult to navigate. Each relying largely on algorithms to shove films and shows at us each time we log in. Ever-changing posters which are meant to confuse and bamboozle us into thinking they have new items to watch, when in fact it is something we saw last month. Rating systems which do not improve the selections offered to us and do not remove them as future selections. Oh and reduced offerings and disappearing titles because the people running these streaming services have all over-extended themselves and are in dire straits financially.

So, in closing, a suggestion. Think about how much you are spending on streaming services. Think about what you watch and where you watch it. How you find what you are watching and if you are happy with the process. For me I find I spend a considerable amount of time, daily, pondering what I will see and where I will find it. I’m not saying having DVDs mailed to me is the future but I am wondering if fewer streaming services, coupled with mailed DVDs and relying more on Kanopy/Hoopla and my local libraries isn’t a better way to watch movies. I think it would be cheaper and probably less work.

More Music Covers

A second post about cover songs that make my toes tap.

I enjoyed writing about music covers and felt I should go do it again. Shall we?

Cake – I will Survive

I really enjoy this kind of cover song. First and foremost because it’s not in the same genre of music and because they are using different instruments. I feel this frees the listener to simply enjoy. You can compare and contrast all you like but the versions have enough that separates them (having a male singer in the cover being a noticeable difference) that I find it easy to enjoy both for what they are.

Probably the song that introduced most of us to (that or The Distance) Cake for the first time, I am pleased that the cover holds up. This band always seemed to have a good time making music and they certainly figured out how to cover songs (I did not include War Pigs but I easily could have, their version is great).

Guns and Roses – Live and Let Die

I recognize that my take on all things Beatles is provocative, it isn’t meant to be. The original is a good song, the beginning with the piano is quite pretty. It’s interesting because I feel that Gun’s N Roses handled integrating all of the other instruments better and created a better song. Clearly McCartney was trying to create a disjointed, stylistically complicated song. I’m not sure his entirely works.

Guns N Roses figured out a way to make this song more cohesive and frankly better. For this band to do this kind of cover, at that time, what something else. I was too young to appreciate how special they were but looking back it’s quite extraordinary.

Eric Clapton – I Shot The Sheriff

No big surprises here, I feel like this a better known cover. The styles are quite different, Clapton put his mark on the song by moving it into a different genre and showcasing his guitar playing. The feeling to both songs is similar, it’s the sign of a great cover, I think, that they can be somewhat similar but also not feel the same. I dig it.

Nine Inch Nails -Physical (Adam and The Ants)

Never, ever would I have guessed that Closer is a cover. Perhaps my opinion of NIN is too high, perhaps they came into my life at that perfect, impressionable time where I simply trusted. I do not know. Hearing the original of this song is funny, the vocals are really the only element that are radically different. It certainly has made me rethink NIN and all that they did. For possibly their best known song to be a pretty straightforward cover is unexpected.

Manfred Mann’s Earth BandBlinded By The Light (Bruce Springsteen)

I am writing this about nearly every song on this list but – I didn’t know this was a cover. The fact that the original is a Bruce Springsteen song is truly impressive. As someone who has long tried to “get into” Springsteen with minimal success I am not surprised to find that I prefer the cover. It has a such a different sound, good vocals and powerful drums. What else can you say about this song, it rocks!

Stevie Wonder – Superstition (Jeff Beck)

I learned a lot with this post. In particular, that songs like Superstitious are “covers”. From what I gleaned this is a bad example, given that Stevie Wonder wrote the song but then gave/sold it to Jeff Beck to then have it on his own album (which came out before Jeff Beck’s). It’s weird. But now we have two great versions and that’s a blessing. I don’t have much to say, this song is amazing and I am too busy bouncing around in my chair to type much else.

Nina Simone – Feelin’ Good (The Roar of The Greasepaint, The Smell of The Crowd)

I was not aware Nina Simone was covering anyone until this post. To be honest it was only about twenty years ago that I became aware of Feelin’ Good and that was because a friend covered it on a demo tape. It’s a great song and I appreciate the original, it’s powerful. But this is it for me. She brings something else to the music, despite a faster tempo, that you cannot help but feel. When the band comes in you come to life, it’s something new and bigger and engrossing.

Take Me To The River – Talking Heads (Al Green)

Listening to Al Green’s version and then this I am first struck by the drums and bass and keys. They’re huge! Both versions of the song are good (and obviously Al Green is a better singer) but I’d be lying if I said The Talking Head’s version doesn’t make my toes tap. I like parts of both but the cover is more…soulful. It feels wrong saying that but it’s true.

Bittersweet Symphony – The Verve (The Rolling Stones)

If you are close to me in age chances are you know this song. If you know this song chances are you enjoy it. One of the first things I published on this site concerns music reworked for film, this technically does not qualify for that category but I believe the idea I had (someone fiddling with someone else’s music and improving it) applies. When I started this post I could not have named the song they “borrowed” from (I am putting that in quote because of the debate and because this isn’t a straight cover) and upon listening to it again I am not sure how many times I have heard it before.

All that being said this is a great song, I think they took parts from The Last Time and reworked them to make something different and better. Whereas with some covers (and reworkings) I can imagine bad feelings due to the improvements, this truly is a different song and I would hope everyone could be happy with both existing.

Tori Amos – I’m Not in Love (10cc)

When I bought Strange Little Girls I was not aware it was an album of experimental covers. At the time I was enamored with everything Ms. Amos did and bought the album because it was new. Sadly I never could find a way to like most of these songs. A few of the covers, I’m Not In Love in particular, brought me a great deal of joy. I appreciate this album more than I enjoy it, which is strange for popular music.

Van Halen – Ice Cream Man

Although their most famous cover is probably “Dancing in The Streets”, “Ice Cream Man” holds a special place in my heart. It’s light, it’s fun and not at all like most of their music. I had no idea it was a cover when I first heard it but since finding out I like it even more. To have a band as technically proficient as this put out such a simple cover speaks to their confidence. So many people compensate by doing more, adding more and they trusted themselves enough to record this simple cover and share it with the world.

Gun’s ‘N Roses – Knockin’ On Heavens Door

I get it, another GNR cover on the same list – it’s a lot but they are so different and so interesting!

I’ve made some disparaging comments about Bob Dylan in these posts about covers and if there is one song where I can redeem myself it is this one. I think this version is the best I’ve heard (and looking it up I just encountered five I had not heard before). While Dylan’s version is soulful and melancholy Gun’s N’ Roses went a different route. The guitar carries the song but the other instruments swell and and excite only to then fade away. I’m not sure how many different versions of Axl we have signing on this track but it feels like a lot. Not to mention the backup singers who come in over halfway through the song (and the phone call). This cover has a great energy that separates it from the original.

This is a great example of how multiple versions of a song benefit the listener. What kind of mood are you in? Plaintive? Or do you need some anger that needs to be vented? There’s a version for that.

Wylcef Jean – Wish You Were Here

I’m trying to think of great Pink Floyd covers and I have to admit I am stumped. For a band with so many great songs it is interesting that so few people have attempted to cover their work (or that these covers have avoided my ears). Finding this version led me to see how many people have covered this song. It is an interesting mix of artists and I have to say I’ve heard almost none of them.

I like this version for a number of reasons. I like the beginning where one of the guitars is tinny-sounding and then everything switches to a fuller sound. I like the beat Wyclef uses and that his version is faster. It’s not a straight-up cover, he alters the lyrics and has sections where he inserts original material. That being said I like this. He does his own thing with the song and creates something quite different, which honestly, I think is the only way to go with Pink Floyd.

Motion Picture Soundtracks

A short and incomplete list of motion picture soundtracks that I love.

In July of 2003 I found myself packing boxes. It was an absurd number of boxes, somewhere around 40, mostly filled with books and CDs. My wife and I were moving, again, and found it would be cheaper to ship most of our possessions via the United States Postal Service. The main reason for this was the media mail (or media rate) discount. Given that we owned many books and CDs if we spread them out among our clothes (and meager household items) all of the boxes would qualify for this lower rate.

On the first box I discovered that we did not have any packing tape. When I mentioned this my wife said, “Just use duct tape.” When I questioned this choice she assured me it was the smart move. “Duct tape can fix anything. They use it to hold airplane wings together.” I should add that I have an abhorrence of the post office and as such I defer to my wife (henceforth to be known as Kate) in all matters. So we packed all of our boxes with duct tape.

The following day we brought them to the post office to pay for shipping. We then were promptly informed that we could ship these boxes but since they were all packaged with duct tape insurance would not be an option. It was an ungodly amount of boxes sitting on the floor of the post office. It had taken many trips to get them all to the building from our apartment. The most assuredly would not survive having the duct tape ripped off and packing tape applied. Plus we’d have to try and do all of this in the tiny lobby of the post office in Austin, Texas.

So we shipped our possessions without insurance and over the next few days drove to Washington, DC. When we arrived we found that the delay we had requested for delivering our boxes was not observed. The boxes were sitting outside in front of our new apartment and it had been raining heavily. The typical whirlwind of trying to move in and set up a new home occurred and neither of us noticed that a few boxes were unaccounted for.

Which is why months later, when I was going through our CDs looking for something to listen to that I noticed I couldn’t find certain albums. Where was Blonde on Blonde? Or The Rising? Looking closely I noticed a number of favorites were not on the shelf. The CDs I had tried, repeatedly to sell over the years were still there (Marching to Mars and B-Sides Ourselves in particular) mocking me.

A number of phone calls later we learned that a number of boxes had been damaged badly during the move. The post office had a policy of taking those boxes and holding them so the contents would not be further damaged. They then were meant to notify the recipients of the package(s) of the situation and from there it would be resolved. I am not sure what the next step would be as the post office also had a time limit on how long they would hold said boxes and we had passed that by the time we realized they were missing. Which meant the post office had already auctioned off (their words which I find implausible) the contents of our boxes. Nothing further could be done.

I write all of this to explain how I came to lose half of my CD collection (which was formidable at one time) in 2003. Of the many lost albums were soundtracks to films. As far as I can tell somewhere in the 00’s studios stopped creating (paying for?) soundtracks for films that consisted of popular artists contributing songs. Which is an absolute shame because many of my favorite songs come from such soundtracks. I also came to know many wonderful bands from buying a film’s soundtrack. Below I’d like to say a few words about some of the important soundtracks of my life.


If you weren’t around to experience the first Batman film it may be hard to explain what a phenomenon it was. The movie was released in the summer (June) and played in theaters forever. Where I lived there was one movie theater that had two screens (a third was added but in my memory it was after this time). One of the screens is absurdly small, it is the only movie theater I have been in where they have single seats.

When I say that the movie was in theaters forever I mean to say that I believe it ran until at least Thanksgiving. The film industry was different then so having new movies every week was not yet the norm. This was such a successful film, in every way, that it was not atypical for it to continue running for months.

One of the reasons this film permeated the culture the way it did was because it had a distinctive, excellent soundtrack. With only nine songs on the album it somehow managed to have something for everyone, Prince was one of those artists that even if his music was not your thing (I am one of those people) you still listened to it. On a near weekly basis I find myself humming “Little Red Corvette”, “Raspberry Beret” or “When The Doves Cry”. His best songs are not on this soundtrack but what he put here made its way onto all of the radio stations and into the cars and homes of America. Everyone knew “Batdance” with its distinctive opening.

This soundtrack is the first that I can remember listening to and realizing it was something different than a studio album. I was pretty young at the time, I know it was my sister who purchased the cassette (you read that right!) but we played it over and over.


Clerks is the film that made me want to make movies. It stands to reason that it’s soundtrack had a profound effect on me as well. In addition to a number of songs I already knew (“Got Me Wrong”, “Shooting Star”) there were a number of unexpected gems on this album. “Kill the Sexplayer” in particular was a fun discovery –

This album is perfect. It fit the film, introduced people like myself to a number of artists and had familiar songs and bands as well. I always enjoy soundtracks that sample dialog from the film, it’s fun, and there is plenty of that here. Plus you get those odd, one of a kind songs that you would never choose to listen to on their own (looking at you “Chewbacca”).

One of the interesting things about this film is that it was touted as being an independent film made for little money ($23,000 I believe) but when discussing the soundtrack it was made clear that Miramax spent quite a bit (one million dollars) to secure the rights. I’m not sure how much was spent to clean up the footage but I know it was substantial. Whatever it was it was worth it. An excellent film with a wonderful soundtrack.


This is one of the better soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Whoever came up with the idea of “let’s get two artist/bands together and have them make a song” for every song on the album (except track 7 – does Stabbing Westward not play well with others)?! That person is a genius. I recognize that this is not the typical collaboration as most of these collaborations are bands with a DJ/group remixing their song. Just go with me please.

There are a number of gems on this soundtrack, “Tiny Rubberband”, “Kick The P.A.”, “One Man Army” and “Spawn” are all solid tracks. My favorite on this album (the video probably tipped you off to this) is (Can’t you) Trip Like I Do. It’s a solid track that ticks off all the right boxes for me. This is certainly an album I enjoy driving and listening to. It’s good background music if that is what you desire.

The X Files

This is one of the more ecclectic soundtracks of the 90’s (that I encountered). The people who made songs for this were certainly not chosen for their similarities. I always found this pleasing and fitting for the show. Sure, the X Files never strayed too far from it’s alien/paranoid/weirdness but there was a bit of wiggle room and when they could they deviated.

I chose the song “More Than This” by The Cure to feature but honestly it could have been most of the tracks. I like this song in particular because of it’s rhythm. There is a flowing quality to the song that the vocals enhance. It feels otherworldly but comforting. It’s a great song.

There are many others on this album that are noteworthy, “Black”, “The Hunter”, “Beacon Light”, “Flower Man”, “16 Horses” and “One More Murder” are all favorites of mine. Listening to these songs now I can hear similarities that were not apparent before. I am sure it has to do with recording techniques and producers using similar sounds and ideas. No escaping such things but I feel the songs hold up.

The Crow

This soundtrack will forever hold a special place in my heart. I had not heard Rage Against The Machine before listening to this and this song is one of my favorites of theirs. There are so many excellent songs on this album, “Dead Souls” by NIN, “Color Me Once” by the Violent Femmes, “Burn” by the Cure, “Snakedriver” by Jesus and the Mary Chain and “Big Empty” by the Stone Temple Pilots. It’s an incredible soundtrack that shaped its film in many ways.

Fight Club

I had not heard of The Dust Brothers prior to listening to the Fight Club soundtrack. This is an interesting album in that no one song stands out to me as the best. I chose “Single Serving Jack” because whenever I listen to the album I always pay attention when it comes on. It’s a fast paced song that, like all the tracks, builds on what comes before it.

This is one of my favorite albums to have as background music. Whether driving or writing I love to put it on and let it slosh around in my mind. I never pay it much direct attention but I love it.

Pulp Fiction

To be alive in the mid-90’s and not listen to the Pulp Fiction Soundtrack was impossible. It’s an odd soundtrack, I’m not sure all of the songs work well with one another (like the film itself) but perhaps that jarring nature is the point. I believe I knew this song before hearing the soundtrack but it certainly came alive for me when I did. It’s just such a good, heartfelt piece of music. There are a number of other, excellent tracks on the album.

Romeo and Juliet

Oh, this album. Picking a favorite song off of the Romeo and Juliet Soundtrack is almost like choosing a favorite child. I don’t want to do it. So let’s instead say that the above song by Radiohead, “Talk Show Host” was chosen because a) it is a great song and b) I wanted to put something up by this formerly amazing band. Seriously. I miss them.

Song after song on this album delivers the goods. From Everclear with “Local God” and Garbage with “#1 Crush” to “Kissing You” by Des’ree and “Everybody’s Free (to feel good)” by Qunidon Tarver you cannot go wrong. I’m not sure who was responsible for putting this album together but they exceeded all expectations and gave the world a wonderful gift.

Batman Forever

Okay this one did not figure in as much for me at the time, despite having some great songs. Everyone heard Seal perform “Kiss From a Rose” and U2 deliver “Hold me, Kill Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me” but the song we should have all been playing was Michael Hutchence covering “The Passenger”. Holy smokes this is a good cover. It’s not really surprising, INXS was a tremendous band and he was an incredible performer. I’m happy to be able to include this here.

The Matrix

Probably as important as Pulp Fiction (at least in my circle) was the release of this album. I could not have told you that this song was called “Spybreak (Short One)” or that the band is Propellerheads but I feel like this is THE song of the album. It’s important in the film and when you listen to the album as a whole it stands out. Yes, there is a great Rage Against the Machine song here, as well as “Du Hast” and “Rock Is Dead” but I think this is the one.


Yes, I am taking the cowards way out and choosing two songs for this soundtrack. I admit it. I’m driving this ship and that’s the deal. Let’s move on.

The soundtrack to drive is much like the costumes and titles of Drive – it’s weird. Would anyone else have made these choices? These songs are such a strange juxtaposition to the images they accompany in the film. We have, with time and repeated viewings (listenings) come to accept these pairings but I assure you – they are still weird.

But weird in a wonderful way that makes us love them more. “A Real Hero” is such a tender and heartfelt song and despite it being kinda wrong about the main character I love it. I have come to love it. I would never have listened to it without this film but now it is a part of me. The same can be said for “Night Call”. I have listened to quite a bit of Kavinsky’s music since hearing this, something I never would have done. Together they work with the other pieces of music to give us the film that is Drive. I can’t argue with that.


How many of us knew Aimee Mann before this soundtrack? How many of us have been changed forever because of it? Picking a song was hard, but I think “Driving Sideways” is correct. It moves me every time. It somehow captures the essence of this big, messy film. It’s incredible.


Trying to pick a favorite song on this album is, again, nearly impossible. I went with “State of Love and Trust” because it’s so good and as with Radiohead I miss Pearl Jam being a good band. It’s hard to watch amazing bands/musicians lose the thing that made them so good but, alas, it happens all too often. Come home, son!

Cameron Crowe, to no one’s surprise, captured the incredible music scene of the time with this film and soundtrack. “Would?”, “Dyslexic Heart” oh and “Seasons”. Gah. This soundtrack would be a wonderful way to introduce someone unfamiliar with grunge music to the world. So much goodness here.

Wayne’s World

I love this movie and I love this album. I was unfamiliar with so many of the bands and songs when I heard it and I will be forever grateful for the exposure. I knew Jimi Hendrix when I heard “Foxey Lady (2)” but seeing Dana Carvey perform his dance to it changed me. I am, morally at least, obligated to state that I should have put “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the main song, since I had not heard it prior to this film either. But, dang it, I wanted to have it be Jimi.

Tia Carrere covering “Ball Room Blitz” Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein” and Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” are all wonderful songs on this fun album. I imagine Wayne’s World is a film that will soon be lost to time, which is a shame, but hopefully these songs will live forever.

Charlie’s Angels (2001)

This. Always this. Destiny’s Child may have gotten a lot of attention (and rightfully so) for “Independent Women” Pt.1 but Sam Rockwell dancing to “Got to Give it Up” Pt.1 will forever be the moment. Not only was it an important reveal for the story and the character but it was cool.

Charlie’s Angels was a lot of things, it was fun and silly and sexy but it was also cool. This soundtrack reflects all of these qualities with songs like “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” and “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”. Unexpected (and wonderful) tracks like “Tangerine Speedo” and “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” compliment the film and it’s underdog nature. No one expected this to be the hit it was – and all of us get to benefit from the film and this soundtrack.

I am positive I am leaving out other, wonderful soundtracks I have owned and listened to. This is by no means a comprehensive list. I wanted to share something similar to my post on cover songs and try and spread a little love around. I feel like I achieved that.

Learning Something New About Stock Footage Websites

A post about stock footage and saving money.

Last year I wrote about stock footage. In that post I wrote about Artgrid, using stock footage and why I decided to cancel my account. Flash forward to December 2022 and I am upgrading my Artlist account (royalty free music and sound effects) to an Artlist Max Social account. This reads like an advertisement but I assure you it is not.

If there is one point I have tried to make clear since starting this site it is that I am not making any money. None. Not from writing, not from making videos – not from anything I am putting online. Which is why every time I write about a camera or editing software or using a service like Artlist I try and be upfront about what I get out of it and whether or not it makes any sense. The short version for nearly everything is that it doesn’t.

If I could go back in time and offer younger me some advice it would be “don’t spend that money”. On almost anything. If you have something you can use, like my first beautiful Panasonic camcorder, just use that. Don’t upgrade. Don’t listen to people online telling you what you need. Just make do and be happy.

Back to December: I upgraded this account. Despite my advice of not spending money I spent money. Why would I do this? The cost for one. My old plan was $300 a year for music and sound effects. I use both a fair bit despite not having much of an online presence. When I joined Artgrid last year (so I could have access to stock footage) I was charged another $470. $770 seemed like quite a lot of money for something I was not really using (aside from making fake trailers – which since I now have an active account I can share).

Because my yearly cycle begins/ends in February I was prorated when I made this change to my account. Looking at the website the cost will be either $360 a year for the social plan (which is what I have) or $480 for the pro plan. So given that I was spending $300 a year for access to music and sound effects, this is a pretty good deal for me. I pay $60 more a year and I now have access to all of their footage. In addition to that they have templates for Final Cut Pro X, LUTs and plugins (in the above video I used some of their transitions).

I’m not entirely sure this makes sense from a financial point of view. My intention, which it seems is always the case, is to do more this year. Post more on this site, create more videos for YouTube. I plan to create short form content for Instagram and write more fiction. Will it happen? I hope so. The past two years have been lacking in the creation department and I certainly have been feeling the loss.

Having access to music that I can use and share is an absolute blessing and if you take a moment and compare the various royalty free music and video sites I think you will find that Artlist is more than competitive (again not an ad but this is something I have struggled with). To prove this point I am going to look into the various sites that offer music and stock footage.

You may not have noticed but I have spent a good deal of time finding sites and comparing them. I began making a chart, taking screenshots and attempting to find a way to share my findings in a way that is visual and easy to follow. I have failed at this because there are too many sites with too many options to make this streamlined. Instead and I am going to speak to the three sites that are comparable.

Before I share this I want to point out the following: there are many different companies providing these services. In my travels I looked into many that were already familiar to me (The Musicbed, Filmsupply, Epidemic Sound, Pond 5, Adobe Stock) and I was surprised at how much the pricing differed. As much as I adore The Musicbed and Filmsupply I doubt I’ll ever use their services as I simply cannot afford them.

Filmsupply, I love you but you are pricey.

Many of the other services have more reasonable prices but they greatly limit the number of downloads. Shutterstock costs $60 a year less than Artlist and Storyblocks but at that price only allow ten downloads a month. I digress, let’s move on to the important part of this post.

Artlist Max$30
Envato Elements$16.50

I’ll be honest I want to be incredibly in-depth and helpful here but even narrowing this down to three sites leaves a good deal of variables. For me, I need the basic creators license that Artlist and Storyblocks offer – the ability to post on social media and access sounds and video. I don’t work with other people, I am not making worldwide commercials or films and I don’t make wedding videos. So, for me these are the prices for the plans that make sense.

That being said one consideration to note is the ability to keep the videos/content I’ve made if I decide to no longer use the service. In the past I found that the service Epidemic Sound did not offer this option – meaning that if/when you stop using their service you have to replace the music in your videos. That’s just a terrible feature. From what I have gleaned all three of these services allow you to keep the footage/music/sounds in your videos even if you not longer subscribe to the service.

My subscription is set to renew on the 12th and to be honest when I started writing this I had no intention of using another service. Since discovering Envato Elements and looking through their site I am no longer sure. They have a ton of assets, the quality looks good and the cost of using their service is almost half of the other two. As I keep reiterating I want to pay as little as possible and after spending a couple of weeks looking at these services Envato Elements seems like the smart choice.

Music Video Appreciation Post #9 – Kaleo

A short post about the music videos of the band Kaleo.

I think the best song I’ve heard by Kaleo is “No Good”. It rocks. It rocks on such a level that when I first heard it all I could think about was who to share it with. I love it. As far as I can tell it is an anomaly in their catalogue (thinking of you My Song 5). That being said the music video is a touch lackluster. I don’t like being negative but that song deserves and equally amazing music video.

Thankfully the band has no shortage of excellent music videos. Apparently they decided that their niche would be to film on location in Iceland. And by location I mean things like –

they perform on an ice floe. I mean, there are ideas for music videos that seem a little crazy and then there is this. I like the song but really you could watch this muted and still enjoy it. This also makes me think of those memes about why women live longer than men. I feel confident that they took steps to be safe in doing this but…

Another incredible music video is for their song “Skinny” where they are performing live on an active volcano. I have no words. This is incredible and terrifying and really something else.

I’ve written about the ingenuity of the music videos that Ok Go make. That a band from Iceland would somehow top their incredible achievements with natural phenomenons makes me quite happy. I wish I had more to say about this band, their sound is largely subdued and not as rocking as “No Good”. Which is fine, I would just love to hear more in the “No Good” vein.

I am including a final video because, again, they went kinda nuts with it. Enjoy!

Fractured Narratives

A rant about Echo 3, Nope and trusting your instincts.

The following post contains mild spoilers for Nope and Echo 3

The famous quote about stories needing a “beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order” has been rattling around my head of late. In the past week I have watched the Apple TV show, Echo 3 and the latest from Jordan Peele, Nope. Both of which have unusual, if not bizarre narrative structures. What strikes me upon reflection is that neither of them have tried to displace the order of events hoping to confuse the audience, a technique that has become en vogue in recent years, rather that they bounce around in time without much purpose.

I love this inforgraphic as it sums up perfectly how I feel about story structure

Nope, being a film, is easier to follow and understand in terms of narrative. When I finished the film I looked at Metacritic to see if reviewers enjoyed the film. It appears to be favorably reviewed but with reservations. Most people seemed to feel what I felt – that while the overall experience was fine it lacked emotional resonance and wasn’t terribly coherent. The characters were not fully realized, the storylines truncated or without purpose and the ultimate “message” absent. It is not that the movie is difficult to watch – it is interesting and has a number of sequences that are engaging. It’s that at its heart, having a story about a UFO (or alien creature) and several people trying to control/document it without any larger questions being posed or answered is unfulfilling. I am unsure what the takeaway of this film was meant to be. I am not certain I understand why the horse trainer would be such an expert on predatory animals (and how this ties into chimpanzees). There seems to be no greater plan at work with Nope and it is a shame. Following Get Out I think most viewers were hoping for a multi-layered film that exceeds expectations.

Echo 3 is the latest work from Mark Boal. A former journalist who was embedded with troops in Iraq and wrote a screenplay based on these experiences. It was a successful film despite the disconnected narrative and anti-climatic ending. In fact all three of his collaborations with director Kathryn Bigelow have these qualities. Interesting concepts with narrative gaps and endings that deliver little in the way of closure or emotional payoff seem to be how he operates. Echo 3 does this worse than the films, in part because it is longer and, I suspect, because Ms. Bigelow is not involved.

The show begins in a lackluster, heavy-handed manner. It is the wedding day of two of the main characters and the bride is hiding with her brother (the third main character). The wedding sequence is long. It is disjointed. It makes little sense as we are just meeting these people and know nothing about them. Ultimately is serves to inform the ending – that all is not right between soon-to-be bride and groom. Only….why? It’s unclear other than she’s keeping secrets and he’s…something. The show becomes truly muddled around episode nine, which would have been the final episode for most. The latest rescue mission for Amber (the bride) is attempted and her husband (Prince) and brother (Bambi) work with mercenaries to conduct a false flag operation to get her out of the prison/drug factory where she has been tortured and drugged for some time.

The show hinges largely on a secret beacon, a secret CIA connection and back-channel favors. Why it does not work is because the people, causes and stories that rise to the forefront all eventually are forgotten. Whether it is the abandoned military commander, the drug-addled mother, the wealthy father or the Colombian army all of these stories are left with an ending that is incomplete and unfulfilled.

I’m not sure if there is much of a reason to write about this show and movie (together no less) other than to express my frustration with investing time and emotion into stories such as these. I’ve written before about how Syd Field’s book, Screenplay, changed the way I watch movies. He outlines in his book how a script reader can usually determine by page ten whether the script is good or bad. Since a page of a script usually translates to a minute of screen time this rule of thumb can also be applied when watching a movie or show. Within the first ten minutes you should have a sense whether what you are watching is good or bad.

With both Echo 3 and Nope I stopped watching before the ten minute mark. I could tell with Echo 3 starting in the manner that it did, with two unknown characters having an opaque conversation about the wedding and the groom, that I was not going to enjoy the show. Despite a trailer which promised one thing (a rescue story, a love story, a story about overcoming adversity) this show was going to be something else. It was going to try and deal with the complexity of US relations with South American countries. Of marriages built on a foundation of lies. Of addiction. Of ambition and careers and nationalism. In short I think Mr. Boal was trying to marry ideas and stories from his life as a journalist with a story of his own creation and the results are mixed. I’m not sure if I ever grasped the inner lives of any of these characters. Other than Bambi, who only wanted to get his sister home, I’m not sure I ever understood the motives of the characters. The opening, which gave me nothing, told me everything I needed to know and I chose to ignore it.

Nope is more of the same. A trailer which is eerie and mysterious but gives away little of the plot coupled with an opening of a 90’s television show where a chimpanzee has gone berserk and hurt/killed several people. No explanation is given, no clear reason why this is being shown in relation to the larger story being told. Only to then find out that the little boy in the 90’s show is the neighbor of our main characters and he’s trying to use the UFO as part of his rodeo show. I feel like I am belaboring my point here. The sum of the parts of this movie adds up to very little and the opening made this clear. I went back to both of these works because I doubted my initial impression, largely because I am often wrong (just last week I made this mistake with Everything, Everywhere All At Once which has a terrible first ten minutes but becomes a great movie). As we all know our moods, time of day or even the weather can effect our viewing experiences and I try my best to enjoy things. Only that doesn’t always work and you end up watching ten hours of something that leaves you with a shot like this.

Or, you know, this…

Cover Songs

A post about song covers I love.

I’ve written before about the art of making a good cover song. If you look at the results of most musician’s attempts it is easy to conclude that creating a good cover is not easy to do. This morning I was blessed with not one but seven new cover songs. The band that made this happen is Royal Deluxe (comprised of three members, two of which make up another band Welshley Arms). Their recent album “The Cover Up” is a thing of absolute beauty.

It’s hard to pin down what makes a good cover (something I attempted to do in my earlier post) but qualities they all seem to have in common (offering something different than the original while also respecting it) are present on “The Cover Up”. So many of the original songs are known for a certain instrument or component and Royal Deluxe omitted or greatly altered them each time.

Rather than try and review the album, something I am loathe to do, I’d like to make this post about cover songs I love.

Starting with what I’ve just heard:

Royal Deluxe – Sunshine of Your Love

This has such a big and bold sound to it, I love it. I would not have thought you could improve on Clapton’s guitar but, holy smokes this is something else.

Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)

This is probably the first Beatles cover I heard that made me realize I don’t love their music. Don’t get me wrong, they have plenty of great songs but I don’t revere the band as so many do. This cover is such an improvement over the original – there is so much energy in this version. It’s impossible to listen to this and keep your body still.

The Black Keys – She Said, She Said

I’m not doing this to prove a point, I swear. The absolute confidence and swagger that The Black Keys have on this song fills me with joy. It’s their first album, they had nothing to lose and they went for it. I love the rough feel to their version, it makes me all kinds of happy.

Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way

Here’s a less controversial one! I probably had only heard the original a handful of times before Lenny Kravitz unleashed this monster cover on the world. It’s a great music video and an absolutely inspired cover. I dig it.

Dolly Parton – Jolene

Look this one is weird, I get it. Technically not a cover, I’m not sure where else it belongs. You have the original song which was bothering no one. It was out there in the world doing it’s thing and we all liked it. I am sure some of you loved it. Then some madman slowed it down and this thing of beauty was born!

If you can’t appreciate this song, I get it, it’s weird. I think it is vastly superior to the original. The slowed tempo allows you to focus on the words. A desperate person doesn’t have to be slow, often they aren’t, but here there is a great deal more weight because of the speed of the song. It’s haunting.

Couple that with the vocals holding up – that now you have this strange man/woman voice – Perfection.

Royal Blood – Hook, Line and Sinker

This is another slowed version – forgive me (also I hate this repeating Gif thing, it’s just the only place I could find this version of the song). Royal Blood is a band that a friend kept pushing at me. It took a little while for me to get into their sound because a) I think most of it is a bit too fast and b) the singer’s voice is a bit too high. What’s with that nowadays? So few new singers with deep voices, it’s odd.

I digress. I came across this slowed version and it solved my main issues with this band. They sound pretty good like this.

Garth Brooks – Hard Luck Woman

In my previous cover post I mentioned how much I like Toad The Wet Sprocket’s cover of Rock ‘n Roll All Nite. I think it’s great. In fact nearly every cover on this album is terrific. I always enjoyed this cover from Garth Brooks because it certainly is country, yet it works. I feel that this version is sweeter than Kiss’ and I think that’s a good thing.

Rage Against The Machine – Ghost of Tom Joad

I would be remiss if I did not include this cover. Bruce Springsteen writes a song about a character from The Grapes of Wrath which then gets covered by Rage Against The Machine. This is what makes music and covers so wonderful. The power of this song when Rage gets ahold of it is undeniable. I don’t usually get too weepy about bands that have called it quits but I don’t think this band was done, I think they could easily have produced a few more albums with this level of greatness.

The Jimi Henderix Experience – All Along The Watchtower

No list of covers would be complete without this version of All Along The Watchtower. My feelings toward Bob Dylan are similar to what I feel toward the Beatles. Respect, gratitude and the belief that many of their songs became great when someone else covered them. This is no exception. What’s interesting is that usually a great cover is quite different. Usually you have someone who can sing well cover someone who cannot (Bob Dylan) or you have a band come in with a completely different sound and transform the work into something new. Jimi’s version is certainly different but I don’t think anyone was shocked or mystified when they heard it. He improved the song and made it his own and all of us get to benefit from that.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

I heard this cover before I heard the original, which is rare for the songs on this list. Had the order been reversed I think I still would find it to be a better song. As I have gotten older I have come to appreciate Leonard Cohen more (his last album certainly made me view his work with kinder ears). Jeff Buckley can sing though. He can sing and the emotion is just there, reaching out to you. I cannot imagine hearing this cover and not feeling something. It is quite magical.

Royal Deluxe – Tainted Love

That’s right, I came back to where I started, I am a rebel. I love the original version cover by Soft Cell (who else didn’t know that their version is a cover?!), I listen to is quite often still. It’s such a good song. I would be hard pressed to explain how they’ve changed it, so many of the original elements are still there, but it’s good. They’ve delivered a cover that differs enough from the original that I get why it exists and I love that there is another version of this song for me to listen to.

Nirvana – The Man Who Stole The World

Someday I am going to write about MTV Unplugged and the number of exceptional albums they gave the world. More than anything else I think this is the best contribution MTV gave us. Nirvana’s Unplugged was so unexpected (I can’t remember the order but I think Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam had gone before them). This was a band that fought against being famous – doing an acoustic set on MTV. That this came off at all is a miracle. They did a number of covers in this set and my favorite, I think (Where Did You Sleep Last Night is amazing), is this.

To keep digging my musical hole I don’t have the reverence for David Bowie that everyone and their mother has spent the past five years declaring. He’s got some good songs but, honestly, I did not know a single person who listened to him growing up. I certainly have never had a moment when I’ve thought, “I should put some Bowie on” so do with that what you will.

Kurt Cobain couldn’t really sing but I like what he does with this song. It’s sad but not morbid, which for Nirvana is good stuff.

Charles Bradley – Changes

I am going to make a confession – I only just realized this is a cover of the Black Sabbath song. Which is nuts. I’ve heard both so many times. Charles Bradley’s version is so radically different (and better) that I never connected the two. Wow. Talk about making a song your own – this is absolutely his now.

Led Zeppelin – Nobody’s Fault But Mine

Once upon a time I worked at Barnes and Noble. If you have ever been in one for a long period of time you might notice that they have a decent selection of music they play (or did, I haven’t worked there for twenty years). Stores that have a music department have a monthly rotating roster of CDs (dear lord this is probably different now) and at the end of the month the head of my store’s music department would give away these opened and unsalable, CDs. One such month was an album called The Early Blues Roots of Led Zeppelin. I greedily snatched that one up.

The point of all that being they covered a lot of songs by a lot of artists and did not always give them credit. Which is terrible but it also makes it hard to pick a favorite (I have no reservations about Led Zeppelin, this is the band I wish people were more excited about). I chose Nobody’s Fault But Mine because I have to get up and move when I hear it. The song has energy and the vocals are excellent. I really wonder if it was anywhere near as good live.

Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane

This song is such a good example of changing little but still putting your mark on a cover. I have nothing clever to add. I think this is better than the original.

I want to keep this going but now I am starting to look things up and that’s a bad sign. These are some covers I love and I hope you love them too.

More thoughts on YouTube, Filmmaking and Cameras

A post about filmmaking, YouTube, gear and what on Earth am I doing?

I spent this morning looking at a new camera from Canon. It’s fancy, it has all kinds of great features and it satisfies a number of requirements I have for a camera. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Kind of. I do not believe that it has been released yet but given how the world of cameras works there are many, many reviews of this camera on YouTube. And I doubt I will watch any of them (but if I did it would most likely be Gerald Undone or Potato Jet).

I have not been writing about cameras as much as I used to and, in part, this is because I’ve stopped paying attention to the new models. I’ve discovered that for all of the interest I may have in new cameras and amazing features I do not need anything more than I have. Which is somewhat disappointing as the most popular posts I have all concern cameras. Only I’m not writing here to be popular. I’ve been vocal about trying to figure out why I am write here and my absolute confusion as to what I should post on this site. I am not certain of the answer still. I am certain that I do not what to be a reviewer or someone who chases after what is popular.

All of this thought about the new camera (The Canon R5C) made me think about how different things are now compared to when I first started learning about cameras online. When I bought bought my first proper camera (the DVX 100B) there were not a lot of websites reviewing these cameras. There certainly were not thousands of people on YouTube putting out weekly reviews. What was truly different then was that the cameras I was concerned with were being reviewed from the perspective of how good they were for making films.

By making films I mean feature films being the purpose of these cameras. It was exciting and interesting and all of these famous filmmakers were extolling the virtues of having less expensive cameras for making movies. Steven Soderbergh was shooting films on a prosumer Canon camera (which I shot my first music video on) and Sidney Pollack accidentally did the same (Sketches of Frank Gehry). A new company called RED was going to make a camera and their goal was to have it be inexpensive enough that anyone could make a movie with it, removing the largest hurdle for making movies (I should point out that Jared Land also created a website/forum that was instrumental in providing me with information regarding filmmaking gear).

Now when I see reviews of new cameras nearly everyone is talking about whether it would be good for YouTube. Or weddings. Or some other thing that is not making feature films. Which makes absolute sense as there are millions of people making YouTube videos now. More people are making a living from creating videos for YouTube and other social media platforms than they are from making feature films. It’s just that these same people absolutely do not need amazing cameras to do what they are doing.

About a year ago I found myself watching video after video from YouTube filmmaker Peter McKinnon. I had heard about him for a while and never really found myself watching what he made. For some reason I watched one of his earliest videos and liked it. So I started from the beginning and watched what he made in chronological order. The videos were interesting, they were fun and it was a good way to pass the time in the middle of a pandemic. Then I came across a video where he visited the YouTube studio of someone who went by MKBHD. I had seen his image before but did not know him. It was a decent video, not overly interesting to me but there were two points where it had my attention fully.

The first was when Marques Brownlee was discussing the “sound traps” in his studio which allowed him to record anywhere in the giant space and still have great audio. That was news to me, I had not heard of those before. The other was when he was trying to convince Mr. McKinnon to invest in getting a Red camera. In case you don’t know until two years ago Red cameras were expensive. That initial dream of making affordable cameras for filmmakers never really happened. The least expensive model now sells for about $6,000. The cameras that these two were discussing were all at least double that amount.

I’m delving deep into this one episode but the reason is the arguments presented – shooting in 8k resolution was “future proofing” and that these cameras were vastly superior – were not really valid to Peter McKinnon at the time. He was using a Canon 1DX mark ii (I believe) a $5,000 camera geared more toward still photography than video. Still, an excellent camera and one he had been using for quite some time to make his successful YouTube channel with. I watched a few more videos of Mr. McKinnon’s and what appears on screen? A Red camera.

I just wrote three paragraphs to say something that should be one sentence – if you are making YouTube videos where 90% of what you film is yourself talking to the camera don’t spend a lot of money. Despite so many of these people promoting their Aputure lights and Sennheiser microphones if it’s just your face talking at the camera you don’t need expensive anything. Good lighting will make a better looking image just as a good microphone will make your voice sound better but at the end of the day it’s just a person talking to a camera. If people are willing to watch you do that then you can certainly save thousands of dollars and have it look and sound a bit worse.

Obviously a good looking image is nice.

I seem to have gone off topic here, I apologize. My frustration regarding the world of YouTube, cameras and making short or long form films/videos/content is that all of the focus on gear seems driven by the companies making and selling it. That so many people have a business that consists of reviewing filmmaking equipment on YouTube speaks volumes as to how weird this has gotten. I find it incredibly difficult to find people making actual films whereas if I want to watch a review about the new Panasonic S5 mark ii there are dozens that will come up with my first search.

There seems to be a disconnect between making films and making content and it’s interesting to see that few people make both. Which is not to say that I have not found people that do (Mark Bone in particular comes to mind as does Brady Bessette) but it certainly is rare. In a previous post I shared a clip from a podcast from Corridor Digital with Freddie Wong who had been part of a YouTube channel (RocketJump) and decided to leave in order to make films. I am happy to report he has done this and below I am sharing a video he made with Aputure and his director of photography Bongani Mlambo. It’s short and it’s interesting take a look:

I feel like I tread and retread this ground often with little positivity to add. I’d like to end this post by saying there’s nothing wrong with using great gear. I found it interesting to see videos from Peter McKinnon last year where he started purging all of his large and expensive gear (The Red camera included) because he doesn’t need it. What I like about the above video is when they speak about gear used on this shoot (the video is on the Aputure channel so…) they aren’t talking about using the biggest and best gear. They are highlighting products from this company and explaining why they chose to use what they used. Somehow the feeling I get from someone saying, “I made this and here is how I did it,” is more palatable than someone saying, “If you are going to make something, use this,”. Perhaps that is just personal preference.

Great Big Story Returns

The return of my favorite YouTube channel.

It is not every day you wake up and see something that fills you with glee. Today is one of those days. I am certain I have shared videos from Great Big Story on this site before but for those of you unfamiliar GBS was a YouTube Channel/website that featured videos about nearly every topic. It is/was fantastic. I watched it alone and with my family and all of us enjoyed it greatly. It closed not long into the pandemic which made me quite sad as I knew I was moving to the New York area and very much wanted to work with them (and it meant I could no longer watch all of their incredible videos).

Flash forward to today and I see an announcement from former employee and current YouTube sensation Beryl Shereshewsky in her Instagram stories (news travels oddly these days) that GBS shall return. So far that is all that I know. But it excites me. Not only because I’d still love to work with them (although they appear to be based in London now) but also because it means that I’ll be able to watch new videos they will make.

The range of topics varies from human interest, food, scientific discoveries and animals to pretty much anything in-between. Whenever I have considered trying to build a YouTube channel I have thought of GBS as the format to follow, simply because they are free to pursue whatever they find interesting. Always entertaining and informative, new videos from GBS tend to make my day.

So despite a number of somewhat negative and gloomy posts of late I thought I would share this – some good news. Perhaps you won’t find it as exciting as I do but I assure you if you look at some of their videos you will change your mind.