1986. National Video Center. NYC.
By 1986, I’d worked with co-directors Peter Kagan & Paula Greif on a few music videos, including Dream Academy’s “This World” and “Love Parade.” These grainy, dreamy, impressionistic videos were changing the MTV landscape. Most music videos at that time were bright, Pop-style linear storytelling. Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” was going to be different.
Peter and Paula did most of their off-line edits with an editor named Laura Israel. Laura would cut on 3/4-inch videotape with window time-code. No list. I would lay down her cut on one-inch tape, read the numbers off the screen and match the cut. Peter and Paula would generously leave what they called “Glenn sections” in their videos. These were sections that had been unresolved or that they didn’t like, which I would finish.
All the black & white footage and some of the color was shot on Super 8 or on a wind-up 16mm Bolex camera. We called it “Paula Cam”—Paula being pushed around in a shopping cart with her Super 8 camera. None of the Super 8 or Bolex footage would hold sync during the vocals. We spent many, many hours speeding up and slowing down the tape machines to match lip-sync. It’s simple to do now, but at that time it was a pretty primitive process, and it took lots of “previews” to get it right. After we all agreed that the preview was right, we recorded it only to find out it was different, due to the tape machines’ sloppy mechanics.
No sweat. We did it all the time. We’ll do it again. The difference this time was that Warner Brothers Records was insisting that we provide two “first-generation masters” for delivery. They did not want a “dub.” If the video had fewer speed changes, we could have finished the first master and reassembled a second master from the edit list. We tried a little test and of course it didn’t work.
There was no such thing as a clone in those days, so that meant that we had to run two master record decks at the same time. Not fun or easy in those days.
Every time we made one of the 170 or so edits in the piece, we had to check each master and make sure they were identical. Same field edit, same speed change, no color shifts, no servo errors and on and on. My poor assistant stood in front of the two monitors for 13 hours straight.
In 1987, “Higher Ground” was nominated for an MTV Music Video Award. So of course, I had a big party that night waiting for the results, only to lose out to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledge Hammer.” Another glimpse of the changing music video landscape in the mid-1980s.