Friday, January 12, 2018

I Wanted to be a Music Video Producer

It was 1981 when MTV launched, and it would soon become a household name. We couldn't wait to view the latest music videos from our favorite artists. Do you remember those days? I was mesmerized. Below is one of the videos that I would later produce to Madonna's "Rescue Me" for fun. Read on to find out how it all began, and to watch another teaser video I created for the same song.


I was already in college pursuing my degree in Mechanical Engineering when I happened upon the campus RHA (Resident Halls Association), which allowed you to check out a camera/VHS recorder combo. The VHS deck strapped over your shoulder, and then you'd attach the camera to it. Very cumbersome. But, hey, it was free! Through the use of this equipment, I made my first music video to the song "Games People Play" by the Alan Parsons Project. With the help of the cable TV public access studio down the street, I taught myself how to edit on 3/4" Sony tape-to-tape decks. I was hooked.

In the summer of 1984, I interned at IBM in Endicott, New York. With my summer savings I purchased my own RCA camera and recorder. That following year, dozens of my college dorm mates would usher themselves into my room and we'd shoot one-take videos while they lip-synced to the music track input from my Technics cassette deck. I also produced another music video to the song "Fantasy" by Earth, Wind, and Fire. The State newspaper wrote an article on my endeavors titled, "Vic Video is Student's Alter Ego." After graduation I put snippets of those videos together in one long montage for a keepsake. It also got me to practice my editing skills.

Cut to 1991 and I was able to purchase my own Sony Hi-Band Beta (remember Beta?) editing decks. Though I worked in the technical field, I still had a passion to create. Luckily, a couple of my jobs required someone with a technical background who could also produce video training and marketing materials. I produced some demo videos for a CAD/CAM company for large trade shows, and I was the scriptwriter for a video magazine on manufacturing technologies.

In 1992 I gathered together a few of my old college mates and produced a video to Madonna's "Vogue" for the MTV "Make My Video" contest. I didn't win, but somehow the video got entered into a Detroit radio contest and I won a trip for two to Disney. To this day I don't know how it was picked. I think someone told me they played it at a bar or something.

Jim and Gayle performing in my video to Madonna's "Rescue Me"
The last music video I completed was in 1992 to Madonna's song "Rescue Me." As you can tell, Madonna was big at the time. I asked a Michigan State University dance instructor if she could put out a word that I wanted two dancers. The only two that showed up, Jim and Gayle, are the two you see in the video. Christine, the lip-syncher, did an excellent job. I shot her portion under an overpass in Troy, Michigan, and also way up on the cliffs of Tobermory, Ontario. I almost fell off one of those cliffs while filming.  A friend of ours, Pam, came along to help. I owe her my life for warning me.

What I remembered most was directing the two dancers. We filmed under an overpass in East Lansing, Michigan, next to some train tracks. They only practiced a few moves, but in between the chorus sections they'd start this slow, seductive dance with each other. I guess it was some form of modern dance, and I instantly realized it worked great for the lyrics. It wasn't until a reshoot a few months later that I decided I wanted to end the video with a long kiss. Gayle had cut her hair a bit shorter by then, and her boyfriend wasn't all too keen on her kissing another guy, though she convinced him it was just acting. Jim and Gayle grew up together and they were great sports.

The video below I produced to get Jim and Gayle excited about going back for the finishing shots. They hadn't seen anything until that point. I also wanted to make a long-form video to the extended version of the song, but that never happened. I moved back to Western New York for a bit, and the last thing I remember is trying to get a group of women from a church choir to perform in it.

Music is such an important part of any video production. I'll even venture to say that it's the most important part. To this day I spend hours looking for the right pieces for film trailers and short edited pieces. I consider documentary and film trailers to be mini music videos; so, in a way, I have achieved my dream of becoming a music video producer.


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Friday, July 28, 2017

Poem: The Surveyor

The Surveyor (From Poetry Pizza)
by Victor Rook

Surveyor moves along woodland’s edge
With measuring gear in hand
I watch from a distant parking lot
How he sizes up the land

I’ve sat in this same spot before
About a thousand times I’d say
To witness the wondrous nature show
That unfolds there every day

I’ve seen bluejays skirt from tree to tree
And cardinals courting in view
Robins roosting on leafy branches
And gawked as their babies grew

A red-tailed hawk in a winter’s snow
Shook her wings and fluffed each feather
I filmed her one day from across the way
As she held off the stormy weather

Squirrels, too, have made it their home
Chasing up and down each tree
Hungry all day and playful in ways
Like children in groups of three

Geese stop by every now and then
They fly from a nearby pond
One pair each year, a couple so dear
Graze on the grass beyond

I’ve viewed this land as if it were mine
Through each and every season
Now I see this man walking about
But what could be the reason

Will he try to protect this sacred site
A haven we ought to preserve
So others can see and enjoy like me
This bountiful nature reserve

Or will it become a new strip mall
For judo, haircuts, and pizzas
Gouged by rent until it ends up
Empty shops with vacant leases

Or another spot for big box homes
That people seem to keep buying
For as I peek up the nearby street
They appear to be multiplying

Councilmen run on bold platforms
That promise to curb development
But what I see as I drive around
Is precious habitat envelopment

I wonder how many days are left
As the surveyor quietly leaves
Before this gift is taken away
By greedy men and thieves

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Poem: Halloween for Adults

Halloween for Adults (from my book Poetry Pizza)
by Victor Rook

Fall erodes the summer heat
Colored leaves drop to our feet
Once they wither to a crisp
Chilly winds will be their whisk

Evil dwells below the ground
This time of year it comes around
We welcome up the living dead
And celebrate the need for dread

It’s funny how we like the scare
To let our minds seek all we fear
While children crave what is sweet
Adults need more than trick or treat

Something in us reaches out
For the thrill that comes about
It could be signals in the air
Harvest moons say you beware

Of what lurks near every corner
Prepare yourself for the horror
Or better yet be caught off guard
By what looms deep within your yard

Hands may reach up for your foot
And pull you through the soiled soot
Then close you off inside a tomb
To suffer in the devil’s womb

Walking through a cemetery
With lanterns lit we feel leery
We put ourselves within this plight
To conjure up our nighttime fright

Halloween and Poltergeist
Scary films that feed our vice
With babysitters home alone
Or in a house where spirits roam

Bats and bones and wicked charms
Goosebumps running up our arms
Blood and guts and false alarms
Spooky roads and haunted farms

Perhaps we need this time away
Before the Merry holiday
Halloween serves as our hiatus
From the chaos that will await us

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Bald Eagle Vote: Best Choices for Manassas Council

The City of Manassas in Virginia has always prided itself on being a quaint little town with a historic past. But lately it’s lost a lot of that charm. Sure there’s Old Town with the First Fridays, Farmers Markets, and Holiday Parades, but all you have to do is drive twenty seconds north on Centreville Road and the picture dramatically changes.

Excessive Development in the City of Manassas
And within Old Town and for miles in all directions, you will spot many vacant and for-lease office and retail spaces. The signs are everywhere. Yet several of our current council members continually vote for new developments when they can’t even fill what we have. Even worse, these same council men and women are approving developments that will rip out our few remaining green spaces and turn them into what will surely be more unoccupied properties. The City is literally tearing itself up.

Two of those developments are the dual office buildings currently being built across from the NEC building on Gateway Blvd., and one of the largest land developments in the history of Manassas right next to the DMV called the Gateway Project. The City is selling this precious nature reserve, parcel by parcel, to Buchanan Partners to build yet more office buildings, retail shops, and expensive townhouses.

Construction site with bald eagle nest on park edge
What sets these two properties apart from other plots for sale is that over the past several years they’ve become the habitats for a pair of bald eagles and their offspring. A nest currently resides just a few feet from the development across from the NEC building and sits right on the very edge of the adjacent Cannon Branch Fort Park. We’ve witnessed the developers making little effort to protect these birds. They defied a U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) order to not begin clearing and grading until August 1, 2016, and instead started two weeks early. At one point we caught them pumping water and construction contaminants into the city parkland without giving it a second thought.

Though they are no longer listed as endangered species, bald eagles are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. This means that any disturbances that result in a variation of their normal nesting patterns could be harmful and would be a violation.

In the past the adult eagles have returned to the nest throughout the day, even after their young have fledged. Now they fly off to the pond behind the DMV as soon as construction begins each morning and don’t come back to the nest until the last worker is gone. Sometimes, they don’t return at all.

The Gateway Project by the Manassas DMV
In addition to the two-story office buildings being erected directly in front of their nest, the Gateway Project is set to destroy their second refuge and a total of forty acres. The pond down the road by the DMV is where the eagles and other wildlife fish and roost during the day. It is also home to many plant and insect species. Once set for development over a decade ago—a project that was abandoned due to the recession—this untouched area has since transformed into a thriving wetland.

There are three incumbents seeking to hold on to their council seats this November: Ian Lovejoy, Mark Wolfe, and Jon Way.

Ian Lovejoy
Ian Lovejoy voted against the Gateway Project when it was offered up for vote on October 19, 2015. He has since stated that such a development would cause undue traffic burden, a possible increase in enrollment in our already overcrowded schools, and “It’s some of the last green space in the city.” We believe Ian is making careful choices for the future good of our community, and that it why he should get your vote.

Mark Wolfe, on the other hand, not only brought the vote to the table and voted to approve the Gateway Project, he also implied that he would financially benefit from the development a week later during a Comcast Newsmakers interview. He did this as well with a Manassas Ballet funding vote years prior in which he and his wife, the ballet’s artistic director, both benefited. He also attended the groundbreaking ceremony in front of the bald eagles’ nest. We strongly believe that Mark Wolfe needs to be removed from council.

Jon Way currently serves as both Vice Mayor and Council, and he also attended the groundbreaking ceremony in front of the eagles’ nest. On his website he states: “Several new, upscale, convenient residential developments, shopping centers and specialty businesses have been created with the active, supportive involvement of City Council, including myself. More are coming.” As you can imagine, we believe he needs to be replaced as well.

There are four new candidates running for Manassas City Council to take the available three seats. We wish incumbent Lovejoy to keep his, and so we asked all four newcomers about their opinions on the Gateway Project and the eagles.

Rex Parr responded: “I'm afraid that my opinion on Gateway won't change anything. That said, after trying to market that property for 20 years or more, I can understand the desire to jumpstart development. I expect the developer to protect those eagles.” We don’t believe Rex is carefully evaluating the future of the City, nor paying that close attention to what has been happening with the eagles.

Pam Sebesky
Pam Sebesky responded that the Gateway Project should have been more transparent, and that the developers (Pruitt Corporation) by the nest should have honored the USFWS recommendations. And “Development will happen, but with good planning and community input it can be done in a smart way that will benefit the most people and have the best outcomes in preserving our environment.” We believe Pam Sebesky would be a good replacement for Mark Wolfe.

Theresa Coates Ellis responded that "This mixed-use project will add more students to our school system and increase traffic.” However, through further correspondence we feel she isn't up to speed with what's been going on at the nest, even though it’s been in the papers and on several news and radio stations.

Michael Youlen
This brings us to a candidate that we believe would best replace Councilman and Vice Mayor Jon Way: Michael Youlen. Within half a day Michael replied to our email request and said, “I think this issue right here certainly contributes to the discussion as to what type of community people want to have. I love Manassas, and I personally do not want to see it become wall-to-wall concrete. We have room at the present moment, commercially and residentially. Unless the businesses or developers are poised to bring in substantial amounts of career-type, good-paying jobs for people, then I would vote no.” Instead of having fundraising parties with the social elite in our community, Michael Youlen is asking that donations for his campaign be made to charities, churches, and civic and/or veteran organizations.

Photo of Bald Eagle Pair by Ann McIntyre
The bald eagle, regardless of its relegation as endangered, threatened, or protected, is still and will remain our National Bird. Many people, including myself, had never seen a bald eagle in the wild until they spotted the pair by the airport. And the only high school within Manassas City limits (just a block away from City Hall), Osbourn High, is Home of the Eagles. It couldn’t be more ironic.

Even if bald eagles aren’t as important to you as they may be to others, certainly stopping the unnecessary overdevelopment of our town and surrounding areas should take priority. We can’t afford to have our representatives jump into land deals just to line their pockets in office. And no more personal favors. We need to preserve what remains of our natural environment soon, or the only greenery left will be those small trees within the medians of cement parking lots.

When you vote on November 8th, consider voting for Independent Michael Youlen, Democrat Pam Sebesky, and Republican Ian Lovejoy to get our town back on the right track. Mayor Hal Parrish, who also attended the groundbreaking ceremony in front of the eagles’ nest, is running unchallenged…but you can always Write In any other name to send him a message about what is more important. We suggest typing “Eagles” for mayor on your ballot.

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

How You Can Help the Manassas Bald Eagles

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the City of Manassas, the Virginia Department of Inland Game and Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and, of course, the developer on the land, have very little interest in protecting the bald eagles' habitat near the Manassas airport. We've witnessed each of these entities pass the buck from one to the other with no results. If you don't know what is happening, read this.

But YOU can make a HUGE difference:

1. Contact the news media and tell them what is going on: CNN (also online form), FOX (888-369-4762, press 3), MSNBC, WJLA, Clinton, Trump, etc. Try to get investigative reporters and "on your side" people. The Bald Eagle is the Nation's Symbol of Freedom. This is the kind of story they like. National attention will get other U.S. citizens involved. You can share with them this link.

2. Document by photos and video the construction and the eagles from now and through all the construction taking place over the next several months. Get pictures and video of the birds near or on the nest. Take pictures of the birds reacting to the construction. Note any signs of stress in the birds, attempts by the birds to build nests elsewhere, or other issues that will show that the construction has had an effect on their livelihood. Take these photos from the PUBLIC region outside the site and DO NOT DISTURB or ANTAGONIZE the people doing the construction.

3. Capture VIDEO INTERVIEWS in front of the construction site of people concerned about the eagles and ask them how they feel about the construction. Tell your children that the eagles may not come back or may get hurt because of the construction, and get their reactions. Again, stay on the public sidewalks.

4. SHARE your videos and photos relentlessly on Facebook and Twitter with everyone. Also, follow along at the Manassas Airport Eagles Facebook page.

5. TWEET these country music stars and ask them to draw attention to what's happening in Manassas, Virginia. You can share with them this link. Maybe someone will buy the small plot of land and preserve it.

@DollyParton, @TheTimMcGraw, @FaithHill, @Reba, @Clint_Black, @ShaniaTwain

6. Consider who you vote for in the November 8 elections. If the current councilmen and women do nothing to stop this, and they won't, you can remove them from office. The American Bald Eagle is our nation's symbol. If our own representatives can't protect it, what good are they? The City could have easily purchased that small parcel of land and extended the Cannon Branch Fort Park years ago when the eagles started nesting there. This will send a message that some things are more important than office park development.

Thank you for all your help!


Update: 7/23/2016. This is the leasing company's sign and contact information at the site.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Destruction of Manassas Bald Eagle Homeland Has Begun

Update 7/27/2016: WUSATV9 covers story.

Update 7/25/2016: Heartbreaking video of continued construction and interview with one of the many concerned residents, Amber Taylor.

Update 7/23/2016: How You Can Help The Eagles

It has only been 16 months since I first reported on a bit of construction that took place in front of a bald eagle nest in Manassas, Virginia. The post went viral, the story ended up in all the papers, and the City of Manassas reassured the public that the eagles would be safe. Today I returned to that site when I got word that they were now clearing down all the trees and brush directly in front of that nest, thereby destroying the eagles' refuge.

Here is the video I shot today, July 21, 2016. I spoke to one of the construction crew members and he was unaware that there was a nest there. You can hear me talking to him at the end of the clip. He continued to tell me that at other sites he's worked on, they were advised to cease construction when an eagle nest was present.

Typically, this time of year adult eagles and their juveniles will seek out other nearby areas to forage for food. I'm certain the City will use that as their defense, saying that the nest is no longer "active." However, I spoke to one of the proponents of the eagles' safety, Ann McIntyre, who told me she had spotted one of the adults and a juvenile returning to the nest just prior to the construction a week ago. She has not seen them since. It was because of Ann and other naturalists that the City erected this sign across the street to protect the eagles. Seems a bit odd now with a construction vehicle in the background. Odd and disingenuous.

I'm certain the City will call in their go-to Fisheries and Wildlife guy, who will say that this is not doing any harm to the eagles. He'll say that bald eagles are no longer on the endangered species list, which is true, and that distance guidelines for construction near a nest are simply guidelines, not requirements or laws...anymore. He'll also repeat that since the eagles have become used to the noise and commotion of the nearby Manassas Airport and railroad line, this will not bother them as well.

But now their immediate nesting area has been taken away. Gone. Removed. And whatever gets erected there in the coming months, mere yards away from the nest, will most certainly have an impact on them. Will they return to the nest to live and raise offspring this fall?

Would you?

How You Can Help The Eagles

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dumpster Toy Puppy Comes to Life

What would you do if you an inanimate object suddenly came to life? Author Victor Rook describes what happened one Sunday afternoon while taking out the trash.

"I got out of my car to toss away an empty box. As I was about to drive away, my eye caught what appeared to be a stuffed toy animal on its side partially hidden around the back of the bin. It made me wonder why anyone would toss out such a cherished item. Maybe it was torn or dirty. Surely it could be cleaned up. Or maybe someone outgrew it. I told myself to just drive away, but then I looked back one more time. That's when I noticed the toy puppy was now standing on all fours and looking right at me! I had to do a double-take. It just looked at me with its pink tongue sticking out. I couldn't believe what I was seeing!"

Rook first thought that a gust of wind had brought it back up, but there wasn't even a breeze. And upon inspection, the stuffed animal wasn't a battery-operated or animated toy.

"Well, of course I took this as a sign. I had to rescue it from certain death. I couldn't see this creature crushed in a dump truck or buried in some landfill for eternity. It needed a home."

Rook says that Diver, the name he's given the toy puppy after "Dumpster Diver," really wasn't that dirty at all. Its tongue just had a tiny tear in it. After spending a little time with Diver himself, he plans on donating the lost and found toy puppy to a welcoming home this Christmas.

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