Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TV: interviews with the cast of "Survivor," a blog by the "Grey's Anatomy" writers. NPR's Neda Ulaby has the story of a group of fans who've been interacting with TV shows for decades. They make unauthorized, underground videos and call themselves vidders.

NEDA ULABY: A vidder takes dozens of clips from various episodes of a TV show and edits them together to a song. The fan-vid might suggest a story that never existed in the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ULABY: This vid takes scenes from the show "CSI: New York." It begins with depressing shots of rainy trafficky streets, then switches to gritty crime scenes, ambulances, burning buildings.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Unidentified Man #1 (Singer): (Singing) Her world has changed. She asked God why.

ULABY: Actor Gary Sinise, who plays the show's main detective, stalks, tight- lipped, through the carnage. The creators of "CSI: New York" did not intend the show to be watched like this, cut wildly out of sequence to a song by the band Good Charlotte. But the vidder has its own agenda. He has something to say about the dangers faced by cops on the show, and he's saying it by cutting existing scenes together.

This vid's got thousands of views on YouTube. It's one of untold millions of fan-vids online.

FRANCESCA COPPA: Vidding is a way of seeing.

ULABY: Professor Francesca Coppa makes vids, and she studies them. Coppa belongs to a community of mostly female vidders who avidly follow programs like "Smallville" and "Stargate Atlantis." She says they crave subtler storylines, deeper characters. They use vids to create different stories from the ones they see on TV.

COPPA: I think women are having to kind of supplement mass media culture with their own ideas or fill in the blanks themselves for things they're not getting from the mainstream culture.

ULABY: The story of vidding is a story of people mastering technology to respond to shows they love. Coppa says viding began back in 1975, when a fan named Kandy Fong showed a slide show at a "Star Trek" convention. She took shots of Spock laughing, scowling and otherwise struggling with his half-human, half-alien nature and matched them to a song recorded by Leonard Nimoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

LEONARD NIMOY: (Singing) I really don't know life at all.

ULABY: Vids became vastly more sophisticated. Francesca Coppa says vidders evolved with technology in the 1980s and '90s.

COPPA: When the home VCR came out, fans would tape everything that they loved, and then they started using two VCRs to edit footage together, which is, by the way, extremely difficult.

ULABY: Back then, fans sent each other vids in the mail. Now anyone can download cheap digital-editing software and remix their favorite TV shows.

RACHAEL SABOTINI: I care about these characters. It's very much a communal experience.

ULABY: Vidder Rachael Sabotini says the Internet expands that communal experience, but it makes vidders vulnerable to big media companies that own copyrights to the music and shows. It's not unusual for YouTube to remove fan- vids without warning.

REBECCA TUSHNET: Notice and takedown is probably what we've heard the most about recently.

ULABY: Rebecca Tushnet is a Georgetown Law School professor.

TUSHNET: And I'm an occasional vidder myself, but not a very good one.

ULABY: Tushnet's part of a group called the Organization for Transformative Works. It advocates for the rights of vidders like Rachael Sabotini.

SABOTINI: I think that we have that right to be able to transform and re- imagine.

ULABY: Sabotini says vidders aren't pirates. They're not trying to make money. In fact, they're notoriously willing to shell out for expensive DVD sets that provide the most beautiful source material for their vids, and they're known for turning their friends into fans.

Such organic buzz marketing leads to some corporate schizophrenia, says vidder Francesca Coppa.

COPPA: You might have a marketing department of your company might be running a let's-make-vids-to-promote-the-show contest while the legal department of the same company is tossing vids off the Internet.

ULABY: But fan-vids are finding significant mainstream recognition, even from museums. One's on display right now at the California Museum of Photography.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ULABY: It's by a rising vidding star, a 27-year-old British woman who vids under the name Lim.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

REGINA SPEKTOR: (Singing) They made a statue of us.

ULABY: The vid uses music by Regina Spektor. It's about what it means to be a fan. In it, "Star Trek" bleeds into "X-Files" and "The Dark Knight," but you don't have to care about any of them to appreciate her artistry. She edits video with stark, grey, hand-rendered graphics, washed through with great waves of color. It speaks to the longing of fans to be part of the show.

LIM: We all speak the language of television. We all know the basic symbolism, that, you know, rain means redemption, open window means a new choice or an opportunity.

ULABY: Lim says she's mastered the language of television better than the media companies that put pressure on vidders.

LIM: The media seem to think they own the things they've pumped into my brain for 27 years. It seemed to me so ludicrous that television spends so much time and so much money carefully colonizing my mind.

ULABY: It's her mind, she says, and she can't not speak it, one voice in a growing chorus of fans who've discovered they can talk back to their television shows.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: