You don’t need original footage to make a video–just some simple editing equipment and an active imagination.

Early in this century, "found objects" or "ready-mades" appeared in art galleries and museums. Artists placed ordinary manufactured objects on pedestals for public appreciation. Why? Were they trying to renew our estimation of ordinary things? Were they trying to deconstruct our semiotics? Nah, they were just trying to make a buck. One of the most notorious found objects was Marcel Duchamp’s urinal signed "R. Mutt 1917." Perhaps he was just trying to make a splash – but he made a buck too.

If Duchamp can get away with this, why not makers of videos? How about some "found video," i.e. video made of found clips? Why not assemble videos from all that footage collecting dust in your cupboard and littering the path you take to the garage? How about using shots from the dozens of video cassettes you skirt past at work every day without giving them a second thought? Why not make something of the tapes you shove aside from under your pillow at night?


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Stop. You say your life isn’t quite so crowded with video footage as all that? Still, footage isn’t hard to find. Here are some places to look:

The shelf where you keep your home movies. Sure you’ve already shot and edited them, but now you can pick out a few finished tapes and edit between them with a new theme in mind. Better yet, from Duchamp’s (lack of a) point of view, just edit between them at random–Dada style.

Your VCR. Pull the tape out of there and edit something together from whatever you find on the tape. Don’t break any copyright laws, but answer this: if moving pictures show with no one to see them, do they really exist? We refer here to non-commercial, tiny-audience productions. One of the funniest home videos I’ve never seen was made of segments from old Star Trek shows juxtaposed against each other and against a humorous sound track.

The movie videos you rented from Box Blusters. Regarding copyright: get signed permission, or see item two, above.

The Internet. All kinds of Video for Windows, QuickTime and MPEG files sit in cyberspace awaiting your download. With an encoder, you could dump them to tape for editing. With simple video editing software, you could edit them in their native digital state on your computer.

By the same encoder token, you can make a video clip of anything you can make appear on your computer screen.

Your ever-expanding CD-ROM library can provide scenes from your favorite, um, public-domain encyclopedias.

Stock-footage collections. You can have these for a little change, or just in exchange for credits.

Stills. Open your photo albums. Shoot the pictures you’ve already shot, and edit the resulting footage with a sound track of your own devising.

See: there is a clip in every pot and two cassettes in every garage.

Now you need a concept. Has it ever struck you that there are stills and video clips both of enormous galaxies and microscopic compounds available on the Internet? How about cutting them together in a short called Macroscope/Microscope? You could instead download shots from various surgical procedures and inter-cut them — so to speak — with trailers from movie releases for, say, It’s a Wonderful Life: the Inside Story. Or how about cutting the product mentions from one public-domain, 30-second commercial with the visuals from another? Or cutting the visuals from a grade B movie, say The Colossal 60-foot Man, with a song from a CD, say My I’m Large by The Bobs? How about using chroma-key or luma-key to give your spouse a lead role in Godzilla Meets Mothra?

Try editing found footage. It exercises your cutting skills, gives enjoyable results and leaves you with that warm feeling. You know, the one that radiates from knowing that you’ve done your bit for recycling.

Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.