Combining live performance with old film gets Julie Meitz
back to her roots. By Ross Orr
Julie Meitz first picked up a Super 8 camera as a Meitz preassembles one reel and lets it run
teenager, and has worked with experimental film, continuously (including segments of black leader, to
video, and multimedia installations ever since. leave gaps for other projections). She overlays more
Lately she’s been mixing video in live performance, footage alongside or superimposed onto this, swivel-for music shows and other events in the Detroit area. ing her projectors on lazy Susans as needed.
Photograph by Ross Orr
For VJing, she lugs along a Mini-ITX PC, stuffed And effects processing? Completely manual, low-
with 30 gigs of source clips — her own original foot- tech, and homemade. Meitz swaps in and out colored
age, found film, or processed feature-film shots. She gels, or a spinning multicolored filter wheel made
collages and layers these sequences on the fly. from an old film reel. She hand-cranks a fan blade in
But every once in a while, Meitz likes to get back front of one lens, giving a beautiful strobe effect.
to her roots and do some old-skool “FJing,” her term In performance, she is a blur of movement, darting
for live mixing of multiple 16mm film projectors. around her clattering setup to change filters, swap
To prepare a film mix to accompany live music, reels, and flip levers. The resulting collage can be
she starts by pulling reels from her five shelves of funny, evocative, quirky, and magical.
salvaged educational films and obscure theatrical Getting the timing of a performance to work can be
releases, looking for thematically related clips. The tense, even using a prepared cue sheet. And there’s
process is not click-and-drag easy: previewing foot- a constant risk of bulbs burning out, or a show-stop-
age and experimenting with combinations can take ping film jam. Meitz ended a recent performance by
Meitz a month of preparation for a 45-minute set. giving all her projectors grateful kisses, for making
She chooses carefully which of her six balky vin- it through the show with only one minor breakdown.
tage projectors is up to the strains of performance. She sometimes wonders if the stress is worth it.
One favorite is an old Lafayette Analyzer — originally But Meitz still delights in the look and feel of pro-
sold to scientists and sports coaches — designed jected film. And audiences, jaded with gee-whiz CGI
to jog film forwards and backwards, and instantly effects, seem to appreciate her efforts to keep it reel.
change speeds. This lets her “scratch” with film clips
much as a DJ can with vinyl. Ross Orr keeps the analog alive in Ann Arbor, Mich.