The Standby Program

Jason Guerrasio Interviews Maria Venuto


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What is Standby?
It’s a nonprofit media arts service organization that has been in existence since 1983. We provide postproduction services to artists and nonprofits, provide technical consultation, and do publications to serve the media arts field.

Why did Standby start?
Basically, it was a small group of artists/editors who started the whole thing. It began in the eighties. The editors worked at a place called Matrix Video in New York, and they were interested in getting artists to come in and work on their projects with the high-end tools Matrix Video had. The editors made arrangements with the management to bring them in after hours.

How did you get other production houses involved in letting artists use equipment during off hours?
The founders had one foot in the artist world and one foot in the commercial editing world, so they had connections to other facilities, and they were able to cultivate other relationships. A lot of the people who were involved in Standby were freelancing and had affiliations with commercial houses other than Matrix Video. Through the years, we’ve gained relationships with the facilities, including the big ones like Editel and Broadway Video. One thing we’re known for is training junior editors. From the commercial studio’s perspective, letting junior editors work with us is a good way for them to get exposure to different types of projects.

What does a filmmaker have to do to be able to make use of your services?
There’s a one-page application form and basically any project that’s independent, meaning no commercial backing, is eligible. It’s pretty open. We just want to make sure that it’s not something that has commercial money because then it threatens the relationship we have with the facilities. They don’t want to give low rates to commercial projects. We do ask them to set up an account with us because we handle all the money. The filmmaker is sort of setting up a little bank account with us, and then we handle all the billing. In a nutshell we’re brokering time.

How many projects do you do on average each year?
Yearly, it’s anywhere from fifty to seventy projects. The scope of what we provide varies. Sometimes it’s just duplications. Sometimes it’s the full thing with transfers, editing, and sound post-production. Most recently, we’ve started doing preservation services, so we can re-master old formats.

You said Standby has a publication project?
Yes, it’s called FELIX: A Journal of Media Arts and Communications. It’s a series of books published irregularly by Standby. Each issue concerns itself with a particular theme, and features articles by established and emerging media makers. The company just celebrated its twentieth anniversary.

What are you doing to celebrate?
We kicked off a screening series at MoMA in October, which surveys the work that’s gone through the program for the last twenty years. Some of the films screened were: Skip Blumberg’s Flying Morning Glory, Tony Oursler’s The Life of Phillis, and Cathy Cook’s Beyond Voluntary Control. In November, the series will
move to the Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley, CA.

What were some of the most memorable projects or filmmakers to request your services?
A lot of them are included in the program. Jem Cohen’s Lost Book Found,Dara Birnbaum’s Damnation of Faust.We worked a lot with Juan Downey which was interesting.

What do you think has kept filmmakers coming back to Standby for the past twenty years?
I think that we provide them with access to tools they might not otherwise get access to, at rates they can afford. Some filmmakers who come to us are just starting to make films and it’s all new to them. So to make the process of going to a big commercial facility less intimidating, we through consultation with them.
Another reason we guide them through it is so they’re doing it in a cost-effective way. It’s helpful to have somebody who knows the process and the different things to look out for.

What is the most common mistake a filmmaker makes when they approach you?
The common mistake that everyone makes is not allowing enough time to complete their project; not providing for enough hours; having unrealistic ideas about how many hours of editing time they need to do their project. People have to be somewhat patient because there is a possibility of getting bumped. Those who are very nervous because they have hard deadlines with little flexibility find the program less pleasant to use. We try to advise people as to how long things take. If they have unrealistic ideas about how long things really take, we try to enlighten them.

Are there common misconceptions filmmakers come in with?
Quite frequently we get people who think they can do things in real time. For example, with sound or video edit, for every minute of program you need an hour of edit time, and people think that’s outrageous. It’s not always that much, but it’s a safe ballpark figure, and there are people who think they need an hour to complete a fifty-minute project. That’s just not the case.