VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Finkelstein, David

David Finkelstein
US videomaker


Interview: 10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background

I was born in 1960 in New York, where I still live. I had a lot of exposure to experimental films at the Museum of Modern Art when I was a teenager, but I was more interested in making avant-garde theater and performance works. My artistic training is in music, dance and theater. I made performance works from 1983 to 2000.

2. When, how and why started you filming?

In 2000, I had been making completely improvised performance works for 10 years, and I realized that these improvised pieces would work better as videos than as live performances. I began making videos at that time.

3. What kinds of topics have your films?

Because my videos all come from performances which are improvised by two actors, I never know in advance what the subject matter will be. The actors discover the topic while they are in the process of performing for the camera. Some of the topics which have emerged from these improvisations are:

The fragmentation of contemporary consciousness (in “Epistolary Fusillades”)
How to deal with the impending apocalypse (in “Invincible City”)
Language as a body-centered experience (in “Marvelous Discourse”)

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?

I begin each video by videotaping two actors performing a completely improvised dialog. In the next phase of my work, I listen to the dialog repeatedly, and I compose a musical score, based on the underlying energy and emotional mood of the dialog. I create a complete soundtrack for the video before I have made any images. The final phase is for me to use computer animation to create a collage of images, also based on the original dialog. The images are carefully crafted over a period of 7 or 8 months, and they are a visual analysis of the ideas and feelings which appeared spontaneously in the improvisation.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
Both the music and images in my videos are made with software. I compose the music with the program Reason, playing most of the melodic lines on a MIDI keyboard. I am a professional musician and composer, which gives me the training to be able to create the musical scores for my videos.

6. These days digital technology is dominating also video as a medium. In which way the digital aspect is entering the creation of your videos, technologically and/or conceptually?

The main program I use to create my videos is Adobe After Effects. This software uses a metaphor of “layers,” as you can add as many layers of images as you would like, and the layers interact in different ways. This way of working fits in perfectly with my own way of thinking because I habitually think of images as being constructed from many layers.

7. How do you finance your films?

In the USA, there is almost no funding available from our government for the arts, and it can be difficult to raise money for experimental video from private sources. I try to make my work in the least expensive way possible, and I finance the work myself.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?

The most important collaboration in my work is with the actors. The actors in my films have been studying the technique of improvised performance for years, and their refined skills as improvisers are essential to the artistic success of my videos.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

I grew up in a period of exciting work in the field of experimental theater and performance in New York, and this had the biggest influence on my artistic sensibility. My main influences are the theater of Richard Foreman, Elizabeth LeCompte, Meredith Monk, and Robert Wilson. Of these 4, only Monk has made significant work as a filmmaker.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

I recently completed my first feature length film. I would like to create more long-form work in the future.

Can works of yours viewed online besides on the CologneOFF platform? Where?
List some links & resources

My website:
My Vimeo page: