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[personal profile] seekingferret
Responsible for the lack of consistent title block from vid to vid: seekingferret
Title: The Upload
Vidder: seekingferret
Song: "My Body is a Cage" by Peter Gabriel
Fandom: Terminator series, particularly Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles [supplementary Terminator source from T2, T3, Salvation, and Genisys]
Additional source from: Grey's Anatomy, Firefly, and random youtube documentaries
Content Notes: Scifi violence, needles, other medical/surgical imagery
Length: 6:04
Summary: John Connor uploads into a metal body and sends herself back in time to protect Sarah Connor. This does not always go as expected.
Premiered at: Wiscon Vidshow 2018
Thanks to: [personal profile] sanguinity, [personal profile] ghost_lingering, [personal profile] chaila, [personal profile] thirdblindmouse, [personal profile] anoel, and [personal profile] beatrice_otter for valuable rounds of beta feedback and brainstorming help. Thanks to the denizens of [community profile] vidding, particularly [personal profile] amnisias and [personal profile] klia, for pointing me to Grey's Anatomy as a source of footage.

(Download available at this Critical Commons link Free login required)

The history of this vid dates back six years, to when [personal profile] sanguinity convinced me to give The Sarah Connor Chronicles a second chance. I found that after a slow start, I was hooked. We talked a bunch after I watched the devastating S2 finale about how open it leaves the story. One of our speculations was that the finale pointed to the possibility that Future!John uploaded himself into Cameron and sent herself back in time to protect Past!John and Sarah. This explained several obscure lines from S2, like when Cameron in a Flashforward tells Jesse that speaking to Cameron was the same as speaking to John, or when Cameron insists to Past!John that it was important that he understand how her chip and body worked, or the several times when Cameron acts on supposed Future!John orders in situations Future!John seems unlikely to have been able to anticipate.

It's a nonsense theory that doesn't hold up under the weight of the evidence against it, but it's a FASCINATING nonsense theory. It's fascinating because it infuses all of Cameron's scenes in the show with hidden meanings to decode, and fascinating because it offers an explanation for mysteries we'll never get answers to because of the show's tragic cancellation, but primarily it's fascinating because it takes all the identity and embodiment and human/machine and fighting the future questions the show was so good at asking, and amps them up to 11, in a swirl that implicates all three of the show's protagonists. Each of the central three of John, Cameron, and Sarah are transformed if Cameron is Future!John, and we have to ask different questions about their bodies and their souls if it is true. It's both a transhumanist narrative and a transgender narrative. And it's also a story about war and PTSD and the toll it takes.

In the last six years, I've considered several songs for telling this story in vidform, most seriously John Darnielle's "Surrounded", with its technoapocalyptic chorus: "Let me die, let me die// Surrounded by machines." That song is also in its fashion a song about a person living a second life with the support of machines- in this case the retired employee of an evil organ-harvesting colony on the moon living a secluded life of luxury on Earth on the proceeds of his immoral labor. The song was appealing to me because it potentially offered a way to a relatively unambitious vid on the theme. It's not a long song and it only covers one emotional mood, albeit a complex one. I listened to this song and thought, "Yes, I might actually be able to make this vid." Eventually, this is why I rejected it. There's so much possibility in my crack theory that I wanted a vidsong and a vid that had more space in it- space for different emotional moods, a more thorough arc, more questions. Eventually, after listening to a lot of transhumanist music, I came back to the Arcade Fire's "My Body is a Cage", and its even more baroque cover by Peter Gabriel. This was a song I had no confidence I could vid to, and that's why I knew it was sufficiently ambitious. It's long, slow, and lyrically confusing. It has three clear sections that each have narrative motion within them. There was plenty of space for storytelling and plenty of space for thoughtful interrogation of themes, but would I be able to tell a clear enough story in the space? Would I be able to hold an audience's attention through the whole thing? The damned vid has premiered now, and I still don't know.

Nobody really knows what "My Body is a Cage" is about, except I suppose the Arcade Fire themselves. The internet has a lot of theories- it's about social anxiety, it's about literal paralysis, it's about feeling unseen, it's about forbidden love, it's about grief and the death of a loved one, it's about transcendence through spiritual faith... In some fashion, it's about running up against the limitations of physicality and trying to find a way to overcome them.

And that's very much the story I try to tell in The Upload. A John Connor who is at wit's end- he has been fighting against the machines since he was a boy, and it is never ending, and even if he wins against the machines and fulfills his messianic destiny, all it will do is reset the timeline and lead to a new, more dangerous and destructive time traveling battle against Skynet, who will send yet more deadly machines to try to kill Sarah Connor, the woman he loves more than anything in the world. He is tired and he is beat and he is seeking an out, because he is mere flesh and Skynet is forever.

But John Connor's uniqueness is that he is the one who can beat the machines because unlike everyone else in the Resistance, he understands how they work. He, maybe even a little bit, loves the machines. And as he struggles with his body's failings, he begins to wrestle with a choice: If he uploads himself into a Terminator, he rids himself of the limitations of his human body. He can go back in time, protect his mother and his younger self, and all he needs to do is surrender all that makes him human. It's not an easy choice, but in my vid, he makes it.

Surgeons go deep into his brain and try to extract that which makes him John Connor and transfer it to a chip, which is inserted into a terminator body. John who is now Cameron goes back in time, encounters John and Sarah, and starts to try to figure out her new situation. Her body is not what she expected, the way the world sees her, the way she sees herself, it is all different. She has a new sexuality she hadn't reckoned on. Her new body, for all the added toughness is not more invincible than the original. She is a new person, part John, but also part something new. She is with the ones she loves, but her love has been transformed into something unexpectedly different from what it had been. She finds that even as a machine, she is still questing for something more. Perhaps in the end she finds it.

I wanted to really emphasize the physicality of the transformation. I screwed up and forgot to give [personal profile] beatrice_otter medical warnings before showing her the vid, and she said afterward, complaining about the grossout surgical imagery, that she didn't understand why, if he's just doing an upload, they can't just scan the brain in-situ and upload the data to a chip. Or just install a jack and do a transfer through the jack. But I didn't want that. I wanted the upload process to be messy and complicated and dangerous and physical, because so much of this vid is grounded in the complexity of bodies and forms of embodiment.

And it ends with Traffic Lights, my goto shorthand for the scene in Vick's Chip where Cameron's chip is uploaded into the LA traffic control system, my favorite moment in all of TSCC. It's possible to read being uploaded into a computer as the rejection of embodiment, but that's not how the Traffic Lights scene reads it. It's not how the Terminator series envisions computers at all. Skynet, and alter-Skynet, and John Henry, and my putative uploaded Cameron!John, experience a different level of embodiment, thousands or millions of peripherals and sensors surrounding a distributed nerve center comprising a foreign but no less real neural network. "What did you see", John asks Cameron after this scene, and Cameron answers "Everything." In The Upload, that's eventually where "set my body free" leads John. Thus, in being set free from his cage, John is exchanging an old body for a new kind embodiedness.


I started thinking about the Arcade Fire version of this song as a Terminator vidsong back in 2013 during the [community profile] tightpresent vidding frenzy. Apparently I was thinking of it as a Skynet vid song- I eventually instead went with a section of Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi in making "Skynet: Life in the Balance." Using the Peter Gabriel version, and using it to tell the story of John uploading, dates back about a year. I watched T3 and Terminator Salvation last summer to see which version of adult John worked best for the vid, and confirmed that though Salvation is a much worse movie, Christian Bale's John Connor was better for my vid. This was primarily for two reasons- first, because Bale as an actor projects the interiority to support the idea of him wrestling with a difficult decision, and second, because for some reason that still eludes me, the film spends a lot of time and effort creating visual doubling effects between John and the Terminators. As a tertiary reason, I suspected that I could supplement the Salvation footage with stuff from other mid 2000s Bale stuff like Batman, The Machinist, whatever. I didn't end up needing to, but I thought it gave me more options than using Nick Stahl would. In the planning stages, I was very aware that this story was sufficiently AUish to require imagery not available in the Terminator shows and films, but I didn't yet know what I would need exactly, so I tried to make decisions that gave me the most flexibility.

I started laying clips in November, procrastinating my other vid projects. Initially, I put together the vid as three completely distinct sections. I did part one, nearly exclusively clipped from Salvation, in November. In late November I solicited recommendations for medical shows to search for the imagery of the upload sequence in part 2, and after looking at ER, House, Holby City, and The Latest Procedure, decided I liked the look of Grey's Anatomy's surgery scenes the best. The first few months of 2018 were consumed with vid review of both Grey's and TSCC- I also accidentally got hooked on Grey's. In March I made section 2, a combination of imagery from Salvation, TSCC, and Grey's, along with one modified very famous shot from Firefly- Summer Glau's body in a box, intended to represent them rolling in a clean terminator body to be uploaded into. Then I made section 3 in early April and started to think about the whole vid as a single thing for the first time. A lot of things changed significantly once I had the full timeline, as the ways in which the different sections interacted and built on each other became clear. I got lots of fantastic, painfully frank feedback on the ways in which my vid was failing to communicate its basic ideas, and slowly I figured out how to clarify what was unclear, without tampering with the complexity and subtlety I was trying to achieve. Of course I didn't have time for slowly. I'd been targeting VVC premieres as the audience with the sophistication in vid watching to make sense of my confusing constructed reality most easily but they announced that because of the high volume of premieres anticipated in the final year, six minute vid submissions were not welcome, so I retargeted Wiscon and its much sooner deadline. Hence panic.

The big problem I faced was that once a beta watched the vid, they were ruined forever as a beta. Not really, but there was a very big difference between the first, unspoiled watch, and subsequent watches. Betas tended to find the vid much clearer, all of its narrative arc and thematic questions possible to follow, on second and third viewings once they knew what to look for. But of course, the premiere at Wiscon would be a first viewing for the whole audience. So the big movement in revision was forcing myself to stop being cute and to spell things out as clearly as possible. I added chapter titles that spelled out in fairly clear terms what was happening in each section. I added Cameron voice overs that cued some of John's unspoken thoughts, and added some TSCC imagery to the beginning to prime the viewer to think about the connection between TSCC John and Future!John. But because of the basic trap of betas being ruined after that first watch, it was hard to tell if the changes work. I'd show the beta a vid for the first time, get great comments, then make changes based on the comments and get positive feedback on the changes, but still remain unsure if the changes would help a viewer going in cold. So... I dunno, maybe this vid is a failure. I'm proud of it, regardless. And hopefully I can build from here- I want to keep making ambitious, tricky vids like this one going forward even if they don't always work.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-05-27 02:46 pm (UTC)
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)
From: [personal profile] laurashapiro
I found this vid utterly fascinating. Once I got what you were doing, I couldn't tear my eyes away. It's such a deep concept, and you bravely chose such a difficult song for it. I can't wait to watch it again!

(no subject)

Date: 2018-05-29 05:11 pm (UTC)
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)
From: [personal profile] laurashapiro
I am thrilled and delighted to hear that! <3 How wonderful to have helped make such a powerful vid come to be.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-03 11:11 am (UTC)
ratcreature: RatCreature as Sarah Connor (sarah connor)
From: [personal profile] ratcreature
This is so cool! I love vids that tell a narrative story rather than just an emotional one, especially ones that flesh out a AU idea or such. FWIW I've only watched it once so far, and thought it was fairly clear, with the titles explaining the events.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-03 03:14 pm (UTC)
tassosss: (Cameron)
From: [personal profile] tassosss
Oh wow. This is fantastic! I think you do a really good job with telling the story.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-06-04 07:44 pm (UTC)
sophygurl: Lamb with cute face, with text "What's up?!" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophygurl
I really love the use of song beats and lyrics and tying various sources together to tell a unique story within the narrative of the source texts themselves. Brilliant and fun to watch and piece together intellectually.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-07-20 05:58 pm (UTC)
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
From: [personal profile] brainwane
Thank you for making and sharing this. What a ride.

I want to keep making ambitious, tricky vids like this one going forward even if they don't always work.

I was trying to explain to my spouse why I particularly admire your vidmaking, and -- you're so playful and ambitious and wondering "what if?" and your sensibility of taking jokes/nonsense/impossibilities seriously with proper formal constraints really speaks to me.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-07-24 05:58 pm (UTC)
jb_slasher: tom everett scott (tom on crack)
From: [personal profile] jb_slasher
Holy holy holy wow this vid is amazing.

(no subject)

Date: 2018-07-25 09:09 am (UTC)
jb_slasher: melissa mccarthy (Default)
From: [personal profile] jb_slasher
Umm, I hope you don't mind me asking, I feel like a dummy but how does the download work on the CC site? I logged in but can't find the download link/button/action?

(no subject)

Date: 2018-07-25 12:39 pm (UTC)
jb_slasher: melissa mccarthy (Default)
From: [personal profile] jb_slasher
Okay, cool. Thanks!


seekingferret: Two warning signs one above the other. 1) Falling Rocks. 2) Falling Rocs. (Default)

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