Fractal Video Adds Berkeley Touch to Unique Works for Unique Artists By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday December 28, 2004

Chris Odell’s created the perfect job. 

As proprietor of Fractal Video, the 28-year-old techie gets to hang around musicians, performance artists and other colorful folk—and he gets paid for his time. 

Thanks to the never-ending cornucopia of modern technology, he can do with a small camera, a computer and a healthy investment of his own time what once was accessible only to those with considerable cash, bulky equipment and endless labor. 

“I’ve done videos for fire-breathers, contortionists and other strange, oddball and unlikely acts who probably wouldn’t have been able to afford them” had they gone to other, more conventional producers, Odell said. 

“I could’ve gone after the commercial market, but that just isn’t us,” he said. “I like our clients quite a bit.” 

Odell grew up in Santa Barbara, where he learned the basics of video production in high school. “They wanted to make shows about football,” he said. 

But instead, he created his own show, posing questions to students and capturing their answers. 

“It aired after the student bulletins, but sometimes it was a little too controversial,” he recalled. 

He tested out of high school and began working with Macintosh commuters. He came to the Bay Area to take an editing course at the University of San Francisco and liked what he saw. 

Early jobs included stints as a production assistant for local cable companies and shooting surgeries for a medical company. 

He got the idea for his own company when he realized “there were enough artists and unlikely acts in the area who could use videos.” 

Right about the time he was planning his career change, Apple Computers released a piece of video editing software called Final Cut Pro, which allowed a Mac user to perform full-scale editing operations on one machine. 

The software is so sophisticated that Hollywood studios are using it. “They used it to edit Cold Mountain,” Odell said. 

His initial clientele was limited to artists and musicians, but he and partner Peter Hyoguchi have since expanded to local business, producing streaming video segments for websites. 

And the few weddings he’s shot haven’t been exactly traditional either. 

“In the last one, the father came dressed up as Darth Vader, and about half the people were in costumes,” he said. 

Odell will work for corporate clients, but only if he likes what they’re doing and they treat their employees responsibly. 

His highest-profile client is Inman Real Estate News, for whom he has been shooting a series of documentaries the firm hopes to sell as a made-for-cable series. 

The series will show how people live in various surroundings. For one of the first segments, he focused on an old brewery in Los Angeles that had been divvied up into living quarters. A future shoot might focus on a New York penthouse, another on low-income housing. 

He also does occasional work for a Santa Barbara company that’s developed a device that concentrates oxygen from the air, relieving people with serious breathing problems from the need to cart around bulky oxygen tanks. 

“It’s a good company, I like the people and they’re doing good things. They’re not out there clubbing baby seals,” he said, smiling. 

Another corporate client is Specialties in San Francisco, which produces cookies, breads and sandwiches. 

But most of his clients are typically less strait-laced. 

Consider the Stupid Fun Club, the creation of computer gaming magnate Will Wright, whose series of “Sims” lifestyle simulation creations have captured a healthy share of the market. 

Wright gives money to young techies to develop robotic creations, and Odell produced a series pilot segment about the creation of a self-learning mechanical creation powered by an artificial intelligence program. 

“Right now, they’re doing it for fun,” Odell said, “but who knows what they might come up with?” 

Another client bills himself as The Yo-Yo King, a 400-pound virtuoso of the stringed spinning top who opens his act with Black Sabbath music. 

Then there’s Rubber Boy, a world renowned contortionist. 

Others include: 

• Experimental Dental School, a small rock band Odell describes as “like a cross between Mr. Bungle and the Butthole Surfers.” 

• Atta Boy and Burke, “a couple of white guys who do rap with a rock background.” In another incarnation, Atta Boy is an Albany illustrator who makes toys on the side. 

• Mongoloid, a long-standing and popular Devo cover band who performs the groups hits in identical costumes. 

• Molotov & Felicity, a duo specializing in circus acts featuring flaming dagger and a bed of needles. 

He’s also edited the features of Berkeley underground filmmaker Antero Alli with a small but dedicated following. In addition to creating visually rich videos, Alli has drafted horoscopes for Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.  

Fractal’s latest venture is in another medium altogether. 

Shortly after the election, Odell walked into the Odeon, a San Francisco bar that’s a favorite hangout for artists. “Everyone was upset about the outcome between Bush and Bush Lite,” he recalled. 

Then he remembered a graphic floated on a German web site and quickly echoed throughout the blogosphere, depicting the “blue” states grafted onto the country to the north, now relabeled “The United States of Canada,” the “red” states now consolidated as “Jesusland.” 

“I though I might cheer my friend up and make a little money at the same time,” he said. 

Odell’s version, printed on a shirt, adds one twist not in the original, the superimposition of the Confederate battle flag over Jesusland. 

For more information on Fractal Video and the shirt, see fractalvideo.com.