The several years just prior to its 1983 opening, EZTV developed the various aesthetic toolsets which allowed for the ultimate success of this alternative art space.
In Los Angeles, John Dorr’s attempts at building a mainstream movie career as a screenwriter was not being realized, and so, he turned to low-cost home video recording as a way of getting his projects made. He wrote, produced, and directed four feature-length projects during the years 1979 and 1982.
Simultaneously, in New York, Michael J. Masucci was working on large scale imagery in the center of the photographic industry.
In 1979 John Dorr began to experiment with using home betamax video equipment, to make long-form film-style works. Informed by cinema, and stage theater, these works were narratively based, as opposed to the more conceptually based videos being seen at art spaces throughout the world.
During the late 1970′s LA’s alternative theater scene was producing experimental works, both Queer as well as straight at a variety of alternative venues, such as the Deja Vu in Hollywood. Here playwright Terry Mack Murphy staged his play “The Other Woman”, which would be ultimately be videotaped, with a different cast, including Strawn Bovee, as an early EZTV project.
Frustrated with the lack of acceptance from mainstream Hollywood, for his original screenplays, John Dorr decided to write a satiric work, at first to be produced as a play. The play was never produced, so Dorr decided, instead to shoot the piece “Sudzall Does It All” on video, resulting in his first feature film. The project was shot with a black & white security camera and a home betamax video recorder.
Initially, Dorr considered premiering ”Sudzall” by creating “KGAY” a series of four-hour long screenings, focused on gay themes. He was unable to gain support for this idea, and proceeded with his second feature.
His first two projects (Sudzall Does it All and Case of the Missing Consciousness) were not screened under the banner of KGAY. Ultimately, Dorr approached Arlene Zeichner, video curator at the art space LAICA (Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art), who offered Dorr the chance to do a screening.
Dorr was happy to receive the screening, and was featured in the LAICA Journal. But he realized that traditional art spaces would not be the ideal venue for watching feature-length projects. Art spaces were set-up for seeing video work within the context of an art gallery set-up. Feature-films needed something more akin to a movie theater.
Dorr wanted to form his own venue, or at least connect with a group of like-minded videomakers. Now, instead of KGAY, he began to think more inclusively and was now considering the name “VideoVisions”. He imagined showing indie work on TV sets, at stores, banks and other local venues, and selling ads that would play between the videos.
Just as with KGAY, the VideoVisions name was never used. And no stores or other such venues were secured.
In 1982 he rented the community center in West Hollywood, and presented several evenings of his own work, as well as the work of other video-filmmakers, including Ken Camp (As the World Burns)and Richard Moyer (Rimbaud in L.A. starring Michael Kearns). This was Dorr’s first use of the term “EZTV”.
Dorr became convinced that betamax movies would proliferate and become a viable production alternative to the typical 16mm film that independent filmmakers often turned to, in order to create low-cost projects. Over a two-year period he produced “Dorothy and Alan at Norma Place” a two-hour bio-pic on the life of writer Dorothy Parker starring Strawn Bovee:
This inspired Dorr, to use a small ($25,000) inheritance he received to open, along with a number of other founding members, a full-time venue: EZTV Video Gallery.
Initially, John Dorr intended to premiere “Sudzall Does It All” as part of a four-hour program of Queer-themed work under the name KGAY.
He envisioned an evening of gay entertainment which would be funded by showing commercials made for local West Hollywood area businesses. He thought about a number of venues and drew out his ideas in these 1979 notes: COMING SOON
John Dorr, before settling on the name EZTV, considered several other names. In a hand-written sketch typical of the way Dorr would work out his ideas, he declares an activist manifesto with such provocateur statements such as, “Return the visual arts to the ARTISTS” and “Depose the Hollywood suck-pigs!”, and then entices the reader with the prospect of “Make a feature for $25.”: COMING SOON
In many ways, what EZTV was to become was as much influenced by a high-end photographic facility in New York City, as it was by the emergence of home video.
Founded by Ralph Baum in the 1950′s New York’s Modernage Photographics pioneered many of the most advanced darkroom techniques, in the last half of the 20th Century. A master photographer and technician, Baum was to champion the notion that the art of the photographic print, was equally important to the creation of the photographic negative that served as its inspiration.
In addition to Baum, master darkroom technicians, or darkroom artists, such as Al Striano and Josef Cernovics printed many of the most historical and iconic photographic images, for museums, major galleries and the most prestigious magazines and Fortune 500 companies. From Life Magazine to master museum exhibited photographers, Modernage was the place that achieved the highest standards anywhere.
By the late 1970′s Modernage was, arguably the most technologically advanced and aesthetically informed resource for high-end, museum and publication-quality applications in the art of photography.
Michael J. Masucci served three years at Modernage, before relocating to Los Angeles to participate in the founding of EZTV Video Gallery. During his tenure there, he worked on the master printing of numerous photographic masterpieces, for clients such as Richard Avedon.
Masucci was promoted early in his time there, to working in Modernage’s most prestigious department, the Exhibition Salon Mural lab, where he, along with his mentor master printer Josef Cernovics, printed some of the largest photographic images then achieved including Richard Avedon’s 110 foot long print of the “Joint Chiefs of Staff” and equally large print of Avedon’s “Andy Warhol and Gang”.
Masucci’s experience at Modernage informed and prepared him for the next phase of his career, creating large-scale video art projections, in the early 1980′s, in Los Angeles.
Among the greatest influence that Modernage instilled upon Masucci, and therefore EZTV, was the notion that commercially available hardware was often inadequate to achieve the highest levels of production. At Modernage, Masucci and his mentors would often work with chemists, optical physicists and manufacturers, to design new lenses, chemical formulas and printing technologies, as well as modify existing, often classic and irreplaceable devices, some the only ones of their kind.
Masucci adapted this ‘hot-rod’ approach to video, first with modifying low-end video equipment, in order to create his early “Standing Waves” series of videos, and then ultimately, to adapt primitive desktop computers, to greatly expand and enhance the graphics capability of early EZTV.
Crowd outside Art Museum, 1990