Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dealing with talent can be the toughest part of a producer's job

I was getting ready to write the second part of my "Why WV content is different" post - got all my ducks in a row, wrote out a few notes, ready to go.

Then LC directed me to this video, and it blew my concentration. Hope it blows yours too:


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Adding the splashcast player

Splashcast has created a product that's pretty cool, and very much in line with the kind of RSS innovation I talk about on this blog.

They grabbed the rss feed from our Wallstrip Youtube channel and created an embeddable Splashcast player. Anyone can do this, grabbing their own videos from sharing sites, or other videos they admire. Then they can add photos (a flickr feed), music, etc. - creating their own rss powered multimedia distribution platform that's easy to embed, email and share.

A lot of smart people say that editors are going to be the real winners in the web entertainment space - people who can weed through all the noise, and aggregate compelling content for their viewers/readers/listeners. Splashcast is out there providing an elegant way to do that.

I've added the Splashcast Wallstrip player to my sidebar so I can play with it and see how it performs. It's serving the same purpose as our Revver widget, and I'm curious how the daily experience will compare.

Stay tuned!

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Monday, February 12, 2007

T-Minus Two Days

Happy Monday everyone.

We're picking fights we can't win at Wallstrip:

Howard's picking fights no one would want to win on his blog

And boys and girls everywhere - from the 7 day middle school affair to the silver anniversary - is scrambling around to buy something for national Hallmark day.

They say that the average man will spend $120 this year, down from $140 last year. I will be spending zero dollars, because I don't believe in saints.

Even if my favorite actor is pimping America's "when you don't feel like expressing yourself, let us" company this year.

When I was in grade school, it was cool to make your own valentines for your class. Six years later, when my sister was in grade school, it was all about who had the coolest store-bought barbie and ken valentines.

So this Valentine's Day, I'd like to encourage you to celebrate my way: either teach kids it's okay to show affection to others... or stay out of the stores and have some sex... it's free (most of the time).


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Yahoo! Pipes

Yahoo just launched it's very cool, very ajaxy new service Yahoo! Pipes last week. I've had some time now to play around with the service and create a few pipes.

If you read the hype on the web, pipes is supposed to bring programming to the masses and turn the entire web into a programming platform. If you read the hype on the pipes site, "pipes is a hosted service that lets you remix feeds and create new data mashups in a visual programming environment."

OK, so I get the feed mashup aspect - it's very easy to string feeds together, filter them very basically, and spit out a result. I did that here with the different feeds I use to monitor buzz about Wallstrip.

This alone is pretty cool for people like me, who regularly use feeds in their web work-flow. I would love the data integration aspects of this service to be more spelled out - maybe I'm just an idiot (maybe?) and definitely I'm not a programmer- not even an amateur one, but I thought this was supposed to bring programming to the masses.

On the other hand, I thought I might be getting with Pipes was a way to build easy web applications that use .xml as a background technology. In this case, I would understand why the data integration, etc was beyond me, but I would be REALLY excited because people who are smarter than me, but are not programmers could create all kinds of new applications that made life easier and made the web more personal, without the end user ever thinking about the fact that they're using RSS.

That's the future and potential of RSS. I've talked about it a lot on this blog.

But as far as I can tell, that's not what Pipes is about either - at least not right now. The output is simply a feed. There's no way to build an application around it, and user interface design is not integrated into the service.

So count me in the "see the potential, but a little disappointed in the beta" camp.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

A little pub on ABC News

Had a fun time on ABC News with Lindsay talking about Wallstrip. Biana was a great host, and Lindz kept me from making too much of a fool out of myself. I'm the one in the brown jacket, in case you have a difficult time telling us a part.

Since the NYT article, I've spent a lot of time on the phone talking to people who are interested in working with us or helping us. It's been great, but I want to get back out there and shoot! Today we're filming two shows, including a Man on the Street and a rather ambitious green screen project. Should be a really fun way to spend a Friday.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How WV content is different, part 1

Based on my post yesterday, I got a few emails yesterday asking me to explain how I thought WV (web video) content should be different than TV content.

It's a big question, and the most honest answer is, "I don't know." None of us do. I do, however, have plenty of ideas, some of which we're implementing on Wallstrip. Today, I want to talk specifically about intimacy and authenticity.

Start with the premise that you watch your TV from 10 feet away and you watch WV from 3 feet away. In the "real world", if I watch a scene play out in a bar tonight from 10 feet away, I am a spectator. The players in that scene aren't aware of me and I have no impact on its result.

If I watch the same scene from 3 feet away, I am a participant. I may not be involed in the plot, but the players know I'm there (even if they ignore me). And if I'm watching a scene play out three feet away, it's going to dominate my field of view. I'll be immersed in it and not able to watch other things going on at the same time. Finally, I'm more likely to watch it subjectively. If I'm 10 feet away, I'm a more impartial observer. When I'm 3 feet away, I'm hearing every word, looking into the eyes of th players, and making my own judgements about the situation.

So how does all that translate into narrative and structural differences? Here are a few rules I stick to in WV. Of course, the idea with any visual storytelling is to figure out the rules and then find creative ways to break them.

1) The viewer will see the story more intimately, so tell it more intimately. Not just tighter shots and close ups, but stories that focus on one character. (I'm talking fiction or non-fiction storytelling here). That's one reason why Wallstrip is centered around one personality - our host, Lindsay.

2) Authenticity is the gate keeper. From two or three feet away, I can see all your flaws. I can judge for myself if you're lying to me. The realism bar for me to buy into the story is a whole lot higher. In terms of non-fiction, that means being self-reflexive, acknowledging when something you're doing is silly or risky. It might mean breaking the "fourth wall" and talking directly to the audience. In Wallstrip, we are relentlessly self-referential. We do shows about our lack of popularity, we talk about our audience and specific characters we've built out of audience members. We sometimes talk conversationally with the audience ("I know what you're thinking," etc.)

3) Be intimate with your audience. People think about "interactive storytelling" in literal terms - strict structures where audience members have an opportunity to influence the direction of the story (voting on American Idol, for example). But the best kind if interactivity is completely organic and unplanned. It's about carrying on a conversation. Every morning, I wake up and read all the comments on Wallstrip. I also read every blog post or web article that mentions us. I don't take action based on these comments, but they influence my understanding of who we're talking to when we're writing and directing. They give me a more complete understanding of the world I'm making narrative choices in. As Fred Wilson described, our Jack-in-the-Box show evolved from these conversations with our audience.

I've got lots more I'd like to say about how the web environment and user experience effects narrative and formal components of WV, and I'll do so in the next few days. The bottom line, though, is that WV is different. Jeff and I started our company BrightRED Pictures because we believe strongly that this is a new art form, with it's own conventions.

And, in the spirit of interactivity, we got our first real panner of a review yesterday in New York Magazine. While the tone seems decidedly, "we like to dog on anything the New York Times likes," I must admit - it feels damned good to be dogged a little bit. Get's the juices flowing.

While I didn't mind them dogging us, I was a little miffed that they took a shot at our investors. I can think of a lot lamer things to do with $500k than invest it in a few people who are trying to create something entertaining and take a chance in a new environment.

Besides... "Dumb, but Edgy" - that seems like the slugline for my life. If that's as bad as it gets, I'm a happy man.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Brrrrrrr... see for yourself

It's COLD here in NY.

It's one thing to know it's going to be below 10 degrees when you wake up, and it's quite another to hobble over to the gym at 5:45 AM trying to figure out if your eyeballs have frozen.

There is no replacement for experience. That's what we're banking on at BrightRED Pictures, committing fully to the web video space so early in the process.

Web video is fundamentally different than television, and right now there are no rules. We're all making them up as we're going and learning from... experience.

My wife is a graphic designer... just like I am a producer. But that doesn't tell the whole story for either of us.

Ciara is a print designer. She does book covers, logos, posters, brochures... that's a world away from a web designer. The work Ciara does is looked at. Information is derived from it passively. Designing for the web is more like product design or packaging design. It's about function as much as form. You have to handle a web site, work it to get what you want out of it - you have to USE it. And that limits the choices and changes the priorities for a graphic designer.

Same thing for a producer like me. Television is a wholey passive medium. In fact, that's why I like it. I can sit in front of the tube and be talked at for a while. Good web video is designed to be used, just like other web content. Whether it's being passed around, fed to you, viewed contextually with other content, referenced while working, viewed on a mobile phone, searched for, mashed up, etc, etc.

It's not as if web video doesn't share characteristics with television, just like print and web design share certain characteristics. But WV has fundamentally different priorities than TV, and that should mean fundamentally different content.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

The next step in Pro-Sumer video

I wrote a post not long ago about the rise of pro-sumer video over the last 15 years, and the impact it's making right now on the web video revolution.

Well, this CNET article fortells the coming of a second wave of pro-sumerism... and I think they totally miss the point.

They're talking about evolution of internet video editing tools like eyespot and jumpcut, and asserting that these will open up the exclusive world of video editing to "the rest of us"...

I'm very suspect of this assertion - Editing is about choices. That takes experience and training. The tools you use to edit are pretty much irrelevant.

You can make shooting video very automatic. Camera work is as much about what you get as how you get it. If you point the camera at something compelling, the camera can handle the exposure, and the footage will be compelling. A great shooter is active, creating the shots. You can be a good shooter, though, and be reactive.

In the non-fiction space, editing is where you craft the story and build the experience for your viewer. Lowering the barriers to entry by creating cheaper and easier to use tools and then expecting the whole youtube world to edit is kind of like saying that, by moving from typewriters to word processors, we've created a whole generation of great authors.

Web based editing does have the potential to revolutionize both the editing field and the world of user generated content, though, just in different ways.

Non-destructive editing (which is what we do on NLE's like Final Cut Pro and Avid) is revolutionary because the work itself is very easy on the computer. Basically, you "digitize" your video onto the computer, creating large media files for each clip. These files are never touched by the editing process, they're just referenced by your editing program. The editing project file itself is a series of instructions about what order to play the referenced media files in, what parts of them to play, how loud to play them, etc.

The editing file for my documentary contains over a hundred hours of video. There are probably over a hundred different editing "sequences" (a sequence is the linear result of your editing work - a timeline that has all your footage cut up and placed in the right order). The project references over 150 gigs of raw video. Yet that project file is less than a 100 MB.

Web based editing is a natural evolution of this process - instead of referencing clips stored on local hard drives, we can store the video online - accessing and editing the files from anywhere, on multiple computers at once. This will take remote editing, on location editing, and collaborative editing to a whole new level. And by integrating the ajax based interfaces that are becoming the norm in new web tools, you can create a fully functional editing workflow that's completely virtual. The online video's not fast enough, but it will be soon. The bandwidth's not there yet, but it will be soon. And this will have an enormous, positive impact on my industry.

On the user generated side of things, web based editing won't create a generation of home trained Walter Murch's, but it will allow users to interact with video online in a much deeper way. Video commenting, remixing, video messaging, video quoting - these are the places where the tools can improve the user experience. If I post a video and make the clips I use available online, then other people can build on what I did, play with it, switch it around, add their own work to it.

Simple editing tools won't make great editors, but it will allow people to use video more like they use text online. They will make it easier to search and communicate with video. Right now I can link to and/or embed your video in my blog post or on my website, or an email. Soon I'll be able to quote your video in any of those forums too (in fact, on vSocial I can do that right now). Web based editing will allow me to quote your video just as easily in my videos as I can in my blog posts. Imagine youtube as a giant library of raw footage for me to create whatever I want out of - the possibilities for creativity, better video communication and video social networking are endless.

There's also a great opportunity to build web based editing into the user experience when you create entertainment and information on the web. I blogged about this before - talking about intuitive, interactive web documentaries.

All of that is the true potential of web based editing. And I, for one, can't wait until that potential is realized.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

All the news that's fit to print

I admit, I have a long history of criticizing the New York Times.

After all, my dog's name is Chomsky.

In my political life, they were the establishment press - cheering us on to war in Iraq, adding credibility to the administration's fantasies of weapons of mass destruction...

Then in my web 2.0 life, they became "old media" - putting their best content behind a walled garden, two steps behind their online readers.

Well, yesterday I finally realized that I was all wrong about this NY institution. They really are the paper of record. They deserve our respect. For example, take a look at this fine piece of reporting.