Archive for the 'video' Category

YouTube: The Victorian Edition

Slate.com has a new Slide Show piece up today: What the First Movie Goers Saw.

The piece is an essay that includes 10 short films from the first years of the 20th century.

You can link directly to one of the slide show videos here.

These early films are hard to categorize: Often less than a minute long, they are experimental without being avant-garde (except in one case, which I’ll get to). Perhaps they look oddly modern because of the recent rise of Web video: YouTube has fostered our patience for short clips that would probably look insipid on the big screen, and the spirit of improvisation that thrives on the Web seems alive n the Victorian films, as well.

She writes later:

The novelty of these earliest films, most of which simply offered glimpses of the real world in motion, lasted for about a decade. By 1907, more fictional narratives than documentary scenes were being shot; and by 1915, Charlie Chaplin was using movies to generate a new kind of star power.

I believe the same will hold true of Internet: we will have a period of the “real world” and the documentary, but in time “star power” of one kind or another will take hold.

Go down and look again at the video from Britain’s Got Talent I posted. Notice something: people know when something is better than something else. We actually know when something is really well done — and we respond with approval. (I notice this as a child reading comic books. There was no doubt that the work of Neal Adams, Gen Colan, and Jack Kirby (to name a few of my favorites) was superior to the art of other artists in the field — and I responded with favor to the titles they drew.)

Amateur Hour can only last so long. While I believe that the current “folk art” period of YouTube will always be with us, ultimately the novelty of the new medium and delivery will wear off and people will respond to more professional work.

I think and by 1915, Charlie Chaplin was using movies to generate a new kind of star power.” Chaplin didn’t generate that star-power, the audience did. It was a big thank you for making movies even better than they had been before.

Thus my warning to all the executives around Los Angeles excited about making a killing on “user generated content” (read: “We don’t have to pay actors and writers!”) — This too shall pass.

Some folks are going to come along and make what I call “content-on-purpose.” The same shift that Chaplin created when he took a medium that had been very casual and awkward and brought professionalism, emotion and artistry to bear upon it.

The same thing will happen in a dozen different ways with the Internet.

And at that point the buzz phrase won’t be, “How do you monetize it?” but “Get me the next Chaplin!”

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A Perfect YouTube Moment

What would a web blog be without random moments of strange sparkle that could never happen without the Internet?

From Britain’s Got Talent. (The across the pond version of American Idol.)

Did this clip tell a little story? You bet.

(I actually thought it was a fake mash-edit at first!)

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A New Chance for the Short Form

In the second half of the 20th-century — especially in the United States — the long form of story telling has ruled.

If you were a writer of any ambition, you were a novelist. If you were a filmmaker, you made features. On Television, sitcoms were only thirty minutes, but a “drama” was a full hour.

Many writers who were essayists by temperament (Don DeLillo, for example), often seemed to writing novels because that’s what you did, shoehorning their ideas into the shape of a long form line of action with many characters carrying the water for the ideas at hand. (Raymond Carver notably bucked the trend against all advice that the novel was “real” writer’s work, continuing to ply his trade with the short story.)

Especially with the visual work of Film and Television, the short form really had no means of distribution or a chance to be seen. (Other than repeats of Warner Bros. cartoons on syndicated kids shows!)

But the Internet is about short and punchy — for now, at least. And I’m thrilled by that. I’m an idea guy — but often the thought of having to find the right way to “stretch” a notion into feature length gives me the trembles. Sometimes I just want to dump an idea out, have the audience enjoy it, and move on.

The form for that hasn’t really been viable for a while. But the Internet wants short. People arrive for a quick break. I think we can move beyond “cat playing piano.” But I think it’s important to realize that for a while short pieces can rule — and rule well. It means re-thinking and re-examining what makes “good” story and good structure.

Currently a lot of the more professional work on the Internet is just a long form story divided into smaller pieces. But suspect this is more out of habit of training and experience than purposeful choice.

As I try to sort out what will work best for the Internet, I’m moving more and more to self-contained, short form work. And in the last couple of weeks I started thinking about the writing off the astounding Jorge Luis Borges.

His short works are packed with amazing ideas… But he never stretches them out to full length form. He will write a review of a book that never existed, or discuss an encyclopedia entry of a nation he invented, tell quickly the life story of a man that reveals one fierce spark of an idea or revelation.

In each of these, he takes a concept that might be stretched out into an overblown piece of writing or film-making, padded with plot and subplot, and instead gets it down and out the door.

He wrote:

“It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books — setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.”

“…related orally in five minutes…”

That, right there, my friends, is Internet gold. Because what is so much of YouTube, whether it is lonelygirl15 or Woody Allen now finding an afterlife in small clips.

When you bring in the strange or the weird, as Borges does in his short pieces, you also create something that catches the viewer’s eye. And such a piece would give viewers as a group something to mull over, discuss and argue about (always good for the Internet.)

Since I believe that for a while it will be actors’ faces and words that will carry the day on the Internet (the screens are I think to small for visual detail to carry too much weight), I’m delighted by the fact Borges points they way by speaking about “orally” telling the tale in five minutes.

This, anyway, is the direction I’m going as I prepare material for Disney and other companies that are looking for Internet specific content. I’m looking at the works of Borges, Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and other masters of the short form for inspiration.

I think they have a lot to teach us right now.

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“Stranger Adventures” gets THIRD Emmy Nomination!

Last year I was the Head Writer on an Internet show called Stranger Adventures.

If you’d like to know more about the show, here’s the Sales/Promotional video I wrote and produced. You can hear my voice doing the narration… hey, we were strapped for cash and I was at the office! (And it takes a while to load. If you want to watch it, click on the link, turn off your sound, come back here and read a while…. and then go back and watch it.)

We produced three episodes, two of which were nominated for Emmy Awards last year, and the third, Ian Hollister and the Haunted Hospital, was nominated this year for Outstanding Broadband — Drama. (One of the episodes I wrote, Danny Bowles and the Jade Treasure was nominated for the 2005-2006 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Television.)

Stranger Adventures was maybe the best time I’d ever had. Produced by Riddle Productions out of some floor space provided by Red Car in Santa Monica, we were a mix of a tech start-up and micro-budget production company. Everything was fast, cheap and energetic.

The show used many of the ideas I’d been thinking about for a while (First Person Storytelling, the importance of intimacy on the Internet and so on…) and it was great to have place to try it all out.

Chris Tyler, the head of Riddle Productions and the guy who created and developed Stranger Adventures, taught me a lot of great concepts about how to build a long term show for the Internet. (I’ll be addressing some of them, like the need for multiple posts a day and using the web page to build a full environment for content, in future posts).

Since I’m reminiscing about all this right now, I might as well just keep going…!

First, I’m glad Eric Heisserer, who wrote the Ian Hollister script got his Emmy nod. The first time I met Eric and started talking about the show I knew right away he “got it.” A lot of the writers who came in had backgrounds in TV and Film — and getting them to start thinking like writers for short, first-person videos was like pulling teeth. Not Eric, though. He’s one of the smartest guys I know out here in La-La land — a great conceptual writer with a terrific work ethic. And let me be clear: just cause the guy knows his way around the Internet, doesn’t mean he’s any slouch when it comes to succeeding in traditional media. (Full disclosure: I count Eric as an amazing friend, and I am both delighted and envious of all his roaring success!)

Second, I think everyone did a great job on the shoot. As mentioned, we were a scrappy bunch, moving fast with what we had. Hal Long did a great job as the Director and DP. We rented out an abandoned hospital in central L.A., and Hal used the environment to great effect — creepy, but with enough light to make it all visible on the tiny, tiny screen that is the Internet.

Anne-Marie Mackay, who has helped so many careers in town it’s crazy, led the shoot with amazing grace and aplomb as the Executive Producer. I still feel bad she ended up on the headsets as the Script Supervisor… But as I said, we were roughing it! (When I wasn’t answering continuity issues about the weeklong plot, I was upstairs doing script re-writes and weaving in the puzzle/clue elements that arrived from Chris Tyler each morning!) Ann-Marie, who came from the world rock videos and commercials and sees the Internet as the new “It” knows how to pack a lot into small space, work with limited budgets on the fly and how to tap really talented people to get great work done. Watching her keep things moving was a great lesson every day.

And, of course, Joshua Gause, our amazing creative director, did an amazing job with his Flash team designing the web pages that housed the videos and email and all the Flash animations and puzzles…

And the Flash team, of course, and Amy and Donna Lee… And now clearly I’m gonna go on forever because I don’t have time to talk about how great everyone was. But it was a great experience and everyone was great.

Third, I remember when we were shooting Danny Bowles….

One day we had just wrapped up a shoot at Wacko’s in Los Feliz. As always, we were working with our micro-crew, and about to rush out to a new location to scout the next day’s work. As I jump in my Wrangler and rush up Vermont Avenue I pass another shoot going on… There are 20 star-wagons, countless grips, teamsters and so on… And the first thing that flashes in my head is, “What pussies…” It just seemed so much compared to the off-the-cuff and mobile crew I’d just been working with.

Right now features strike me as those old supercomputers from decades ago — monstrous things that fill an entire room and you couldn’t move if you wanted to. Not only in terms of equipment and crew sizes but aesthetics as well.

Most people think there are different “genres” you get to play with. But the truth is, Hollywood movies (and most TV shows) are kind of done. The blueprints are in place. You know what you’re shooting for any kind of movie, and the makers and the audience judge you according to how well you get near (or fail to get near) that target.

The Internet is wide open right now. Not just in terms of production values, but what the form and the content is. I believe that we’ve got a chance here to make things no one is going to see coming — and people are going to love it.

I’m not making any claims for Stranger Adventures being art, by the way. People were always coming up to me at the office and on the set saying, “You know, this show is pretty goofy.” And I’d say, “It’s a game show with a story attached. We can’t do that much. We don’t want to do that much. Think of it like the A-Team. Did it explore the human condition? No. But it delievered great network TV a lot of people liked. That’s what we’re doing — we’re delivering the right content for this kind of show.”

But as for the rest of the Internet, there’s a lot more to make, a lot more variety. A million people watching a show regularly would be a hit. That’s a niche audience — but a niche audience can support some amazingly compelling content.

That’s what I’m aiming for.

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45% of European Broadband Users Watch TV Shows on Computers

This Motorola study surprised me. (And I’m not often surprised by this stuff.) I had always thought that long form content would not work that well on the Internet. How we watch TV or a movie — relaxed, leaning back, settled — seemed perfect for settling in for a while. Computers had more of the feel of jumping around and being busy.

Not so! As the article notes:

The results further strengthen the business models of startups such as Joost, that seek to target a massive potential audience through the use of streamed content over a P2P network, but with the safeguards of DRM and imposed advertising delivery built in.

Just the other day I was at a Kinkos doing some work and I saw a woman waiting for her husband at one of the computer work station cubicles. She had her laptop out and was watching The Scorpian King.

Now, again, I don’t exactly get this. I was watching over her shoulder for a few minutes (I always like to try to guess a movie in as few number of images as possible), and the panoramic shots of the city being sieged lack all sense of scope. At first I couldn’t exactly tell what was happening!

Now, clearly people make the same arguments of moving Film down to the scale of TV. A shot of a horizon in a John Ford western is going to be much more effective in a movie theater than on TV. But you can still see what’s happening.

What happens when you move that down to a streaming video player? Or this: I saw a kid watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean on an iPod. Could he even see the details of the movie? What did an establishing shot of a ship sailing the horizon at night look like to him? Was he watching it for the first time (where a lot of details would have to be lost), or was he watching it again — an on this reviewing certain shots “triggered” memories and facts he knew from previous viewings? (My guess is the latter.)

Clearly, no matter what, I’m an old fogy on this issue. I’ve watched episodes of Heroes on the NBC site that I had missed — but only so I would be up to date to watch the next episode with friends. But I wouldn’t make it a habit. But it will become a habit.

The question on my mind is only this: what sort of content will work best on a computer screen. TV didn’t just port the cinematic style of Film and shrink it down. It built it’s own “language” of storytelling, which depended far more on close-ups and dialogue than Film. The three-camera sit-com is a wonderful invention for TV, but would be dull in a movie.

I expect while people will continue to watch TV and movies via broadband — and in greater numbers — content that is designed to work well and specifically for computer screens will grow alongside it and become dominant. What that dominant content will be — first person video storytelling, Alternate Reality Games, Massive Multiplayer Online games, things we haven’t even thought of yet — who knows?

The Internet is about Intimacy…

… even if it’s fake.

The Internet grew out of direct communication between people. Emails and web pages designed to say, “Hey, I’m here! Hello! Talking to you!”

There’s a reason that YouTube videos are all about people talking directly into the camera. Part of it is about being “interactive.” But part of it is simply the environment of the Internet. It’s place where people gather to say, “Hello. I’d like to talk. From YouTube to MySpace to Twitter, people like to connect to other people. It’s what the Internet does.

As you’re thinking about storytelling on the Internet, keep this in mind. When I watch videos online that are framed and shot like a standard TV show I always am taken aback. It’s like someone has put “quotes” around the image.

The form of the Internet is not objective. We’re not standing outside looking in. We’re in it, and I believe that for next 5 to 7 years what works best on the Internet is what feels like someone talking to us.

Whether it’s a text on a blog or a video shot in lonelygirl15’s bedroom, the material should be intimate, personal and voyeuristic.

This doesn’t mean it has to be true. And it doesn’t guarantee quality. But it’s a point of entry to keep in mind when thinking about the form you want your content to have when designing narrative for cell phones and the Internet.