PBS Vote 2008: Not Just for Television Any More

The Producer tipped me off to PBS Vote 2008, a spot where PBS is culling together the best of their documentary films, news coverage and web tools on the ’08 election, and presenting it to PBS viewers like you.

My favorite of these is a game called Budget Hero:

Play Budget Hero

You get to play “cards” like “Bring Troops Home Now” that change how much money the government spends, then watch your budget play out over time.

If you’re trying to find a source to help you follow everything that’s happening up ’til November, this seems like the place to go!

Sean Tevis runs for Kansas State Rep, XKCD Style

Sean Tevis
Image from seantevis.com
Sean Tevis is running for Kansas State Representative. He needs to raise $26,000 by July 28th. He plans to do this by enticing 3000 individuals to donate $8.34 each on the internet (plus asking his 2 wealthy friends for $500 each).

As of this posting, 2,326 have already donated. If you read his XKCD style campaign story, you will probably understand why.

Running for Office: It’s Like A Flamewar with a Forum Troll, but with an Eventual Winner

Tevis’s plea references numerous internet memes, and communicates his serious geek cred, while simultaneously covering the major elements of his platform. It is entertaining and informational and for several hours today the site was totally slammed. This is a grassroots approach gone viral. I would not be surprised if the majority of donors hail from outside Tevis’s district.

The success of this political ad campaign is not achieved by a large amount of money spent, but in intelligently engaging and entertaining a target audience, and delivering a call to action: For $8.34 you can be part of this event. See Palindrome’s comments on the desire to be part of a communal experience.

Check out Tevis’s site, where if you donate $500, they’ll “send you a limited edition campaign t-shirt, a coffee mug with the Kansas flag on it, and a DVD video from Sean Tevis’ mom telling you how wonderful you are, because you are.”

Dr. Horrible Defeats the Internet

Dr. Horrible Scene Image from Steve Garfield’s PhotostreamDr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is alive and kicking! After hordes of fans crashed their servers, the site appears to be back up and running. The first act is now available, streaming, for free. More info on the site crash can be found at Save Hiatus.

Since the site appeared to be on permanent hiccup when I got home yesterday, I bought myself a season pass on iTunes. I wasn’t the only one: Dr. Horrible is currently the top iTunes download for TV single episodes and season passes. For something that people expected to get for free, that’s kind of amazing. The long-tail-economics of that situation are better left to someone with more expertise, but I will say this:

Studios and record labels have based their attacks on peer-to-peer sharing on the basic premise that if a piece of media is available for free, no rational person will pay for it. Either Joss Whedon’s fans are crazy, or there’s something else going on. My suspicion is that there is something valuable ($4 worth of valuable) about becoming a part of the first wave of media consumers. This is why people dress up and wait in line for opening nights of movies (like Star Wars and Sex and the City), even though they could watch the same movie at a discount theater in a month, or get it for free from the library a couple months after that. As we move toward an increasingly information-rich society, the information itself becomes almost secondary to how it helps us relate to other people. We want to know where our information came from and how we can share it with others. People crave communal experiences, and getting to gab about Dr. Horrible on the day it appears is just one of those community-building events.

More Dr. Horrible news is on its way! Next time, a serious discussion of silliness. No joke.

Slow Food, Slow Film?

Lately, media-makers of all stripes have been doing their part to let us know that the world is going to come to an end if we don’t start taking our environmental impact more seriously. It’s a great message to put out there, but one that is especially tough for media-makers to follow in their own companies. Media-making requires a lot of resources.

Image from 416style

Image from 416style

I’ve been coming up with ways that media production could take a cue from the folks in the Slow Food and Slow Travel movements. The idea behind Slow Food and Slow Travel is that, in order to conserve resources, respect other cultures and foster a healthy planet, we need to do things like buy environmentally sound products, avoid wasting fuel, and support local economies. When I googled “slow film,” all I got were a bunch of negative reviews of movies. In film and new media, “slow” is a dirty word.

What if it wasn’t? What would “Slow Film” entail?

Slow Film

  • Cutting down on travel costs by maximizing fuel economy of rental cars and skipping extra scouting trips.
  • Minimizing equipment: Taking only the lightest and most power-efficient equipment.
  • Shooting using mostly natural light.
  • Hiring a local crew instead of bringing your own. Hiring local on-camera talent, or in a documentary, allowing local voices to tell the story themselves.
  • Choosing to make a film with a local setting or subject matter: This connects a film company to its community, and can be a boon to local businesses.
  • Patronizing local camera stores, restaurants, and other businesses while shooting.
  • Distributing over the web rather than burning DVDs.
  • Turning off power when not using post-production equipment.

What else would make good environmental sense, without compromising the quality of your project? Are there film companies out there that are dedicated to producing media in “slow” ways?

ABC’s Earth 2100: You, too, can be Al Gore!

Our special agent in New Jersey gave us a tip on a new web  and television fusion project from a major network:

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Earth 2100 is a “television and internet event” set to debut this fall on ABC [Editor’s Note: The site now simply says “Coming in 2009”]. Here’s how they describe it:

The world’s brightest minds agree that the “perfect storm” of population growth, resource depletion and climate change could converge with catastrophic results.

We need you to bring this story to life — to use your imagination to create short videos about what it would be like to live through the next century if we stay on our current path. Using predictions from top experts, we will feed you detailed briefings from the years 2015, 2050, 2070 and 2100 — and you will report back about the dangers that are unfolding before your eyes.

Your videos will be combined with the projections of top scientists, historians, and economists to form a powerful web–based narrative about the perils of our future. We will also select the most compelling reports to form the backbone of our two–hour primetime ABC News broadcast: Earth 2100, airing this fall.

They have a few sample “reports from the future” up there already. Kudos to ABC for trying to combine documentary, fiction and user-generated content all in one go. I see some problems with the approach. . . for one thing, the “reports from the future” are bound to be depressing and bleak – because that’s what all the experts are describing. There is also the problem of combining gorgeous HD footage of experts with cheesily shot, low budget versions of Children of Men. I don’t want to be a wet blanket here – I love documentaries, and I love cheesy, homemade science fiction. . . but I don’t know if I can take the leap to watch both at once.

This project STILL doesn’t solve the “can’t I just get it on YouTube?” problem. Meaning, if you bother to make a movie that’s as clever as the sample clip with the snorkel and the pink walrus – why would you let ABC decide whether or not to distribute it for you? Why would you go to the ABC site, rather than google video or YouTube?

The fact that ABC is going to put some of these in a national broadcast is certainly a draw, and I am all for educating people about climate change and public health any which way you can.

Panasonic’s AG-HMC70 falls short

Panasonic AG-HMC70
Image from Panasonic Press Release
I’m excited about this announcement from Panasonic. Or more accurately, I’m excited that the camera has finally launched. This shoulder-mounted camera, clearly targeting event videographers, offers quite a sweet spot of price and features:

  • 3×1/4″ CCDs
  • 12x Leica Dicomar Lens
  • 1440x1080i AVCHD (a.k.a. H.264 or MPEG 4 Part 10)
  • Records to cheap SD/SDHC cards
  • XLR inputs
  • BNC and HDMI outputs
  • Headphone jack (OK, this should really be standard, but still worth noting)
  • Street Price of around $2100

What more do you need, right? Then I get to the sticking point: 13Mbps bitrate for the AVCHD. That’s significantly lower than the limit for the spec (24Mbps) and is disappointing in a camera that is otherwise very promising.

ZDNet has a good description of the problems with low bitrate “HD” as well as an at-a-glance comparison of 13Mbps AVCHD and 24Mbps HDV (MPEG-2).

As you can see, there’s “HD” and there’s HD. This camera still has some utility, but mostly to institutional videographers. Handy for a school or church, but filmmakers looking for quality HD can probably find a better match for their needs.

More Steadicam from Garrett Brown

Steadicam
Image by mikefats
B&H has Part 2 of their interview with Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam. We featured Part 1 last month. In this addition, Brown talks about his early experiences using the Steadicam on film sets, the advent of post-production tools for correcting shaky footage, and combo-shots using the Steadicam along with dollys and cranes.

B&H also has a video with Garrett Brown demonstrating the Steadicam Pilot, one of the lightweight and lower-cost alternatives to the full-scale film camera version. If Garrett Brown’s Steadicams are a bit of your price range, take a look at Johnny Chung Lee’s $14 Steadycam.

The State of Independent Film

It seems fitting to write about the state of independent film on Independence Day (here in the US). Indeed, the topic is not only apropos, but fashionable. Much has been said about Mark Gill’s comments at the LA Film Festival last week. Some agree that the sky is falling, while others take comfort in his optimistic closing remarks. I won’t rehash all of that here, but I want to echo my support for John August’s take on the matter. In his postmortem of The Nines he suggests that success for an independent film is measured not in dollars but eyeballs.

You should make an indie film to make a film. Period. Artistic and commercial success don’t correlate well, and at the moment, only the former is remotely within your control.

So, you make the film you want to make. And because film is your passion, you’re not in it for the money. You’re doing what you love, not shooting for an early retirement. You try to break even, maybe gain enough capital or recognition to make another. So, how many people saw your film? Who heard your story? It’s a different way of looking at success.

Cameraman Image by Elsie esq.
August also writes some about the impact of BitTorrent on the success (financial and otherwise) of The Nines. In the end, he says he would have made the same movie but distributed it differently. This is emblematic of the changing tide in the indie film world. Despite the ever increasing availability of filmmaking tools, the artist’s ability to create an emotional connection with the viewer is as crucial as ever. The arena where technology is truly changing the game is in the methods for putting that story in front of an audience.

Digital distribution opens up avenues of connecting with an audience that weren’t available to independent artists ten, or even five, years ago. So make your film and do it cheaply enough that you don’t have to worry about the money. Then, see how many people you can share your story with. And throughout the process, revel in your independence.

Boston Media Makers: July 6 at Doyle’s

Boston Media Makers
Image by grazr
Boston Media Makers is one of the best social networking groups I’ve found since moving out here.

They are an exceedingly welcoming bunch. Everyone sits around a big table, enjoying a hearty breakfast, and presents the group with a new project, new shiny toy, or a question. Then everyone mingles for about an hour afterward, swapping cards and emails.

Here are the details:

Sunday, July 6
10am-12pm
Doyle’s Cafe
3484 Washington Street
Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA, 02130
1-(617)-524-2345

Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible: Legendary with a side of Shiny

Nathan Fillion is Shiny (Photo by RavenU)

Nathan Fillion is Shiny (Photo by RavenU)

If you are a true fangirl or fanboy, then news of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” will be old hat by now. Bear with us, we’re excited: Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly) is about to release what he’s calling an “Internet Miniseries Event.” You can watch a trailer via vimeo, or you can read his comments on the Whedonesque blog.

The premise looks hysterical: Neil Patrick Harris is a supervillain, Nathan Fillion is a superhero. They sing, and potentially fight over a girl. What more could you want? The answer is, of course, to watch it free, streaming through your interwebs starting July 15th.

The format looks gosh darn revolutionary: 3 episodes, staggered throughout 1 week in July, free to watch. After that, they’ll be sold online for a “nominal fee,” then they’ll potentially go to DVD.

According to Whedon (or Joss as he likes to call himself), this all started during the writers’ strike, when he and other writer/producers started looking around for alternates to creating studio fare. Joss Whedon has a history of working in mixed media: Buffy was originally a film (a flop), then a TV show (a success), then a comic (wildly praised by pretty much everyone) [Editor’s Note: We’ve even seen the musical episode produced for the stage]. Science fiction in general seems to be ahead of the curve on this yes-people-watch-the-internet thing: Battlestar Galactica has released web-exclusive content, as has Heroes. But no one has ever tried to launch a potential brand from the internet, using known actors who are creating original characters specifically for the web. What’s more, Whedon’s “make it on the fly, on the cheap” concept makes it better matched to the bulk of current web content.

I’m sure this is not the last post we’ll do for Dr. Horrible, since (a) Teague is eventually going to get jealous [Editor’s Note: So jealous…]that I got to post about Joss Whedon and he didn’t and (b) This is pretty much the content we’ve been waiting to cover: Big names with big ideas experimenting in free web formats, rather than running around trying to shut them down.