The upcoming Hollywood blockbuster “Avatar” cost upwards of $500 million. But that price tag doesn’t guarantee a good movie. Filmmakers don’t need limitless resources to make something great. At least, that’s what Kirk Mastin believes. In fact, Kirk thinks limitations help make movies better. Kirk is a filmmaker and photojournalist who teaches digital storytelling. He writes about creativity and limitations at his Website, Lo–Fi High Style. Kirk told KUOW’s Jeannie Yandel about three movies that show how to view obstacles as an opportunity for more creativity.
In the beginning, I thought that all a newspaper had to do to save itself was to embrace multimedia and video. However, after being a proponent of this approach for over three years, I began to see that this was also not working. Newspapers were still dying and it seemed there wasn’t a heck of a lot anyone could do about it.
Newspapers were becoming obsolete because of the medium on which they are printed:
Newspapers take a lot of capital to create. Think: printing presses, ink, trucks, man-power.
Newspapers do not allow for comments, hyperlinks, video, or real-time updates. It’s a one-way conversation.
Newspapers are out of date the minute they are delivered.
By all measures, the newspaper is inferior to the instant delivery of news over the Internet and mobile phones because the news is trapped in the inferior medium of PAPER.
A few weeks ago, I spoke at a conference in Prague called “Brave new world: media and businesses facing the crisis.” The conference was organized by Futuroom with support from Atex and Google.
(I was asked to speak about my ‘lo-fi’ approach to quickly making compelling video, using amateur equipment: cell phones, point and shoot cameras, Flip Video cameras etc. I believe that by focusing on the fundamentals of storytelling, planning, and technique, anyone can make a great video in a short amount of time.)
Images from the Futuroom Media Conference in Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Up to the moment I spoke in Prague, I really didn’t think I had much to say in terms of HOW the newspaper could be saved. In all honesty I had given up on newspapers at that point. Instead, I was there to tell journalists how to keep up with prolific 18-year-old budding filmmakers and citizen journalists, who were beginning to change the way in which video is created, consumed, and monetized. I was there to tell journalists how to survive once they were laid-off.
I was there to show journalists a way to survive the ‘newspocalypse.’
Maybe it was jet-lag, but at the time I spoke at the Futuroom conference I still didn’t understand onto what I had stumbled. As the day wore on, I realized that the Futuroom project was actually DIFFERENT than any other approach I had heard of to save journalism.
Instead, Futuroom’s plan is to encourage hyper-local reporting, as well as genuine interaction between professional journalists and citizen journalists.
The bold claim of Futuroom is to have the most hyper-local news available, by combining forces between traditional journalists and citizen journalists at the most local level. Futuroom understands that citizens are already participating in creating news stories. Instead of pushing back against citizen journalism, Futuroom works WITH citizen journalists, creating a new hybrid newspaper model. In light of this, Futuroom is building cafe/newsrooms where citizen journalists will collaborate with professional journalists to provide constant, hyper-local coverage. (Futuroom will also train and equip citizen journalists…more on this in the next post.)
In return, small communities get extremely relevant and local news coverage. Also, advertisers are able to target very specific customers. And the national newspaper that Futuroom produces from these hyper-local branches, will be unparalleled in depth and national coverage, with only supplemental international news pulled from the wire (AP, Reuters, AFP, etc.)
It is too much to go into here, but suffice to say, I extended my trip to Prague.
During my time in Prague, I taught an impromptu documentary ‘lo-fi, hi-style’ video course, trained the first wave of Futuroom journalists, then stayed on an additional fours days to film a documentary about Futuroom.
I did this because I believe Futuroom may hold the key to the future of journalism.
They are taking truly bold steps in the Czech Republic. I was there to witness the very beginning of this project. It is my goal to show you, and the world, what is happening there through my short film. I want you to be the judge as to whether or not the Futuroom system makes sense.
To me it is the only thing new under the sun in terms of journalism and I can’t wait to share it with you.
The amateur IS the journalist and the amateur is everywhere. All the time.
January 15th, 2009, a plane crash lands in the Hudson River. Less than ten minutes after the crash, a man named Janis Krums snaps a photo of the downed plane and uploads the photo to Twitpic. As the ferry boat heads to the crash site to pick up survivors, Krum’s photo becomes the defining photo of this event, running on the front page of newspapers around the world.
So who is Janis Krums? Who is this person who has captured one of the most important breaking news stories of 2009?
Janis Krums is your competition. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The amateur IS the journalist and the amateur is everywhere. All the time.
How did it get this way?
First: The technological barriers to entry have disappeared.
More and more cell phones have the ability to record and send video. Applications such as Qik and Flixwagon allow cell phone users to transmit live video straight to the Internet. The implications of this are staggering. It is only in the last few years that traditional broadcast news networks have begun to use satellite phones to transmit live video without the need for a news crew or news van. Now this technology is common-place.
Secondly: Distribution barriers have disappeared.
What used to take miles of cable and access to a select few channels licensed from the FCC, or huge printing presses, endless amounts of paper and a complex system of newsstand and home delivery, can now be done with a few keystrokes and reach a more targeted audience than TV ever could.
For those wishing to create their own mini broadcast news network, it’s as easy as purchasing a Flip Video camera, setting up a Tubemogul account, and hosting it all on a custom WordPress website. All of this for under $200!
The destruction of these barriers has flipped the media economy on it’s head. Imagine the traditional media as a funnel. At the top there are world events, below that, the journalists who create stories from these events. Journalists then feed their stories into their respective news outlet, and that information is delivered in a one-way stream to the public. This entire time, the range of news items has been selectively narrowed down to what the news outlet thinks the public should know.
With the rise of amateur content, the funnel has been flipped upside down. Information is no longer scarce and flows from the public up the funnel. The most popular news items are eventually noticed by the media who then write about it or link to it on their website. News is now flowing both ways, and no story is ever complete.
Obviously a teenager with a Flip Video camera is not going to put the BBC out of business. And there are many valid critiques of citizen journalism.
Two Critiques of Citizen Journalism
As YouTube has shown us, people do NOT want what we think they want.
Timeliness, brevity, and emotional impact, are key traits of the most viewed YouTube videos. In nearly every category, videos that excel in these three traits have the highest view count. This runs counter intuitive to what we EXPECT people to value. In traditional journalism we expect people to value in-depth, long-form, fact-checked and tightly edited reporting. We expect people to value accuracy over timeliness. We expect people to value high production values over spontaneous raw footage. But this is not so.
YouTube hits such as Susan Boyle, from ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, is a testament to what people really want. People do not go to YouTube for the highest video quality. They go to YouTube to be informed, entertained, shocked, or moved during the small window of time they have to watch something at work or in between daily tasks.
The days when people planned their dinners around the evening news are over. People want short, informative, or entertaining ‘snackable’ bits of content that they can watch whenever they want. The appointment-based broadcast model is coming to an end.
Accuracy and Objectivity
Citizen Journalism has been criticized for being inaccurate and opinion based. True, stories such as the false claim that Steve Jobs had a heart attack, leaked one day over Twitter, sparked a massive sell off of Apple stock. This certainly damaged the reputation of citizen journalists around the world. However, the power of a social network based news distribution model is that any story that is released is subject to near real-time correction by readers.
Many professional journalists scoff at the masses on YouTube. In doing so, they do themselves a huge disservice. The popular video creators on YouTube may not be trained broadcast journalists but they have added to the vocabulary of successful video production and more importantly successful distribution and engagement with an online audience.
You have to recognize this new vocabulary or risk becoming irrelevant.
So what can you do?
Broadcast journalists have a great skill: the ability to craft amazing and accurate reports out of chaotic and sometimes nebulous news situations. This skill is a huge advantage when it comes to making compelling online video. But this skill alone is not enough. There are new skills that you must learn to compete with people like Janis Krums and the video equipped masses.
The first skill to learn is how to shoot and edit a story using the equipment you have on hand.
Just as great works of art were created with the simple pencil, great stories can be created using Flip Video cameras, cell phone cameras and digital point and shoot cameras. Sometimes it is impractical to carry a large camera or walk into a situation with a large crew. Sometimes news breaks when you least expect it and you have no crew or proper equipment. In these situations you must be able to work with what you have, and you should always carry SOMETHING on you that can take a photo or video and get it online right away.
Shooting with amateur technology introduces creative constraints. Constraints such as bad low-light performance, weak audio and non-stabilized optics. Each of these constraints can be overcome and by doing so you will become better at capturing breaking news and crafting compelling stories. Technical constraints will enable you to look past the technical aspects of making a video, and focus more clearly on why you are shooting what you are shooting, and exactly how it will capture the attention of your audience emotionally and intellectually.
Put away the good gear and see if you can make something amazing with cheap equipment. You will be surprised how this sharpens your storytelling skills.
Secondly, journalists must understand how to use social networks and video distribution networks to their advantage. Currently, most traditional media establishments have only a crude framework for promoting content online. Posting video on the official news website and writing a few blog entries is not enough. News stations must get up to speed with how video monetization and distribution works.
How many times must the BBC or ABC news see their original content posted illegally on YouTube, racking up hundreds of thousands of hits under someone else’s name?
Those views could have been making the news station money if they had only torn down the wall to their content. Content wants to be free and will be free. They have to attach some advertising to it, get it out there themselves on many networks, and monitor the number of hits, charging advertisers accordingly. It’s money that is being left on the table.
Successful independent YouTubers and film makers already understand this and encourage people to take their content and re-post and re-use it all over the Internet.
Dying from Behind a Walled Garden
If your station or institution wishes to keep its content behind a ‘walled garden,’ then you must start thinking about your personal future as a journalist. You must become your own brand. You must understand social media, viral video, and how to produce award winning content on your own.
The successful one-person video creator needs to focus on a specific type of content, something that they care about, are an expert in, and have access to. Content needs to be created for smaller screens, made in a shorter amount of time and with less resources. Story, emotional impact, and/or educational value, must be the driving principles when creating content.
Your videos need to also have certain technical qualities:
Under 5 minutes.
Descriptive and enticing titles.
Be tagged correctly.
Have the best encoding and thumbnail possible.
Making great content is not enough. You must create an online identity, a brand if you will. This requires a beautiful and fast-loading website that serves as your resume, your social network headquarters, and most importantly as a place to gather your audience.
Your core skills of integrity, personal vision and storytelling are in demand and hard to come by. If you step outside of the box known as the traditional media and become more than just another journalist or camera operator, you will have the opportunity to innovate and re-define what news is and what shape it take in the future.
Traditional mediums may be dying, but great news and content is thriving more than ever.
Michael has a unique background. Starting out as a baseball player, Michael later learned that his true talent was in documentary photography. After several years of hard work and research, Michael has emerged as an expert at telling stories through photo and video.
In this interview Michael shares his story and gives advice to those seeking to make a similar transition from amateur to pro.
Starting your own photography business can be intimidating but if you focus on a few things, it will seem a little less daunting.
Shoot as much as you can so you can figure out your style. Very few people can shoot food, wildlife, lifestyle, photojournalism, portraits, fashion, etc.
It is much easier to nail your style and market yourself with that style in mind. Plus, you’ll be happier shooting what you like and not trying to do everything.
It took me a while to get used to the ups and downs of freelance. For a few years in the beginning, it might be weeks between assignments and how you handle that down time can determine your success as a freelance photographer.
Lastly, a tip when shooting a portrait is being aware of your subject before you start shooting. Notice how your subject looks before he/she knows the camera is being pointed at them. This might be the pose that makes them most comfortable and you might want to keep them in this pose when shooting.
Five things to remember:
Starting a business: Shoot a ton so you know your style and focus on that style. Try not to shoot food, wildlife, lifestyle, photojournalism, portraits, fashion, etc. Narrow your style to what makes you happy and what you can realistically market.
Running a business: As a freelance photographer, you might go weeks between assignments before you get really busy. Understand the business is made of ups and downs and how you handle those shifts can determine your success…(and moods!)
Portraits #1: Notice the position your subject is in before shooting. This might be the most comfortable position for them and can be useful during shooting.
Portraits #2: Humans are vertical, try to shoot some portraits horizontally. It shows a sense of place and puts the subject in an environment.
Don’t give your images away for free! You will never make money, nor learn how to make money by giving work away for free. You have to make a profit to stay in business and get good at what you do.
Flip Video cameras are amazing: small, light, unobtrusive…but when it comes time to edit, it can be really painful.
That’s why I wrote this. I want to get you past the nasty codec part as fast as possible…
A reader named Tom Wolfson wrote to me about a different way to do this.
‘You should convert to a standard Final Cut format. You could convert to DV NTSC 720×480 29.97 uncompressed audio 48K, or the PAL equivalent if it shoots in PAL frame rates. If you want higher quality with Final Cut Pro you can convert to ProRes 720×486 29.97 uncompressed audio 48K, but you’ll need a good, fast drive and more space. If you’re using Final Cut Express you’ll have to stick with the DV codec.’
Tom’s way provides for a higher quality file that does not need to be re-rendered, HOWEVER it is a much larger file size to work with. Some readers have reported that they do not need to re-render using either method.
Thank you Tom for adding to this discussion! You rock!
Back to the post:
Install the 3ivx codec found in the Flip Video camera itself: ‘System’ folder —>’Install’ folder —> Macintosh 3ixv Installer.dmg or Windows 3ivx Installer.exe
This will allow Quicktime to play and export your Flip Video files.
Open all of the Flip Video files you want to convert in Quicktime.
Go to: File —> Export —> In this box make sure it says “Movie to QuicktimeMovie” in the export tab at the bottom.
Click on ‘Options’ next to the “Movie to QuicktimeMovie” box.
On the Video part of the dialog box click on ‘Settings.‘
Use these settings:
At the top where it says Compression Type click on ‘H.264′
***When you export your Flip Video files to the H.264 format it’s a good idea to rename them something memorable like “Steve discussed blogging.mov” for later reference when you import these files into Final cut Pro.***
Good luck everyone!
*UPDATE* A tip from Adriana:
You have to install the firmware FIRST, because otherwise you get the white screen.
*UPDATE* A tip from P.F. Bentley:
Use the Batch mode in MPEG StreamClip. I use H264 codec and Multipass is checked which lowers the file size by half if you don’t use it. This way the computer does the work and I can go do something else.
We woke up at 5am to make our 7am departure at Victoria Station. As we watched people load goods onto the other trains we began to wonder where the other passengers were.
It turns out that the train was delayed for five hours(!)
Five hours later, we returned to the train station and headed to Goa.
We arrived at 3:40am at our accomodation, Bhakti Kutir.
Without a reservation…!
We managed to get the last two huts. Shortly after checking in, we passed out in our huts to the sound of dogs fighting in the jungle, crows crowing, fireworks going off at random and two monkeys swinging in the trees.
Thank god we found a place to stay!
GOA Goa, being one of the most popular destinations in India, attracts a lot of backpackers. Since the late 1960s hippies have converged on Goa to soak up the sun, smoke hash and meditate on the beach.
Fishing Boat,Patnem Beach. Goa, India.
Later, in the 90s Goa became famous for all night beach parties and raves.
‘Bridge and Tunnel’ Restaurant. Pallolem Beach. Goa, India.
Several years ago, the Indian governement cracked down on drug use and noise levels in Goa, effectively shutting down the reasons that hippies/ravers would come to Goa in the first place.
That isn’t to say that you can’t find a rave. It’s just that some raves switch to headphone-use only, after 10pm.
Literally, people will rent headphones and sit around the bar listening to the DJ spin, in silence.
My experience of Goa, is that it is a place in transition. There are many more families here than I expected, and many middle-aged Europeans come to Goa specifically for Yoga and Auryvedic treatments…not raving and drugs.
The last day in Goa, Robin and I climbed onto a rock to watch the sunset. Shortly after, a rasta man and his wife, (both life long travellers originally from Alabama) joined us on the rock and began to play drums and sing, watching the sun go down.
I thought to myself that this would be as close to the original Goan spirit as I would come.
I loved Goa, but I did not really shoot much here. Goa is mostly populated by tourists and westernized Indians, and really did not inspire me to work. The relaxing was nice though.
Europeans. Pallolem Beach. Goa, India.
After several days of much needed relaxation we headed off to Chennai to see the Pongal festival, after that to Pondocherry, a French/Indian outpost on the Bay of Bengal.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Seattle is one of the best places to live in the whole world.
It’s just that I will miss the feeling of exploring a new place and learning something new each day.
After Pondicherry we came back to Mumbai for a few days before returning to the states. The girls went shopping, and I, being unable to walk, talk and breathe without recording my surroundings with either a camera or video camera, hired my friend and fixer, Suresh Solomon for an entire day of picture taking.
It was an easy decision. Suresh knows everyone, can get anywhere, and knows the history of of Mumbai inside and out.
So, with my last post before returning home, I leave you with just a few of my favorite pictures from that 5 hours of ‘Suresh Time.’
Don’t miss the super secret street story at the end: ‘The Earwax Bandit Strikes Again’
(If you are ever in Mumbai and need a great guide/fixer please contact me and I will put you in touch with Suresh)
Well, we ended up in Chennai for one night after we read there was a New Year’s celebration taking place there. The Pongal Festival. Chennai was not picturesque like most other places we’ve experienced.
It’s a big harsh city with an attitude. From the hotel where we stayed to the rickshaw driver, we were routinely victimized.
The taxi driver, who was hired to take us around four several hours, decided to quit before the day was complete leaving us unable to pick up items that were being held for us. The hotel was yet worse. On our first day, two hotel employees came into our room and locked the door behind themselves before demanding money from us.
Rama’s Song, Pongal Perfromance. Chennai, India.
All that aside, however, we’re glad for the trip to Chennai because Pongal was truly a spectacle to behold. The beach was filled with probably 1 million people celebrating the new year. People were swimming in full saris with generations of family.
Everyone welcomed us and wanted to be photographed with us. I have never seen anything like that or experienced such a joyous mood amongst so many strangers.
Mumbai is an amazing city, there is no doubt. Besides the thick air pollution (that eventually gave all three of us a nasty sinus infection) Mumbai is the perfect place to meet local people, eat well, learn about Indian culture (including a passionate devotion to Cricket) and see the multiple ethnic groups that form India’s most commercial and cosmopolitan city.
Arriving at nightfall, the string of hotels, restaurants, and food stalls circle the bay like a pearl necklace. Under the cool night sky, young Indian couples and families come to Chowpatty Beach to socialize, eat roasted corn and nuts, ride carnival rides and stroll the moonlit beach.
It was great to speak with local people about the other side of Indian life, when people are chilling out from work and reconnecting with thier families on the beach.
The night after Chowpatty Beach, we headed south to Goa via a 13hr train ride. Things did not go according to plan, but such is the way of the train system here.
Next post will deal with that train ride and our arrival in Goa, which if anything is the opposite of Mumbai in every respect.