Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I Think Vloggers Should See "Hugo"

Martin Scorsese's new film, Hugo is a rare film that combines rich effects and an intimate story in an experience that is both emotional and visually stunning.  It's also a tribute to the earliest days of motion pictures.

Based on Brian Selznick's New York Times best-seller, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," Hugo is the adventure of a clever and resourceful boy living on his own in the hidden upper reaches of a magnificent Paris railway station nearly one hundred years ago. Left to maintain the fanciful clockworks in the station after his uncle disappears, Hugo embarks on a search to solve a mystery left by his father, and in the process also discovers an entirely new life.

An important aspect of the film is Hugo's connection to real-life filmmaking pioneer George Méliès, whose one minute film A Trip to the Moon, created in 1902, is considered cinema's first blockbuster. A former magician, he produced over five hundred films in his short career, and is considered the father of special effects:  the first double exposure, the split screen, and the dissolve are just a few of his innovations.  He was also the first to use storyboards in the preparation of his films.  He was also a pioneer in meteoric rise and fall of a film career - he was bankrupt and largely forgotten by 1910.   As in Hugo's fictional tale Melies was eventually rediscovered and enjoyed in his later years the adulation he deserved.

The boy Hugo is a fan of the movies, so we're treated to both original and recreated clips from many of Méliès  films, and even meticulously recreated behind the scenes footage.  We'll see some of the classic faces of early cinema, including Harold Lloyd (whose stunt hanging from a huge clock face is recreated as Hugo is suspended outside an impossibly tall clock tower).

Apart from such direct visual connections,  Hugo itself is a tribute to the artistry of motion pictures.  Presented in 3D, and featuring a seamless marriage of live action and digital imagery, we experience somewhat of the  sense of wonder early moviegoers must have felt.

I tend to draw a direct parallel between early filmmakers like Méliès, who fearlessly produced hundreds of short films in a quest to develop their new craft, and serious online content creators, who are essentially doing the same thing in thousands of far flung locations.  I don't believe many vloggers and webseries creators are aware of the history of early cinema, so I would hope that many see Scorsese's film, and draw the parallel themselves. 

Méliès wasn't simply a entrepreneur out to make money - he loved exploring his craft and seeking out new ways of bringing the wonder of motion pictures to his audience. 

That spirit of creativity and risk-taking eventually drove motion pictures to become a major force in creative expression; there are still lessons to be learned from the pioneers of early cinema. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Vlogger Interviews: Matt Dean [HelloItsMasterHulk]

This Vlogger Interview features 19 year-old Matt Dean of Essex, UK, whose channel, HelloItsMasterHulk has gone through a number of transformations since it began in 2009.  One thing, however, has remained consistant - Matt considers himself a member of a very real community - and, I think, works to be a good citizen of that community.  Amidst his comedy and commentary, he'll take the time to speak out on vlogging community issues that are important to him.

For those unfamiliar with the world of vlogging, this world still seems like a odd subculture consisting of hundreds of thousands of individuals talking into their cameras, alone in their rooms, separate and removed from human interaction.  Matt's a good example of how many rank-and-file vloggers - in other words, the majority that aren't YouTube celebrities - are not simply content creators, but neighbors, too.

Enjoy the vlog!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Vlogger Interviews: ErikTV365

In the latest episode of The Vlogger Interviews, I spoke with Erik of ErikTV365, a family vlog based in Dallas, Texas.  Erik's made the commitment that he's going to vlog every day for the rest of his life.  In the world of YouTube, where gimmicks and imitation sometimes seem like the norm, Erik's channel is a little bit different:  it has a purpose.

Erik's a survivor of testicular cancer.  He decided to start vlogging during his chemotherapy, when he watched other YouTube family channels, and found that "it boosted my spirits - it help me to realize that there's more than just dwelling on something."  He wants his children - and as time went on, his audience -  to know that "no matter what obstacles are thrown at them in life, that they can always have a happy day." It's a philosophy he follows on his vlog - and in his life.

Watch the vlog is learn more about how this channel came about, and how Erik maintains his vlogging commitment every day of the year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Your Vlogging Legacy

One hundred and eight years ago, the first member of my grandmother's family came to America, thanks to the sponsorship of another family that preceded ours.   Though they were always considered family to the generations that followed, the true nature of the association - how we were related - was lost in the past.  Recent DNA testing finally proved that we were, indeed, cousins - a relationship that likely originated in 19th century Russia.    We recently had a reunion with members of that family - individuals whom we'd never met, but whose families had a pivotal role in our own history.  

The search to find that distant common ground - one of the key attractions to exploring one's genealogy - takes on new meaning in the age of online video.

When I started my "Vlogger Interview" project on YouTube, my intention was to seek out a better understanding of this powerful and rapidly changing means of expression.  As I talk to more and more vloggers, I've realized that preserving our collective history is an important part of the process. 

Vlogger Andy Gunton  (Andymooseman on YouTube) has recorded over 700 vlogs over the past several years on a wide variety of topics ranging from history to politics to music.  He made an important point in his vlogger interview that in creating those videos, he's also creating a legacy - a time capsule of sorts - of who he is, what he believes - essentially, a gift to his descendants. 

We're recording and preserving our personal history as never before.   As time moves on, and our era is consigned to the (digital) history books, future historians and genealogists will have direct access to, as  Richard Reyonlds (BusterSenshi, another interview subject) puts it, the Zeitgeist of modern society.   In an upcoming interview, ErikTV365 is driven to post a vlog every day of his life - sharing his family's daily adventures - and expressing an appreciation of his own life as a cancer survivor - preserving his family history, but also, his very nature.  By simply pursing his hobbies and interests through his social media channels, teen vlogger Harrison Houde (xTurnipTimex - here's his interview) will one day be able to recall aspects of his own coming of age more directly than any previous generation.

Traces of family members from generations past won't disappear as thoughts, ideas, friendships, conflicts and opinions will preserve part of their essence.   We'll have the opportunity (or curse?) to learn more about ourselves from our ancestors - or even our younger selves.

What will your distant descendants perceive of you from your social media - your Facebook posts, your tweets, your vlogs, your photos - and your YouTube videos - and of the media you post publicly on a regular basis?  

Is it you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Steve Jobs Wasn't Cuddly. Neither Are You.

"Steve Jobs," the new biography of the tech icon by author Walter Issacson, is a fascinating story of one of the most successful innovators of recent times.  Issacson succeeds not only because his subject is complicated and contradictory, wildly successful though deeply troubled, but because, really, Steve Jobs' character is accessible

It's worth recalling that Jobs only hit his true stride in this century.  Though Apple began in 1970's, it could have died the death of other early computer companies - and it almost did.   It's status today as one of the most successful American businesses of all time is directly related to the lessons that Jobs learned throughout his career, which included a forced exile from his beloved company for eleven years, during which he created another computer company (NeXT) and became the patron saint of another iconic brand (Pixar).

Jobs was famously volatile, but loyal (when he wanted to be).  He developed an intuition for product design and development which led his company to create the technology that has transformed our times, yet his single-minded focus - his obsessive personality - may have prevented him from seeking medical help at a time when it might have saved his life.

The biography is effective precisely because Issacson doesn't lift Jobs onto a pedestel.  He was an imperfect human being, like every other human being..  As time moves on, and his directly hand on Apple product fades into the past, his legacy may shift into one of a man who succeeded in spite of himself - and which is really the story of all of us.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Vlogger Interviews: Harrison Houde [xTurnipTimex]

Today's Vlogger Interview features Harrison Houde, a teen YouTuber from Vancouver, Canada.  He's also a professional actor (he was in the first "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" film as Darren Walsh  - the kid with the "Cheese Touch").  He's also a podcaster, a blogger, a young entrepreneur - and an entirely new kind of young filmmaker (and just about a universe away from my super-8 days!)

I chose Harrison as my first teen vlogger interview for several reasons.  He's interested in learning and improving his creative process as an actor and vlogger - and shares his experiences and advice as an actor and vlogger with other young YouTubers.

He's also a hard worker.  At the first VidCon, I doubt whether there were many attendees who didn't, at some point, see Harrison and his dad racing around the conference, as he made himself known to as many YouTubers as possible (and earning a few valuable shout-outs that helped build his channel).  

Harrison, of course, has the extraordinary self-confidence that young actors need, but manages to balance ambition with a positive attitude.  In short, I think he's a good citizen of the YouTube community. 

After you've checked out the interview, check out Harrison's main YouTube channel at

[Interested in being interviewed?  Know someone who you would like to recommend?  Let me know!]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Blogger Interviews: Steve Miller [QiRanger]

I think you'll enjoy this week's Vlogger Interview, featuring Steve Miller, known on YouTube as QiRanger.

Steve has a voice that comes out loud and clear not just through his YouTube channel, but across his social media landscape:  his blog, his podcast - even his Tweets.  He's not trying to sell anything, or build celebrity.  He's sharing an adventure.  As an American teaching English in South Korea, he takes viewers on a voyage through a country it's history, and it's culture.

"Predominantly I focus on travel, not only here in Korea, but also around the world. Most of my content is related to traveling abroad outside the United States, and in addition to that, I work here in Korea as an English intructor, so I do have some content related to life in Korea and live as an English instructor here in Korea, but I also write about cultural issues, historical issues, I have a podcast, and I just try to share a wealth of information that I think people would find interesting who have not been to Asia and specifically to Korea."

Steve is more proof that the best content is created through passion.   Subscribers, and a YouTube partnership are only part of the equation.  The quality and consistency of his content caught the attention of the South Korean government.

"I have an incredible amount of fun - it's something I enjoy doing.  It is a job. I do get money from being a YouTube partner, but I also write articles for the Korean government to help them with their tourism.  I also appear once or twice a month on a local English-language radio station here to talk about travel as well. So, there is certainly a business side to it, but for me, it's about fun."

Social media creators are like conductors, I think, leading an orchestra made up of a universe of social media platforms.  If they can reach the sometimes elusive goal of creating content across that platforms that work together - than they can, in effect, create beautiful social media music.  Defining just what that is might be is wildly different  from person to person, I think Steve's approach is a good example of how to do it right - and, as the saying goes - do what you love, and the rest will follow.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Where's the Vision? First Impressions of Blogworld

This week, I visited BlogWorld & New Media Expo 2011 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, which was promoted as "The first and only industry-wide conference, tradeshow & media event for all new media."   It was jam-packed with seminars, a busy exhibition hall, numerous networking opportunities, book signings, parties and plenty of one-on-one time with noted bloggers from around the world.  In the one day I spent there, I gained a great deal of perspective and information - but I was with one nagging question:  Where's the vision?

Blogworld is, first and foremost, about the business of blogging (and, despite the title, only touching a bit on new media).  Like many trade shows, It's an expensive proposition - full price for the entire convention could set you back nearly thirteen hundred dollars (hence my one-day visit).  For professionals in any field, there's a true value in attending events like these, and improving both your knowledge and legitimacy in your chosen profession. In the blogging world, however, I soon felt the pricing might be a bit steep for the blogging world at large. 

The highlight of the day was Shani Higgin's presentation of Technorati's State of the Blogosphere  report -  a thorough, though sobering - in-depth look at the world of blogging.  You can find it on Technorati's website.  For me the most important message was that blogging just isn't a lucrative profession - at least directly.  Even among those who described themselves as professional full-time bloggers, only 37% report that they derive their primary income from blogging (in other words, blogging only supplements their income).

A good portion of the exhibition floor at Blogworld was dedicated to firms that paired bloggers with advertisers, matched bloggers with commercial firms to provide writing services on their own blogs or on company sites, or provided analyzation tools to allow bloggers to better understand and serve their readers.  There were also plenty of books (and book signings) on how to increase readership and/or make money with one's blog. 

After Technorati's report, however, which I felt showed blogging as a stagnant industry, I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that there was too much emphasis on the industry as it is, and too little on transforming and bringing it to a wider audience.

I'm certainly not an expert on the blogging world, and this was my first blogging-centric conference, but it seems to me that there should be be more emphasis on growing the universe of readers and/or viewers  - and making it possible for more bloggers to benefit and - yes - make a living in this field, if that's what they choose to do.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Vlogger Interviews: Peter Ilagan [JourneysOfLifeVlogs]

This episode of my webseries, "TheVlogger Interviews" features Peter Illagan, known on YouTube at JourneysOfLifeVlogs.

Just who are Vloggers, anyway?  Yes, the obvious answer is that they're "video bloggers," but that's too simple an answer, I think.  They're not filmmakers, as we've come to understand the craft (and anyway, that's a dated term).  YouTubers are often called "content creators," but that's a term that seems awfully bland for what the site has come to represent.

Peter Ilagan, of the YouTube channel, Journeysoflifevlogs, has found expression for himself as an artist in a several different forms - as a sketch artist, as a painter - and as a writer.  In fact, he began his YouTube experience after publishing his book of short stories, Journeys of Life.  He saw social media at first as a way to promote his book, but rapidly discovered that he liked creating videos and posting them online.

"I've come to realize that I like the aspect of making videos for YouTube social media because it gives me a chance to be more creative, obviously, and just express my thoughts in a way I never could have imagined.  I mean, I'm a little more funny in the videos that I expected to be I guess, and I just like the fact that I can put it together in like a two or three minute video and just put it out there for people to see and just really enjoy and hopefully entertain them."

Some might call that a thirst for immediate gratification, but if you're an artist - you know that there's huge satisfaction in knowing that you're actually reaching and touching your audience.  I asked Peter if he's a writer who vlogs, or a vlogger who writes.  His answer, I think, sums up the multi-dimesional canvas that, thanks to technology, is at our fingertips - and makes defining social media-centered artists so hard to define.

"I don't look at myself as a writer who vlogs, or a vlogger who writes.  I look at myself more as a vlogger who creates, using whatever means I feel is the best way to express my creativity."

Take a look at Peter's interview here or on my YouTube channel, and then check out Peter's main channel.

And if you really want the full "Journeys of Life" experience, here's a secret:  make sure you follow him on Twitter - he's got a wickedly dry sense of humor.   And I don't use the word "wickedly" too often...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Siri and Milo, Sitting in a Tree

Ever since Siri, the voice recognition/voice synthesis AI device on the iPhone 4s came out, I've been thinking about Milo.

Here's Apple's own demo of Siri - word is that it lives up to expectations.

Milo [see my most recent post, here], you may recall, was a game concept that Peter Molyneux and Lionhead Studios introduced for the Xbox 360's Kinect project.  It would have allowed the user to interact with the main character in the game, and so impact his actions as the plot unfolded.  The demo seemed extraordinary - but unfortunately, the gamed seemed so much vaporware.

But, what a concept!

Siri, which so far is only available on the new iPhone, is a voice recognition and response system that gain knowledge and sophistication now only from the user - but the entire universe of users.  It has, so far, proven to correctly respond to voice inquiries and respond in a natural nearly-human cadence.

When the Milo project was revealed, just two years ago, it's capabilities as described were similar in concept - and would have created a spectacular flagship game for Xbox Kinect add-on, which aims to allow gaming to interact more naturally with the user - through body movement and, it was said, voice synthesis.

It never happened.

Details of the game concept for Milo were sketchy.  It involved an English boy transplanted with him parents to America, where, it seems, he has trouble fitting in.  He also has a faithful dog, Kate, that accompanies him on the (dark?) adventures.

Poor Milo was derided, of course.  The fact that the main character was a little boy led to endless insinuations by doubtful gamers that he would be a plaything for all sorts of bizarre individuals. 

Now that Siri has proved the concept, imagine if that little boy was Damien Thorn, the little boy from "The Omen," or Freddy Krueger from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies - or the terrifying Hannibal Lector from "Silence of the Lambs."  What if you were to interact directly with these characters as you worked your way through the game.  Such interaction, I think, could bring a new level of terror separate and apart from any motion picture or gaming experience.  Interacting with Hannibal Lector is one thing - talking directly to him as Jodie Foster's character is another.

With the sophistication and crowd-developed knowledge base of Siri,  it's now conceivable to create fully immersive virtual reality environments.  What just recently was pure science fiction is clearly within reach.  "Virtual Reality," in fact, has been stuck in a sort of stasis for a while as interactive technology has caught up public expectations.

I used to darken the lights with a friend's son and play the early computer game, "Alone in the Dark," which involved wondering through a vast mansion and avoiding all sorts of perils. It was frightening - but imagine actually responding to that ghostly voice, or having to verbally answer a question correctly at the peril of "death." 

Imagine being in the middle of a zombie apocalypse - or a civil war battlefield - or immersing yourself with the fictional culture of the alien world of Avatar. Even better - imagine meeting and interacting directly with your favorite hero (we'll leave the ethical challenges of re-creating and interpreting a historical person or event for another discussion). 

It's astounding that Microsoft and Lionhead killed the Milo project, particularly when critical pieces of the necessary tech are now real and tangible.

I haven't yet seen any indication that the tech behind "Siri" is being developed for game systems - but Apple being what it is, one wonders if there's a visionary somewhere within the company working to redefine gaming as we know it.  They've done it with so much other tech, so who knows...