Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Friday, May 27, 2011

Future Tense: Notes On My Next Documentary

Imagine creating a video letter from 2011 to the 1960's in which young and old alike show their passion for "social media," in terms a time traveller would understand....and you'll gain an early sense of the concept for my next documentary.

The other day, I asked visitors to my vlog to consider the challenge of describing what we like to call "Social Media" to an individual from decades ago - a time before home computers, before the Internet (at least as a universally accessible resource), and certainly before social technology. Responses were fascinating - here are just a few:

21stCenturyCat suggested that Twitter was like having pen pals all over the world - but with immediate response.

EdElisea took the alternative approach, hosting a visitor from forty years ago in our modern time. He points out that before addressing social media, he would have to explain all of the strange noises a visitor would experience - car alarms, cell phone ring tones, talking GPS Units. THEN he would begin to explain today's powerful PC's.

Bearchay889 uses a grapevine analogy for most social media platforms, but suggests that YouTube would be more of a challenge to describe because of its unique technical characteristics.

Yllekr123 said: "If you tried to tell me 40 years ago about the internet I would have laughed at you."

journeyoflifevlogs perhaps summed it all up. He would ask inhabitants of 1971 to imagine technology that would enable people of all races to communicate and share inexpensively and from the comforts of home. He also pointed out that he would likely be "locked in a crazy home for the rest of my life."

Technologically, we live in an age so wildly distinct and unanticipated from just a few decades ago that it's becoming hard to comprehend how far we've come. Even the most visionary science fiction writers couldn't imagine the social tools we use today on a daily basis.

Today, many people still respond to the concept of tools like YouTube and Twitter with "I just don't get it." My film, in sending a "message to the past," could also be a fun way to better understand our revolutionary age.

This is at early stage - responses and input welcome! Subscribe to my Vlog on YouTube, if you haven't already!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The First Five Minutes: Judging Documentaries

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to judge a number of documentary film competitions - a process in which a committee reviews  both short and long-form films with the goal of choosing one or just a few of the best for special recognition.

Subjects and trends change from year to year, of course.  Historical anniversaries and world events generate clusters of docs on subjects ranging from 9/11 to World War II, and soon, I'm sure, the Arab Spring of revolution and regime-change and the Japanese earthquake/Tsunami.

In any competition, quality ranges from the unwatchable to the emotionally stunning.  Wonderful ideas that are poorly executed contrast with poor concepts and superior production value.  You can usually tell  in the first five minutes that a particular film won't be a contender.

Here, in no particular order are just a few of my favorite basic flaws seen in documentary film competitions:

1 - A poor script / Poor structure:  It sometimes seems as if filmmakers forget that, above all, they are storytellers - and the rules of good storytelling are consistant across the ages. Above all,  engage your audience - and engage them right away.  Once they lose interest, they're gone.
2 - Poor Camerawork - While modern, low-cost digital equipment has democratized the filmmaking process, there are surprisingly few who understand that there is an art to creating a quality image.  Basic rules of composition and even focus are ignored. Backlit interview subjects - shots in which the background behind is so overexposed that it's washed out to a solid white - are particularly disturbing.  Poor lighting is another frequent visual crime.
3 - Poor location sound - It's extraordinary how many films are shot with little thought to quality audio.  While modern cameras have on-board microphones, they're not meant to be a replacement for the quality of a boom microphone or lavalier mic on a subjects clothing.
4 - Poor subjects - Finding the right subject (person or topic) for a documentary is just as important as casting a narrative film.  It's also quite possible to take a great subject and alienate an audience through poor presentation.
6 - Poor narration - You've seen this, I'm sure:  A documentary in which the narrator informs the audience that "Bob was very surprised," followed by a shot of Bob informing us, in nearly the same words, "I was very surprised."  Too often, filmmakers use narration to hit the viewer over the head with a mallet to get their point across.
7 - Inappropriate Length - I wouldn't be exaggerating to state that perhaps 90% of feature documentaries should be short films.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Family That Blogs Together...

My niece and nephew are also engaged in blogging these days:

My niece authors The World According to Suz , which detais her everyday experiences as a freelance writer, copy editor, coffee addict...and "zombie aficionado."  Anyone who understands the daily struggles and neuroses of being a writer (I can say that because I'm one of them!), will relate to her adventures.  She's also poised on the edge of experimenting with e-book publishing.  I'll be watching this closely.  I'm not sure what "zombie aficionado" might mean, but I would hope that taste tests aren't involved.

My nephew, on the other hand, being the recent marketing grad, has created a blog focused on one highly marketable concept:  Food!   Greg's Gourmet explores Greg's food adventures, reviewing whatever interesting food he happens to come across - with humor and without the pretentiousness that so many foodie blogs typically present.  Most of Greg's adventures involve...well, let's just call it "comfort food."  Recently Greg and I descended upon the Valencia Gourmet Food Truck Festival.  Here's a look straight from my vlog, The World According to Rich (subscriptions always welcome!)

Enjoy our DNA!

Monday, May 9, 2011

High Quality Customer Service

This supplements my current vlog.

April 30, 2011:

A couple of months ago, my insurance company (Aetna) raised my rate $50.  The initial notification letter offered a few alternative policies with lower premiums.  As encouraged in this initial correspondance,  I called Aetna for a new rate.  An enthusiastic agent informed me that since the initial letter, the laws had improved the situation for California residents.  He offered a brand-new policy with a $1000 higher deductible that would lower my premium over $100.   When the statement came, however, it actually lowered it by only $3.  

I complained to Aetna. I had, in effect, given Aetna a gift in the form of raising my deductible and switching my policy for an end result which was a net loss for the customer, and a net gain for Aetna.   The monotone voice on the phone was perplexed at the rate I'd been offered initially.  She offered no response or apology other than to offer another rate that will lower my rate $50.

The new policy offered, by the way, was the same policy in the initial letter that the first agent had dismissed as being no longer active or availabile.

Something is better than nothing, right?  Well, today I got a letter from Aetna indicating that my brand-new rate, not yet applied, will be increased in July by almost $50, bringing my total savings after all this to $6.

Thank you to the health insurance industry and for the lack of effective political leadership (on both sides of the aisle, folks).  

Oh, well.  At least I still have insurance.  For now.

May 6, 2011 Update:  

My new rate was to be applied early yesterday morning to my checking account - I have an auto-pay arrangement with Aetna.  Unfortunately there was a "glitch" (Aetna's words), and Aetna instead debited $7,051 from my checking account (no, I do not keep that kind of cash in that account - this debit caused my account to be vastly overdrawn).    I discovered this debit at 5am - before customer service at either my bank or Aetna was available.  

I had to spend nearly an hour and a half that morning, all told, on the phone with Aetna and my bank to correct and arrange for immediate credit back into my account - not to mention the following couple of hours monitoring my account to make certain that the credit was applied.  All this while already at work.  

I wonder how Aetna treats customers who are actually sick....