Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Filmmaking That Inspires: Ken Loach's "Kes"

This is the third in a series of behind-the-scenes blogs about the story behind the making of a documentary - in this case, my film, "Life Online," the story of a family in Florida that's uniquely dedicated to the "YouTube" lifestyle.  Interested?  Donate at:

These blogs and vlogs will trace the evolution  of this project as I prepare, shoot and edit "Life Online." I hope these prove helpful to aspiring filmmakers.

If you've read my blog, you may remember that I have a particular appreciation for Ken Loach's landmark 1969 film, "Kes," a narrative feature film about a 14 year-old's bleak life in a British mining town in the mid-20th century, and the faint flicker of hope he discovers in training a wild kestrel.  
The trailer for "Kes," as presented on Criterion's YouTube Channel

The film, a masterpiece of bare-bones filmmaking, is considered by the British Film Institute to be one of the top ten British films of the 20th Century.  In America, however, it's still largely unknown. Until Criterion's recent Blu-Ray/DVD reissue, it wasn't easily available here. Even today, the  authentic regional dialect makes understanding the film a challenge (though the new release offers options, including subtitles, and an alternative soundtrack - recorded at the time with the original actors - with more conventional english pronunciation).

 "Kes," according to Loach, was heavily influenced by the tradition of documentary filmmaking.  Loach was striving for authenticity at every stage - including casting.  With one exception, every cast member including the extraordinary young lead, were non-professionals hired from the very town in which the story takes place.  These individuals - particularly the school children - understood and lived the world featured in writer Barry Hines book and screenplay.

Loach, whenever possible, liked to minimize the filmmaking environment.  He would keep lighting to a minimum (not an easy task when low-light technology was in its infancy), or create a sense of intimacy for the actors by removing even the camera from their immediate space.  In one instance set in a greenhouse, Billy Casper, the main character, is engaged in a private conversation with his teacher.  To preserve the authenticity of that private moment, particular for his non-professional lead actor, Loach had a hole drilled into the wall of the greenhouse, and shot the actors from a distance through a long lens.    

Loach didn't like to over-use the camera for dramatic effect, preferring to allow actors and settings to establish mood.

Though "Kes" is a narrative film, and I'm shooting a documentary with a decidedly more upbeat vibe, it represents the sense of time, place and respect for the subject that I hope to emulate in "Life Online."  

My goal, too, is to keep my presence to a minimum, and allow the real-life subjects to be themselves.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Three Great Documentaries

This is the second in a series of behind-the-scenes blogs about the story behind the making of a documentary - in this case, my film, "Life Online," the story of a family in Florida that's uniquely dedicated to the "YouTube" lifestyle.   Interested? Donate at

These blogs and vlogs will trace the evolution  of this project as I prepare, shoot and edit "Life Online." I hope these prove helpful to aspiring filmmakers.

There are a number of films that have inspired my upcoming documentary, "Life Online," the story of a family that has embraced the YouTube "lifestyle."  With three boys and their mom all creating content for their individual lifestyles, and all family members contributing to their non-stop production "studio," this film will offer a great perspective on why more and more people are deciding to express themselves publicly through YouTube and social media.  "Life Online" asks, 'What happens to family life when there's an audience to serve?'

Three documentaries in particular loom large in my decision to tackle this project:

Considered by some as the original 'reality show,' "An American Family" was a multi-part public broadcasting series featuring the life of a "typical" suburban family in Santa Barbara in the early 1970's.  They turned out to be anything but typical, as their family literally disintegrated under divorce and a series of dramatic revelations by each family member.  Unlike today's "reality" programs, this documentary wasn't subtlety moved along or even scripted by the producers.  Events simply unfolded from May to September of 1971, during which time Producer Craig Gilbert's team shot hundreds of hours of 16mm film.   It's also worth noting that shooting a film like this in the early 1970's required cumbersome camera, lighting and audio equipment, creating a  disruptive environment that some suggest may have been a provocative factor (among others) in the family's demise.

I'll long been fascinated with the patience, dedication and trust necessary to create "An American Family."  Unlike so many of today's "reality" shows that pretend to portray life as it unfolds, this program felt authentic.

Oscar-winning director Michael Apted, who has moved back and forth between feature films and documentaries, continues to create the "7 Up" series of feature documentaries, an extraordinary portrait of a group of ethnically and economically diverse Britons whose lives he has revisited every seven years since they were seven years old - now, over fifty years.  Inspired by the Jesuit saying, "Give me a child until the age of seven and I will give you the man," this is a uniquely revealing portrait of human nature.  The "7 Up" films not only prove that personality may indeed be in place, but they're also an extraordinary tribute to the resilience of human beings in general.  Apted shows a respect for his subjects that offers a great example for any filmmaker. (Here's a review of the latest film in the series, "56 Up")

Respect for the subject was the central factor in the effectiveness of "The Boy Mir." Director Phil Grabsky's film follows a peasant boy in Afghanistan from ages eight to eighteen, during the dramatic events of the last decade, as he and his family struggle to survive amidst the chaos and then emerging new freedoms transforming their world.  Grabsky returned to Afghanistan periodically over ten years to tell Mir's story, creating a film that personalizes a story that exists for the West mostly in impersonal headlines.   (Here's my review of the film; I had an opportunity to interview Grabsky about 'The Boy Mir. ' Here's my blog, 'The Minute You Pull Out a Camera, You're Intervening').  

"An American Family," the "7 Up" series and "The Boy Mir" are varied in style and approach - but share three important elements that, I feel, make them effective films: Dedication of the filmmakers, trust and mutual respect between the filmmakers and their subjects, and uncommon patience.  If I have the opportunity (Consider contributing here) to create "Life Online," that's what I'll be striving for.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Big Media's Romance with YouTube: Why It Will Fail

The entertainment industry is still excited about YouTube.  In the November 26th edition of the Weekly Variety, "YouTube Newbies Wow the Biz," explains how "Big Media" is beginning to invest in Multi-Channel Networks (MLC's) like Fullscreen and Maker studios, with the hope of getting in on the ground floor of a new industry, farming new talent, and connecting with young audiences.

But do they really get it?

In the Sunday, November 25th edition of the Los Angeles Times, another article, "YouTube's Best Video Creators Now Have Their Space in the Sun" discussed YouTube's new Playa Vista studio, which caters to YouTube partners by providing them access to a state of the art production facility that might have previously been out of reach.  They'll be able to "up their game," improve their production value and create better and more ambitious content.

While this influx of investment and interest from both Big Media and YouTube will prove a fantastic opportunity for some of the top YouTubers, both sectors still seem to be curiously blind to the most powerful aspect to the world of online video - a direct connection with the viewing audience.

For the vast majority of YouTubers, those whose views may never reach the stratosphere, the real opportunity isn't necessarily in hooking up with Big Media -  or becoming part of the YouTube elite.  Learning how to better grow and engage their viewers/subscribers/followers/fans offers the best chance for most online content creators to build a future in that world.  The key isn't simply to share in YouTube's advertising revenue (which tends to really pay off only for those with at least tens of thousands of views) - it's getting the big picture: understanding one's own talent and abilities - and using YouTube channels as tools to build toward those goals.  In other words, what are you good at, and how will you get there?  To some, that simply means hawking fan-centric items like t-shirts and posters. To the more ambitious, that could mean music, videos, e-books, audience involvement in crowd-funding projects, smartphone apps, or developing one's own sponsorship opportunities separate and distinct from the limited percentages of YouTube advertising revenue.  In short - individual creators need to begin seeing online video as a tool for entrepreneurship.

Individual engagement and interaction, which offers precious little room for corporate overlords, is the real attraction that draws the YouTube audience. Big Media interest will likely wear thin fairly quickly as they discover that drawing in online audiences isn't simply a matter of pushing out content.  

While some will benefit handsomely, investments in FullScreen and Maker Studios - and YouTube - will prove disappointing - but not because the opportunity isn't there - but because improved tools for engagement aren't being developed as feverishly as production  capabilities.

It's quite possible that the true power of online media will remain firmly - though so far potentially - with the individual.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Talking It Out: Documentary Interview Techniques

This is the first in a series of behind-the-scenes blogs about the story behind the making of a documentary - in this case, my film, "Life Online," the story of a family in Florida that's uniquely dedicated to the "YouTube" lifestyle.  

In today's blog, I share some of my favorite basic techniques in conducting an effective, "authentic" interview.  


Be prepared

This doesn't just mean that you should do your research - you need to be technically prepared as well.

Whether you are your own crew, or you have one, two or three people helping you on documentary shoot, it's imperative that you work with individuals that are experienced and/or motivated to prepare camera, sound and lighting as quickly and efficiently as possible.  There's always going to be a balance - some would say tension - between setting up a great shot, and engaging your subject as quickly as possible.

Interviewing Neil Parikh, one of the boys featured
in my documentary, "Bollywood Steps"
If you have an individual waiting to be interviewed, and the preparation process is too slow, they start to feel impatient - even rushed - and increasingly nervous.  A minor inconvenience becomes a major disruption.  Particularly in sensitive situations, this can impact the quality of the interview when it finally occurs.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

State of the (Crowd-Funding) Campaign

I'm now over one week into my Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign for my documentary, "Life Online." It's been a slow launch, but I'm still optimistic that I develop some momentum and perhaps create the necessary "crowd" to make this a reality.  After all, I did launch this effort just after Superstorm Sandy, and a week before the election - a particularly awkward time to squeeze in a few moments of your time.  I'm particularly grateful to my funders so far, whose generous contributions have gotten the ball rolling.

DrewDudeTV...and a bag of chips.
Drew's on the left.
Where do I go from here?  

The first objective is still to bring more attention to the "Life Online" Indiegogo page - visits are not yet anything close to what's necessary to make this happen.  The more people that visit the page, the more chance that some will contribute to make this a reality.

I need immediate help to bring news of this documentary out to more people - whether through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs or other means.  IndieGoGo stats indicate that it's important to keep the word out about the documentary  - it takes about seven separate contacts, on the average, for an individual to decide to jump on the bandwagon.  This is why you'll hear about this project frequently.

What do you think?  How can I get this project - this funding campaign - out to more people?  How can I maintain this effort between now and the rest of the year - without becoming the social media equivalent of those overly repetitive, obnoxious campaign commercials?

AND, (as "Life Online" donor Odell Hataway says, I need to engage in more shameless promotion) what can I do to convince YOU to become part of this effort?

What can you do?  Here are some links!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Launching My Campaign (How Indiegogo Works)

Here's my vlog explaining my Indiegogo campaign - and explaing the basics of an Indiegogo Campaign.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

LIFTOFF! (Why I'm Crowd Funding)

Today, I'm launching an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign for my new documentary, "Life Online."  This is my largest step yet in putting social media to work for my life and career.  My blog, Twitter account, YouTube channel, Facebook page and the like have been around for a few years now.  Over the past year, I've had a great time interviewing YouTubers and other online entrepreneurs (and sharing those interviews on my YouTube channel). I've connected or re-connected with individuals around the world.  Like most who have jumped into social media, I've had a great time.

Now, though, the time has come to put these tools to work.  As someone who has worked in so-called "traditional" media most of his life, I've come to believe that the future - or, perhaps, the more exciting future - of this profession lies in the ability we  now have to directly reach an audience.

The democratization of media - increased access to creative tools and fewer "gatekeepers" - allows any individual with a computer (or smartphone) to be an entrepreneur.  The potential is enormous - but so are the challenges.  It still takes a leap of faith and the acceptance of risk  to take that step.

All of this brings me to today, and "Life Online," a documentary about a family dedicated to creating on YouTube and living through social media.  Mom and three sons have YouTube channels, and even dad and their youngest daughter are also involved. One son, 14 year-old "Fur," (it's short for Christopher), is even a YouTube partner and shares in the ad revenue on his channel.  I'm hoping to create a documentary asking the question, "What happens to a family life when there's an audience to serve?"
(Follow the film @LifeOnlineDoc)
Crowd-funding sites have become enormously popular in the last couple of years.  Essentially, they allow anyone to donate to projects - from films to inventions to political causes - at levels that range form just a few dollars to thousands, in exchange for perks that can range from a Twitter shout-out to credit on the film    Using social media "word-of-mouth," popular projects can reach their goals and become reality to an extent never before possible.

I've wanted to try crowd funding for quite some time, but until now, I hadn't found the right project - one that not only had to potential to capture the imagination of potential funders, but also had the social media "legs" to spread far and wide and give me a fighting chance to succeed.  "Life Online" seems like a perfect opportunity for my Grand Experiment.  

First, I'm telling a popular story.  Like it or not, social media has fundamentally changed the ways we interact.  YouTubers - those who share their lives online - are at the forefront of that change.  The fun, quirky family I'm profiling, I think, provides the perfect vehicle to explore what that change really means.

As "Life Online" tells a social media story, I'm betting that I may be able generate enough interest in the social media community to give me a fighting chance to get the film funded.  A number of individuals with their own network are helping me get the word out. Getting people to visit the IndieGoGo project page is the first challenge.  If I did my job right, some of those visitors will accept my pitch and be willing to help.

Will it work?  Starting today, I'll have just about two months to work at it and find out.  I'll let you know how it's going.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Diving Into the Media Abyss

I've been living a double life.

I work in "traditional" media, producing documentaries, promotional, informational and educational videos.  I've done okay, received some recognition (including three Emmy Awards), and seem to be emerging through the economic downturn.

Over the last couple of years, however, I've made a concerted effort to shift my efforts, my career - and my future, toward digital media.

Digital Media.

What does that mean, anyway?

For many, it simply indicates another platform to push traditional media out to audiences that are increasingly moving away from the traditional television model: movies or television shows ported to other platforms, from Netflix to YouTube, Hulu, and a hundred other variations.

That's part of it, of course.  

For others, Digital Media means the creation of web series - often, this reflects the interpretation of traditional media for the new environment (for example, informational, documentary, news, drama or comedy series) in a shorter, online friendly length.

While Traditional media producers recognize the advantage of encouraging audiences to interact about traditional media programming, there's little understanding of the value of interacting with an audience.

The old buzz-word "interactivity" has risen to an art form on YouTube, where content creators - those who maintain their YouTube channels and post videos on a regular basis - understand that the greatest tools to building and maintaining an audience is interacting and responding to their audience.   They reply to commenters on their videos, comment on other people's videos, ask their viewers for feedback and opinions, and create ongoing opportunities beyond their YouTube base to further engage their followers.  They're all about promotion and development through interaction.   Anti-social artists need not apply.

Can Old and New Media Work Together?

Over the last several years, I've made a concerted effort to understand the relationship between traditional and emerging media platforms.  This year, those efforts are beginning to coalesce into concrete action.

Since April, I've traveled to three media-related conferences:

Vidcon, attended by YouTube content creators, was held in July at the Anaheim Convention Center.  It featured an array of informational seminars, screenings, entertainment and an exhibition hall featuring services catering to the YouTube content creator (fan outreach, monetizing opportunities, games and autograph sessions with top YouTubers).  Missing: production equipment vendors offering the very production and software products these new content creators constantly seek.

The National Association of Broadcasters show- a conference featuring the largest exhibition of professional broadcast technology in the world - clearly provided a peek in to the dawning of high quality, cheaper and simpler to use product.  The GoPro booth was likely one of the most popular and enthusiastic destinations in the sprawling complex. Though GoPro is a specialized product, it's real a harbinger of much more to come across the industry.

Last week, I attended WestDoc, a conference of professional documentary filmmakers, producers, networks and funders.  

I hadn't been to WestDoc before - but as I move closer to some major new initiatives in my career, the time was right to return to the heart of what I've been doing my entire professional life, and begin the process of bringing these old and new elements together.

The slogan for this year's Westdoc was An Industry is Being Reborn, reflecting a recognition that the world of nonfiction media production and distribution is inexorably changing.   NAB, too, reflected this awareness at it's April conference with it's own theme,  The Great Content Shift.  VidCon, however, emerging from the very world the rest of the media world is trying to understand, didn't need such to signal it's attendees that the world is changing - they know.

WestDoc featured an array of seminars and informational sessions featuring many of the networks interested in documentary and reality content (History Channel, Food Channel, Lifetime and Discovery Channel, to name a few). Even YouTube was there, reflecting the site's current interest in developing and producing professional channel content.

Current trends were explored as well, including crowd-funding, Online Retailers for video content (such as, on which I've made my documentary "Bollywood Steps" available), and a day-long "PitchFest," providing documentarians and reality TV creators a high-profile platform to push their concepts out to potential funders and networks.

With an industry being "reborn," and "content shifting" online, I've been intrigued by the great abyss that still exists between traditional media professionals - who perceive YouTube and similar sites as simple platforms for traditional, one-sided non-interactive content - and the pioneer content creators who make up for their occasional lack of professional production skills with innovative audience engagement strategies.

Many media professionals perceive online content creators as rank amateurs.  Online Content Creators, on the other hand, don't often see themselves as filmmakers, though they follow in the footsteps of the motion picture pioneers of the late 19th Century, who sought to find strategies for making the most of the new technology.

Traditional media producers are, generally speaking, experts in storytelling and creating production value, while Intimate Audience Engagement is largely the domain of the modern content creator.

Imagine a meeting of the minds, bringing together these disparate worlds to learn from each other, and making both worlds stronger, engaging wider audiences - and creating a more financially sustainable industry for all concerned.

In my next blog, I'll explore how I'm approaching my upcoming work with a eye toward both worlds.  

You can follow me on Twitter @rickflix

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Honesty On Film - Ridley and Tony Scott's "Boy and Bicycle"

After the recent death of motion picture and television director Tony Scott (Top Gun), I became aware of "Boy and Bicycle," a 27 minute short film his older brother Ridley Scott (Bladerunner, Black Hawk Down)had created as a film student in 1965.  It featured Tony as a teen skipping school and riding his bike around his English coastal town.  We hear his interior dialogue as Tony's mind wanders from random thoughts on his home life, his school life and his immediate surroundings.  

This fictional film honestly captures the mood, sarcasm, frustration and curiosity of a sixteen year-old boy.  The deceptively simple plot line shows off the talents of both Scott brothers, who would go on to develop substantial careers in mainstream motion pictures and television.

"Boy and Bicycle" reminded me an experience I had some years ago when I brought a half dozen teens from a filmmaking workshop I was teaching to a film festival in Los Angeles. We attended a screening featuring a collection of short films created by high school students across the city.  The films ranged from comedy to drama to animation and documentary, all a few minutes or less in length.

After the screening, I asked the boys which films had the greatest impact.  They weren't interested in the action films, or films on current issues impacting teens, or anything that reflected the high production value that some teen videos can have in a company town like L.A.  Instead, they were in awe of a series of documentary-style films that, like the fictional "Boy and Bicycle," featured the introspective voice-over thoughts of individual subject/filmmakers about their lives, set to video featuring moments in their lives, often seeming to wander aimlessly, as the Boy in Ridley Scott's film.  

The boys, who were residents at a facility for those recently released from juvenile hall, especially valued the simple, honest nature of these short autobiographical films.  To them, at that time in their lives, honesty was rare and unusual.

Honesty, after all, is at the core of all great and effective art - whether a painting, music, motion pictures - or even a vlog on YouTube.  Learning to create can be a challenge - but the struggle to create truthfully can last a lifetime. 

Though it's a forty-seven year old black and white short film, I recommend catching up with "Boy and Bicycle" - hyper-personal and directly engaging, you may discover that it speaks directly to the age of YouTube.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thoughts on "Ethel" - A Documentary About the Life of Ethel Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy was slain in 1968, five years after his brother John, leaving a widow and eleven children, one of which was born six months after he died.   That last child, Rory Kennedy, grew up to be a documentary filmmaker.  For the first time, she turns her attention to her own mother in "Ethel," an HBO presentation premiering on the channel on October 18th.

"Ethel" is an emotional, moving, and at times even intense experience, incorporating a wealth of previously unseen photographs and home movies of this iconic American family.  This program, however, shouldn’t  be considered a historical documentary.    This is, first and foremost,  a family’s self-portrait, featuring Ethel Kennedy's unique perspective on the highs and lows of her eventful life.

Rory narrates the film, and warns us early on that her mother isn't generally a reflective or introspective person.   Ethel doesn't dwell on tragedies, explaining that "nobody gets a free ride" in life.  

Though the film is called "Ethel," this is really about Ethel's enduring relationship with Robert Kennedy.   Forty-five years after his death, she considers everything she's done since, including raising her eleven children, as simply carrying on her husband's legacy.  She dismisses Rory's suggestion that she's done anything extraordinary in raising her children, explaining that the values and ideals with which they were raised were Robert Kennedy's alone.

Of course, the truth in any iconic relationship is much more complicated.  Many of Rory's siblings took part in the documentary, sharing their memories and perspective on the nature of their parent's relationship, and their belief that they were who they became because of each other.  Ethel, too, was raised in a large, spirited Irish Catholic family - though her father was a self-made man (and a staunch Republican).  She was fiercely supportive of her husband, and remains active in the causes he supported.

At the Los Angeles premiere of "Ethel," held at North Hollywood Laemmle Noho 7 as part of the International Documentary Association’s DocuWeeks program, Rory explained that she carefully considered her family's  feelings as she produced and edited the documentary.  In a particularly telling moment in the film, Rory brings up the evening of Robert Kennedy's assassination with her mother.   Ethel at first remains silent and distant, then curtly suggests that they talk about something else.  There's little footage from either November 22, 1963, when John Kennedy was killed, or June 5, 1968, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated - a conscious decision, Rory explained, to spare her older siblings from reliving the still traumatic events.

This isn't a film about scandals, indiscretions, or political posturing (though Ethel shares a truth that must have been borderline scandalous in her family: her parents were staunchly conservative Republicans).  The film touches on the struggles they've faced - Robert Kennedy after the assassination of his brother, and the family after his own assassination - but this isn't a film about struggle.

This documentary may not be an exhaustive portrait of Ethel Kennedy or her family, but it does reveal a rare perspective:  Behind the iconic/legendary status of the Kennedy name, this is just a family - and like most families that survive the test of time, they choose to remember the good times.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teens Achieving Dreams in a World Without Gatekeepers

(From L-R) Harrison Houde, Andrew Brackin, Cassius Morris

Traditional media is largely governed by "gatekeepers," those people and institutions that determine the fate of countless creative individuals that attempt to "break in" to the media industry.  From casting directors and script readers to studio chiefs, the obstacles to success are great, and few break through to the "big time."  The gatekeepers may be experienced industry veterans with an eye for quality and talent - or, they might be largely governed by more arbitrary criteria ranging from pure instinct to  pure prejudice.

Alongside traditional media, however, there's now another world - without gatekeepers.  In just the last few years, the "democratization" of media has made it possible for anyone with a few simple tools and access to the internet to create, distribute or simply access a wide audience.

Musicians, artists, filmmakers, writers, commentators - or, really, anyone who needs to establish a base of like-minded comrades - can do it.  If  they can create with quality and consistency - and navigate social media to promote their work, they can achieve their personal and/or artistic goals. 

Through my Vlogger Interview web series, I've had the opportunity to speak with three teens who may not think of themselves as pioneers, but offer, I believe, a hint of what's to come:

Harrison Houde, sixteen, is a professional actor with several television and motion picture credits (including a small but hilarious role in the first "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movie).  He's been able to pursue his personal filmmaking interests through his YouTube channel, xTurnipTimex, and recently used IndieGoGo, the crowdfunding site, to finance a short film.  He's built his channel through hard work and interaction with the YouTube community.  He creates quality content, responds to his audience - and has built a following that isn't about exploiting his professional work as an actor, but earning his success as  young content creator on YouTube.  [See my Interview here]

Andrew Brackin, eighteen, discovered the world of entrepreneurship as a young YouTuber.  That initial social network of friends and associates made it possible for him to actively move ahead on his dreams while still a young teen.  He created an internet radio station, licensing music at fourteen years old.  He later co-founded, a daily deal type site aimed at the tech community.  Today, he's working with like-minded entrepreneurs in the US and UK to move even further ahead, even as he shares his insight with aspiring young entrepreneurs.  [See my Interview here]

Most recently, I spoke with thirteen year old Cassius Morris.  Cassius discovered the world of podcasting several years ago.   He's co-hosted a podcast on his favorite band, KISS, and more recently has been building a following as the sole host of "That Reporter Kid Speaks."  He's approaching thirty episodes of the program, which features Cassius interviewing comedians in the US and Canada (Cassius lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia).  He's learning from his experience, from others, and from direct audience feedback. 

Cassius' initial success (he has 4,600 Twitter followers) is also notable for another important reason.  He freely shares having been diagnosed as being both bi-polar and ADHD (Attentional Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder).    At thirteen, with a growing audience, he also can serve as a source of hope and inspiration for the hundreds of thousands of kids his age that struggle with the same challenges.

In a sense, what Cassius, Andrew and Harrison are doing isn't new - hard work and dedication go hand-in-hand with achievement.   Unlike previous generations, however, they've grown up with unique access to the world at large.  It's intriguing to consider what these three creative individuals - and thousands like them - will do with that access - and what they might achieve in the future. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dawn of the YouTube Family

In the eight years since it's inception, YouTube has become many things to many people. For some, it's a social network, for others it's a replacement for television.  It's a tool for social change, and a wide-open forum for self expression.  It's a repository of all kinds of talent, and a source of pop culture thats so prevalent that it's hard to remember a time when such a platform didn't exist.

As YouTube continues to evolve it's place in contemporary culture, it's also becoming a source of family bonding.  Recently, as part of my "Vlogger Interview" web series, I've interviewed two families  that are living what might be called a YouTube lifestyle.

The Flores Family, of Ontario, Canada, consists of single mom Tammy Flores and her sons, Craig and Calvin.  All three maintain YouTube channels.  Mom vlogs about her family's daily lives, travels and adventures, while the boys thirteen and fifteen years old, simply create for the sake of creating.  Craig, the thirteen year-old, is often asked by his friends when his next video will be posted, though they're really, in his words, "randomness."  The boys aren't creating for subscribers (at least not yet), but for themselves.  For the Flores family, creating on YouTube also comes with an added benefit - it's provided a gateway into and connection with the YouTube community.  Through YouTube, Craig and Calvin enjoy friends and mentors across Canada and the United States.  It's something the boys appreciate, and Tammy recognizes as something that helps and enriches their lives, even as they offer videos to enrich others.

My discussion with the Flores family came just weeks after a discussion with another YouTube-centric family.  While dad and their daughter don't have their own channels, mom and her three sons are actively involved on YouTube.  "Fur" is even a YouTube partner, creating collaborative videos not only with his family, but with many other members of the Florida YouTube community  (Check out their interview here).

The wider and growing familiarity with YouTube and what it offers is beginning to encourage parents not only to allow their kids to create online, but to jump in themselves and become part of the YouTube experience.

What will it mean in the long term?  "The Family YouTube" is still a new phenomena, with very few engaged to the extent of these two families.

The opportunity to create together can be powerful, but might prove challenging as well.  Creative expression and egocentric behavior sometimes go hand-in-hand, and not every family may be equipped to juggle those traits fairly.  Still, as parents become more aware and sometimes involved with YouTube, there's likely to be a wider acceptance of the potential benefits.

The chance for kids to grow up with enhanced verbal and media skills in an increasingly media-centric world might offer a strong competitive edge.  YouTube also offers the creative boy or girl a chance to find other similar creative minds world-wide.  Millions of young content creators have already discovered this; future generations may not have to work as hard to prove it to their parents.

On the other hand, will some families become overly sensitive to reflecting and catering to pop culture trends?  Will entire families, like some individual YouTubers, lose sight of the creative and social benefits and become obsessed with monetizing their content?  Will micro-celebrity culture distort the family structure?

Finally, what will it mean to "Grow Up YouTube?"  What's your view of the world, if you've always been shared - and eventually shared yourself?  Do you live only to please your lifelong subscribers? Do you compromise part of your identity to serve your followers and subscribers?  There have been movies that touch on this theme (The Truman Show) - but soon we'll be experiencing the reality.

For now, one thing seems certain after chatting with these two families:  Creating online content together may not be for everyone, but for a family with creative and artistic talents, it may prove to be a real gift.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: TryThis0001 [Jason]

About this Interview:

Jason is a veteran of the United States Army.  He retired several years ago after eleven years, and was searching for a hobby.  He played the massive multiplayer game Worlds of Warcraft for a while, but wasn't finding exactly what he wanted.  Google Hangouts introduced him to the YouTube community, but at first the idea of actually putting himself on YouTube seemed unlikely, at best.  In this interview, we learn how that changed.

Today, Jason not only has his own channel Trythis0001, but makes a substantial contribution to the YouTube community as a member of TheQuadSpot, the YouTube chat show, and his developing several collaborative projects as well.  We discuss how he changed his mind, where he thinks YouTube is going, and what he has in mind for his own YouTube future.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: Fur!

About this interview:
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview a family in which the mom and three of her sons all had YouTube channels.  It was great fun to talk to them, and it's a bit overwhelming to imagine the level of creative energy that must be swirling around that house!  I decided to return to this family and do an in-depth interview with one of the boys, 14 year-old "Fur" (why Fur?  It's in the interview!)  Fur is both a YouTuber and YouTube partner, and an aspiring filmmaker.  He's the modern equivalent of the young filmmakers of my generation, with lots better equipment and a much bigger audience.  In the days of super-8, our audiences typically consisted of family, friends, and sometimes classmates.  Fur has followers around the world.

I've believed for a long time that we're going to see some great films emerging someday from Fur's generation.  Unlike any generation before him, Fur not only has the equipment to make a high quality film, but, for the first time, can learn from his audience.  There's direct feedback on his videos, or course, but there's also the analytics that YouTube offers, which allow him to see where people are viewing his videos from, their ages, how people are actually finding and viewing his videos.  and even whether viewers are staying through and watching each video, and when they stop.  By the time he creates for a living, I believe, he'll understand what works and doesn't work with his audience.

The great filmmakers twenty years from now, learning from their earliest experiences on YouTube,  may develop a unique instinct to connect with their audiences and create movies that are engaging, suspenseful, heart-wrenching and entertaining.

You can find Fur at

Directing my first film at 11 years old

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What the Traditional Entertainment Industry Get About YouTubers (and what YouTubers should do about it)

The disconnect between the entertainment industry and the enormous talent pool on YouTube remains - and it doesn't show any signs of lessening any time soon.    While some online content creators may feel frustrated at their attempts to connect with the multi-billion dollar industry, the reality just may be that their greatest opportunities may be right where they started - online.  Even as the Hollywood community begins to understand that the future of entertainment is online, there remains among many in that world a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of this new genre.

Recently, YouTube began to introduce funded, sponsored channels as a new generation answer to traditional television.  Some channels are, in fact, created by established YouTubers - others are sponsored by traditional media companies, publications or programs.  Most, though, are falling into the traditional media trap, failing to recognize that the appeal of content created by YouTubers isn't simply programming - it's the personal connection the viewer maintains with the content creator.   

Even moderately successful YouTubers spend a great deal of their time maintaining that connection with the audience - responding to channel comments, updating across social media and responding to feedback.   Top YouTubers, whose weekly views may number in the millions, wtih comments in the tens of thousands, still focus on innovative ways to create an interactive environment.

Traditional entertainment - motion pictures and television - emphasize the creation and marketing of a finite product.  The nature of even the simplest television program is that it's a team effort.  While industry power brokers are beginning to recognize the value of this emerging talent pool, they may not be certain why they're valuable.

In the history of motion pictures, the "auteur" is celebrated as the director with ultimate creative control, whose imprint is unmistakeable throughout the production. puts it simply:  A filmmaker, usually a director, who exercises creative control over his or her works and has a strong personal style.    Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick are classic examples.  Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk, Elephant), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) and Lindsey Anderson (The Royal Tannenbaums) are more contemporary examples.

With the trend toward high quality, low cost production and post-production equipment, every YouTube content creator has the potential to be an auteur (though, like motion pictures, not always the talent).   With the individual or small team, and lack of studio gatekeepers that once dashed the dreams of thousands, today's visionaries don't have to beg for the chance to express themselves.  

Even more than their motion picture predecessors, online content creators also have the opportunity to directly engage their audience.  Their power to influence is only just emerging.  As the content creation community continues to grow, develop and learn, that power will only increase.

Rather than knocking on the old, worn traditional media door, it might be more productive, in the long run, for quality YouTubers (or online content creators in general) to also sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.  The opportunity to succeed isn't limited to the tried and true (i.e. promoting and networking within the YouTube universe) - it lies in reaching the millions - and billions - who don't yet know that "YouTubers" exist.

What do you think?  Who are the Entrepreneurs on YouTube?

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: AdamUPNow

About This Interview
Adam, a Los Angeles-area resident, discovered vlogging through major YouTube personality iJustine.  After a while, he decided that he wanted to try it out, too, and has been working on his own channel, AdamUpNow and its associated channels.  His content features gaming, comedy, skits, music videos and collaborations.  He's a friend of former Vlogger Interview subject, Andy8b.  He's also attended the last two Vidcon YouTube conferences in Los Angeles and Anaheim, and calls the latest event "a life changing experience."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: SonicOrbStudios

About this interview:
A while back, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by TheQuadSpot, a team of YouTubers offering an ongoing series of discussions with YouTubers of every description.  The interviews are conducted over YouTube,  and are more a casual chat between the four QuadSpotters and the guest than a straight interviews (as are mine).

I'm especially interested in the entrepreneurs on YouTube - those who are looking at the big picture, rather than keeping their vision limited to one tried and true path.  Since I met them a couple of months ago, I've wanted to interview the Quadspot team as well.

This interview features David Stroz, of SonicOrbStudios, owner of a video production service in New Jersey, creator of tutorials and reviews on production hardware and software, and longtime YouTube vlogger.  We chat about his YouTube story, and how TheQuadSpot came about.

Check him out:
Check out TheQuadSpot:
See my interview on TheQuadspot:

The Missing Link: Final Thoughts on Vidcon 2012

Recently, I attended Vidcon, a conference of YouTubers held this year at the Anaheim Convention Center.   This was the third annual conference, growing from a total registration of just 1,400 in 2010, to advance registration of 7,200 this year.  In 2010, the main events were held in a ballroom at the Century Plaza Hotel.  This year, they were held in a sports arena.  There's no greater indication of the explosive growth of the personal online video world than this singular event, which brings together vloggers of all ages, along with their fans.

Vidcon wasn't perfect. This is, after all, a young industry - still testing its influence and developing pathways to success.  YouTube (and its smaller cousins) are both artistic and entrepreneurial playgrounds.

Just as important is the sense of community - something that's completely missed by most casual visitors to YouTube.  Friendships and collaborations are the heart and soul of this world.  I'm still somewhat fascinated with the reality that so many have no idea of this world.  Even new YouTubers express surprise at the extent of "Community."

Vidcon is both a community and professional development event, but was a bit surprising in the obvious lack of interest from vendors of professional video equipment - camera, lighting, softeware vendors, and more whose presence would have both benefited YouTubers wanting to "up their game" and the vendors themselves.  The reasons why these vendors are missing may be twofold - they don't know the huge potential of serving this audience, and/or the community (and perhaps the Vidcon sales people) need to do a better job of outreach to these vendors.  I'd like to see a "tech alley" in the vendor area, providing a one-stop-shop where YouTubers can learn, enhance and improve the technical quality of their videos.

In summary, my top ten observations about Vidcon:
  1. The growth of online video is dramatic; attendance at the 2010 Vidcon was 1400, attendance at this year's Vidcon is estimated at 7,200 - this year, keynotes were held in an arena
  2. This is still very much a YouTube world - source of over 50% of all online video viewed
  3. Optimism and excitement is palpable
  4. Like any entertainment industry, dreams and expectations are huge
  5. There's a great deal of imitation and hero worship amongst many YouTubers
  6. The most successful YouTubers are Entreprenuers - not only creating product, but promoting, collaborating, strategizing and finding branding partnerships.
  7. This is not a geographically centered industry; YouTubers of all levels come from all corners Of the world
  8. There is still a struggle to define just what "this" is; online video is a tool of communication as well as entertainment - sometimes, simultaneously
  9. The vending area, with just a few exception, shows how little the "professional" production industry (I.e. rental and sales video equipment companies) value this world - no camera vendor, for example, was in attendance.
  10. This will rival comic-con within a few years - with one important exception. This is primarily a gathering of creators, other than simple fans ( though there are plent of those as well
Check out my Vlog on this subject:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: OnlyWeekDays

About this interview:
Adam and Luke are high school students in the small town of Blandford, in the south of England, a town best known, they tell me, for the Great Dorset Steam Fair.  For the past year or so, they've been experimenting with their YouTube channel, OnlyWeekDays.  Now that school's out, they're hoping to spend some quality time on the channel this summer and begin to develop it further.  Even though they're in the earliest chapters of their YouTube story, their friends and local residents have already taken notice.  Other students have been inspired to try their hand at creating YouTube channels.  In this interview, we'll discuss their efforts at creating a channel, and how YouTube and online video are becoming the preferred source for video entertainment.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: "The Family YouTube"

About this interview:
If YouTube had ambassadors to the uninitiated, there's a family in Florida, there's a family in Florida that would probably be ideal for the job.  A mom and three of her kids all have YouTube channels; one (Fur) is a YouTube partner.  Creating videos is their passion; YouTubers are their friends.  They create separately and together, with mom (and dad) keeping an eye on things.   They are probably one of the most spirited, optimistic examples of the emerging 21st century family.

Part Two this weekend!

Featuring Fur, AntinnyWorld, DrewDudeTV and their mom, HappySuuz

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: TheGoodKyle

About this interview:
The gaming community on YouTube is probably one of the largest and most active online communities, driven by a massive and growing gaming industry.   Kyle (TheGoodKyle) is both a YouTuber and a gamer, and has been creating online content on a regular basis since last October.  While some of his content is gameplay related, he also shares his opinions and perspectives on gaming.  He recently created a written response to periodic claims that video gaming, in and of itself, leads to violence in real life.  Like many on YouTube, he's found  enormous online community to share his specific passion.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews : Boomer9168

About This Interview:
Boomer (Boomer9168), from New Port Richey, Florida, sums up his YouTube experience in one phrase: "YouTube saved my life."  Like many people, he began vlogging (and later, creating skits and collaborations) simply because he liked what he was seeing on other YouTube channels - and it looked fun.  With the fun he found creating for a YouTube audience, he also discovered an opportunity to expand and enrich his own social life.  In addition to friends around the world, he's also connected in person with local YouTubers in Florida.  Online community has helped Boomer recover enthusiasm for life that he thought he's lost.

Today, he says, If he somehow lost access to a  camera and couldn't be part of the YouTube community, "I would be heartbroken."

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: TheSchwartzcaster [Eric Peter Schwartz]

About this interview:

Why would a grown man play with a puppet on YouTube?

A while back, I interviewed Spiggitz the Cat on The Vlogger Interviews.  Spiggitz is a ratty-looking, opinionated vlogging feline puppet created by Eric Peter Schwartz, and featured on his YouTube channel,  With this interview, I meet Eric himself, and find out the question asked of most YouTubers by the uninitiated:  Why?

Eric Peter Schwartz, a resident of Aurora, Illinois, has a long history in writing, theater and comedy (take a look his extensive resume on his home page).  He thinks of himself as a born performer, but his comedy efforts had been been in hibernation for a while when he learned about YouTube a few years back.  As you'll discover, YouTube reignited his creative flame.  Spiggitz, once a crowd favorite in his live comedy shows, was adapted for this new venue, and has since evolved into Eric's alter-ego.

Eric is fascinated by the opportunities that online video is beginning to offer.  In live theater, ad sales in a show's program booklet is an important supplementary source of income.   He believes that with some hard work, YouTubers could be quite successful monetizing their work beyond the Google Adsense model, which allows YouTubers to share in the revenue generated by advertisements placed by Google on their videos.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: Oliver6596 (Ollie)

I'm not a big fan of snarky comedy vlogs on YouTube - the mean-spirited channels that find humor through ridicule, almost as if they're inspired by the celebrity scandal sites.  If I'm looking for comedy, I tend to enjoy generally good-natured vloggers of the Charlieissocoollike variety.  I also like uninhibited comedy - off the wall, random and sometimes physical goofiness that is probably best created by teenagers who haven't acquired the layers of cynicism that restrain so many adults.

15 year-old Ollie (Oliver6596), who spoke with me from his home in Birmingham, UK, admits that he doesn't usually spend much time planning his vlogs, and maybe that's what I find entertaining about them - I don't think he knows any better than his audience where each vlog is going to end up, or when he'll throw himself into a random door.   His little brother is his sidekick  / antagonist, but you'll never take the brotherly name-calling seriously.

Ollie's vlogs are already working for him - he offered a few in his college (referring roughly to the UK equivalent of high school in the US)  application - and was well received (more in the interview).

Ollie's definition of vlogging is one of my favorites (or, in this case, favourites):

Vlogging is...being social awkward to a camera.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Vlogger Interviews: BerrySoftball [Tommie Weimer]

Thoughts on this Vlogger Interview:

Dayton, Ohio resident Tommie Weimer's channel, BerrySoftball, is both a creative outlet, and a way to socialize and get to know people from around the world.   While many people, I think it's fair to say, have discovered the world through vlogging and YouTube, Tommie's participation in the YouTube community is just the latest chapter in his interaction with the world.  A U.S. Navy vet who served in the early to mid-1990's, he has friends the world over.  Having the chance to build an even wider community online is a huge part of his attraction to the world of vlogging.

So far, I've interviewed over thirty vloggers  - and social interaction is by far the most frequently mentioned reason for starting and continuing vlogging.  Yet, strangely, it's the one thing that non-vloggers don't fully realize.  "Traditional" media tends to see Vlogs and other produced YouTube videos as a one-sided affair.  Even in some corners of the YouTube community, there's a tendency to create more and more of these "one-way" productions in the broadcast model - it's the tried-and-true way to go.  

The Community model, I think, is far more exciting - and, potentially, offers so much more for a creator and his audience.  The strength of community in the online world is still largely overlooked.  It's going to take more ambassadors like Tommie - whether they're veterans, retirees, entrepreneurs, or simply individuals witha  passion to express themselves - to bring that community to it's full potential.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I'm Interviewed on "The Quad Spot"

Recently, I had the opportunity to be interviewed on The Quad Spot, a YouTube webseries that also features interviews with YouTubers - but with an approach all it's own. These interviews feature one subject and four interviewers interacting on Google Hangout over at Google Plus. I really hadn't had the chance to use Google Hangouts much until this interview - it's probably the single greatest advantage of Google Plus. I've been using it more or less on a regular basis since the interview - and I recommend you give it a try.  Join me on Google Plus!

I had a great time - it's a whole different ballgame being on the other side of an interview - you can be sure that I'll be featuring each of the Quad Spotters in future Vlogger Interviews! 

Enjoy the interview - and let me know what you think! Click on the video and check out The Quad Spot Channel as well! 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Barbarians Storm the Gates! Broadcasting and the Future of Media

As someone who has lived most of his career in "traditional media" (in other words, outside of the internet), I've always known the NAB Show as a technological mecca - an overwhelming conglomeration of state of the art equipment for all phases and types of broadcast media - from radio to television to digital cinema.  The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show in Las Vegas includes perhaps the most extensive exhibition of broadcast technology in the world, with attendance topping 90,000.   

While I love tech, however, my point of view has evolved over the past decade.  Today, I'm excited with innovations that have evolved technology into an increasingly accessible tool for creative work.    There are many in broadcasting, however, who see this evolution as a dire threat.

What does "broadcast" mean in an age when so much media access is moving online?  How relevant is the traditional broadcast world in the changing landscape of information and entertainment?   Broadcasters are aware the world is changing - NAB's slogan this underlined the rumbling earthquake:  

In his keynote speech, NAB President Gordon Smith summarized the challenge to professional broadcasters - and to those working in traditional media, "Our greatest challenge is to have the courage to challenge ourselves.  Challenging our existing business models, looking around the corner, and adapting to a media marketplace where only the technologically nimble will survive.

"It is said that every moment can be golden for those who have the vision to recognize it as such."

I'm a great fan of streamlined technology - high quality, increasingly simple-to-use tools that tear town the obstacles that have prevented so many creative people from expressing themselves effectively.  With increased access to these tools, audience access is no longer limited to the select few.  Anyone can create a YouTube channel or record an audio podcast.   Of course, that doesn't mean that most will earn an audience.  Talent and ability are still prerequisites for success.  Some in the broadcast industry, in my opinion, see this as a "storming of the gates" and look upon low cost tools with disdain or outright rejection.

The future of entertainment is not in the hands of engineers and technicians.  It is in the hands of a huge and growing resource of creative people everywhere.


Here's my "Planet of the Vlogs" podcast on my NAB experience, featuring several products that, perhaps, prove that there is beauty in simplicity."

Here are a few selected highlights that likely represent the charactger of the NAB show five or ten years from now.

I met David Basulto of in the press room before the exhibition opened - his iPad based camera rig is a great example of the simpler-is-better creative spirit I love about the evolving world of media:

Some Photos:

At several locations throughout NAB, remote control camera copters, made possible by miniature HD cameras,  were on display.

Another camera copter - of a more radical design.

The NAB Show took over the huge Las Vegas Convention Center.  Here's a small portion of the massive exhibition.

Social technology was also on display.  "Escort Live," from brings dashboard radar detectors to a new level.  Now, if your detector indicates a police radar or laser nearby, your location information is fed into a social network, alerting others nearby that they're coming upon an area where they might want to be extra careful... is a desktop and smartphone application that provides monitoring of  Twitter/Facebook and other social activity attached to current network programming is a social network designed for tech and creative start-ups - with both private, group-oriented project management features, and a public area for targeting networking is a browser-based, collaborative editing platform.  It's already available as a recommended tool at  - or as a stand-alone tool.  It's no replacement for Final Cut or Avid, but it's a surprisingly useful system with a wide range of potential professional, semi-professional and educational possibilities. 

Finally, the smallest, cheapest, and most popular camera at NAB - GoPro's booth was packed, as it's cameras stood staring into the face of change....

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Planet of the Vlogs Podcast - Episode #2

In this second episode of my new audio podcast, I react to the Google/YouTube decision to open the YouTube Partnership program to just about anyone eligible for Google Adsense. I also talk about my decision to attend the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas to seek out industry evolution to serving the needs of content creators. Finally - a quote from a Hollywood legend about the early years of the movies that speaks today's media pioneers.

You can subscribe to this podcast through iTunes at (this will open iTunes):  itpc://

Check out the official podcast page at