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June 07 2013

TERRA 812: Fly Fishing Is A Joke

This film is as much about the insurmountable distance between the camera and the subject as it is about the indefinable draw of fly fishing. This film was compiled in large part from the filmmaker's library of footage collected over several years making fly fishing oriented films. Produced by Henry Harrison

June 09 2010

Streamlining craft in digital video

I ran across an article this morning in the New York Times about The 48 Hour Film Project. I thought it was cool and it got me thinking about how a digital workflow makes filmmaking so much more accessible -- even before the new iPhone puts iMovie in our palms.

In short, the 48 Hour crew comes to your town and runs a contest that gives you two days to complete a four- to seven-minute film from script to screen. Some of the films are surprisingly watchable and engaging in a DIY-meets-media-culture kind of way.

I'm a still photographer but I occasional dabble in film and video. Before it died under the weight of the digital avalanche, I used to subscribe to a magazine for 8mm filmmakers called "Small Film" (I think the German version still exists but I can't find the link at the moment). It regularly featured filmmaking contests like "make a super 8 film with only in-camera cuts" or "make a film with a budget of $x." They could have never run a contest that lasted only 48 hours though. It simply wouldn't have been possible with a film-based work flow.

This style of personal filmmaking has been around in some form or another for a long time, but digital workflow has really allowed the emphasis to move away from the technology and its time-consuming limitations.

To a make a seven-minute film, on film, would probably require 300 to 500 hundred feet of 8mm film pre-edit at something like 65 cents per foot processed. Processing would take a week or two unless you were in L.A. with access to the last labs in the country that will do same day. The cameras, if you could still find them, would be at least as expensive (probably a lot more) as a current prosumer / light pro digital video camera. The biggest difference, at least in terms of time, would show up when you started cutting. If you started the weekend with processed film in hand chances are you'd still be cutting (and sniffing the glue) the following weekend.

It's interesting to go back and look at films by artists like Joseph Cornell, who was shooting mostly on 16mm in the '60s and '70s, and see how much more amateurish they look than these 48 Hour films -- at least in terms of technical appearance. The process and associated craft informed the look so much more than modern systems seem to with their machine-perfect reproduction, image stabilization, consistent color, and infinite-seeming depth of field from small sensors.

With more and more video being shot on DSLR I think we'll see the visual quality of DIY filmmaking go up dramatically. Finally the amateur can afford a camera that will shoot HD with interchangeable big=aperture lenses that are figuratively and actually ready for prime time. Digitally captured films on a budget will finally be able to isolate on a subject the way only expensive 35mm film could before.

Naturally, you still need a story to tell if you want to make a film people will sit through, but it's a very cool time to be a visual storyteller on a budget.

February 14 2010

A Dream About Augmented Reality Fiction

Last night I dreamed that one of my authors (no name or face that I can recall - one of the phantasms created by the half-waking imagination) had sold me rights to a novel he'd written, and was eager for me to publish it as an ebook. It turned out that the "ebook" we were developing was actually a movie that took place in an augmented reality overlay projected directly onto the mind's eye, mixing what the author had imagined with what the viewer was actually seeing and experiencing at the time. Every version of the movie was different, because the story had to be overlaid on what the viewer was encountering in the real world. At one point in the dream, Eric Schmidt of Google was particularly excited because a sailing scene in the story warned him about a hidden reef that his boat had to avoid.

I don't often share dreams on this blog (at least not sleeping dreams), but this one seemed worth putting out there, because I do think that augmented reality could be an important component of a new kind of storytelling, making today's 3D entertainments as dated as silent films. Elan Lee's Fourth Wall Studios is already chipping away at the barrier between storytelling and daily life. The first augmented reality entertainments may be text based rather than video; eventually, though, they will likely be as immersive as my dream.

Many years ago, I saw a play in LA called Tamara, a story set in the mansion where WWI hero and author Gabrielle D'Annunzio was held under house arrest by Mussolini. A fascinating experiment in theater, Tamara took place in many different rooms of the house. As an audience member, whenever a scene ended, you had an opportunity to follow the character of your choice to another room. No audience member could see the entire play. My wife and I went with her parents (who were back for the third or fourth time, seeing parts of the play they'd missed on previous visits), and afterwards, we all compared notes for hours about what we'd seen, and what we'd missed.

street view on the phone
I share this dream as a reminder that the fiction and entertainments of the future may have a very different form than the fiction of today. The first metamorphosis is just to change the medium, in the way that the paper map or atlas morphed first into online mapping sites. But eventually, we'll get much deeper, as mapping is today morphing into augmented reality layers (from Yelp reviews or Foursquare check-ins to Google Street View) superimposed on walking or driving directions delivered on a phone.

This is the kind of world we're exploring at the Where 2.0 Conference next month. I don't believe there are any talks on augmented reality fiction (@Brady, correct me if I'm wrong), but there might as well be. The world we're entering is going to be as rich and strange as last night's dream.

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