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\"If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn\'t need to lug around a camera.\"

-- Lewis W. Hine (1874-1940)

What Makes You Happy? (short film)

January 15, 2010

Making a short film doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t really even need a script. All it really needs is you and a camera, with a strong sense of curiosity and adventure.

Super simple concept: take a sharp focusing video camera or DSLR, and hit the streets, asking people the same question. Find the flow of similar answers, cut it with some good music and tweak the images until they look like film. Jeremy Aiken and Jon Rawlinson did it with a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR, a Rode VideoMic, and some color grading software. In the news business, we used to call these “MOS” features: “Man (or Woman) On the Street.”

Today’s question: “What Makes You Happy?”

When I first started viewing this short film, I thought it was just a bunch of people answering a question. As it progresses, you can tell that there is a definite flow to the groups of answers…

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Adventure Glue (short film)

January 12, 2010

A short film about a little girl with a big imagination. It starts out pretty normal, with an endearing and well-photographed subject, then gets a lot more more interesting toward the end:

Adventure Glue:

It’s a really simple concept, very well executed. Here is the page at Vimeo, where you can see more of filmmaker Karen Abad’s work…

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Web Video on TV Gets Practical: Welcome to 2010

January 8, 2010

New technology about to make it just as easy to use the internet on your TV as it is to channel-surf. At the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, which just wrapped up this week, an award-winning  software company unveiled  a production model of the kind of device that will make this possible. Here’s a photo:

Full Qwerty keyboard on back; trackpad with home page button and play button on front

It’s the Qwerty-keyboard-integrated remote control for the Boxee Box, a Web TV unit that will ship in the second quarter of 2010. It’s a brilliant design that someone should have thought about long ago: combine a keyboard like you would find on a Blackberry or smart phone with a television remote control. It’s the first one I’ve seen, but you can bet it won’t be the last. As U.S. consumers become increasingly used to texting with their thumbs, a keyboard-remote will become an obvious household must-have.

Here’s a link to the Vimeo video that explains the Boxee solution to getting the Internet on your TV:

I had originally envisioned a remote with a trackball paired with an ergonomic wireless keyboard, but the keyboard on the back of the remote is even better for casual TV and web video viewing. I am sure this design will become a copied and common way to interact with the internet through your HDTV monitor over the next year or two, unless an even better design trumps it. I still think a small trackball would be better than the 4-way, game-controller-like trackpad, but that’s for someone else to decide.

By the way, I am not endorsing the Boxee Box or its software, which is free; there are other, similar set-top boxes that integrate the internet with your television. But this remote controller design is a game-changer, in my opinion: one of those things that’s so simple, it makes you think, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that?”

Along with new technology like Web-TV boxes, I am seeing another trend summarized in this article about a fresh crop of new app stores opening up for use with Web-TV. This is just a continuation of the trend of offering popular, useful computer applications on mobile devices like the iPhone and its competitors.

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How to Tell a Story: NPR’s Scott Simon & Ira Glass Reveal Their Secrets

January 7, 2010

What is it that makes you listen to someone else tell a story? It’s a question that is always important to writers, producers, filmmakers, reporters, and people on porches entertaining friends. If you want to make short films, or write a book, or be on the radio, or make speeches, you’ll probably want to be a lifelong learner when it comes to storytelling skills.

Today I found a couple of great videos featuring two successful radio storytellers, Scott Simon and Ira Glass, both of whom can be heard on National Public Radio. I found these links on D. Eric Franks’ great website for web video producers, Videopia.  A long time ago, I was a morning radio news announcer at an NPR affiliate at the University of Alabama. I can tell you from personal experience that weaving a story with just words and sounds for radio is not nearly as easy as it is with video.  But the principles of storytelling are timeless and universal, so anything you learn about it in one field can apply to another.

I invite you to watch these short pieces and think about how their suggestions can help improve your ability to win the attention, emotions and memories of your audience:

The Scott Simon video is part of the YouTube Reporters’ Center, which has lots of great videos for helping journalists improve their skills, and many of them work for storytellers in any medium.

And for today’s bonus video, it’s snowing in Alabama and many places across the Southeast today…

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Evil Flying Squirrel vs. Giant Bunny (funny short)

January 2, 2010

Well, Happy New Year!

For the first Backpack Cinema blog post of 2010, I wanted to find something really good and funny. I think you won’t be disappointed. The following short film was developed in 2008 using Blender: a completely free, open-source 3D animation software program, created by a team of top artists to show the flexibility and power of the software. The film result, “Big Buck Bunny,” is also licensed freely as open content. It’s also one of the funniest animated shorts on the web!

It’s the story of a lovable giant bunny who isn’t going to be pushed around by some ornery rodents.

Also, here’s a quick animated film with a clever visual reference to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which is not my favorite movie, but it’s pretty good….

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“Script Cops” (funny short) and HDR Timelapse

December 30, 2009

Back from visiting with family last week, I went hunting for a good, funny short film for the last few days of 2009. I’ve been on the lookout for funny short scripts to actually produce, and for comedy writers with material that is (a) doable and (b) actually funny. So far, no luck. But I did find a really good video that is a compilation of a web series based on a short film called “Script Cops.”

If you’ve ever wanted to write a film script, or tried, or even finished one or more, you’ll get a kick out of this. And if you’re on the short list of former news videographers who are also interested in producing short films, you may find it gut-bustingly funny like I did. For some reason, I was not able to embed the video in this page; instead, just click here to watch the video or click on the picture:

Click here to watch "Script Cops"

They got all the details of “Cops” in the bag. My favorite gag is when the camera runs to keep up with the cop: if you’ve never done that for real, let me tell you it’s one of the most reckless things you can do. It’s physically dangerous, and your camera better be well insured. But in this bit, it’s a scream.

By the way, I got a Canon Powershot G11 for Christmas (thanks, Mimi!) and I’ve been experimenting with High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography. Some of the results are in my Flikr photostream, and some of those are in the sidebar on the right of this website…

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Merry Christmas from the 1950s! (vintage Kodachrome footage)

December 24, 2009

Just in time for the holidays, I discovered this amazing time warp movie: Christmas morning, sometime in the late 1950s, shot on Kodachrome 16mm film stock. Jeff Altman recently uncovered his grandfather’s rolls of the film and had it developed, then converted to digital, and he did professional color-correction on it using a very expensive machine. Then he put it to some nice music and suddenly you are there in practically HD quality watching his mother and sisters as young children open their presents, just like it was yesterday.

It’s very nostalgic to see the toys, the decorations, the clothes, the hairstyles, etc., from that era just as they were. Step back in time:

If you would like to see more of Jeff Altman’s amazing vintage 16mm film footage, you can click this link to go to his Vimeo page.

I also found a short animated Christmas card from a couple of years ago called “Xmas Frog,” which is about what happens when Santa’s sleigh becomes too attractive to let it get away…

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