The following text was originally written for a publication about online video to come out later this year. I was asked to make a series of changes that I just could not agree to and therefore took back my text. The integrity of my work means more to me than having it published in print.
I am aware that the text might come across as a bit extreme or seem strange to some – others just might find this particular style and energy interesting – I do and that’s why the text is the way it is. Sorry if you don’t like it, what I tried with this is to write down all of my thoughts about online video and the new medium itself – how I see film, video and storytelling developing into something new: the open video and story remix platform – an online “theme park theatre”.
I see a medium evolving from film and cinema, not as its replacement, but as “the next thing” – I believe that there will always be something like cinema – in one form or another – and this text is about that other form…
The Online Theme Park Theatre: an Open Video and Story Remix Platform
(1.0 version, 04.04.08; for this blog post, 20.06.08: three minor changes/corrections concerning the hyperlinks as well as bold highlighting for skimming the text and some underlining for layout/clarity reasons.)
The author likes to thank Till Alberts and Nicolai Gütermann for giving their valuable feedback and input to a first draft version of this text.
This is a collection of thoughts about the collaborative possibilities that online video offers and a look at free solutions for setting up an independent online video remix platform powered by free software.
This is not a technical manual nor is it a detailed business plan – it is a “free idea”. Free as the air and in the sense of obvious.
This text is the introductory chapter to a book that has not been written yet. And, when thinking about it, you might agree that this would be a book where everyone just has to write their own version: the theme/story platform concept is about just that.
This is also a new look at the medium itself that we are dealing with – the medium that we simply refer to as “online video”.
A free idea for free stories
One of the biggest possibilities for online video lies in its collaborative potential. What we are witnessing today is the birth of a new medium: grainy, handheld phone cam YouTube videos watched on laptops instead of silent, static, b/w film projected onto a screen. But this time it all seems to happen so much faster – and there are two key differences: this time the tools needed for producing moving images are much more accessible, while all potential participants are connected via networks and channels of all kinds. It is this powerful combination that makes the web, seen as a platform, an extremely exiting place to be as a film maker: an open video and story remix platform, a “virtual theatre” – a new, mashed-up medium, a “killer app” for the web.
A little more than 100 years after film was born the aristocratic/monopolistic structures for the production and distribution of moving images (and media in general) are falling apart (we even have phone cams and online video editing solutions now…) and rising is a much more diverse, richer and powerful infrastructure for moving images creation. But video sharing platforms and media archives are only the beginning – just like when editing a video you first get all the footage in one place (on a media platform you upload it) and make a preselection while organising your work (on a media platform you label/tag the video). Once that is done you start with the actual, creative editing process…
In the video editing world “online” can mean two things (that have nothing to do with the World Wide Web as such): “available” (footage from a disconnected hard drive that is still part of the project you are working on is referred to as being “off-line” – it is not available). The other meaning: “online editing” (meaning you were first working with a lower quality copy of the video and now that the actual editing is done you replace the lower quality copy with its original master footage – you “on-line” it. Now, from an editor’s point of view and in the context of the World Wide Web, there is a third meaning to “online video”: video footage that is free and legally (or you just don’t care like the avant-garde has done for decades) available on the web for reuse (and for retransmission to the collective audiovisual information stream). If you connect all three meanings from above the unified definition for “online video” turns out to be “free available master (footage)”.
Editing is about structuring and a film editor can be seen as someone who is programming a series of moving images. As increasingly well connected internet users we have started conversations on a multitude of levels – e.g. by making a video, reacting in one way or another to a video we’ve seen. Reacting becomes remixing. Fake movie trailers, popular online in recent years, will most probably prove to be real movie trailers, in fact. The remix feature film is likely to be “coming soon to a browser (and portable media player) near you”. We’ve finally build ourselves repositories and networks that allow us to start realising so complex undertakings as the community made open-source feature length film. Example for a finished remix feature length documentary made by one single editor (with the Final Cut Pro files available for further remixing): “Panorama Ephemera” (2004) by Rick Prelinger – http://www.archive.org/details/panorama_ephemera2004.
How it works
Within a few years the world of blogs (the “blogosphere”) has established itself as a highly effective, alternative infrastructure for publishing and delivering news (open for anyone to participate, accessible for minorities and specialists of all kinds). Something very similar is happening right now with the world of moving images: the cinema of the future seems to crystallise itself to be an online video remix platform – open for anyone to participate, allowing the audience to interact with the content on a multitude of levels. An existing example is YouTube: you can make playlists, find clips that are related to others, react to a video by making and uploading your own video and allowing others to view and share it and to react to it again – YouTube really is a new kind of movie: a dynamic, interactive show with thousands of channels and millions of clips forming a part of the “free available master (footage).
Just like YouTube seemed like a far out vision only ten to fifteen years ago (remember the time when there was no internet and when no one had a mobile phone?) the cinema of the future might seem like an idealist’s dream today while in fact it is materialising already – in platforms such as YouTube. In the end it is likely to be some kind of open, social media network: the “online theme park theatre”. Core product of such a platform will be a cinematic presentation of a story that relates in a strong way to the theme that the platform is centred around. Since different themes attract different audiences, and different people develop different kinds of stories, a multitude of such platforms (possibly evolving as “genre platforms” and offering a multitude of theme centred, individual projects) will exist. At the same time these shows will also be screened in real world cinemas while digital distribution/projection will further help to democratise the new medium and bring high quality, content rich community produced projects to large mainstream audiences and their established viewing environments. And online you’ll be able to watch a movie in a virtual theatre (either alone or with many others) that you (can) create/interact with while you are watching. The stories you’ll see will have a life of their own, might first need to be developed over a longer period of time (just like e.g. Linux took about ten to fifteen years to mature into a mainstream product), but in the end these multimedia shows will turn out to be our generation’s online classics: myths, legends and stories with heroes and heroines from the new world. It also seems very likely that real world/online (story) worlds will melt into one another in unprecedented ways – which again is only reminiscent of one of the oldest movie themes we know: the exploration of that fine line between dream and reality.
Movies today are prepackaged dreams – movies of the future will be modular, dynamic and interactive dreams.
A visualised stream of thoughts
Online video allows creators to innovate, something a big Hollywood studio just can not afford because of ever exploding budgets – and the budgets themselves are just consequences of the attempts to fix with money what a special effect can’t buy: a good story. And so it became possible that simple stories – told from one person to another, by people gathering in groups, sitting around computer screens (our modern day fire places) – that these simple stories are now a serious competition for the industrial FX magician from Hollywood who lights very bright, very expensive fires that may look nice, but too often turn out to be illusions of fire places with no storyteller around.
In ten to fifteen years time we might already visit a (virtual online) theatre offering a 3D holographic experience and connecting tens of thousands of people at the same time – a bit like today’s “massively multiplayer online role-playing games” (MMORPGs) – people coming together in one place to experience a multimedia show that can be consumed, customised, contributed to, shared with others, remixed and retransmitted to another remix node in the network. The most effective way of realising this will be by using a totally open, non proprietary infrastructure without any kind of DRM or creativity restricting copyright laws.
But since this is a new medium we should not limit ourselves to think of it as a 90 minutes long experience…
Moving images are a visualisation of thoughts. And since the human mind likes stories we arrange those images into stories that can easily be shared and communicated: video is becoming a unifying language that almost everyone understands. Online video, our “free available master (footage)”, is a visualised stream of thoughts in an ongoing global conversation with feedback loops of all kinds – with each conversation a video stream gets better, smarter – like a programmer’s code evolving from a 0.1 beta version to the 1.0 final release – and all of this is happening while old media still tries to adapt, e.g. by suing its fans and costumers who try to integrate the static, old media content with the dynamic online one by sharing and remixing it!
Some tools and questions
Some of the tools needed for a meta platform like a virtual remix theatre already exist, others are just being built. We already have a couple of open-source movie projects (e.g.: “The Digital Tipping Point” – http://www.archive.org/details/digitaltippingpoint or “Big Buck Bunny” – http://www.bigbuckbunny.org) while a multitude of high-quality, free and open-source media production and distribution tools are flooding the market that was once dominated by commercial, closed-source, proprietary software from monopolists.
Some of the free and open-source tools (many, many more available) already in place are:
- on the content creation side:
Blender (3D modelling, animation, rendering, video post – http://www.blender.org), Gimp (image and photo manipulation – http://www.gimp.org), Inkscape (vector graphics editor – http://www.inkscape.org), Ardour (digital audio workstation – ardour.org), Kino (DV video editor – http://www.kinodv.org)
- on the distribution side:
Miro (internet TV and video player incl. BitTorrent support – http://www.getmiro.com), VLC (media player and streaming server – http://www.videolan.org), Songbird (media player and Mozilla based Browser – getsongbird.com), Plumi (Video CMS – blog.plumi.org), MediaWiki (Wikipedia’s Wikisoftware – http://www.mediawiki.org; for Wiki style video editing see: sourceforge.net/projects/kaltura), WordPress (blogging software – wordpress.org), Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora (patent/royalty free audio and video encoding – http://www.xiph.org), Croquet Consortium (creation and deployment of collaborative multi-user online applications and metaverses – http://www.croquetproject.org).
Next to semi-open/closed platforms like YouTube – does not support Creative Commons licences (creativecommons.org) – there are CC licence friendly platforms like blip.tv (blip.tv) and the incredible non-profit Internet Archive (www.archive.org). Other sites like Ning (www.ning.com) let users create their own social networks including pre-built micro video sharing sites à la YouTube, free to use, CC licence friendly.
In the end not technology but the quality of the actual story that a virtual story park is centred around will make a project work. More helpful than any rules and how-tos for story development are simple questions – they always work! (Rules are too specific – questions are open, universal and lead to new questions…) So here a couple of questions for online storytellers and remix video producers:
Who is my/our audience? Who is/are my leading character(s)? What does he/she/they want? What forces are opposed to our hero’s goal? In the end, will our heroine get what she wants? What’s the story in one sentence? What’s the story in three sentences?
Note: possibly these question might seem “too simple” and not appear to be useful – in that case come back once you’ve started developing your project! Being able to answer those simple questions will give you a good foundation for developing a working, complex story – if answered well those are in fact rather hard questions! For more questions read Linda Seger’s classic “Making A Good Script Great”, for the eye-opening, mythological approach to storytelling read “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler.
The next step
Now before proceeding please click to confirm:
Commercial Break To be Continued… The End