Video Vortex Conference 2008 (2 of 2): Some thoughts to the conference, YouTube and more

January 27, 2008

Theory, moving images

I was a bit surprised about the theoretical focus of the conference and had expected to see more visual works and examples. But I am also a very visual person and in general find it hard to listen to people talking especially if what they say is rather abstract – I like to get something concrete out of it, results, consequences of the analysis, maybe what it now all means for my own work. I think this is what I missed (or maybe did not get) from some of the theoretical presentations, as interesting as they were.

Old school word

I never liked the word “amateur”, I always thought that it sounded too old fashioned and, depending on who is using it, either has a submissive or insulting meaning attached to it.

There was a time before MiniDV when the best/cheapest option a low-budget indie video production had was to shoot on Hi8. Once the movie was cut a copy for a potential buyer was made onto Betacam SP and if you were lucky a smaller TV station would buy it. But most of the time you were told that your tape was not up to a certain technical standard (since it had been shot with “amateur” equipment). The “amateur” video argument was of course only a pretext to get rid of the indie competition, TV stations never had a problem with their own shows that featured funny cats and cute babies home videos.

There were a couple of instances at the conference where I thought that “amateur” was used in similar ways as TV stations had once used it – the arguments are always the same and it is the attempt to defend an exclusive position or monopoly.

Money was never good at measuring the quality of a product – the best things in life are free and some of what the online indie/experimental/art film and video scene offers is so much more inspired than what the so called professional content media industry delivers on TV and sadly also to the cinemas.

Differences between DRM and exclusivity?

Another thing that quite surprised me at the conference was to hear that there seem to be artists who don’t want to share their works online, specially on YouTube, because they feel this would misrepresent them, kind of take away an aura of exclusivity.

There are good reasons for not wanting to share your work on YouTube (e.g. their Terms of Use or because you prefer other solutions like Show in a Box).

But why feel threatened by being on the same platform with thousands of other creative minds? Why limit access to your work (via passwords etc.) if it is available for free anyway?

How different is this position from the mainstream entertainment industry that out of fear of loosing control is limiting the distribution of their media with DRM?

If you have been a successful video artist you can still be a successful online video artist! The avant-garde is called that way because it is forward thinking. But wanting to limit access to your work, wanting to retain exclusivity is so backwards thinking that it hurts. Why not let the world see what you have to offer? Why fear the YouTube competition…? What can you really loose…?

YouTube as a movie

I see YouTube as a huge, interactive movie. Like a mixture of a Wikipedia for moving images (licensing issues and the YouTube TOS aside) and a free on demand video library: there seems to be no moment that a human can go through in the course of life that is not in some way represented on YouTube. As a viewer you can combine these moments and generate your own feature length movie – if you feel something is missing or think you have a better version of a moment you can always upload it. And of course there are the prebuilt movies (short movies or longer ones posted in multiple parts).

YouTube is a unique, collective visual oeuvre created by its millions of users and the community features (comments, playlists, subscribers) empower the users to communicate on all kinds of levels, in all kinds of ways.

Did I hear people say at the conference that cinema was this collective experience and that online video is something for lonely people…? How often do you actually talk to the other people in the audience when you go to the cinema…? Yes, it is special to sit in a big theatre with a large audience, but the “lonely argument” is not true at all for online video – it is however true for TV.

YouTube is everything you want it to be. If you want to prove that there is “only” pirated content on YouTube you can quickly come up with a series of examples. But you could also prove that there are “only” funny cat videos. Or artistically remarkable works.

Also I can’t share the view that video artists don’t use YouTube. Some of the best works I have seen in recent years I have seen on YouTube.

My YouTube “favourites”

Since none of the three videos that I submitted as a favourite made it to the selection we saw on the last day of the conference here those videos – all remix works that would not exist if their makers had taken copyright laws seriously:

Make sure to watch the Zidane Headbutt Remix! I think this one is close to genius and should keep even the most hardcore film/media/culture theorist entertained…

Cillit Bang – JAKAZiD ft Barry Scott [Nukleuz]

Zidane Headbutt Remix!

power to the people vs give peace a chance

All in all: informative and inspiring

The Video Vortex Conference 2008 was a bit different from what I had expected but I still found it quite informative, inspiring and enjoyed meeting and talking to a couple of very interesting people.

Last but not least: a big thank you to all the organisers of the conference and Seth Keen who moderated the panel that I had the opportunity to be a part of.

Video Vortex Conference 2008 (1 of 2): Open Source Ways Of Producing, Distributing And Promoting Online Video

January 26, 2008

Text of my presentation at the conference incl. all links and a few additions (27.01.08 – note that in my presentation the part about copyright was much shorter and did not include some of the arguments I mention in this text version!):

• As a film maker I am now more interested in online video than traditional (contemporary) cinema (and of course TV).

• (video shown) Indiworks Channel (2007, 1 min.): a trailer for my work. While I also uploaded this to the non-profit Internet Archive this link goes to the trailer’s page on my account –, which focuses on shows, is a good alternative to YouTube because they support Creative Commons licenses, have pretty good Flash Video (seems better than the one on YouTube) and offer the optional download of the uploaded video file.

Think about making a trailer that represents your own work…!

• Have a blog (mine is of course this one right here). If you are new to blogging a commercial solution like Google’s Blogger might be easiest to get started with. I would like to be able to recommend the open-source WordPress (since end of last year Movable Type is also open-source), but so far for me WordPress has too often been a frustrating experience: I find the admin interface inconsistent and confusing and for some strange reason the blog editor is too buggy to be really useful for more than just very basic text editing. My workaround solution for publishing to my blog: the Firefox extension Scribefire.

Note that the free blogging host works slightly differently than if you were to install WordPress (the software) on your own server – some limitations that I encounter on (embedding of Flash Video from or the Internet Archive not supported for security reasons) are possible if you have WordPress running on your own server. I find it unfortunate that has this limitation because it sheds a bit of a bad light on WordPress itself…

• What I showed next at the conference might have appeared a bit too simple for some to be worth demonstrating, yet I think this is a key concept you should be familiar with if you want to distribute your own works online:

How-to make your own channel (creating your own video RSS feed):

(There are of course other ways of doing this, here one very simple method.)

– Upload your video – if you are willing to share your work (free, non commercial distribution) you can upload it to the Internet Archive’s Open Source Video (Movie) section (upload works via ftp, just follow the instructions).

Example for an uploaded video’s page on the IA (my own video): At the Open-Source Pond. Like on I choose to use a Creative Commons licence for publishing my work, in this case the license allows you to remix the video for non-commercial purposes.

– Once the video is uploaded I go to my Video Bomb account and add it to have it appear on my submitted videos page (basically a playlist): on top of the page there is the orange RSS feed icon and the video I added is now in my feed (= channel).

Now you can advertise your feed (the URL connected to the orange RSS feed icon) on your blog and your fans can subscribe to your videos. This works in any feed aggregator like e.g. iTunes (“Advanced” > “Subscribe to Podcast…”) or the open-source Miro (from the Participatory Culture Foundation, they are also the ones behind Video Bomb).

Check out Miro, it’s not perfect yet (feels too slow on some systems, for Flash Video on the Mac you will need at least OS X 10.4), but together with the IA’s open-source movie section and this is one of the best tools for independent online video and movie distribution.

Make sure to submit your own feed to the official Miro Guide. You can also submit your feed to the iTunes podcast directory, but there will be one little extra requirement for doing this: even if you never intend to use it on the iTunes store, participatory culture à la Apple is only meant for those who own a credit card…

• For me online (RSS) film and video distribution is a dream come true: it was never this easy to get your work out to a world wide audience!

Example for online film distribution (my own movie): Vincent (44 min., ’96/’03). I see this is a slow but long term distribution. In the first year I had about 300 downloads, in the second year 1500. No idea yet what I’ll have at the end of December 2008 but I’ve had more downloads in two years than there were guests at the premiere.

• (video shown) E.T vs T2 (2006, 1 min., 19 sec.): a trailer mash-up by digital_kevin, his blog is a document of the real digital revolution between spring ’05 and winter ’06 (scroll down to the first blog entry to find a link to the .pdf file/archive of the first offline part of the blog).

I showed E.T vs T2 as an example for the absurdity that I think is traditional copyright. This video, while in my view a visual discussion and possibly more to the point than a written analysis could ever be, might be illegal to produce, distribute and posses (and all of that at least in a let’s say possible 20 or 30 min. version…).

Since knowledge is power and copyright restricts the distribution of information (= possible knowledge) copyright is a tool for those who have to make sure that those who have not will stay uninformed/uneducated/unentertained. Information wants to be free and therefore (traditional) copyright is morally wrong.

The Creative Commons model is a good first step in the right direction because it allows you to basically water down the copyright for your own work: you still can make sure that e.g. a big company won’t steal your project but at the same time you can e.g. allow free, unlimited copying of your work for e.g. non-commercial use…

There is an ever deeper going argument against copyright: when you think about it in all its details I believe you can only come to the conclusion that there is no way that any human can invent anything on his or her own, or more precisely: no one can actually invent anything at all, what we do is discover things for ourselves, our time, the society we live in. The ancient Egyptians already had batteries… Leonardo da Vinci “invented” among many other things the prototype for a car, different flying machines and if a newer theory is correct he could even have taken the first picture with a camera obscura… Those who first “invented” the wheel were just the ones who first discovered its usefulness (on our planet…). Composers like Vivaldi are still remarkable talents and have achieved a great deal, yet it seems unlikely to me that there is not at least one other composer in the universe who at some point did not come up with a combination of notes similar to what Vivaldi came up with: there is a seemingly endless repertoire of items you can combine, but not all combinations make too much sense and so nature with its trial and error approach makes sure that the most useful or pleasant combinations are found and passed on from one generation to the next. Excessive copyright protection like it happened with the Mickey Mouse Protection Act is simply theft and shows how corrupted those in charge can be.

Nature does not care about copyright – if it did evolution would have been stuck in a never ending legal battle with itself a long time ago and we would not be here today.

• For many more links and how-tos to online indie media distribution have a look at the P2P Audiovisual Guide (a project from the P2P foundation) that I maintain.

• In June 2006 I started learning/working with the free and open-source Blender, a fully featured 3D modelling and animation program available for Mac, Linux, Windows, Solaris, FreeBSD and Irix. There is a lot of free online documentation available for Blender, a good starting point is the Blender Wiki.

Blender is simply amazing. A couple of months ago (after learning Blender for about a year) I took part in a two months long 3ds Max training and just could not believe how much this “industry leading” package is behind Blender in terms of usability and in many many aspects also in terms of features. Apart from the fact that Max will cost you about € 5000.- and that you then can’t even change the code if you need it (Blender is free, the code is open-source) Max only (!) works under Windows (and now also under the DRM friendly Vista…).

There is one little Blender story I did not have time to talk about at the conference: Blender also has a cool, simple non-linear video editor – it is not perfect (yet) and since I am an editor I took some time to write a short analysis of the Blender NLE from my Final Cut Pro point of view. Now about half a year later I got an email from the main Blender NLE developer telling me that some of the features I suggested are now in CVS (so if all goes well they should make it to the next official Blender release). Try to get this kind of response from one of the major commercial 3D software companies…

If you like 3D animation make sure to check out the Blender made Elephant’s Dream – since this is an open movie you can also download all the production .blend files and learn from them.

• The last video I partly showed was a preview of my latest Blender made video called vivaldi rock (2008, 4 min. – in production) – I hope to upload the finished version at some point in February.

Coming tomorrow: Video Vortex Conference 2008 (2 of 2): Some thoughts to the conference, YouTube and more

Video Vortex Conference: text of my presentation and more later this week

January 21, 2008

I will post a text version of my presentation (incl. all links I mentioned) as well as some thoughts about the conference, online video etc. later this week. Thanks!

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