Netflix and the adaptive sin of impatience

Close-up of eyes with impatient lookImpatience is a sin. When I stand at the Bank of America ATM, waiting and waiting and waiting for the contraption to digest a fistful of checks, steam starts rising from my scalp. As I inch along Route 95 because a lane is closed for repair, but there’s not a workman in sight, catecholamines spurt into my bloodstream. Impatience.  It’s a sin because it’s nasty, it nicks at the soul, and it does no good to anyone.

Netflix logoOr does it? Maybe it does some good. Maybe impatience is adaptive. In this Darwinian world the rule is, famously, adapt or die … or at least watch someone steal your lunch. Why am I thinking these terribly profound thoughts? Why, Netflix, of course. Netflix streaming, to be more precise. Though I am patient enough, or cheap enough, to choose free shipping and wait several days for my Amazon packages to arrive, when I subscribed to Netflix, I couldn’t bear the idea of waiting for DVDs when there was an alternative. Streaming. I point the clicker at my trusty Roku box and, seconds later, I’m watching millions of pixels doing their high definition dance on my 46-inch Samsung screen.

(More about the  ragpicker’s choice of videos you get with Netflix streaming, as opposed to Netflix DVDs, below. For now, the subject is still impatience.)

smart key for a carBecause we Americans will do almost anything to make our lives more convenient, impatience may be transforming into a virtue, at least for entrepreneurs. It takes an eternal seven seconds to reach into your pocket, haul out your car key, insert it into the door lock, twist, pull the door open, slide the key into the ignition and start the car. How tedious! So somebody invents a remote control to unlock the car. Then somebody raises the ante by inventing a “smart key” you can keep in your pocket. Every time you use it, it effectively lengthens your life by seven seconds. Wow!

"Doc Martin" Netflix coverThat’s what I love about Netflix streaming. It’s effortless. Not only are you spared a trip to the video store (remember them?), you don’t have to chart your viewing course a couple of days in advance. Spares wear and tear on executive functions of your brain. Though the instant watch list is dismal when it comes to semi-recent narrative films, there’s a bunch of good docs, like Page One, The Art of the Steal and Theater of War. When my sister-in-law mentions the Brit-com series Doc Martin,  after a few clicks on the remote, my wife and I become mildly addicted.

Frame from "Charlie bit my finger - again!"The adaptive sin of impatience has always pointed the way to online video’s future, and it will continue to do so. Impatience has led to shorter and shorter videos. The YouTube classic, “Charlie bit my finger – again!” viewed by over 423, 000,000 short-attention-span folks (like me), is just 56 seconds long. To sample the conventional wisdom on this subject, google How long should online videos be? and you’ll soon see that nobody advises clients to make long videos. The graph shows a curve as steep as a ski jump of  viewers dropping off after just a minute or so.

Netflix streaming illuminates the future of viewing, but Netflix itself may not be the future of viewing unless they get their act together … and soon. When I search their website for a narrative film I want to see, almost without exception the Netflix gremlins tell me that my film “is not available to watch instantly.” Oh yeah, I can watch it on DVD by clicking on a single button … and upping my monthly bill by $7.99. It’s incredibly annoying, and has caused countless Netflixters to abandon ship. DVDs were developed more than 15 years ago. Those disks still work pretty well, but they’ll soon be a legacy technology.

Impatience rules. I’ve heard that Being Elmo is a charming doc. Let’s see, do I want to check it out right away, or do I want to wait for the mail carrier to arrive a couple of days from now? Seems like a no-brainer. Let’s see how long it takes for the pleasure to arrive in my family room once I put Being Elmo on my Instant Queue. Here, click along with me:

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

iMovie ’11–maybe the best 15 bucks you’ll ever spend!

Avid logoFinal Cut Pro logoNote: This post is obsolete. iMovie is now free and better than ever. I’ve edited video with Avid and Final Cut Pro, and you can, too. But these are complex, multi-layered, nuanced applications. Not only do you (or somebody who’s hiring you) have to fork over a fair number of shekels, the learning curve is crampon-worthy, especially if you’re not by training or instinct an editor.

Then there’s iMovie ’11. For years, evolving and devolving versions of iMovie came with every Mac I bought. After using it a few times I grew to hate it, because it was so mean-spirited. For one thing—and it’s a real deal-breaker—anybody who’s edited professionally can’t live without frame-accurate editing, especially audio editing. But trying to edit a simple conversation in old versions of iMovie would have made even Job say this is too much to bear.

Then I heard that the latest version, iMovie ’11, is way different. I read that a newbie can learn enough quickly to make a pretty slick vacation movie, while the journeyman can unlock some pretty cool advanced features. I went to Apple’s iMovie webpage and started exploring, and was bowled over … especially when I found out I could download it for a mere 15 bucks!

I’d been meaning to learn iMovie for a couple of months, mostly because a guy like me who purports to know something about making online videos ought to be familiar with this common app. The opportunity came when my daughter, Lily, who is an actress and writer, wanted to make a new demo reel. Before she arrived with her footage, I played with the app, checking out basic and advanced features.

The features are impressive–too many to go into here–but one of the very best seems utterly boring yet is worth mentioning here: Help. That’s right, Help. Just choose Help from the menu and you get two buttons:iMovie Help buttons

cover of "iMovie '11 The Missing Manual"If you click on “Get Started,”  you access a bunch of lessons that have lots of advice, videos, etc. If you click on “Browse Help,” you access a treasure trove of tutorials. They start out with basic clues, but you can tap a flock of disclose triangles to reveal deeper levels of information. As I tried figuring out how to do things I was used to from Final Cut Pro, the Help feature was invaluable. (If you want to steep yourself in a myriad of iMovie details, including a ton of stuff that’s not available through Help, you can always shell out a few dollars for iMovie ’11 and iDVD: The Missing Manual, which is terrific. Ironically, the book costs more than the app itself!)

frame from "Instructions Not Included"Full disclosure: Lily–that’s my daughter’s name–and I resorted to Final Cut Pro to edit  one of the elements of her demo, “Instructions Not Included.” That was really complex, requiring lip-syncing audio from one take to video from another take, etc., etc., etc.

frame from "The Scene"But we put all the clips together in iMovie ’11. Not only did we edit clips down, we also added music and tweaked the audio and video. For example, the only version of a clip called “The Scene” we had was very, very low resolution. Not only that, the exposures were all over the place, and the audio levels (because the mike was attached to the camera, which you should avoid whenever you can) varied from thunderous to almost inaudible.

Pic of "black label" burger at Crow Bar in Corona del MarNow, of course iMovie’s video and audio correcting tools aren’t as sophisticated as Avid’s or Final Cut Pro’s, but they’re pretty impressive. And I was pretty impressed, having paid (as I keep saying in different ways) less than the $19. cost of a “black label” burger at The Crow Bar. (Then again, that burger may have the same reward-to-cost ratio as iMovie ’11.)

I could go into more detail about all the goodies iMovie ’11 offers, but you’ll have more fun if you slide over to Apple’s website and watch their iMovie ’11 pitch video. After all, what is more beguiling than an Apple pitch video?

Finally, if you’d like to see Lily’s demo, just click on the player below. As always, your comments on this post are welcome.

How to heat up climate change videos.

Picture of earth showing bands of different temperatures.

A triple-threat disaster–earthquake, tsunami, and nuke threat–hits Japan. The Middle East and North Africa start exploding. Still, the paramount issue (IMHO) remains climate change. Virtually all the science says disaster is looming that could make a 9.0 earthquake seem almost trivial in terms of consequences.

Of course, that’s not an opinion you’re likely to hear from folks like Senator James M. Inhofe, who famously called the threat of catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Inhofe and millions of others insist that the science is biased, shoddy or inconclusive.

This blog post is not the place to debate the plausibility of disastrous climate change. For today at least, let’s assume that climate change is arriving on our doorstep. Now, as makers of online videos, what can we do to help scientists, government officials and other influencers carry out their mission to slam on the brakes?

Camera lens, with photographer in backgroundSome weeks ago, I asked myself that question. I realized that, as a video guy, the issue wasn’t so much climate change as climate change communication. The facts are clear–or clear enough–but our leaders are fiddling while the planet is smoldering because … well, because of a massive failure to communicate. (Yes, I know that our species’ brains have a hard time dealing with threats that seem distant in time. But we can’t wait for our beleaguered  gray matter to evolve further. So all we can do is communicate better.)

I googled “climate change communication” … and found–surprise!–that I wasn’t the only one thinking about this issue. In fact, George Mason University has a Center for Climate Change Communication and there’s a Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.

Originally, I wanted this post to be about my analysis of online climate change videos. When I started looking for those videos, I found someone had beaten me to the punch. Her name is Sara Peach, and she describes herself on her Twitter page as an “environmental journalist and multimedia producer.” She has a bunch of posts on the Yale forum website that sample and analyze videos. She told me her favorite is the one called Climate Change Web Videos: Advocacy Edition.

Since she’s mulled over the failures and successes of these videos for far longer than I have, I wanted to hear what she has to say on the subject. So yesterday, Sara and I talked via a Skype videochat (which she recorded with Call Recorder and sent to me). Here are a few bites I’ve excerpted.

First, I wanted to learn how she’s dealt with the preaching-to-the-choir quandary. Most people who flock to see films like An Inconvenient Truth don’t need to see them, because they’re already convinced. And the people who most need to be convinced will avoid those docs like the plague. Sara replies that there’s plenty of opportunity to reach out to people who fall between these two camps. (In her description, she draws on the Global Warming’s Six Americas analysis developed by Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change.)

Because our beady little brains can’t fathom distant disasters, Sara advises videomakers to bring things closer to home. No shots of polar bears, unless your viewers live north of the Arctic Circle. Audiences need to be able to relate to your content. Fortunately (really, unfortunately) there’s already plenty of evidence of climate change for you to draw upon.

You might think of climate change as abstract and therefore boring. Sara Peach sure doesn’t: “Climate change is a great issue to report on, because it draws on law, it draws on economics, as well as science. And so there are always very interesting things to report on. It’s very rewarding to bring together all these intertwining issues.” However, she acknowledges that making these videos can be very challenging.

Thanks, Sara, for doing my research for me. It was terrific talking with you and benefiting from your experience. May climate change communication succeed in helping our leaders, and the rest of us, do what we all need to do … now!

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Ask me anything (about making online videos)

Camera lens, with photographer in backgroundThe reason I’m asking for your questions is that I have two half-hour TV programs to produce before Christmas … and I just started on them last week. Much easier to clean out the Augean stables than produce a brace of shows in that amount of time! Which means for the next month I won’t have breathing space to think about posting new stuff to Seeing Your Story.

On the other hand, if you have a few questions about making better online videos, just ask them in the Comments section below. I’ll do my best to answer them when I have a moment. That may be helpful to you, and it’ll be easier for me than dreaming up new posts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Storytelling + reinvention just 11 bucks?!

Last night, I registered for something called the Reinvention Summit. I gave them my Visa card number and they charged me just 11 dollars and 11 cents for the privilege. I’m not sure what life-changing benefits for me as a storyteller lie behind that lofty title, but for the price of a Kobe beef burger at my local diner, it’s not exactly risky business.

That’s why I wanted you to know about it. You can judge for yourself if it’ll be worthwhile for your needs as a maker of online videos.

The Reinvention Summit is the offspring of a team led by Michael Margolis, founder and president of Get Storied, an enterprise devoted to the storytelling needs of innovators, entrepreneurs and other folks. The Summit describes itself in these terms:

Reinvention is the new storyline. We believe narrative is a key to re-storying possibilities. That’s why we’re gathering a new tribe of storytellers: change-makers, marketers, creatives, innovators, and entrepreneurs — anyone who sees storytelling as fundamental to their work and mission. Help us re-frame the conversation.

There’s no need for me to go into detail about who the scheduled speakers are and the resources that will be available to you if you register. You can get all that, and lots more, from their website.

One urgent note, though: the $11. Early Bird registration ends November 10 at 8pm EDT.

I’ll leave you, for now, with a video in which Michael describes the Summit. You’re welcome to crit this vid on your own as an example of the art of online storytelling.

The rake, the iPod, and the Creative Covenant

leaf rake and some leavesYesterday afternoon, fleeing from the emails I desperately needed to write, I traded my MacBook Pro for a rake. I figured that an hour of piling up backyard leaves and bagging them would recharge me for the cyber tasks at hand.

That lead to a meditation about what I’ll call our Creative Covenant, our “contract” with the people who watch our online videos. Would you like to peek under the hood of my meditation? OK, here goes …

Soon after starting my chore, I thought: why don’t I grab my new blue iPod Shuffle and listen to “This American Life” or “Radiolab” while I work? I set down the rake and headed toward the house … and then stopped. I didn’t want any media intrusions. I didn’t want that autumn afternoon to be invaded by recorded words or music.

With my ears deliberately unwired, I heard my neighborhood’s audio track afresh. Not that there was anything glorious to hear: a distant leaf blower, a contractor’s Bobcat beeping in reverse, the sound of desiccated oak leaves scraping against each other. But buoyed on the rhythm of raking, I began daydreaming. Gradually, the reverie focused itself and I imagined writing a Seeing Your Story post about not wearing the iPod.

At first, I hadn’t the slightest idea about the point my post would make. But because my limited brainpower wasn’t focused on a podcast, I was able to sense that something was on my mind.

Enveloping myself in media would have stanched the musing, and I wouldn’t be writing this post now.

My new blue iPod ShuffleIt’s taken a full day for the inchoate thought to become conscious. Only at lunch with my brother-in-law (thanks, Lawrence!) did it pop in a way I could articulate: Any media, from a magazine article to an mp3 song to an online video, narrows the angle of our awareness. I hadn’t realized it when I picked up the rake, but I didn’t want Ira Glass or Jad Abumrad, talented as they are, to colonize my mind.

But that’s exactly what we do when people click the Play button on our videos. They’re inviting us to take over billions (?) of circuits in their brains. In exchange for what? I think we owe them something. I believe we have an obligation to give them an experience with some value to it, be it garden-fresh information or wacky entertainment. I’ll call that tacit agreement our Creative Covenant.

Now that I’m aware of it, I suppose I have to sign on to it. You, too! So, don’t just upload videos. Upload good videos. However you define “good.”

That’s all I have to say on the subject, at least for the moment. Anyhow, I’ve had enough of writing for now. In fact, I’m ready to relax and have my mind colonized. I’m choosing to enter into a Creative Covenant with OK Go, a contract with a duration of only three minutes and thirty-six seconds. I invite you to join me by clicking on the Play button below.

Your comments, as always, are welcome!

Aristotle & your online video

Yesterday, I watched a video online that reminded me of Aristotle. No, not the guy with the big yacht who put the “O” in “Jackie O.” The other guy, who spouted tons of wisdom and even taught Alexander the Great a trick or two. This Athenian social media maven came up with the phrase that’s usually rendered in English as “Well begun is half done.”

His message: Don’t begin your online video with stuff that’s gonna drive away the very people you’re trying to reach in the first few seconds!

Got it? Now, here’s the “tease” of the video I watched yesterday, the opening 15 seconds of a two-minute piece by the very worthy organization Save the Children. Be forewarned–some images are hard to take …

The heavy artillery of the first shot doesn’t get to me, but the flies on the baby’s face are heartbreaking. Human psychology (mine at least) being what it is, a feeling of disgust at the flies trumps empathy for the child. If you came across this video on your own, would you continue watching?

Lottery of Life "wheel of fortunes"It’s a shame, because the later parts of the video are far from a turnoff. They introduce a very cool–very imaginative and very worthwhile–Save the Children project called The Lottery of Life.

You can “play” the Lottery of Life on its own website. You spin a wheel of fortune to get a chance to start your life over in a location chosen by chance. For me, the wheel stopped in India, and I learned I would have a 39% chance of growing up illiterate … that there’s a lot of child labor … and a huge number of child marriages. (Glad I was born in Manhattan!)

The Lottery of Life is social networked up to its eyeballs, because Save the Children wants to spread the world about improving the lot of kids around the world.

My point today is not about the planet’s children, who are, of course, way more important than your videos and mine. It’s simply that we should all pay attention to Aristotle and jump start our videos with scenes that’ll attract folks, not repel them. ‘Nuff said about that. Now you can watch the whole two-minute video below, or simply pop over to The Lottery of Life and spin the wheel!

Your comments, as always, are welcome!

Too slammed to post!

Camera lens, with photographer in backgroundWork is good, especially paying work. But I’m so slammed with assignments now that I can barely see straight, much less write thoughtful, incisive posts about storytelling in online video.

I’ll get back to blogging as soon as I can fill my lungs again. Meanwhile, if you haven’t read–or at least glanced at–a few of the posts on Seeing Your Story, please check them out.

Thanks! I look forward to being back in touch with you soon.

Learn online video storytelling from the master – Ira Glass!

Still too crazy-busy to spend much time blogging, so I decided to turn this post over to a guest auteur, one of the master storytellers of our age, Ira Glass. He needs no introduction, so I won’t introduce him. I’ll simply siphon his 4-part, 17-minute presentation off YouTube and hand it over to you in 4 player windows. The rest is up to you. He’s brilliant, so savor the experience. And while you’re at it, take notes and ponder how his insights apply to your productions.

Enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

That’s all, folks! Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Story seers, you’re on your own this week!

Camera lens, with photographer in background This week, I’m starting on three brand-new projects that will put bread on the table. (For you foodies, I’ll disclose that the bread will be the Harvest loaf from Nashoba Brook Bakery.) I’m flying to Virginia this evening and am so flat-out that I don’t have time to compose a big post for Seeing Your Story. As a consequence, you’re on your own as you ardently seek to improve your online video storytelling skills.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, will be to watch other people’s online videos and think hard about how well the makers have done at presenting their stories. Look at some corporate websites, and also the websites of not-for-profit orgs.

Each time you watch a video, ask yourself: What’s the story they’re trying to tell? Do they get their main points across? Are the picture quality and sound clarity good enough not to interfere with the storytelling? Do they make good use of on-camera interviewees? Is the video engaging–do you like it and would you recommend others watch it? Is it short enough not to waste your time?

Make up some additional questions to ask yourself.

You can learn a lot by watching other people’s videos, as long as you do it consciously.

Enjoy! And let me know about any noteworthy videos you come across.