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Creative Project Report

Video Blogs: Vlogging on the Media

Skye Christensen

San Francisco State University

May 08, 2006

Table of Contents

Introduction    3

Literature Review    5

Methods    15

Analysis    18

Notes    25        

References    26    

Appendices:             

A: Vlog Reference List    27

    

Introduction

Decades past, video revolutionized the moving image. As video production continues to evolve with smaller, increasingly affordable and hence more accessible equipment, an innovative, unique dynamic is added to the moving image through the phenomenon of digital convergence. Aesthetically, socially, and economically, digital video on the Internet challenges traditional expectations of media production (i.e., how video can and should be produced and consumed). Video production equipment, now available to the average consumer, is seamlessly merging with streaming technology (video on the Internet), making production and distribution more accessible than ever. Presently, anyone possessing a video camera, a minimal degree of computer know-how, and a solid amount of enthusiasm, can participate in what is proving to be the next video revolution: vlogs, or video blogs, the uprising of video-based communication.

Anything goes, from the personal and mundane to extraordinary natural disasters and every event in between. In the best-case scenarios, vlogs provide groundbreaking footage and new perspectives; though there are less dramatic and monumental features that are commonly embraced and the fine line between celebrating the ordinary and mundane often blurs with the monotonous and simplistic.  For example, a stagnant long shot documenting the process of assembling a bowl of milk and cereal might delight some and utterly bore others (found on www.ryannesblogspot.com). Nevertheless, regardless of content, expertise or production value, people outside of mainstream media production can now display self-produced programming on the mass media platform (know as the World Wide Web). The Internet, the new venue for video, breaks beyond traditional gatekeeping by enabling the production and distribution of video on a level never before possible for the average citizen. The moving image is, once again, pushing up against the established modes of production and distribution, allowing video makers to cast their work into the public sphere.  

The excitement is tangible. During the year 2005, numerous newspaper journalists comment on the vlogging trend, fishing out individual vlogs from the ever-expanding sea of streaming content in hopes of further defining the rapidly turning tides of the vlogosphere. There is certainly an immediacy fueling this online video movement apparent in the short clips themselves, since they can often be produced from start to finish and uploaded onto the World Wide Web in a day’s time or less. Producer’s notes are commonly presented and prefaced in brief pieces of text with tags for search engines. Many vlogs feature links to another 10 or 20 vlogs, which in turn provide access to numerous other links, making it very apparent that new video blog producers pop up every day in increasing numbers. Aesthetics vary, but one-person productions completed and posted online commonly share a look and feel of Do-It-Yourself (DIY). These in-the-moment verité pieces are created for artistic, egocentric, social, factual, and/or any number of other motivations.  Vlogs are gaining a reputation for distributing cutting edge, authentic video content, video that people are producing and people are watching.

But is Anyone Listening?

It was my personal goal to direct and produce the online video for No One’s Listening (N1L) with the help of the N1L collective.  Taking the familiar medium of video, which I had previous experience with, and then translating to an online format, with which I had no prior experience producing, would prove to be as rewarding as it was challenging.  The main goal for the project as a whole was to explore the addition of a weekly vlog to the N1L website (www.nooneslistening.org).  A production enabled by multiple forms of media—a synergy of mediums— N1L consists of a website, podcast, blog, video blog, and eventually, a radio show airing in the Bay Area on 106.9 Free FM. The content of N1L is comprised of topics central to media literacy, media ethics, and media and culture/society, with a fair amount of comedy often thrown in for entertainment value.

This creative project dealt solely with the production and distribution of N1L vlogs. The vlogs remain only a portion of N1L; the organization as a whole employs many forms of media so that audience members can access, analyze, and evaluate media (coinciding with media literacy principles). The N1L website acts as a forum for the discussions of media topics and houses the vlogs, podcasts and other N1L media. From the website, streaming video is another communication medium that N1L exploits, primarily because N1L does not have access to broadcast or cable television to distribute content.  In short, streaming video on the World Wide Web is a practical way for N1L to produce media about the media.

Because there are many aspects of media management and production, the producers of N1L are mostly divided by category of medium, including radio, podcasting, website, and video production. The show’s host, Irene McGee, is the face and voice that drives the programming.  However, like most media productions, there is a team of people involved in N1L productions.  I have participated on the podcast and radio show since its conception and have contributed to the blog as well.  By far, my role as the video producer/director has been most relevant to this project; it is a role that was constantly being developed.  

Literature Review

Since video blogs or vlogging are an exceptionally current phenomenon, there are few, if any, references to the genre in scholarly journals or published literature. Therefore, for this research I will have to rely mainly on primary source material, which, for the most part, is comprised of newspaper articles and vlogs themselves. The movement of vlogging is in its infancy and has not been thoroughly examined by academics. Primary source material allows for the discussion to unfold within the intellectual realm. Nevertheless, while vlogging is unprecedented in its unique form born of technology, a legacy of video and conventional film techniques exist and adequately provides aesthetic reference for both production and theoretical models.

For a reference of fundamental filmmaking techniques, Rabiger (1997) offers a basic understanding of the aesthetics and production of the moving image.  While Rabiger (1997) is primarily concerned with guiding the aspiring feature film director, he provides thorough consideration of aesthetic principles and production guidance among other useful tools such as writing exercises, release/budget forms, and resource guides that pertain to video production.  In general, the language of the screen, or film language, can be applied to video blogs.

Whether the screen takes the form of a movie, television, or computer monitor, there are fundamental principles that apply to the language of the moving image.  All of the aforementioned types of screens, when displaying an image produced by a camera, are subject to one production element, the shot (Rabiger, 1997, p.34).  The shot, in its simplest form, without edit or mediation, houses both denotative and connotative meanings. The denotative meaning is the more obvious information supplied by the image, while the connotative meaning is more deeply embedded and often subtle. The subtext of a shot, its’ “hidden meaning,” depends on the chosen angles, movement (such as dollying, tracking, craning, etc.), abstraction, duration, rhythm, and concentration (p. 40). For instance, while shooting video for N1L, a close up of the host puts her in the forefront of the viewer’s attention. While she is literally in the foreground, half the screen is simultaneously devoted to what is happening in the background (e.g., people and activities). The subtext of this type of shot is that the host is in charge, but the environment is informing the situation and experience.  

Besides the shot itself, the sequence and juxtaposition of the shot with other shots build additional meaning. Certainly, how one builds a sequence from the shots determines the meaning of the piece as a whole (Rabiger, 1997). Rabiger (1997) further dissects the moving image by including internal and external composition into the discussion. He describes the internal composition as the arrangement of elements within the frame, while external composition exists within the relationship between outgoing and incoming shots (p. 53). An example of external composition is Eisenstein’s theory of action, which suggests that cutting against the action of every shot produces tension and a sense of movement.  In the case of N1L, the external composition is influenced by jump cuts (due to the nature of non-fiction, field production work). Jumps cuts might influence a jarring composition of close ups and wide shots, with obvious maneuvers in time and space. Other cutting techniques besides the jump edit are also employed and transitions smooth out changes in the time and/or space continuum.

While the external composition is determined by the way shots are linked together, the transitions (literally the in-between of shots) are integral to the composition. Transitions as they relate to the language of the screen can emphasize or minimize the “seams between sequences” or shots (Rabiger, 1997, p.45).  Screen dissolves or wipes are two ways of adding transitions; sound also acts as an effective transitional device (Rabiger, 1997, p. 45).  N1L vlogs typically employ many transitions (like those previously mentioned). In addition to traditional transitions that play on individual cuts, N1L experiments with how a certain kind of transition influences the overall sequence or video. For instance, a visual cut away from an interview might use the sound of a new interview before showing the new subjects. This is just one transition technique implemented in the vlogs.

When considering transitions and other aspects of video production, sound is of utmost importance. Soundtracks add depth to video and work to evoke feeling and mood. N1L has original music for the podcast and radio program integrated within the website. The vlogs borrow from he original soundtracks used in the N1L audio productions, implementing the pre-produced audio for the purposes of cohesion, familiarity, and efficiency. Rabiger (1997) mentions the use of counterpoint, or sound set, against image to suggest more then what simply meets the eye (p. 440). Counterpoint can be executed subtly through cut-aways while a person is talking. The host of the show might be speaking with a subject while the image cuts to a crowd of people, implying that the subject is one of many.  The counterpoint device might also be more obvious and suggestive.  Arguably, the audience becomes more involved when the sound contradicts the image, possibly questioning the inferred meaning rather than assuming that simply, “what you see is what you get.”   

Techniques that engage viewers and demonstrate the artifice of video are often self-reflexive.  The vlogs flaunt the subjective nature of the camera, undressing what is often hidden in video production.  In the case of No One’s Listening, if the host makes an on camera blunder and then says, “don’t put that in…” that flaw will often be included (unless there is an ethical conflict) because it unmasks the process of production by emphasizing that editing can intentionally leave in or cut out an event, however trivial.  I even toyed with the idea of micing myself, as the videographer, so that the audience is privy to the relationship between the camera operator/producer and host or person on screen (though technical consideration overrode the aesthetic choice). Nevertheless, such a technique would also remind viewers of the person behind the camera making subjective decisions.  

Actively reminding the audience that art is a social construction is not unprecidented. Notably, Berthold Brecht created theater that managed to constantly remind the audience that all representations of life are constructions, it can be dangerous to assume that art and/or media are an objective representations of society and reality.1 As Germany began to sway to the Nazi party, Brecht created theater that operated as the antithesis of propaganda, forcing the audience’s awareness of the staged event. This vlog project embraces a Brechtian philosophy and will ideally work to keep the audience thinking, not just feeling (Rabiger, 1997. p. 210).   

The style of the vlogs was determined, in part, by exposing the production devices and occurrences often hidden in mainstream/professional video. However, my goal was still to produce quality productions, even while experimenting with stylistic choices. The style of the vlogs inevitably derived from the content.  Rabiger (1997) insists that, “the style of a film is really the visible influence of its makers identity” (p. 212). The producers of N1L media are graduate students studying television, radio, electronic media and communication theory.2 We produce content focused on various types of media with a fun, cheeky spirit, while simultaneously, constantly questioning norms and expectations. Principally, we investigate media practices, trends, effects, business, institutions, and the like, supplying information to stimulate discussion and entertain the audience.  

As an independent student video production, we at N1L operate on a very minimal budget with few checks and balances.  The production does not have to satisfy advertisers and is not owned or answerable to any commercial interest. There are aesthetic implications of such a production: the Do-it-yourself (DIY) nature of N1L allows for a raw aesthetic where we can experiment and take chances that are unthinkable for traditional media makers.  For example, when N1L chooses to interview a subject, it is purely because of a genuine interest, not because of a marketing campaign or a friendly agent.  However, a small production like N1L has accrued a small amount of prestige and modest exposure which at times limits the pool of subjects from which to draw.  

Since this video production is not commercial or even publicly supported (e.g., financial endowments) and does not directly depend on any organization or outside interest, this vlog project has been in many ways closest in proximity to a Guerilla production.  Located outside of the capitalist model, actually in fact against it, guerilla tactics connote oppositional frameworks opposing the mainstream.  While N1L does not overtly resist capitalist culture, it does question and challenge more conventional aspects of media representation.  Social issues are invariably addressed as they pertain to the types of media examined; political ideas, moral values and the like are dealt with on a regular basis.  Upon the review of literature specific to guerilla productions (both video and film), limited resources and a high-level of independence define a guerilla project though the political/social implications are often ignored (Jones & Jolliffe, 2000. Hill & Paris, 2001).

Jones and Jolliffe (2000) wrote an entire book on guerilla filmmaking.  This manuscript is crammed with information on how to make a feature film with a low/no budget but the authors never mention what guerilla art entails, beyond how to finagle the next list of equipment and services. There is little information to apply from Jones and Jolliffe (2000) to this creative project since it is intensely focused on feature film; suggesting a huge crew, cast, negative cutters, lawyers, and numerous other personnel ostensibly needed to produce a full-length movie. The authors seem to equate guerilla filmmaking with conventional filmmaking minus the colossal studio production company, anticipating that financial backing might follow once the world gets a good look at the independent production.  Beyond the romantic theme “passionate artist against the world” that Jones and Jolliffe (2000) promote for the love of film, I did not find any mention of social concerns, allusion to possible political statements or cultural commentary.

More applicable to the comparably smaller scale of the N1L vlog project are some sections of Hill and Paris’ (2001) book on guerilla performance and multimedia. However, these authors do not focus on the aesthetic or social implications of guerilla art either.  This might have something to do with the fact that they share the same publisher with Jones and Jolliffe (2000). The personal experience of the artist as a self-determined creator is dubiously equated with guerilla production, once again. The interviews with filmmakers and multimedia artists do supply helpful advice for bare bones production and/or the student with professional aspirations. The consensus of the artists interviewed for this manuscript attests that the most precious resources in production are the consideration of time and space, intense preparation, and concise editing.  But the guerilla aesthetic or guerilla style informed by content is not examined.

Even more incongruous, the advertising market has appropriated the term and tried to suck all vestiges of independent, DIY, meaning from guerilla media. Coining the phrase guerilla marketing, Pollack (1999) and Schlosser (1999) are just a few of the journalists citing the popular wave of guerrilla marketing (spelled with two r’s) that places advertisements in public spaces with the intention of creating a ‘buzz’ before bringing in the big guns (more traditional modes of media). The idea of guerrilla marketing as a covert campaign or “happening” instigated by advertisers works to capture the public’s attention beyond that of the hum-drum mass marketing mediums (e.g., television, radio, newspapers, magazines).  Inventive markings on subway fare cards, coffee cups and sidewalk art are some of the ways that guerrilla marketers initiate public attention. In Pollack’s (1999) example of ABC’s campaign, political characters are exploited for advertising purposes. Pollack describes billboards of Saddam Hussein, Nelson Mandela, and Fidel Castro that ingeniously incorporate the political figures into ad campaigns.  Yet the familiar, often infamous, politicians’ popular images are where the political references end and the product begins, inevitably abandoning a viable political statement for a catchy tagline (for ABC’s online news service). There are no high morals in guerrilla marketing. Exploiting people’s sense of what is fact and fiction, Schlosser (1999) documents CBS’ campaign which even created a website as a spoof in hopes of creating a public buzz about a sci-fi television program.

Besides the inventiveness in creating new avenues through the public infrastructure to promote products, guerilla marketing is about as far from the DIY, idealistic guerilla art movement as is humanly imaginable. However, I did find literature referencing authentic guerillas, in the midst of performance and video.  Boyle (1997) describes the first guerilla video movement, when the hard-core revolutionaries of the video underground embraced the then novel video technology. Boyle details the development of the underground movement in the late 1960s and exposes the origin of the term guerilla or guerrilla television.

The term guerrilla television was adopted from “cybernetic guerilla warfare,” an expression coined by Paul Ryan, who believed traditional guerrilla activity (such as bombings, snipings and kidnappings) was ecologically risky compared with the “real” possibilities of  “portable video, maverick data banks, acid metaprogramming, cable TV, satellites, cybernetic craft industries, and alternate lifestyles.” For Ryan, portable video was “guerrilla warfare” in so far as it enabled you to fight the “perceptual imperialism of broadcast television” on a small scale or what was then an irregular war. (Boyle, 1997. p. 30)

Paul Ryan (paraphrased by Boyle) could have been describing N1L, especially in the desire to surpass the dominance of broadcast and even cable television.  What cable television was to Ryan, the Internet is to N1L vlogs, and portable video is more portable (and affordable) than ever before; the possibilities are just as exciting.  

I do not mean to imply that N1L is raging against “the machine” or, forgive the pun, the screen. In fact, the N1L vlogs as guerilla media are more comparable to Boyle’s (1997) take on Michael Shamberg’s model. Author of the book titled, Guerilla Television (1971) (which was not available at the San Francisco State library and I have not found), Shamberg believed that guerrilla television did not have to be associated with political warfare or represent any political opposition. Instead, and even more important, Shamberg saw it as “a cultural tool bringing people together” (Boyle, 1997, p. 30).  N1L is produced with the intent of connecting with an audience and creating conversation around aspects of culture and media.  Ideally, by bringing people to our site, we express ideas of diversity, and simultaneously, inspire community through a commonality of critical media consumption.  

One effective way to connect with an audience is through humor.  N1L vlogs retain a sense of playfulness through comedy so that serious topics entertain and subvert traditional models. N1L does not have to emulate any conventional television formula to explore relevant topics in a legitimate way.  As a woman producer with a female host, I relish the opportunity to have our voices heard in the media.  We depend on humor to enliven the production and paradoxically create an atmosphere where our work can be taken seriously (and where we do not take ourselves too seriously).  

Demo (2000) relates the humor of a feminist group of artists, the Guerilla Girls, to a comic frame of subversion where, “visual rhetoric functions as both a site of and resource for feminist resistance.”  N1L vlogs are filled with humor as they function as a site of resistance from mainstream expectations.  Though N1L does not claim to be a feminist forum, per say, there is an implicit need to demonstrate that young women can make their own media, decide how to be portrayed, what issues to address, and generally control media they produce. For instance, the N1L vlogs determine through the process of production how a female media personality might look and act and reconstitute images of women in media (e.g., carefully groomed models and pretty TV personalities). In addition, as a woman having the opportunity to produce and direct is empowering in and of itself since typically the majority of producers and directors are men. The vlogs inherently question and expose underlying expectations of women in the media, be it overtly through the (non-fiction) narrative, or covertly, given the simple fact that women will be represented in roles of power, the power found in the ability to create our own media. As emphasized, there is a strong representation of women within the association, but there are men and other roles at work too, with numerous facets and perspectives to contribute.  

The people who create the N1L vlogs inform the content; our interests, our values, and our resources all contribute to the content and style of the vlogs.  As Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts graduate students at San Francisco State University, we are driven by an interest in media and focuse our productions on a non-fiction, interview-rich genre to investigate and discuss media in a public forum. The N1L theme is decidedly informational and media based, with a healthy amount of humor and entertainment thrown in for good measure.  

Searcy (2005) tracks types of content found in various vlogs finding themes such as travel, home life, personal, political and news, to name a few. While interviewing an established vlogger, Steve Garfield, Searcy (2005) attempts to tap into the vlogging culture, which has developed a robust, supportive web of vlog producers. As Garfield expresses in Searcy’s (2005) article, vloggers will commonly list direct links to their favorite vlogs on their own, featured sites, recommending other vlogs, which furthers exposure and ever expands the scope and strength of the vlogging community.  Vlogging has spread like wildfire, in part because of the blogging/vlogging community, and most recently, due to far reaching publicity. Searcy’s (2005) article for the Wall Street Journal is one prestigious and highly circulated paper among many that have featured the trend of vlogging.  

Newspaper articles on vlogs and vlogging have cropped up, reporting on the growing popularity of the moving image internet-based form. These articles to a degree instigate mainstream appeal and make vlogging more accessible to the public. Searcy (2005) describes the process of vlogging as “DIY media,” a process that is “relatively simple” and includes basic instructions for the want-to-be vlogger (p. B1).  Encouraging the common person to join the “vlogosphere,” Villalobos (2005) introduces vlogging classes and vlogging schools in his article on personalized vlogging, relentlessly promoting a democratically inspired vlogging-is-for-everyone view, “a voice for the voiceless” (p. 20).  

Vlogging is a revolutionary idea since anyone with internet access can webcast. What once was the domain of broadcast television is now available to any Tom, Dick and Jane or, for that matter, Carol and Steve who star in the vlog, "The Carol and Steve Show” (Searcy, 2005). Personal lives are often exposed in vlogs which are similar to the common style found in blogs (online journals) where people detail inner thoughts and personal experiences, sharing their musings with the wired-world. This personal to public model is not specifically what the N1L vlogs encompass; however, I will take this opportunity to recognize the precedent of personalization that has been set within the vlogging community. N1L retains, out of necessity, practicality and philosophy, a DIY subtext, a wink to the average vlogger. At the same time, N1L poses as a mass media program offering a show based somewhat on conventional expectations, i.e., a host, interviews, and production team (all be it, modest). N1L vlogs strive for quality production value beyond that of a home video equipment production.   

Besides personal, homemade style vlog references, critics are recognizing an assortment of vlog styles, or genres, abound. For instance, Whiteside (2005) mentions a popular college sports vlog while Hoge (2005) reports on soldiers who contribute to a blog, posting pictures from the front lines and now, more recently the implementation of video. Regalado and Mintz (2005) cover the vlogging trend, citing on-line Tsunami disaster footage as a huge spike in the consumption of vlogs.  As the level of exposure to streaming online video escalates due to the popularity of broadband, vlogs have been garnering more viewership and recognition. Boxer (2005) lists popular vlogs that also encompass themes such as news, like the renowned Rocketboom, which started out as a simple spoof on traditional television news reporting and has since been signed to a coveted contract with Tivo.

N1L vlogs have not garnered money. The prospect of getting paid to produce online video is thrilling, but this possibility does not drive the project.  The N1L vlog project has subsisted on the money and resources of N1L participants without any signs of compensation!  Regalado and Mintz (2005) warn that some vloggers are flooded in debt (from posting popular Tsunami videos) because the broadband costs accrued by viewers go directly to billing the website. Whether N1L vlogs do get enough attention to warrant high fees for streaming services is a moot point since the server, Libsyn, that hosts N1L, has offered to host the video for free (the caveat is that we must feature the Libsyn graphic in all vlogs). There has yet to be any funding for the project such as marketing, donations or opportunities for subsidizing the production with paid, run-off work. Steve Garfield, of The Carol and Steve Show, tells Searcy (2005) that his vlog featuring the commonplace rituals of himself and his wife have little value to the commercial world as compared to vlogs like Rocketboom.com; but he has been employed making vlogs for other websites besides his own. Though Garfield is not compensated monetarily for work on his own vlog he nevertheless seems to be thriving and doing what he loves.  N1L is also a labor of love but as students we have very little time to concentrate our efforts on outside work.

Thus far, the N1L vlogs have functioned as a way for my team members and myself to pursue our passion for communication studies and media production. As the N1L video producer/director, my goal has been to produce vlogs that people can access through the World Wide Web, with media content being the catalyst for a mediated dialogue.  It is the medium and content that inform the style of the N1L vlogs. Moreover, the short form, relatively low definition, immediate nature of streaming video dictates the style of the vlogs. Independent online productions such as N1L vlogs are still pushing against the boundaries of traditional gate keeping, conventional media and expectations. Dreaming big but starting small, after 3 months of production it is still impossible to determine exactly where the N1L vlog project will lead.  But regardless, it has proven to be an exciting ride!

Methods

Preparation (Preproduction):

Since researching and deciding what equipment will be necessary for the shoots (most of which will be on location), I purchased necessary items with personal funds.  Equipment that can conveniently be borrowed from the school is commonly unavailable and difficult to obtain on a regular basis without being enrolled in a class.  In addition, the dilapidated state of the equipment in the BECA facility cage is hardly worth the struggle. Therefore, I bought essential items such as a camera, mics, XLR cables, batteries, etc., which were used for this creative project.

The equipment was suitable for the production of a weekly vlog, having been determined through careful consideration. After meeting with the members of N1L; specifically Chris Cornell, the radio/web producer, and Irene, the host and producer, show themes were scheduled a month in advance which coincided with the weekly podcasts and radio show.  We discussed content and considered the visual medium and the technical possibilities of streaming online video.  Given the N1L programming and the trend of vlogging, it was deemed necessary to have a weekly production for consistency and to build viewer-ship.  Many vlogs are produced on a daily or weekly basis, often proving to be most successful when production is frequent (e.g., Rocketboom.com, http://michaelverdi.com, http://www.noservicecharge.com/videoblog, http://stevegarfield.blogs.com, etc.).  As with other vlogs, this creative project’s aesthetic was informed by a frequent production schedule and by the technology involved in the making of the vlogs; namely, the ENG equipment and the immediacy and on-demand nature of streaming video and the vlogging model.

Production Timeline:

The preproduction, production and postproduction was cyclical and ongoing due to a constant flow of production.  A weekly production consisted of one or two shoots followed by a day of transcription and script writing.  Once the script had been created, the raw footage was transferred to an external hard drive and given to an editor for a rough cut to be reviewed by the video producer(s).  The editor had another day or two for the completion of the final cut whereupon it was uploaded onto the website.

N1L’s website’s bandwidth can only stream a few minutes of video at a time—limiting the vlogs to short video segments.  Therefore, the weekly vlog ranged from 3 – 7 minutes per week.  For the sake of this project, the production of vlogs was weekly from the beginning of March to the end of April, leaving a 6 vlogs in total.  Accounting for set backs and mishaps (e.g., problems with the technology, sick days and the like) 6 vlogs, rather than 8, were projected for the final project.  The 6 vlogs, three to seven minutes each comprise approximately 30 minutes of footage.  (Please note: The footage does not coincide as a whole, into one narrative or theme. Strong currents of experimentation and risk taking regarding production style are incorporated in all 6 vlogs, embracing individual elements of style and content).

Subjects:

The host was primarily responsible for obtaining interviews with subjects.  Subjects almost always were experts on an aspect of media or have a specific relationship with media.  For instance, a documentary filmmaker interviewed to speak about the making of an underground film on graffiti art represents an aspect of film and video production.3   Another example was an author on a book tour who writes about body image and qualifies the discussion with media representation.4   Anyone who possessed specific knowledge about media issues who was accessible and willing to talk on video was a legitimate guest.  

The participants were local or visiting the Bay Area since the vlog productions are based in San Francisco. The locations of interviews were mostly related to the interview or subject.  For example, a bookstore was an appropriate location for an interview with an author; or, for that matter, a newsroom made an ideal setting for an interview with a journalist.  In the occasion that there were no relevant locations, b-roll was be employed to add depth and interest to interviews.  One case being the Wikipedia vlog, which was confined to the location of Jimmy Wales’ hotel room but the Wikipedia website pages were inserted and scrolled through in the video to add comprehension and nuance.

Format and Design:

    As noted previously, three to seven minute vlogs dictate the format of this creative project.  Six individual vlogs each incorporate a theme depicting an interview.  There is an Into/Outro for every vlog.  The Intro announces through text the No One’s Listening title and the outro always includes the website address, www.nooneslistening.org.  The Outro commonly contains credits and a blooper.  Other threads or themes that run through the vlogs are moments of insight, humor, and a DIY aesthetic -- all qualities somewhat subjective and essentially determined by the host, director and producer(s).5

Analysis

A review of the completed No One’s Listening vlogs, which I have overseen from conception to online distribution, concludes this creative project.  As the N1L video producer/director, I reflect on the online video production, or vlogs, that have been produced and distributed online specifically for this creative project, as well as comment upon my individual process and experience in the production of the N1L video.

No One’s Listening’s Web Video Content:

Over 500 people downloaded No One’s Listening online video content since the production was progressively launched in February of 2006. (Initially the videos were slow to upload onto the website, due to troubleshooting technical issues.) In the past few months the N1L vlogs garnered more attention than a film/video screening, though by comparison, a commercial television show would attract far more viewers than N1L has yet to reach.  As expected, the N1L vlogs have gained an audience through the World Wide Web but in the span of three months, without marketing and commercial backing, the streaming video distribution cannot compete on a level of viewer-ship with more traditional forms of video (e.g., home entertainment video, television and other digital video mediums like DVDs). This is not to say that the participants of N1L intended to directly compete with established models of video production/distribution.  However, N1L attempted to realize the most professional level of production while experimenting, honing a unique and recognizable style.

Aesthetically, the N1L videos generally achieved a relatively high production value for field production. Given the small, skeleton crew, and prosumer equipment, the level of quality (though somewhat subjective) has been achieved; that is, the finished product is up to the standards I anticipated and far exceeded the aesthetic consideration of the majority of vlogs researched. With the low resolution and frame size of online video, it is hard to compare to the experience of viewing to television. However, during a N1L video party, the vlogs were screened on a large flat-screened television and appeared fine by professional standards (e.g., lighting, editing, appropriateness of shots).

A few production elements that could have been carried out with greater expertise were the graphics and sound. Without a graphics/effects specialist, relying on software such as After Effects, with modest post-production time, the graphics were adequate for a vlog but not especially creative, polished or eye-catching. As for the sound, a small crew and minimal equipment available for the production made recording sound in the field problematic. The sound was usable, but the unmixed tracks were given little priority in post-production because the amount of time allotted during post-production was insufficient for such expectations.

Personal Experience:

It is difficult to determine exactly how a job will be fulfilled at the onset of a new production, especially when working in a collective environment.  While I expected to undertake the more traditional role of a television producer with the N1L vlogs, my job evolved primarily into that of a field director/videographer/associate producer.  With Irene McGee functioning as the host and pre production coordinator, acquiring the guests and often choosing the themes, it was not necessary for me to plan as much as I would have anticipated (what is commonly expected of a producer).  Without arranging the guests and preparing the content for the weekly shoots, I felt that my role as producer was compromised.  This situation proved occasionally problematic when Irene neglected to plan certain production elements, for example, was unclear with call times or specific information that pertained to a shoot.  Nevertheless, Irene was also extraordinary at networking with possible guests and besides the occasional misunderstanding the trade off was sensible.  

Though Irene took the helm of pre-producing the vlogs, I soon came to realize the moment of production, or the actual “shoot,” was technically entirely up to me. I found my essential tasks during production often in the fieldwork.  During the production I was frequently the solo “production staff” and, consequently, responsible for all set-up, shooting, audio, direction and breakdown.  While Irene concentrated on interviewing the guests, I directed the focus, arranged the equipment and designed specific shots, ideally keeping in mind the material needed for a strong edit.  When I was lucky enough to have a Production Assistant (Rachel Benson or Chris Cornell), that person would help carry the equipment, pass out release forms and monitor sound coming straight into the camera.  The shoots were never more than an hour or two since N1L weekly video clips were designed to be at most five minutes (though some vlogs run as long as seven minutes). From start to finish, N1L shoots averaged four to five hours a day, one shoot a week.  

The shooting was reasonably timed and scheduled but the editing process was the most time consuming and we struggled to keep on a weekly schedule in post-production. My role was again split between other participants in the post-production process. I began editing the video from our first few shoots but was soon persuaded to give the footage to an editor.  The position of editor was shared by Shawn Gallagher, an editor at Stanford University, and Chris Cornell, the website and audio producer. I commonly transcribed the raw footage and made notes based on what I thought should be included in the rough cut.  For several of the video pieces, I made rough edits that were then passed along to the editor for graphics and fine-tuning.  

As a production team, we found that it was beneficial to have someone edit who had not been on the shoot for a more objective, creative interpretation of the material.  For instance, I found myself editing a production sequentially true to how it was shot, with the beginning of the tape starting the sequence and the end of the tape closing the sequence, while Chris was able to more fluidly arrange the footage using the real time of the shoot out of sequence, proving to make the story increasingly dynamic. I begrudgingly relinquished control over many of the rough edits but continued to transcribe the footage, take notes and make suggestions. As with pre-production, the time saved and the benefits of having enthusiastic editors made the post-production process increasingly efficient and productive. Rather than controlling the final version, the end result was once again more of a collaborative process. Once a final cut was made, significantly tailored by the editor, Irene and I would both have input and ideally make changes before the content was uploaded onto the site for streaming. (Sometimes the post-production was so rushed that neither Irene or I were given an opportunity to revise.)

Posting Online Video:

For the first few video pieces, Chris and I worked together to post the video online but soon the matter of convergence grew complicated as we realized that the different compression rates and settings greatly altered how our video was viewed and even who could view it, depending on individual plug-ins and browsers, etc. Chris, who has a professional computer programming background, took the lead and independently researched the most beneficial methods for N1L online video. Since he was commonly editing the video and exclusively managing the website, it was inherently functional for him to upload the video.  

Again, I wanted to be involved in every step of the production, but it was not always feasible or realistic.  Checking in regularly with Chris, I kept abreast of the online format, settings, and the like, offering any support I could muster (sometimes just to lend an ear to legitimate complaints).  Since I was not directly involved in uploading the video, I decided to review the specifications with Chris at the tail end of this project so that I (and the readers) have a solid idea of exactly how the N1L video is disseminated through the Web.

The first week of April 2006, I conducted an interview with Chris regarding the act of putting our N1L video online. I recorded the interview in the basement of the Creative Arts Building at San Francisco State University. During this time Chris and I talked about the process of online video for about 30 minutes. By the end of this informal interview, I had gained a greater understanding of how the video was distributed, enabling confidence in my own ability to stream video.

This meeting was very informative, concentrating mostly on issues of formatting.  To begin, there is some difficulty in figuring out the best format for displaying online video.  As Chris stated, “There’s a lot of money in winning the format war… everybody’s into this really proprietary stuff and the truth is it [web video] just won’t work for every occasion unless we make five different formats.”  While some websites are able to accommodate multiple formats, Chris has tried to rein in our independent resources and choose the best format out of all the other options (for the time being anyway) since the technology is constantly evolving.  For the moment, Chris has determined that a certain QuickTime file is best suited for our video web page. After researching various formats, Chris comes to this conclusion: “So what we’re doing now is the new H264 format is good for streaming.  It’s a new QuickTime codec and so that’s the main one that we have on the site.”  

Nevertheless, finding the best format does not insure that the process of streaming online content is any more straightforward.  Major distributors such as You Tube, iTunes and Google Video require separate formats than the one that works best on N1L’s website.  Chris elaborates, “I’m thinking since we really need to be featured in iTunes in order for this [N1L video] to take off… because it’s a completely different subscription…  So I’m thinking that we’ll probably have a separate RSS feed.” Separate formats must be created and available for Real Simple Syndication (RSS) to be featured by the popular streaming video distributors.  RSS feeds allow for users to subscribe to video content, helping the program gain a following and greater distribution.  Unfortunately, these distributors all require separate formats for viewing!  Chris decided the best thing to do was to set up separate RSS feeds for the different formats.  

I ask Chris why individual video sites like Rocketboom are able to offer multiple formats to users while we struggle to create just a few. Chris explained the difference between streaming video and what is sometimes called, virtual streaming.  “On a streaming server you have to set up software.  It’s an application… and the server is delivering it as a stream.  You need a player but you have the capability… rather than saying here it is… and that’s how the big sites do it.”  Streaming video actually provides a stream of information that a player (media application on a single computer) can read.  Small-scale productions, such as N1L, must compromise and use “virtual streaming,” or downloading, which requires specific formats to be compatible with browsers because, unlike the streaming video, there is an actual file that the user’s computer must download and then read/play.

Besides considering the distribution of video over the Internet for personal computer use, Chris mentioned the need for mobile device compatibility.  For instance, I wondered why we weren’t using a format called MP4 that looked good during a test run.  It turned out that the format works best for mobile devices but requires very exact specifications (e.g., bit rates, audio compression, and so on) and will consequently not play as well on the N1L website. (Chris reminds me that it crashed my browser.)  

In the end, it’s clear that there is no one right way to compress the video for online viewing and so we make due with the resources we have available.  With the help of Chris’ expertise and know-how, N1L video streams fairly successfully though there are still users who will not be able to view the video for various reasons. Of course the streaming server would be ideal but seems currently out of reach.  

Conclusions:

Just recently the New York Times featured a special insert to the Monday paper, “TV Upfront: Version 2.0” (2006). Within the supplement, trends in television and “new media” were the main attraction. Television, still the dominant form of media, increasingly integrates the Internet and mobile devices with HDTV and digital video formats staged to prevail throughout the industry.  It is an exciting time for video production, especially for someone like myself who would normally have little access to producing and distributing independent low/no budget videos. Determined early on in graduate school to complete a creative project, I had not calculated to be at the precipice of a technological revolution.  

    The degree to which is debatable, but, in my own right, I know that I have taken part in a project that has pushed the limits of technical, digital video possibilities. In so doing, I have imagined new, unique ways of fashioning video content to fit the digital, online medium.  Additionally and most importantly, I have been driven beyond all expectations I previously held for myself.  Social/interpersonal responsibilities to the N1L collective have tested my commitment and character. My technical abilities such as the understanding of online content and structure have been stretched.  My aesthetic and critical skills have been enhanced.

    I could not have imagined when enrolling in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts graduate program in 2003 that I would be involved in online video production.  Vlogging has been cited as a burgeoning phenomena taking shape no earlier than 2004, less than two years ago. Of course there were profits and precursors, but I was not associated with any of them.  At the onset of this program I never would have thought it possible to see my videos out in cyber space… but there they are.  Just look!  

I would like to express my deep gratitude to those who made this experience possible.  To the N1L members, who’s passion and dedication pushed me further than I thought I was willing to go and who’s collective talents were inspiring and humbling, I am truly thankful.  To my committee chair, Dr. Michelle Wolf, who has supported me through my entire process and kept me focused when I wavered, I cannot articulate the value of your guidance.  I am grateful to my committee members, Dr. Dina Ibrahim and Dr. Sami Reist, who have kindly and generously given their time and insights.  It is through you that I am able to take pride in my final creative project at San Francisco State University.

Notes

Ironically the host was on MTV’s The Real World, which purports to show the reality of young adults.

Chris Cornell produces the website, podcast and radio program.  Irene McGee produces and hosts the podcasts and radio program and will be hosting the vlogs.  I am an associate producer and co-host on the podcast and radio and will be producing the vlogs with the help of production assistants and assistant editors.

Documentary producer Nic Hill was interviewed on the N1L radio show January 27, 2006.

Jessica Weiner, author and “actionist,” has participated in video, podcast and radio N1L productions.

I will be working directly with the other producers of N1L, who are integral to the production as a whole.  While I am the video producer, the vlogs are not entirely independent of the other producers (i.e., Chris Cornell and Irene McGee) or productions of N1L.

References

Boxer, S. (2005, July 25).  Watch me do this and that online. New York Times [Late edition], p. E1.

Boyle, D. (1997).  Subject to change: Guerilla television. Oxford University Press.  New York.

Demo, A.T. (September 2000). The guerilla girl’s comic politics of subversion.  Women & Language. Vol. 23, Issue 2

Hill, L & Paris, H. (2001) Guerilla performance and multimedia. Continuum. London.  

Hoge, P. (2005, January 10). Soldiers download war onto web sites / Postings range from family communication to graphic battle. San Francisco Chronicle, p. A1.

Jones, C & Jolliffe, G. (2000) the Guerilla Film Makers Handbook.  Continuum. London.

Pollack, J. (1999) ABC’s online sevice applies guerrilla tactics.  Advertising Age. 70 (9).  

Rabiger, M. (1997).  Directing: Film techniques and aesthetics.  Focal Press. Newton, MA.

Regalado, A. & Mintz, J. (2005, January 3). Video blogs break out with tsunami scenes. Wall Street Journal [Eastern edition], p. B1.

Searcey, D. (December 16, 2005).  DIY Media: Vlogger (noun): Blogger with video camera.  Wall Street Journal.  New York. P.B1

Schlosser.  (September 8, 1999).  The brain-switch project.  Broadcasting & Cable. Vol. 129, (46).

Villalobos, B. (November 10 – November 16, 2005). Picture this: Haven’t picked up podcasting?  Skip it. The vlogosohere has arrived.  Current, San Antonio, TX., 809, 20.

Whiteside, K. (2005, August 26).  'Thunder' gives USC a needed jolt. USA Today, p. 04f.

Appendix A

Vlog Reference List

*Note: Vlogs are becoming ubiquitous.  Individuals and organizations are now producing vlogs at an alarming rate (see 2005 newspaper articles in reference section) and therefore, cannot possibly be tracked adequately in this proposal.  However, these are some vlogs that I have watched and studied to provide a reference point for this creative project.  Many of the vlogs listed below have been mentioned in magazine or newspaper articles and/or have gained some recognition in the vlogging community.

http://blogumentary.typepad.com/vlog/

http://www.crashtestkitchen.com/

http://clintsharp.com/videoblog/

http://www.greengreenwater.com/

http://joshleo.blogspot.com/

http://martafodor.blogspot.com/

http://michaelverdi.com/

http://mnstories.com/

http://www.noservicecharge.com/videoblog/

http://ontheroadtoruin.blogspot.com/

http://pouringdown.blogspot.com/

http://www.rocketboom.com/vlog/

http://ryanedit.blogspot.com/

http://stevegarfield.blogs.com/videoblog/carol_and_steve_show/

http://x.nnon.tv/

        Creative Project Report  PAGE 3

© Skye Christensen, 2006

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