No Cameras, No Recording Equipment, No Sense

Last night I saw Gorillaz at the Agganis Arena at Boston University. The show was amazing. It’s really easy to find really terrible examples of mixed media performances but when you see one that nails it . . . well, it’s just an amazing thing to see. From the first song – which featured a video of Snoop Dogg on vocals to the last pounding encore Gorillaz wove sound and light and video into an intense narrative.

Even within each media type there were so many elements and styles and tones and textures that it could leave your head spinning. So given this commitment to flexibility and quality and creativity around content it was weird to see that old tag on my ticket “No Cameras, No Recording Equipment.”

Now if that were actually enforced (or enforceable) I *might* be able to understand it. Sure, every artist (or production company or record label or venue) would like to have full creative control of the content they make or produce or distribute or present – but that isn’t possible any more. Here’s a shot of the crowd at Gorillaz:

Every little light is a camera or recording device . . .

There were dozens and dozens of people photographing and recording the show. Guess what though? Photographs/video/audio captured with an iPhone or point-and-click camera aren’t great. Here’s an example that’s actually better than most:

Even though it’s good for the genre, the quality isn’t that good.

Here’s another – this was was made with a proper HD video camera and the difference is evident. It’s still not great but it’s a step in the right direction:

Here’s a third example that shows what can be done with two cameras and editing:

There are big differences in the quality and experience of the content in these three cases. It makes me wonder, “what’s the logic behind the ban on recording?” Is it to protect the original content? to boost record sales? sell merch? fill clubs? Does the ban – or its unintended fallout (poor quality content) accomplish these things? I have no idea but am curious. For me personally, quality fan content makes me want to experience the band and its content for myself.

What about poorly produced fan-generated content? If anything, it may have a cooling effect on someone’s desire to experience a performer. I think of it this way – the low quality content functions as a souvenir. It allows the producer to say “I was there” but rarely conveys much about the quality or experience of a performance. Of course the quality experience is exactly what you want to be conveyed. That’s what builds and excites a fan base.

Encouraging fan-content is nothing new. The Grateful Dead managed to become pretty successful not in spite of fan recordings but in part because of fan recordings of their shows. Artists who include their fans in the process of creating a strong content-based community can and do thrive. The best way to create a strong content-based community is to allow fans to create strong content – NOT to force them to create sub-standard content with outmoded restrictions.

The idea of not just tolerating – but actively encouraging – content creation shouldn’t be limited to artists. Virtually any brand can benefit from strong user-generated content. Some brands do this well, while others try to exercise control. Control is gone and has been for a while. People will say what they will say whether you want them to or not. The only control that can be exercised is how easy you make it for people to make quality content.

Aiding and encouraging content creation (and recognizing quality content) helps connect current fans/customers more tightly to the band/brand/movie/etc. It can also helps attract new fans (how many of you have checked out a band on YouTube based on a friends recommendation or because you’ve heard they’re coming to town?).

By putting content restrictions in place all that happens is that poor quality content is produced. These restrictions squander the opportunity to build an engaged fan base, add additional content to multiple channels and reach new people. It’s time for these types of restrictions to be lifted so more people can participate in a positive content experience.

What do you think? Do limits on content creation help or hurt?

Not the camera of my dreams but still a dreamy camera

For a while I resisted the move to HD video. Most of the stuff I’ve been doing has been talking head videos for the Web. How much could HD matter? In general, I tend to think that it’s distracting and a waste of time and effort to shoot most of that stuff in HD.

Last week though I had the opportunity to shoot the Tesla Roadster Sport as part of a project I’m doing for an online motorsport community – MMR. In that situation HD made more sense to me. I was planning on borrowing a camera from my pal Matt but I wasn’t able to reach him. With time running out I bit the bullet and decided to buy a camera.

Now I knew exactly what camera I wanted – a Canon Vixia HF S100; but the deck was stacked against me . . . I needed the camera the next day. I also needed to buy it on credit – preferably without any interest for a while (I’ve been out of work for seven months now . . .). That limited my choices to BestBuy, BestBuy or BestBuy.

So I went to BestBuy.

First though I went to BestBuy.com to see what they were selling. Unfortunately, they weren’t selling the S100. Of the available models I went with the Canon Vixia HF M30.

So far I’m happy with it. I shot with it a few times and have been happy with the experience. I like the touchscreen controls a lot. I have a Canon ZR 950 SD camera and find the joystick control a little clunky. The touchscreen works much better for me. I also like the size. I can easily put the camera in my pocket and go out and about. Another thing that’s cool is the ability to span storage. The camera came with 8GB of internal memory and I added another eight. If it runs out of storage on one it switches seamlessly to the other. That’s pretty nifty.

There are a couple of things I don’t like about it. One is the battery life. It sucks. Fully charged I’m lucky to get 100 minutes. Even a smidgen more – two hours – would be great. I’d read a couple of reviews of a number of Canon cameras and seen people complaining about the noise of the lens cover when closed. “What a bunch of babies,” I thought. But you know what, it is disconcerting to hear the thing rattling around.

Another problem I had was with the AV out jack. I plugged in a set of headphones and was greeted by some terrible noise. I got one channel of audio and one channel of REALLY LOUD STATIC. It turns out you need to specify the output device and the default *isn’t* headphones. I was afraid something was wrong with the camera and was on the verge of returning it – but then I read the manual.

I haven’t done anything with the Tesla footage (someone else will be editing that) but I did shoot a heartwarming scene the other day at the Garden in the Woods. As my family and I traipsed along its verdant trails we espied a dead mouse being eaten by two ants. A gross scene perhaps but one that came out fairly well. (Unfortunately, the embedded video isn’t in HD . . .)

The bottom line is that I’m happy with this camera. It isn’t everything I wanted but such is life. It’s better than what I had and it gives me more flexibility.

Enough with the HD

The other day I was talking with a colleague about a video project we were working on. There’d been some technical discussions previously about equipment and whatnot – but now – less than two days before taping he told me they were thinking about doing the whole thing in HD.

HD? Why HD? I was going to shoot a few interviews at a conference – just talking heads. Would HD be doing *anyone* any favors? Certainly it isn’t going to be flattering for most people – and who wants to see every one of an other person’s flaws or blemish.

It may seem a bit disingenuous of me to be saying this – given my focus on faces – but there’s something different between the frozen moment of a photography and the incessant ubiquity of the face in video. The static face is an expression that can be explored while the moving face can’t be explored in the same way – only accepted.

Maureen Dowd wrote about this issue today, from a different point of view but the column’s points are excellent – and sad:

Don Malot, a top L.A. makeup artist who works with television and movie stars, says that high-def is turning Tinseltown topsy-turvy.

“People who thought they looked younger on camera than in real life see themselves in high-def and say, ‘Oh my God!’ ” he said. “We can’t use the heavy makeup that used to cover flaws like a drinker’s broken capillaries any more.”

He said that television actresses in their 40s and over are starting to insist that their contracts say they have to be shot slightly out of focus.

“It’s getting rarer to see tight shots of a woman’s face,” he said. “Now the camera guys shoot from the waist up.”

In a photograph, flaws and blemishes can convey personality and character – it isn’t the same with video. I think it’s because we have different expectations of perfection – expectations that are constantly being raised by new technology.

In the arms race between image and appearance you eventually run up against an unavoidable fact – people aren’t perfect. And no amount of anything is going to change that. So what can we do?

I think it’s worth saying “enough with the HD” sometimes. I do totally love HD in a lot of situations – but I don’t think it needs to be used all the time for every situation. It isn’t flattering and it doesn’t add value to storytelling – in fact, it can be a distraction or a detriment as you notice things you never had in the past; things you would have been happy to have been unaware of.

As HD technology continues to become less expensive we’ll continue to see more and more unflattering content being produced. Things can go one of two ways as this happens: first, we could become more accepting of the reality of people or two, we could have a shrinking pool of people that are considered attractive. I hope for the former but expect the later.

In the end, I ended up shooting in standard definition and I think everyone looked great.

Il Maggico makes a difference!

I haven’t posted an Il Maggico video in a while – but getting a note like this makes me want to get back to work.

My 5 year old Jack broke his glasses. He was upset that they didn’t have his frames. As the tears were streaming down his face, they put on the magnetic sunglasses that go with his new frames. He smiled and said…”Hey! I look like Il Maggico!” Now he’s happy. Thanks Greg!

Amazing – It’s Magic – Wow . . .

Red Sox Opening Day Video

I might not have had tickets to opening day; but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have any fun (not that this season is starting out fun . . .).

I went down to Fenway with a friend and we shot some video and did a little something with it:

I hope that game wasn’t the high point of the season . . .