It started as a hobby almost 2 yeas ago. A media producer approached a theologian and said, “Hey, you’re a theologian charged with engaging the public sphere, I’m a media producer. Let’s make something!” So we adopted the branding that Dr. Brian Mattson was using for his digital publishing efforts and created a 5-7 minute weekly YouTube “Commentary” called Dead Reckoning TV. Brian and I would sit at a little cafe and I’d pitch him questions on cultural happenings and he’d look at them “through the lens of our Christian faith.”
Fast forward two years and not much has changed in the scope of our efforts but much has changed in how we deliver and where we want to go with this. We made the decision at the end of last season to “go pro.” Dead Reckoning has expanded to become an entertainment brand and our flagship show, Dead Reckoning TV is now an almost one hour show with a segment featuring our banter and engagement with world events, arts, news, and other interesting tidbits. Following that we have an almost half hour segment featuring conversations with a new generation of cultural thinkers on a variety of topics. And we’re in discussions with a few of those thinkers to create additional standalone shows.
Our delivery method has expanded as well. What started out as “let’s hit all the online video platforms on the web” (YouTube, Vimeo, Google, DailyMotion, Viddler) became, “let’s just do YouTube” to “YouTube is terrible for this kind of delivery, let’s move to a standalone platform.” Which is where we are today – utilizing the 24/7 streaming platform from the new tech start-up, Glorystone.TV as the basis of our web delivery. Full episodes then get later uploaded to Reelhouse.org where we can offer them for download for a small fee.
It’s a rollercoaster of start-up. While reception has increased, so has push-back. One day, we’re on a high having received great feedback, shares, likes, etc. only to be followed the next day by a big blow from particularly cutting feedback, a potential financial supporter backing out or a major technical hurdle.
We’re paving brand new ground though in both content and technology. After a fair shake of market analysis and research, there isn’t a single outfit doing exactly what we’re doing. Online efforts are either bolstering a primary traditional broadcast or print efforts or it’s a one-off effort vying for traditional broadcast. Consequently, we struggle with technology that doesn’t yet fully meet our needs or we fall into a gap where sponsors or big media houses don’t know exactly what to do with us.
But we’re figuring it out and our audience is figuring it out and it’s exciting. We’re exploring and utilizing new technologies and brainstorming how to communicate content intelligently and effectively in an entertaining fashion. We’re also strategizing with other organizations to disseminate information in a way that reaches Millennials in an increasingly fragmented culture driven by mobile devices in pants pockets.
It’s fun. Not sure if we’ll succeed in anything beyond what we’re doing now but gotta push forward and besides, it’s the only thing in which I have any smidgen of knowledge! I’ll probably blog about it more frequently. I find some of this so fascinating, I’m inspired to blog about something again.
I have a whole series of posts on what I’m doing now in development. I need to back to blogging, it’s kind of therapuetic and I really feel we’re doing something nobody else is, so there’s some learning and sharing that can be had in all this madness. This post though is going to focus on online TV interview tech…or the lack thereof. I’ll try and structure this so it makes sense.
To set some context, here’s what we are and what we’re doing in this realm. Dead Reckoning TV is an online TV show, we stream through a unique 24hr clock-based platform on our website and offer episode downloads through Reelhouse.org. We have no intention of going terrestrial or cable or satellite, we have ultimate freedom on the web. More on this in my other series that’s in development. On our show, we do interviews with experts and guests on various topics. On our end, I have my ZBook that handles the audio record from our studio cameras, connects to the guest via video chat software and then runs a screen capture software to grab the guest’s end of the interview.
On the guest’s end, we’re simply conncting to their device (iDevice, laptop, other device) via to date, Skype.
Challenges: Historically Technological
This is where things get complicated. Our basic challenge is built around the history of traditional broadcasting. Traditional TV broadcasting is built on the assumption that there is at least one studio involved with traditional outboard hardware like video swtichers and satellite uplink technology. Then, a guest would either be interviewed on location by a reporter with a hardware-based system utizing satellite uplink or over fiber and now, moving into VoIP. If the guest was by themselves, the studio would source another local studio, hire or send a crew or send over lots of hard to use equipment with instructions.
We don’t have those options. Our first challenge is that we’re entirely digital. None of this studio hardware. Our second (ironically) challenge is that we’re not produced live. We have about one or two days delay from when we film to when we post online. We do this for two primary reasons: control and cost.
Control: We have much finer control over the final product because we can take our time in the interview, and then in post fine-tuning edits and adding additional support material as needed.
Cost: We are a 3-man operation. We can neither afford to produce something live or invest in tens of thousands of dollars in studio equipment. I am also entirely convinced we don’t NEED to either. We have to date, produced 4 seasons of the show on a laptop with only certain frustrations like the one I’m talking about here.
Consequently, our resulting challenge becomes realiabilty and ease. I’ll tell you why in the next section.
If you’re doing anything on the web, it’s in the context of podcasting (audio) or Youtube (not feature/short film, video-based material). We’re doing neither. Podcasting is typically thought of as audio-only and Youtube is not fit for our type of content (although we use it heavily but again, for another series). We’re doing a web-based “television” talk and variety show. Although I still struggle with what to call it. The term “Television” is still very tied to traditional cable, satellite and terrestrial broadcast. We’re entirely internet-based which poses both descriptive, developmental and other problems (more posts later as well).
Technology for internet-based video person to person talking, to-date is built around the consumer who would rather talk face to face over a computer than a chat window or a phone call. Increasingly, broadcasters are moving to some of these as a matter of ease but I won’t get into that here.
The primary options we have are Skype and Google Hangouts:
Skype: 300m users, almost everyone has an account and it’s easy to use. Our problem is reliability. Our studio has 30up/down sustained. It’s fast. The internet connection on the other end is always questionable but for the most part, we have had reasonable success with Skype. But we’ve been increasingly struggling with reliability issues. Skype will just randomly shut down, drop calls, or not connect at all. It’s become a crap-shoot on whether or not we’ll actually get the connection. When you’re interviewing high-level people with extremely limited time constraints, this is not ideal.
Google Hangouts: Confusing much? I’ve been testing it for the last few weeks and have watched several how-to videos but man, it’s confusing. You have to be on Google Plus, you have to be in the hosts’ circles and half the time, a user can’t connect or doesn’t get an invite or whatever. WAY too dodgy. And yes, I know Huffpost Live uses it and the New York Times “adopted it.” But I find its confusion and unreliability unuseable. Google Hangouts on Air is designed around doing things live. I don’t want to do things live. Thusly, any features that are attractive aren’t a great fit and add to the confusion.
Again, I’ll reiterate, that for audio-podcasting, these uses are okay. The bandwidth isn’t as necessary. For short YouTube stuff or MSNBC 3 minute deals? Seems reasonable. For a long-form 20 minute segment? Not so much. Huffpost seems to do okay with Hangouts but I don’t know how they’re set up and and I have yet to get it to work realiably. It’d be nice if I could get it to work well because I wouldn’t have to use screen capture software to grab the interview, I could record straight to YouTube and download.
I have found an interesting option I’m testing now. It’s an uber-small startup called ipDTL out of the UK. Again though, built as an ISDN replacement (broadcast radio) but has video beta that’s interesting. It’s certainly not perfect but the technology behind it (something built in to the Chrome browser) is intriguing. They don’t have much info but check it out if you’re curious.
And Skype for Media (Skype TX) is intriguing but not relased or demoable and again, built around the traditional studio with video switches and again, intended for a live studio application.
What I Want
I’ve spent countless hours in the last few weeks looking at options. There’s nothing so far that fits the bill perfectly or in some cases, doesn’t even come close. So here’s what I want.
- Encoding/Decoding (can be proprietary compression) that minimizes bandwith needs and increases quality and does something awesome to automatically define internet traffic priority at least locally.
- Software based (if necessary, studio-based hardware) direct peer-to-peer connection. On the guest’s end, they can download an app (or login in to a website) to their specific device that connects directly to my computer at the studio.
- Cloud-based or local recording built-in. So I don’t need external screen capture adding an extra step and complication. It records only the interview cleanly with no branding little windows with our studio in it (obviously, there’s a sync feature via internal mic audio or something)
- Output full-screen to secondary display option.
Pretty straight forward huh? Simple even. So far the closest I’ve found is ipDTL but it lacks any sort of internal recording and I don’t have the budget to afford it in the long term ($500/yr). My other hesitations with it are that it’s built around a Google product (Chrome) and at the rate Google changes things on a whim, that makes me nervous. The other hesitation is how small they are. They could disappear in a flash (although the same could be said for Dead Reckoning. LOL!)
There are trade-offs everywhere I look. If you have experience with something, please hit me up on Twitter: @jayfriesen and let me know what you’ve seen or like that could fit the bill. Maybe Skype for Media will come out with a software-only option but until then, it’s going to be a frustrating ride.
On my recent trip to Atlanta, I identified the follow up to Crafted dubbed right now, Crafted 2. It involves ties and Haiti and, like All Souls Ale, is headed up by a microbrewery. I think these stories are really cool. They hearken back to the philosophy made large by Guinness of not simply using beer to facilitate community, but to give back and enable community through goodwill efforts. I’m stoked about it but I’ll be holding off about a year before moving forward on the project.
In a perfect world, Crafted will have had a chance to percolate, get watched and generate a small following. At this point, I think I’ll Kickstart Crafted 2. Sure, these projects are good passion projects and all, but the calling in favors and getting pushed to the back of the line in post-production because you’re not paying a fair wage just sucks and drags these things out a long time. It’d be even better if I could find a sponsor for these. I’d like to continue highlighting these community, non-profit efforts by microbreweries over the long-term but as with anything, it costs money to make movies.
Anyway, I’m stoked. The photo above is a wall at Monday Night Brewing.
Crafted Official Trailer:
Since moving from basically a full-time, below-the-line position to my producer/exec role on projects, I have more downtime than anticipated. So much of making any new project happen- commercial or original- is dependent on other people that there’s a lot of waiting time. Doors are opening everywhere on both Capstan Visual as well as Red Futon Films fronts but a lot of time passes between knocking on the opportunity and that first meeting. Even more time passes between getting the pitch out and waiting to hear back on it.
In my head, I tend to refer to it as the time inbetween- this mystical place where you’re at the mercy of God or luck or whatever worldview you hold. I’ve also noticed it’s the time when I tend to doubt, question, and wonder if I’m just crazy for doing all this. It’s tough to maintain the drive when you’re just waiting. Sure, I can rest on the fact a sovereign God is in control of all things and nothing he does is random an without purpose, but on a normal level, I’m just don’t have that much faith.
Seeing it’s my first year in this particular role full-time, I’m still figuring out what to do with my hands during the time inbetween. Sure, there are plenty of times I sit working on creative ideas and pursuing new opportunities, but you can only do that consistently before you go crazy. Given the nature of any sort of film production where it can span days or months (and when I travel, I’m on from eye open to eye close), it might be good for me NOT to spend all day every day back home working as well.
In the meantime, I’m booking meetings for the next trip to LA. #work
It’s inevitable that to make your way in the world you have to build your platform. As a full-time producer, I’ve been having a lot of discussion around this recently. It was precipitated by a blog post that was written by a major publisher (I forget who it was now, several weeks ago). I appreciated the article as it addressed the issue by an irate guy who stated, “so what you’re saying is that you won’t take me unless I’m already famous” to which the publisher said, “yeah, pretty much.” The publisher then went on to explain that into today’s highly noisy culture and the ease with which you can publish your own content, it’s makes it far more difficult for a publisher to make their content rise above the rest if that person doesn’t bring some fans a long with them.
You might be wondering why in the world I’m writing about this. Platform building is equally applicable to any media production efforts. I liken to to bands. Bands spend years writing music, picking up fans at little shows on the weekends and working their butts off to get that bigger fan-base, sell more records, have better shows, etc. Say I was a record label exec and I had the option of signing one of two bands. The first is being the band who’d worked their butts off for seven years and the second a band that just got together and recorded a demo. All else being equal, I’d probably sign the band that and established fan base. I would do this not because they deserve it after all their hard work, but because as an exec, it makes my job easier and the chances of success much greater. The have a built-in, core audience already established and a proven track record of working as hard I would for their success.
But that’s not the point of my post. The point of my post is that building a platform as a Christian is a tenuous thing. Because as a Christian, you’re not out there to ultimately build your platform, but you’re out there to build Christ’s platform. The tension there is that, yes, you have to build your name or your platform to get heard but you’re also at it for a greater purpose. This point is where I think the publisher’s post fell short.
But before you can even approach that conversation, you need to wrestle with whether or not what you have to say is important or unique enough to warrant platform building. The only way to determine that in my opinion is in the same way a Christian should live out his or her life, in community. The input of individuals from outside ourselves is what will validate or invalidate our work and help us decided whether or not to take that next step of platform-building.
This season of Dead Reckoning TV was a bit of a change brought about by two things: the first was moving the studio to another suite in the same building, turning the former into a dedicated set. The second catalyst was the move from my MacPro tower to my HP Zbook. Brian and I also did a little target audience readjusting based on feedback from season 2 which was a big step up content-wise compared to season 1 so we expected some changes.
I won’t get into the platform switch except to say that MacPro was dying and because I was moving back and forth between set and studio once a week, I needed something mobile. At the time, I was readjusting Red Futon Films’ project focus as well so that played a role in the choice of the Zbook.
Figuring out how to do web TV with guests on the budget has been difficult. In season 2, I was Skyping screen capturing via Screenflow from my Macbook Air. Primary audio was being fed from the MBA to the MacPro via the Apollo Duo with the host mic going directly the Apollo. I could control each track independently This season with the Zbook, creating secondary audio records, mix minus’ and sending the full screen to the plasma has proven to be a bit of an issue.
We’re shooting to a single BMD Pocket Cam with a Ziess ZF.2 21mm at F/4 and F/2.8 through a Letus Anamorphx. Lighting is a single daylight balanced 85w through a silk china ball with color matched LED rim lights. The audio is all done via Blue Bluebirds except for the Commentary which is a Sennheiser MKH 8060. All audio is direct to the Focusrite AD/DA (hopefully soon back to the Apollo).
Our solution so far is an app called XSplit. It’ll let me capture the full screen output of the Plasma and monitor what’s actually being recorded at the same time via my laptop screen. I can also monitor my audio mixer for the Focusrite. A perk of taking myself mostly out of the interview segments means I can send Brian’s mic directly to Skype now because I’m not on the show (single vs. multi channel). I have no way of mixing channels independently yet. I plan to attempt to record Brian simultaneously to Audition. XSplit unfortunately doesn’t let me split the audio record or record two independent channels for the call but XSplit by far surpasses other options I’ve tried thus far. There just isn’t anything available that does what I want.
Moving forward, I hoping to make are ditching this Focusrite and bringing the Apollo back into play on the record end because I can use live compression plugins on input like the DBX 160 for better control of our on show antics which can be fairly dynamic. I need to test the thunderbolt option card for the Apollo Duo though since isn’t qualified by Universal Audio on TB-equipped PCs yet. Until then, if I’m not observant (hard during the Spindle where I’m hosting as well) we can clip the audio badly.
I copy all the footage from the camera to a 4TB Thunderbolt G-RAID. I then copy the Audition audio record back to the card, lock the card and use a fresh card for the next segment.
On the post side, I’m using Adobe for everything. Everything comes into Premiere where I replace the audio in the vid files, throw them into the timeline and edit. I’ve built looks already in Speedgrade so that process is drag and drop. I mix the audio in Audition and place the new tracks in the timeline. The sequences get dropped into Media Encoder where I create two output modules: one for the MXF masters and the other for the WAV audio files for the podcast. Then I create a watch folder for the MXF outputs which render to H.264 for the web deliveries. Once all that is done, I’ll typically convert the MXFs to Cineform MOVs because the files are 25-50% smaller and when you’re talking 25-50GB master files, I need to take advantage of that.
So that’s our little WebTV show. If we film early enough in the day, I can have the whole show done by the afternoon and get the renders going on my way out the door at the end of the day. This all Adobe workflow makes things so fast and fluid.
I hear a lot about the poor treatment of VFX facilities and artists in my industry. This should be interesting.
So the Premiere to Speedgrade
Dynamic Direct Link functionality is pretty rad. So rad, I’m grading the entire doc in Speedgrade. So far, I’m extremely happy with the results I’m getting on everything except two shots. In the real word, it’s only two clips but three shots in the edit. So in my adventures of fixing those shots today, I’ve now learned a few things about this workflow: DynamicDirect Link does not give you any options to adjust RAW properties of a clip in Speedgrade.
- Not that number 1 matters a whole lot since Sg doesn’t give me any worthwhile adjustments for DNG anyway- oddly enough.
- I find irony in number 2 because DNG is an Adobe format (yes, I know Sg wasn’t an Adobe app natively, but it’s still funny).
- I can’t control how Premiere interprets my RAW footage. It seems to arbitrarily pick a matrix out of thin air.
- If that decoding matrix happens to bring in the footage overexposed then…
- …that footage will be clipped in Speedgrade if accessed via DL.
I think after trying a variety of different ways to fix the overexposed shots, I’ve settled on converting those clips to Cineform RAW and replacing them in the timeline. Then I can adjust the RAW settings of the clip as I’m in Speedgrade. So far, the least time-consuming approach.
I really want to start blogging again, but most of the time I think to myself, what do I have to offer? Why would people listen to me? Most of that is likely true so like, my screenplay writing forays, they’re mostly for my own personal enjoyment and exercise I guess. So I’ll start with a catch-up of things I’m working on while looking ahead through 2014.
Crafted: Beer + Faith + Community
My new short doc is about how the limited run beer, All Souls Ale by Big Sky Brewing came into being. It’s getting some great coverage and regular plays thanks to Reelhouse for throwing us on the front page. It’s about 20 minutes long and the finishing work should be done end of this month so release is next month. I plan to submit it to a couple of festivals this year just to get some more eyes an fans with the hopes that this becomes the seeds for a crowd-sourced feature doc with the same themes. Watch the trailer here.
My creative partner and I, Chris Fenner (@fenner403) who’s based in Atlanta have launched a new production agency. We’re still feeling our way around but we’ve got a great roster of core directors covering a variety of different styles and genres so we can match clients to particular directors for better creative fit. You can check out work here.
Screenplays & Stories
Like, blogging, I’m still trying to write regularly for my own sake. I do enjoy it. It’s fun entering another world and seeing your characters come alive. I have the contacts to actually pitch some stuff too, so I’d like to attempt that as a bucket list item or something I have several stories I’m developing (the long-winded paragraph ones that happen prior to screenplays) and trashed the first screenplay I did on my sister’s story (the one adopted after meeting her future parent on an airplane, the featured in People and on Oprah)and gone back to paragraph story development stage.
The second screenplay is a seed my wife dropped in my brain called The Age of Love and Loathing. It centers around a couple with three kids under four attempting to go on an 5 anniversary trip to Mexico. The trip was unwisely booked by dad, without the consultation of mom in an effort to jumpstart the slogging relationship. Needless to say it’s full of all the great and painful moments of parenthood when it seems like those little people you love so much are actually there to ruin your life.
Red Futon FIlms
Well, we have Dead Reckoning TV and that’s self-explanatory, but Brian and I are also embarking on a lecture series on the Apostle’s Creed. He’s already been teaching a 16 week Sunday School series on that so we’re going to get down and film it. I’m still identifying the best distribution method for that. He also has a lecture series on the Lord’s Prayer we’re going to follow up with perhaps later this year.
I’m also working on another project I’m excited about, a child sexual abuse prevention course being spearheaded by a team at our church. We already have initial interest from the FBI, and a couple local school districts. The church is giving me full ownership of an derivative works based on the initial core training. So I’ve go some big plans for this. I think it’s desperately needed.
I did update the Red Futon Films webpage but haven’t yet included the above projects. You can check it out and some of the other work I’ve done here.
And that’s it for now. See on on the webs.
We wrapped. Lots I could talk about but I’ll leave it for the final film. In the meantime, here’s some BTS photos from the last two days. Some have been posted via social media, others are fresh- Click the pic below for the full set on Flickr.