A few years ago I was waiting for a glove keyboard. It seemed that with the rise proliferation of devices that don’t sit on a desk — cell phones, wearable devices like Google Glass or Oculus Rift, etc., we will be needing input devices. The coolest one seemed like a glove, or device that wrapped around the palm, which measured the exact position of the hand and allowed a user to touch type on any surface using a QWERTY keyboard. The iPhone had just come out and it seemed like if it could do such a good job of guessing which words a user meant to type, this glove keyboard could be a reality.
An ideal device will be lightweight, connect to any device or service (large public screens, small personal screens, etc.) and expose a standard keyboard interface as well as a full model of the hand, so that people could write their own software to allow the use of new gestures.
Having wrist issues, I’m especially excited about being able to type on varying curved surfaces, which should do a ton to alleviate repetitive strain.
About six years later, it looks like these things are on the horizon. Check ’em out!
The Kitty Project uses the opening and closing of standard electrical circuits to build data input:
The SenseBoard uses an inertial measuring unit to wrap around the wrist yet measure the motion of the fingers with two degrees of freedom:
The winner will be a product that can be worn at all times and allows for easy touch typing as well as gestures.
I was talking to Nick about what I’ll call The Ikea Problem: cheaper, poorly made products appear to be more cost-effective than more expensive ones. If an expensive product will last many times longer, it’s usually cheaper over time.
Ikea furniture is a perfect example: a $250 table will often break after 2-5 years, where a nice $700 table might last for 20 years or more.
I had a thought — that if warranties were standardized and it was very easy to obtain a replacement for products, we could compare cheap vs quality products more easily. Proper warranty reform, in this case, would mean replacement through an easy web form or quick phone call, or even a centralized organization that takes care of replacement. It would probably mean a centralized database of every product and its warranty, as well as an easy way to provide and transfer proof of purchase. It would be a process of government regulation, but perhaps it can be done nimbly and flexibly, with environmental and cost savings outweighing the pains of bureaucracy.
Right now, warranties are painful to execute. They can require proof of purchase, UPC codes, detailed descriptions, long wait times, and any other hoops a manufacturer can dream up. Common modes of failure are often exempted from replacement.
Imagine a world in which manufacturers had to compete on the longevity of their products and were held to these claims. Would they use more similar parts across product lines? Would products begin to last longer?
Pairing a standardized, apples-to-apples comparison of “cost over time” with a financing solution such as Affirm could allow people without the necessary capital to buy these greater-longevity products.
What do you think? How could we make this happen? Would this work? What are the potential downsides?
I move to San Francisco with big promises, and big plans, and announcements. Things are going great. I have a five year plan. Lily promotions take up lots of time. A commercial business is taking off.
And yet, when I close my eyes, I dream of nine to fives. It’s lonely pushing that boulder up a hill (not that I’m ready to compare myself to Sisyphus.) Sometimes I don’t want to drive.
It’s not that nothing is going on. A bunch of projects are: a TV show I’m casting, two features I’m cowriting. But for a few days here and there, I clear the deck and give myself time to write. Alone, sitting in my room, or my kitchen table, or my office, staring at a blank page and willing it into an exquisite opus of a film, it’s like the world has faded into empty white as well. All the elements that construct personality and career are rendered arbitrary by that empty page.
I’m trying not to think in terms of time. For a while I took the clock off my menu bar. It’s arbitrary, really, what time it is, and we’re not limited by the hours in a day. Instead, our lives stretch in front of us and we have all the time in the world! Thousands upon thousands of minutes stacked on top of each other.
I want to tell a story about a reality I experienced five years ago, which makes it difficult. I want to tell a story that fits together in a way that I can’t quite see. I’ve written 40 pages, then scrapped it and written 10, then 3, then 4, then 2. Five outlines. Maybe it will congeal, maybe it’s blocking me from writing in the present. Surely the idea that I have to write something incredible is stopping me from doing so. When I close my eyes and see it on a screen, it is beautiful.
Trusting in the process, maybe. Now is a time of intense creativity. I feel it simmering just beneath the unconscious Facebook tab opening, beneath the jittery left leg, beneath the cravings to do anything but sit and write. It’s electric. It’s coming. I think of having a boss, of structured days, of getting nothing done on somebody else’s time. I think of the iceberg of mind that sits below tinny awareness.
I went to the bathroom once during the screening of Citizenfour. It took about a half hour before I felt comfortable leaving to miss what was onscreen, and when I walked back I noticed the room was 10º warmer than outside and filled with the smell of sweat. We were having a human experience.
Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden’s first few days of revelation which opens in theaters this Friday, is mesmerizing. It feels more like an espionage fiction film, and I had to continually remind myself I was watching a documentary about real life events, and then pinch myself as the implications of Snowden’s revelations hit me in waves, again and again. Thanks to the San Francisco Film Society and Noah Cowan for hosting the event, and SF’s Vogue Theater for providing the venue.
He begins as a disembodied voice, attempting to get in touch with documentarian Laura Poitras and then journalist Glen Greenwald, verify private keys, ensure a secure connection, and eventually arrange a face-to-face meeting. Once Snowden appears, the camera rarely lifts off his face. It’s hard to even imagine what his previous ordinary demeanor might have been : this is a man who has traveled past the bounds of typical human experience, the magnitude of his actions leaving behind any possibility of another road forward. This is a man who faces the imminent possibility of martyrdom.
In some ways it is easier, he says, because I have so few choices now. I can act, then I can act again, and that’s it. For four days we live in Edward’s bubble with him. Time stops. Then it moves again, faster than ever before.
Through the reactions of Glen Greenwald and occasional dips into the news cycle, we relive our society’s shock in discovering the full extent of government surveillance: dozens of drone camera feeds, chains of command that lead directly to the president, and the British surveillance agency which is the envy of the NSA for its scope and breadth (don’t worry, they let the U.S. use it when we want to, which is a lot.) But the character of these revelations is different. Thesea aren’t daily articles embedded in a news cycle of commentary, spin, rebuttal, and willful disbelief. They are conviction in one man’s eyes and a massive data dump, all at once: an anvil poised to destroy our worldview when denial creeps in.
The film is masterfully shot, much of it by Poitras herself: from the dark hallway of their Hong Kong hotel draped in ethereal light to the edge-of-your-seat email exchange sequences. It is tied together with an expert hand. The music (I wasn’t surprized when Trent Reznor was listed as having written the entire score) drove the film’s anxious, steady energy. This film could easily win the Academy Award.
I asked the first question (about what safeguards they used that weren’t shown in the film) but what I really wanted to ask was whether they plan to release the film for free eventually. The urgency and scope of this documentary give a compelling argument for a free release, which would extend its reach at least a hundredfold. As difficult of a financial decision that would be, I hope the filmmakers consider it. Maybe they could make their money with Google ads…
Cross-posted with Huffington Post.
I was at a San Francisco Film Society party last night speaking to someone who had just had to do a festival distribution for a friend’s short film. “It’s hard!” they said, and I found myself commiserating. Putting a film out there through the festival circuit is labyrinthine, and way more work than it really has any right to be. I’ve done it twice, putting Shabbat Dinner (2012) to 55+ festivals and Lily in the Grinder (2014) through nine so far, and as I was speaking to this new friend I realized that I have a ton of information to convey that will be helpful to people going through this process for the first time.
Before we begin, two notes: first, the best festival plan for you might be to distribute it on YouTube for free. It’s hard to argue with this as a way to get your film out there: Shabbat Dinner was seen by about 5,000 people in all 55 film festivals, and then hit 100,000 in just a few months of a YouTube release. Some fests will accept your film, some won’t. The upside of a festival run is that you get to GO TO FESTIVALS, which is where I’ve met most of the great filmmakers I know now. Second, be sure to budget a good amount of money for this, between $400-1400 depending on how you do it. It’s really, cripplingly expensive (see the first note.)
So here’s a step-by-step process of things you should do for your film. This should apply to features as well as shorts. Please share yours in the comments and I will update the list!
- Build a plan and a timeline. Many first- and second-tier festivals want to be among the first to pick up a short film, so choose your first few festivals carefully. They will set the trajectory of your film in the eyes of other festivals, potential audience members, and industry folk. Also, acceptance into a major film festival (Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, or Frameline/Outfest for LGBT films) will automatically send dozens of smaller fests knocking at your door and offering you free entry — already having their attention and not paying those fees is *huge*!
Note that Sundance doesn’t care if your film is a few years old, but it’s still nice to premiere there if you have the option.Good resources: Moviemaker’s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, and your own Googling. Yes, apply to Sundance, but also look for the smaller festivals that will be a perfect fit for your film. Search for festivals that cater to your genre. Don’t ignore Europe, Asia, South America.*Pick a lot of festivals — you will be rejected by 2/3 to 90% of these!*
- Make a spreadsheet. I put the festival’s name, location, submission date (there are usually several submission dates, pick the one you want to aim for), festival dates, who my contact is, and their phone number. The first column is “status” which is usually either “contacted”, “submit now!”, “submitted”, “accepted”, or “rejected”. I use conditional formatting to highlight this column in different colors depending on what’s in there.
Don’t worry about keeping this neat and tidy, it’s not worth the work. If you get an email from someone and apply to a festival by replying to that email, jump into your spreadsheet and add a row for the festival with the word “submitted” and be done with it. You can fill out details later. It’s only useful if it’s useful to you.
- Film deliverables. Make several versions of your film:
– Quicktime h.264, full quality. I suggest about 5 megabits per second. Encode it with your video editing program, and leave about 5 seconds of black in the front.– Quicktime Prores (422 is probably good enough)– The same two as above for your trailer– Screener video (details below.) No black in the beginning of the video.
For Lily in the Grinder I made a “festival version” and an “internet version” — the former says “Watch again at lilyinthegrinder.com” above the credits. I also made a Concert Edition with no dialogue, which I had to export in both ProRes and h.264.– DVD: use DVD Studio Pro or Titanium Toast to make an autoplaying DVD. In the past I made two versions, one with a screener watermark and the other without, but these days most of your screeners will be online so it’s not really worth it. *Make a DVD image file and keep it with your other deliverables, so you can make more or send it over the internet.*– Blu-Ray: I use Toast Titanium to make a Blu-Ray, and then bought this external DVD/Blu-Ray writer to burn them.A note about deliverables: you may be asked to provide an HDCAM, DCP, or other formats. They are uncommon enough these days that I wouldn’t worry about them until you are asked.Another note: I got a printer that prints onto blank DVDs for $100, which is nice when you are making only a few and want them to have fancy art on them.
- Other deliverables. Do all of these before you begin your film festival submission process and your life will be much easier. Most of the pain in filling out the forms is having to recreate this work:
a) A private, password-protected Vimeo link to your film: I encode my film with the word “TEST SCREENER” on it in light letters, mostly to require a festival to notify me when they want to screen the film. You’ll be sending this link to hundreds of people, any of whom can grab the film, so I recommend this. Use Vimeo Plus ($10/month) or an unlisted YouTube video. People like the feeling of a password and it is industry standard, which some people care about, but in the end both are pretty easy to share. (Side note: I’d love to make a product that works better than Vimeo and tells you who has watched your film, whether they watched the whole thing, etc.)b) A document with a bunch of details about your film:– contact information– title, length, shooting format (camera/file type), formats available, website, social media URLs, shooting location– logline (1-2 sentences describing what the film is about)– short synopsis (200 words), medium synopsis (paragraph or two)– your bio– director’s statement (if they want to quote you on the film, or something. try not to sound pretentious.)– full list of film’s creditsI call this document “Lily in the Grinder – Synopsis Summary Statement Credits.pdf” — make it look pretty.While you’re at it, I would write out a few sample emails. Your goal is to get good at describing exactly what is compelling about your film in a few sentences.c) 2-5 still images from the film, in highest resolution JPEGd) The film’s poster, high enough quality to reprint. You might want a version with space on the bottom for a screening date. Spoiler alert: at most one festival will use this. It’s still cool to have.e) Your headshot/photob+c+d+e are your presskit, along with any supplemental video you want to share. Here, take a look at mine!
- Make a Dropbox folder. Put your film, trailer, and presskit (in folder form, but also in .zip form) into one Dropbox folder. There you go — now you have a SINGLE LINK to send people any time they ask you for anything.
- If your film is LGBT or experimental, check out the CFMDC. For a one-time fee, they will distribute it to festivals for you, only the ones that pay screening fees, and get you a screening fee. They are also really nice and Canadian.
- Make an account on Withoutabox, a site that allows you to easily drain your bank account and submit to several festivals. Create your project (aren’t you glad you wrote all those things out earlier?) and upload your film as a private screener. I also make an account on FilmFreeway and Shortfilmdepot.
A few notes: festivals hate Withoutabox, but it’s still the biggest and best. The quality of your video screener is terrible, but it’s FAR more convenient than mailing out the film every time you send it. Gah.
- Now it’s time to approach film festivals. When working on films with a very low budget, I always ask for fee waivers (with a polite phone call and my two-sentence description of the film.) Some festivals will say no or even be offended. My opinion: charging poor filmmakers over $20 to submit a short film, for which they are overwhelmingly likely to be rejected, is just wrong. If you can’t make your money on ticket sales, advertising, and bigger budget films, don’t bleed young filmmakers dry on hope.
If you have any connections to anyone at the festival, use them! Nepotism abounds in this process, unfortunately. As for reaching out personally, I’ve heard mixed opinions on this. Some festival programmers really appreciate a blind email or phone call, with a personal note, a quick description of your film, and a vimeo link. It might cut through the noise. Other programmers, though, find it annoying. Use your judgment, and if you really care about a festival I think it pays to be persistent.Keep diligent track of which festivals you have submitted to. Every few months, go back to your spreadsheet and submit to more. You’ll get rejected by most of these, so prepare for practice in letting things go! Shabbat Dinner was in 55 fests but probably rejected by 120 more.
- Wait to hear back / keep checking! You sorted that spreadsheet in date order, right? Every once in a while, take a look at the festivals that are two months out and search their websites. Sometimes the smaller festivals forget to tell you you’re in, even if they desperately need your DVD!
Ask for a screening fee. Remember that these festivals are usually run by a very small amount of passionate, overworked individuals. They are taking a LOT of their time to watch your films, and they sincerely want to program more than the amount of slots they have. Empathize. Be nice.
- Put your film on the internet yourself. As I said earlier, you can reach a bigger audience online, but you can be sacrificing the possibility of having a good festival run. I recommend waiting until you have a few acceptances under your belt. You can check out my post, Ten things I did to distribute Shabbat Dinner, for some additional tips.
There’s a few ways to do this:– YouTube/Vimeo. There’s no arguing with free. You’ve already sunk so much time into your film, you’re probably not going to make any money off it, so let’s get some exposure. Do a promotional campaign along with this release and try to get on things like Vimeo Staff Picks or Short of the Week. Personally I prefer YouTube because they make it easier for people to discover your film (plus Vimeo has this idiotic thing where they make you choose whether to show your film in 720p or 1080p, where YouTube serves the version that is correct for the user.)- Roll your own website. I did that for both films, building a paywall for Lily in the Grinder that has encouraged people to share the film ($4 to watch it, free if you share it on Facebook.) It’s like building your theater and choosing exactly how you want the film to be experienced, and you should do it even if your film is up on YouTube (just embed it!)– Community video sites: Seed&Spark, Fandor, Wolfe, TLA, Distrify, Vimeo on demand. Smaller video sharing sites will curate your film, put it out to audiences, and get excited about it. I love Seed&Spark and Fandor because they are great people.– The behemoths: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes. Quiver Digital will (for $400 a pop) put your film on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. You can get your film on Amazon for free through their company Createspace, which also lets you build a physical DVD package that is assembled one-off as people order it: no need to worry about inventory. There are other aggregators as well, but I liked Quiver.The catch with the sites in these two sections is that you can’t have your film out there for free *and* sell it. Which route you choose is up to you: my general formula is to release it on all these sites a few months into the festival run, and then put it out for free about two years later…but there’s a huge argument for free.
Through this process it’s very easy to get sidelined and pulled away from working on your next film — if you’re looking for distraction from thinking about the next thing, the festival submission process is about as good a distraction as anyone could invent, which is a good reason to do all the work up-front as I suggest here. I’ve had a few interns help out with the process over the years, which has been invaluable.
And have fun at the film festivals! They are a great opportunity to meet people and build an audience for your work. It’s a huge world out there, and some small segment of it really, really wants to watch your movie!
Cross-posted with The Huffington Post.
Why are people excited about Ello? Because they can’t wait to leave Facebook. Why do so many people want off Facebook? That’s the problem: everybody has a different reason.
Ello is a new social network that has caught fire with a manifesto telling users that “we believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life. You are not a product.” (I’ve got invites, send me a message if you want one.)
It’s exciting. We’re all sick of being serfs on corporations’ land. We don’t like our passwords being stolen, our movements being tracked, and the fact that data about us is sold and traded. But let’s take a look at exactly what we are dissatisfied with, what Ello is offering, and what we might be taking for granted about Facebook.
It seems that dissatisfaction with Facebook is deeper and more complex than just that. People say they hate Facebook, but what we think we dislike about Facebook is often a proxy for the things we don’t like about technology, our friends, or communities in general.
When you sell yourself as a better Facebook, people are going to come with a lot of demands. Here are a few that Ello doesn’t address:
- Privacy. Ello is currently a public social network. Tiara, an anonymous blogger, has already slammed Ello in an anti-manifesto about the site’s lack of privacy features. This may have been by design — it’s hard to know, but Ello rapidly responded by emailing all its members promising privacy controls. For some, they won’t be fine-grained enough. For others, they will be too hard to use.
- Personal branding. Facebook has inserted a defensive layer of conscious self-styling. As some users clamor for likes, others feel pressured to do so. Many who leave Facebook feel like they are sloughing off a tremendous burden.
- Distraction. Facebook pulls us away from real life. But what’s the alternative, a social network that isn’t addictive? That doesn’t send us notifications? Will it get used then? (RIP Google Reader, which was this and got used. I don’t see it returning.)
- Commodification. Okay, so advertisers can’t buy ads directly from Ello, but they can still maintain profiles and put out commercial, but entertaining, content. What about your friends hawking their movies and products? Is Ello against commodification, or only in this one narrow sense?
- Your friggin data. The minute you click on a Buzzfeed quiz shared on Ello, they are tracking your every move. Your public posts are visible and harvestable.
- Control of your life. Some people don’t want their chat, calendar, contacts, news, and journal on the same platform. Some do. How do you decide which way to go?
It’s not that I want Ello to fail, just that I think it is bound to. But if they want democracy — if they truly want “the people who make things and the people who use them [to] be in partnership” — then they will have to solve a lot of HARD community issues that go far beyond rallying people to leave Facebook, and are necessary to make a good community and website:
- Filtering. A social network that doesn’t filter posts is not fun to use — we want to see posts that are important to us. Do the filtering algorithms go under community scrutiny? Who gets to vote? Wikipedia is an example of an online community that has thought long and hard about who gets to decide, and has come up with some labyrinthine and still unsatisfactory answers.
- External apps’ access to user data. A lot of people hate Facebook login because it shares data about them among companies — but it’s also tremendously useful. Can iPhoto access your Ello friends network for you to tag friends? If iPhoto is allowed, then MoveOn.org will be able to build an app that downloads your friends list too. There’s a direct tradeoff between functionality and access to data.
- Spam profiles. Combatting spam is hard: you’re either charging people $1 to send a message sometimes, or letting suspicious messages through, or creating an “Other” folder that nobody knows about. You’re either forcing people to use their real names, or leaving people to have their photos stolen, profiles copied, and allowing fake accounts to exist. Again, who decides these things?
- Security. How hack-proof is Ello? Is the code going to be open sourced? How will we know if/when they are working with the NSA?
- Features and stability. Everything on Facebook works and is updated frequently. It takes a lot of money and developers and creativity to build a site like Facebook.
Personally, I think the people at Facebook made a stellar product. It’s creepy how much they know about us, even creepier how much they care about this information, and scary that they are sharing it with governments. But it’s also wonderful to be able to find nearly anyone in the world, contact them immediately, set up events, share media, etc. They have build a robust, incredibly impressive and functional platform that gets better every day. So in addition to solving some hard community issues, the folks at Ello will have to at least partially match the Facebook featureset and polish, all with no money from advertisers.
Perhaps if they made some bold decisions about community governance, then open-sourced the code for feature development and security auditing (closer to the approach of now-nearly-defunct Diaspora), they could hope to accomplish some of the above. But these are harder problems than they are admitting.
What do you think? Does Ello have a chance?
More later. For now:
Apologies to my millions of followers for never updating this blog 🙂
I’ve been working in Paris with Ted Walch, who teaches drama at Harvard-Westlake (you can see this amazing tribute the school paid to him last month here) and Philippe Thimel, who has an encyclopedic understanding of Paris, to do a photo project.
We’ve been running around this city taking nearly every outdoor shot from The 400 Blows, matching them as closely as we can. We look at the shots on an iPad, match the focal length and location as best we can, and snap modern equivalents. It’s striking to see the differences and similarities between Paris in the 1950s and today.
We’re still deciding what to do with them, but we’re considering a book or something. To learn when they are available, sign up for updates!
Take a look at the three teaser photos here:
Cross-posted with The Huffington Post
I watched the fireworks after watching monster trucks and motocross racing in Pomona, surrounded by many people who think differently than I do. In this time, I had occasion to think about ideology. While it is easy to disdain blind nationalism and patriotism, I think it’s important to remember a few things about ideology.
Ideology is overly broad. It simplifies arguments, obscuring inconsistency of thought and differences between individuals. It provides security and community at the expense of this simplification.
It is possible to minimize the role of ideology in thinking, approaching each problem fresh, but a change in thinking is a threat to our feeling of integrity. Our past decisions place the weight of consistency on our identity. As Emerson said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” When a person is free of the need for consistency, they are free to make better decisions.
I will try to hold ideology in lower regard. Similarly, I will try to see opposing ideologies not as impenetrable forces or specters of disaster, but as political phenomena co-existing with other, more fine-grained political phenomena. Because it is in between these imagined entities of ideology that most political action actually takes place.
Last June we handed out over 10,000 nametags in an effort to make NYC a friendlier place for a day. It was an incredible day of joy as thousands of new connections were made and a whole swath of the city thought about their neighbors in a slightly different light. (Watch the video! Sign up to do it with us this year!)
In August of last year I received an email out of the blue from a small town in Brazil. Carol Balboni, an administrator at a high school in Sorocaba, shared a story that warmed my heart completely:
Hello, Dear Michael!
Enclosed you will find footage of our Nametag Day here in Brazil. We were so inspired by your amazing idea that we decided to have our own here in our school – Colégio Objetivo Sorocaba. It was such a fantastic day here for us, everyone wearing a tag and making conversation with “strangers” we see everyday. We hope you continue invading our hearts with this wonderful feeling by promoting this event every year. We surely will try from this end!
Lots of love,
Yes! This is what we meant when we said we wanted to redefine how cities work, how we see each other, for just a day. Nametag Day was built to spread, and it’s wonderful to see that others are being inspired by our message. I remember at the time that I was sitting in the back seat of a car. I quickly downloaded the attached video and it brought tears to my eyes. Ideas can inspire and bring joy, and this video is proof to me:
Then, this past March, I received another email from Carol, with warm wishes and an announcement that last year’s event was such a success they are doing it again this year. She said “thank you so much for your idea, it has been such an inspiration for us here at our school.”
So now there are two cities participating in Nametag Day. You can do it too. Just come hang out with us and hand out nametags or receive a nametag — or celebrate on your own, in your city. Be sure to let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Email what you’ve been doing.