Currently Viewing Posts in Podcasting and Vlogging

How to Create B2B Marketing Videos for YouTube & Beyond

how to create b2b marketing videos

Historically business video has mostly been a stepchild (or worse) of brand and consumer agency culture. That has all changed. Today, given the accessibility of amazing content creation and editing tools and even more amazing and widespread talent, business video has emerged as top tier content.

The time to know how to create compelling B2B marketing videos is now! Historically business video has mostly been a stepchild (or worse) of brand and consumer agency culture.  Low on production and portfolio value, the world of great “how to” instructional or corporate storytelling showcases were never top tier emotional or financial investment priorities.

That has all changed.  Today, given the accessibility of amazing content creation and editing tools and even more amazing and widespread talent, business video has emerged as top tier content.  In a way, just like “IT” came from the backroom to superstar status, B2B video is as likely now to have pixel rich and infographic led animation as a gorgeous 30sec. Ford truck spot featuring Denis Leary.

But as we all know and hear virtually daily, great content be it websites,  video, whatever is about story.  Because we live in a content world, people know good content from drek- both are available on YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, everywhere.

This is what makes B2B video content incredibly compelling to create today- our ability to tell a compelling story.  It is no longer about a “modest” production budget under minding a great idea. And, while the expectation for truly engaging and immersive content is higher because of its ubiquity, great visual language and tight writing always excites. Just like a truly emotional movie never fails to get to us.

In polling our design and production team about five keys for going beyond even a B+ video, they said in no particular order:

  1. Short is better than long. People are trained to watch 30sec. bits of content. 3:00 is to long, by maybe 100%. 1:30-1:45 is a great length for framing a brand or corporate vision or overview.
  2. Beginning, Middle and End. Not needing to be equally distributed lengthwise but with undeniable cues and segues.  And, I quote “don’t screw with William.”
  3. Funny is good. Compelling is better. Find something compelling to say and show and do it early in the video.
  4. Create movement within screen moves. Back drops for b-roll or  animation work. It is eye candy and engages the audience to never let go.
  5. Given the option to have voice over or good music, music totally wins. Not in all cases, but in many. Tell the story on the screen, let people feel the story through the music. Works for me!

Do Blogger Outreach? 6 FTC Guidelines You Must Understand

…if the FTC takes action it will be against a brand, most likely not a blogger. As a marketer this could not only cost you thousands in fines from the FTC, but would jeopardize your relationship with your client. Understanding FTC guidelines is essential to protecting your agency, your client and also the consumers who you are marketing to.

The FTC released an update to their Endorsement Guidelines in March and while there have been a lot of open discussions about the FTC guidelines in the blogging community, there are far fewer within the marketing space, if the FTC takes action it will be against a brand, most likely not a blogger. As a marketer this could not only cost you thousands in fines from the FTC, but would jeopardize your relationship with your client

This past weekend at BlogPaws (a social media conference for pet bloggers) an FTC rep was on hand to disseminate the information to publishers, but this information is extremely valuable to those of us in marketing who conduct blogger outreach.

Understanding FTC guidelines is essential to protecting your agency, your client and also the consumers who you are marketing to.

1. When does a blog post need to have a disclosure?

Whenever there is a material connection between the post’s author and the brand. If a blogger happens to purchase a product that they love and then write a post detailing the product’s virtues, there is no material connection between them and the brand.

A material connection is established when an agency or brand reaches out to a publisher and offers product, gift cards, payment or other items that could be considered a transaction (a free dinner, trip etc.)

So, if you work in-house or at an agency and are conducting blogger outreach you need to be familiar with FTC guidelines. If you chose to ignore them, you are running a risk that your agency and your brand will be the subject of an investigation and possible action by the FTC meaning fines.

Who has been subject to these investigations? The speaker mentioned Porter Novelli, HP, Ann Taylor Loft, and Hyundai.

What were they giving away? As little as a $50 gift card. So, whether you are offering cars or carnations to bloggers you need to know the FTC guidleines.

2. Direct bloggers to use the #ad in any tweets, pins or Instagram images they share to promote product review or sponsored posts. DO NOT use #Spon

The FTC would like to see bloggers on Twitter and other microblogging platforms discontinue the use of the hashtag #spon (which means sponsored post in blogger speak). The meaning of the #spon hashtag may not be apparent to consumers, and the mission of the FTC is to ensure consumers understand the material connection between the blogger and company. It is the responsibility of the brand who did the outreach to communicate this as a necessity.

#Ad is much more clear to everyday people that what they are seeing is an ad of some sort, whether the post is paid for which cash or stems from a product review of items sent free of charge to a blogger.

3. Disclosures should be placed as close as possible to the claim they qualify.

This means, that instead of a blogger writing 4 paragraphs about the nifty gizmo they received and then waiting to the end of a post to mention that the above post was paid or that they got said gizmo for free, bloggers should disclose their material relationship to the brand in the heart of the post, close to where they detail the product.

What language should be used? The important thing is that a normal person can understand the disclosure. Legalese need not apply. So, ask bloggers to disclose that the product was provided free of charge by your company right when they start discussing it. For instance: “Gizmody  Co. just sent me GizmoXY  free of charge for review and I think it is super nifty.”

Asterisks and other weird symbols that refer readers to the bottom of a post for disclosure just don’t cut it in the eyes of the FTC. With an increasing number of mobile users who are viewing content in small bits and bouncing fast, they realize the number of people who read posts in their entirety is small.

4. If you are a marketer, you are not allowed to leave positive reviews for your clients on Yelp, Amazon, iTunes or anywhere else.

Especially if you do not disclose that you are a representative of the company. The FTC rep was very clear that this would not be tolerated and highlighted a case in which the FTC investigated a PR company who left numerous positive reviews for a client’s video game app in the iTunes store. So, just don’t do it.

5. Don’t use hyperlinks for disclosures that are integral to a claim

Linking off to information that the consumer needs to make an informed decision about the value of the opinion stated in the post or for important information like safety or cost. The speaker did add that hyperlinks are permissible if a disclosure is expecially long or has to be repeated over and over on the same site.

6. Make sure your agency or brand has a social media policy that includes mandating disclosure from bloggers you work with.

The speaker said some investigations against agencies and brands ultimately were closed without action because the agency or brand had a social media policy in place and showed that the outreach for the campaign being investigated was done by a “rogue” employee. Having a policy documented and in place could help your agency or brand in the event that an FTC investigation is launched.

Blogger outreach is a great way to build word of mouth, backlinks and to seed a new product with consumers. Just do it responsibly.

Additional resources for brands, agencies and bloggers can be found at www.business.ftc.gov

Brands Take Over SXSW

flightpath does sxsw - design team

Looking for a place to charge your phone? Thinking about relaxing with a mini massage Wanting a snack, or free stuff? Brands at SXSW have taken over the Austin Convention Center with their different offers to entice the crowds, but which are making the biggest impacts? Flightpath counts down the top 5 engaged brands at SXSW.

Continue reading “Brands Take Over SXSW”

SXSW Session – Connected for Reconstruction

flightpath does sxsw - design team

Major disasters have devastated parts of great cities in recent memory: a massive earthquake in Port au Prince, a tsunami in Northern Japan, and superstore Sandy. In addition to government aid and the help of volunteers, a non-profit organization, Architecture for Humanity, is changing how affected areas are rebuilt – simultaneously. Continue reading “SXSW Session – Connected for Reconstruction”

Connections 2012 in Indy

Not sexy, but has good ROI. No, I’m not talking about the disadvantages and advantages of an Accounting degree. These are some of the popular perceptions of email marketing. It’s tried and true, but there’s nowhere new to go. Is that true? After going to ExactTarget’s Connections Expo last week, I’m tempted to respond with an emphatic “no.”

Not sexy, but has good ROI. No, I’m not talking about the disadvantages and advantages of an Accounting degree. These are some of the popular perceptions of email marketing. It’s tried and true, but there’s nowhere new to go. Is that true? After going to ExactTarget’s Connections conference last week, I’m tempted to respond with an emphatic “no.”
On October 16-18, over 4,000 email marketers from all over North American converged in Indianapolis for the conference. From the keynote to the panels and talks, three themes emerged that chart the course for the evolution of email. These three themes mark not just trends all email marketers should keep up with, but chances to push the envelope on their campaigns and make their medium a bit sexier.

 

Social ≠ Afterthought

 

We all know social media is huge. Businesses, agencies, and the like are trying not only to figure out the next big social network, but how to monetize it, turning “likes” into dollar signs. When it comes to email, the standard approach has been to place the icons of the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and maybe Instagram). If you find yourself doing that in your campaigns and you believe that’s all it takes to make your emails “more social,” then you’re missing out on great opportunities to do so much more with all of your channels.
Case in point, during the keynote address, speakers referred to ExactTarget tools designed to send Facebook data from a company’s FB page straight over to their subscriber database. With opt-in controls built right into Facebook’s interface, there can’t be a more efficient form of email capture and list building.
However, don’t expect users to agree to give you access to their Facebook data just because they “liked” your page. Remember to create a promotion first. As mentioned at Connections, an increasing number of businesses are opting for everything from random chance sweepstakes to video contests. As part of the rules and requirements for entering, users have to consent to sharing their email address and possibly some demographic info.
That’s just one of many examples mentioned at Connections of how marketers can leverage their social channels to improve the performance of email, especially in the email capture department. One could even see a bump in their list building efforts by incorporating an email capture form onto their Facebook page. If you’re going to do that however, you should put a good effort into…

 

Making Your Email Capture Sexier

 

Okay. So, you’re going to your favorite store’s website because the newest, greatest thing just came out. One component tucked away at the bottom of the homepage catches your attention. It reads “Sign up for our FREE newsletter!” What is your reaction? I can bet it’s not “Whoa! A FREE newsletter? Gimme!” And yet, this is what we see on so many websites.
A number of panels I attended at Connections emphasize the power of the value proposition. Put yourself in the user’s head for a second and think, “Is a FREE newsletter enough to risk getting bombarded by this guy’s email marketers?” Instead, speaker after speaker suggested to us the idea of putting forth an offer. “Be the first to get all the inside deals and sales.” “Only insiders get all the best beauty tips from the pros,” or even “Sign up for our deals and get a 20% off coupon for your next purchase”
Once your email capture efforts begin to take off, pat yourself on the back. However, don’t believe your job is done quite yet. At Connections, another emerging trend impacts the very look and feel of eblast content itself. It’s a factor a lot of us email marketers have taken for granted for years as we thought it would never change significantly: screen size.

 

Have You Met…mCommerce?

 

By far, one of the biggest themes that came up at Connections was mobile, and for good reason. Mobile Commerce, or mcommerce, is a rapidly growing sales channel. iPhones, Android phones, iPads. People are using these and other devices more and more not just to check their favorite sites, but to make purchases. Forrester’s Sucharita Mulpuru writes that mcommerce is expect to account for $31 billion, or 7% of overall ecommerce sales by 2016. And this behavior crosses over into email. Based on our case studies, one in every three subscribers will open an eblast or enewsletter with a mobile device. Even if the subscriber doesn’t make the final sale on their iPhone, it’s becoming more and more important each year for businesses to reach their customers in a way that adapts easily to that tiny, tiny screen.
Enter responsive design. According to Smashing Magazine, responsive design is “the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation.” For example, a two-column layout with 12 point fonts may be perfectly readable on the desktop. In the mobile environment, however, your readers will be squinting and going through the trouble of zooming in to read your well-crafted copy.
For years, this design approach was purely in the realm of websites and landing pages. At Connections, agencies have begun to stress the importance of bringing responsive design over to the inbox. Here at Flightpath, we’ve developed code that allows for responsive design principles to work in the email environment. Never worry again that your sales offer is falling on deaf ears because your customers can’t read it on their Droid.

 

On the Way Back to New York

 

As I stared out at the Midwestern sky through that tiny window on my plane back to LaGuardia, I thought about all the information I picked up that week. Until then, I believed campaigns were tweaked according to well-disciplined A/B testing paradigms that bring modest, but consistent results. While that’s part true, a “bigger picture” view of the trends helps a campaign not only stick out from the rest of the pack, but it pays off significant dividends later on in higher engagement, more conversions, and a “sexier” email channel.

Ad Week Wrap Up Report – The Digital Influence

Truth is conversations is a by-product of the digital/social age. The two way thing is of course key, but so is the long form nature of YouTube and the flow/frequency of blogging especially the likes of Twitter and Tumblr. What was also cool was the realization that every agency I heard or ran into talked digital.

Advertising Week just concluded and it was cool, if not “epic.”  My favorite panel featured the creative leadership from great agencies including Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners, Leo Burnett, Anomaly, Mekanism.  I believe reason the week (and panel) was great comes down to the idea of “conversations”… a term used by the CCO of Leo Burnett to describe meaningful consumer engagement VS doing ads of any particular kind in any medium.

Truth is conversations is a by-product of the digital/social age. The two way thing is of course key, but so is the long form nature of YouTube and the flow/frequency of blogging especially the likes of Twitter and Tumblr. What was also cool was the realization that every agency I heard or ran into talked digital. But then again, every agency is a digital shop or at the least, an “immerging hybrid”- by virtue that digital is the defining cultural gatekeeper- so if you don’t get digital, it’s hard to imagine (like impossible) that you are connecting with any teen let alone adult based on lifestyle or media consumption behavior.

This made me think of the several things we think about and practice that make digital agencies unique to now and the future:

  1. It’s Never Over- campaign content is a constantly evolving reality…a site, ad networks, 3rd party, social ads are “A/B” tested and tweaked throughout its life based on empirical reads, emotional wear out or because we can/should.
  2. Speed to Market- the ability to commercialize creativity/points of difference “ideas” in hyper time is now a competitive hammer that marketers swing freely and hard.
  3.  It’s ONE World- digital is totally integrated and linked (it is a web after all!) unlike TV, radio, print, retail where getting it synced up is tough for turf reasons and/or logistical ones.
  4. Technology Lives for Change- where as media like 30 sec TV units have been the standard for decades, digital platforms (and ad units change all the time) like “Parallax” reinvents how engagement plays out- vertical fluidity VS horizontal randomness.

As I said, I loved Advertising Week- it made last  week rock.  It got a lot of people thinking and rocking.

Photo Journal: LuckyFABB

This week it’s not just about New York Fashion Week, it’s about the bloggers. We here at Flightpath are taking you behind-the-scenes of the beauty and fashion conferences this week. Last but not least Lucky Magazine’s LuckyFABB Conference.

Lucky Magazine is one of the most popular magazines when it comes to shopping.  Using their know-how and expertise they have developed a conference for bloggers that offers insights not only from industry experts but from their editorial team.  They offered unique panels for all levels of blogging in their Lucky Fashion and Beauty Bloggers (LuckyFABB) Conference.

This conference is one we would recommend.  It was a great place to network and all the panels were informative and offered great resources for those trying to stand out in the blogging community.

Check out the all star panels that spoke at LuckyFABB:

Rachel Zoe stopped by to share how she makes it work being a  mom, designer and stylist to the celebrities.  Zoe shares that everyday is a challenge but you’ll always find a way to make it work if you love what you do.

Lauren Conrad may be known from MTV’s The Hills, but she has become a true entrepreneur.   She shared the struggles of starting two successful clothing lines and running websites that offers great resources in beauty, fashion and decor. 

This panel of experts included Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA, Mitch Grossbach, Head of Fashion and Beauty Division at Creative Artists Agency, Federico Marchetti, Founder and CEO of YOOX and Shana Fisher, Managing Partner of High Line Venture Partners.  They were discussing the emerging trends of designers and social media and how they can go hand-in-hand.

These women are a true inspiration in the fashion industry and have started some of the trends that brands are doing right now in social media. This panel included Susan Lyne, Chairman of Gilt Groupe, Lauren Bush Lauren, Chief FEEDer and Co-Founder of FEED Projects, Aliza Licht, Senior Vice President of Global Communications for DKNY International and Erica Domesek Founder of P.S. I made this… 

You couldn’t ask for a better pair to discuss fashion.  Simon Doonan, Brand Ambassador for Barney’s New York and Fashion Designer Anna Sui discuss design inspiration and how to stand apart from other brands.  The key, is to focus on your brand. Anna Sui confessed how she doesn’t follow any other designer and draws inspiration from her yearly exotic trips with her nephews and neices.

The gift bag with up to $1,500 worth of products that was given to all the guests.  This was a great way to get products in the hands of bloggers, you should see how many of them tweeted photos.  They even included a note that stated if bloggers decided to write about any of the products to follow the Federal trade Commission’s Endorsement Guides to disclose they have received them for free. 

If you’re looking to get re-inspired and how to grow not only as a blogger but as a brand to interact with bloggers this is the one to go to.

Photo Journal: Day 2 at #IFBCon

This week it’s not just about New York Fashion Week, it’s about the bloggers. We here at Flightpath are taking you behind-the-scenes of the beauty and fashion conferences this week. We sent our Social Media Intern to check out day two of the IFB conference.

As promised, our Social Media intern Beck will share her thoughts on the IFB conference.  Take it away Beck!


Each year IFB  holds a conference that brings together some of the most successful people in the fashion industry and the bloggers who write about fashion. It’s a two day event and as the lucky Flightpath intern I had the pleasure of attending the second day of the event!

This panel focused on turning your blog into a business. Some of the key points were:

  • Be ok with risk
  • Surround yourself with people who are passionate about the same thing you are
  • Challenge yourself daily

Conferences can be fun too with everyday tips.  Samantha Brown from Style to Hire showed us which pieces of clothing are essential to a complete closet!

Bloggers and writers tackled the topic of Bringing Bravery Back to Blogging. A few things they highlighted were:

  •  Blog like no one is watching
  • Be aware that once you put yourself out there, there will be negative feedback and that’s okay
  • Find fuel in the hate comments, don’t let them bring you down

I had the pleasure of meeting Iman! She is not only a gorgeous model
but a successful entrepreneur. Such an inspiration.

That concludes our adventures at the bigger, better and bolder IFB conferences.  Next up is Lucky Magazine‘s LuckyFABB.

Photo Journal: Day 1 at #IFBCon

This week it’s not just about New York Fashion Week, it’s about the bloggers. We here at Flightpath are taking you behind-the-scenes of the beauty and fashion conferences this week. First stop – Independent Fashion Bloggers.

Fashion week is in full swing and it can’t start without a couple fashion and beauty conferences.  We here at Flightpath decided to check them out and wanted to show you the experience from a blogger’s perspective with photos.

This year Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB) has decided to extend their popular conference to two days! With more panels, breakout sessions and opportunities to network with fellow bloggers and brands.  Check out what we did on the first day.

Expert panels from magazines, agencies and bloggers took the stage to share their insight.  No matter the topic the theme of the day for both brands and bloggers is this: BE AUTHENTIC and just have fun! Readers or customers can relate to you when your genuine voice comes out.

Throughout the day there were break out sessions where you can pick and choose a topic you’re interested in such as Photoshop 101, How to Become Your Own PR Person and more.

The attendees were lining up to meet the brands!  Some of the sponsors included Bare Minerals, Julep Nails, Lockerz, and more that included interactive activities such as photo booths, makeovers and DIY stations.

Blogger Mollie in Seattle took advantage of getting a quick touch up with the Bare Minerals makeup artists.

We couldn’t resist to take a manicure break and get our nails done with the Julep team at The Find booth.

The first day of the conference ended with model Coco Rocha interviewing New York Times Bestseller Derek Blasberg.

Stay tuned for the full second day report from our intern Beck who will share her first-time experience at the IFB conference and what she’s learned.

Before we let you go, we want to hear from you.  One question that arose several times at the conference was working with bloggers that have agents. Do you find it controversial or beneficial?  Share your thoughts in our comments.

5 Reasons to Try YouTube Ads & Setup Tips

YouTube Ads Tutorial

In online advertising, Google search, Facebook and Twitter get most of the press, but if you’re a brand with quality videos that you don’t think are getting the views they deserve, YouTube ads are a viable option.

While everyone who posts a video to YouTube holds out hope that their video will go viral, the truth is, the odds are slim of that ever happening. (Unless you specialize in Cute Cat Videos. Then, you’re basically guaranteed 18 bazillion views. That’s a scientific fact.)

The same is true for brands with video content (in a post earlier this summer, we documented the failed Men in Black III YouTube channel). Sometimes, you need to get out there and push. In online advertising, Google search, Facebook and Twitter get most of the press, but if you’re a brand with quality videos that you don’t think are getting the views they deserve, YouTube ads are a viable option. Here are five reasons why, along with some tips on how to optimize your ads.

Reason #1: Setup Is Easy
YouTube is owned by Google, and setting up a YouTube ad campaign is very similar to setting up an AdWords campaign. In fact, YouTube ads have been incorporated into AdWords, and that’s where you’ll create your campaign. The first thing you want to do, if possible, is link your YouTube account with your AdWords account. This gives you more robust analytics for your YouTube ads right in your AdWords dashboard. You can run ads without linking the accounts, but you’d be missing out on lots of data, and since you run the ads through AdWords, you might as well link them. Here’s how.

Click on the “New campaign” box in the Campaign section of AdWords, as seen below, and then select “Online Video”:

You’ll be taken to the “Create new video campaign” screen, but don’t fill it out yet. First, on the left hand “Shared library” menu, click on “Linked YouTube Accounts”:

Next, click on the blue “Link YouTube account” box in the window that pops up.

Even if your YouTube account has a different login and password from your AdWords account, they can be linked. Once this is done and the accounts are connected, you’re ready to set up a campaign.

Go back to the main setup for a Video Campaign:

Here you can name your campaign (we suggest going with something more descriptive than “Campaign #1,” because if you run more than one campaign over time, it’ll get confusing), set your daily budget and choose locations. You’ll also get to select a video from your just-linked YouTube account to use in your ads. Next, you can set your max CPV (cost per view), groups you want to target (say you have a comedy short you want to promote, you can target “Humor” and then the “Spoofs and Satire” categories in YouTube), and include any keywords you want your ad to show for.

And then you’re ready to make an actual ad. In the “Ads” tab on your dashboard, click on the “New Video Ad” box. You’ll first have to choose a video you want to advertise:

Once that’s done, it’s time to write your ad. This is done exactly as you would with an AdWords ad. Write a Headline, two Description lines, a Display URL and a Destination URL (you can have the ad take the viewer to the video’s YouTube page or to your YouTube channel). You’ll get to pick a still from your video to act as the ad’s image, and can preview it in real-time.

Reason #2: They’re Not Crazy Expensive
In the world of pay-per-click advertising, a campaign can get expensive as keywords become more competitive. It can obviously be worth it, and sometimes it’s a necessity – but average cost-per-clicks (or CPVs, in this case) are relatively low with YouTube ads, meaning you can drive visits to your videos for less money on a per-click basis. And if you have quality video content that can spread the word about your brand or services, YouTube ads can be one of the more cost-effective ways to spread your message.

Reason #3: Free Link To Your Website
You know those pop-up ads that overlay a video you’re watching? They’re actually free to the owner of the video and video advertiser. The call-to-action overlay, as Google calls it, takes you to an external site, and features a headline and short copy. So while someone is watching your video, you can get an ad pointing to your website at no charge. It’s a real, quantifiable bonus to running a YouTube ad campaign. (Note: Call-to-action overlays are only available if you’ve linked your YouTube and AdWords accounts.)

After you’ve created your ad, click on “Videos” in your dashboard:

You’ll see all your videos related to that campaign. In the first column, called “Video,” you’ll see this underneath the link and description of the video:

Click on the plus sign, and you can create (and later edit or delete) your free call-to-action overlay, which will appear when your video is played. You write it the same way you would an AdWords or YouTube ad, with a Headline, Description, Display URL and Destination URL:

Click-through-rates for these aren’t huge. But to get a free ad and link to your site in such a visible place is a real added value.

Reason #4: Have It Your Way
YouTube offers four different Ad Formats: In-search (your ad appears above YouTube search results), In-slate (users have the option of choosing your ad and watching some of your video, amongst others, before viewing their video), In-display (your ad appears as a suggestion to the right of a YouTube video) and In-stream (your ad shows as a preview before another video). When choosing a format, you’ll get to preview what each will look like in action:

You can choose one or all of the options, and experiment as you wish. It’s a great way to cast as wide or small a net as you want with your ads, and see which format works best for your content and target audience.

Reason #5: They Work
While there are no guarantees of success in online anything, there are enough options within YouTube’s advertising mechanism that you can really make them work for you and drive views of your videos. The real question is, is it worth it to your business to pay for video views? The answer will be different for everyone. But if you do have video content that you want people to see, that will make a difference for your business, then YouTube ads are a great tool to make it happen.

BlogHer 2012: Photo Journal

As you may remember from last week, we were counting down the days to BlogHer 2012 and it finally arrived! We here at Flightpath thought that we should share the highlights in a photo journal. Enjoy!

As you may remember from last week, we were counting down the days to BlogHer 2012 and it finally arrived!  We here at Flightpath thought that we should share the highlights through photos of our experience this past weekend. Enjoy!

A warm (digital) welcome by President Barack Obama to start off the conference.

Samsung was one of the many brands that participated as a sponsor with a showroom to display the new and soon-to-launch products for work and play.

There were floors filled with a variety of brands in technology, fashion, home, cooking and more that offered incentives such as sweepstakes, giveaways and contests. It was the platform for brands to share their elevator pitch and get products into the hands of bloggers, not only for media consideration but as potential new customers.

Me striking a pose as I’m making way through the the crowded floor, but I can’t beat Betsy’s modeling skills…

We think Betsy nailed it with her signature pose and should win America’s Top Social Media Model. Tyra would be so proud. Just an example of how brands had some fun with guests using props for impromptu photo shoots.

One of the many sessions we attended. This one discussed best practices for both bloggers and brands on how to work together for opportunities. As you can see, it was a packed house.

Oh yeah, did we mention how we met Martha Stewart? Brands like Staples and Avery upped the ante by bringing along celebrities to the conference to interact face-to-face with bloggers.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get a chance to attend this year in New York City. They’ve announced that BlogHer 2013 will be in Chicago and we can’t wait to see what’s in store then.

Countdown to BlogHer ’12

Countdown to BlogHer ’12. The Flightpath team will be joining bloggers and brands at this year’s BlogHer in New York City. Find out how you and your brand can leverage conferences such as this one to network and interact with bloggers.

In one week, the Flightpath team will attend one of the biggest conferences that will be taking place this year in New York City – BlogHer.  Thousands of bloggers from all over the country travel to be a part of this major event.

It’s amazing to think that over the years how the blogging community has grown and shown great support of each other.  Women supporting other women, not only in the business of blogging but as marketing professionals as well.  BlogHer sets the stage where brands can interact vis-à-vis with bloggers and receive real-time insight to their products and build a strong professional relationships.  Every year brands, celebrities and influencers offer their expertise during scheduled panels and this year it includes major players such as Martha Stewart, Katie Couric, Christy Turlington Burns and more.

Another growth factor for BlogHer to note is the amount of brands that partake in this conference.  With sponsors like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Hillshire Farm, Dannon, Verizon Wireless and so much more.

If you’re a marketer or a brand that has not participated in BlogHer in the past, our best advice for you is to get your team a pass to attend as a guest and observe.  This will allow you to interact with guests and see what’s in store at the conference to better prepare not only for yourself but for the needs of your client.  It will give you an advantage to plan ahead and see what works and doesn’t work to create a successful strategic plan.  Be sure to check out BlogHer for additional information.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram where we’ll be reporting from BlogHer ’12 conference using hashtag #BlogHer12.

Image Source for Header: BlogHer.com

5 Awesome Internet Fan Films

Superman

One of the great benefits of the combined emergence of YouTube and DIY digital special effects is the popularization of the fan film: a short movie or fake trailer starring some of pop culture’s biggest IPs. Here are some of our favorites.

One of the great benefits of the combined emergence of YouTube and DIY digital special effects is the popularization of the fan film: a short movie or fake trailer starring some of pop culture’s biggest IPs, lovingly made (with zero permission from the rights holders) and produced. They often have startlingly good results, nailing the characterizations, beats and feel of the comics, games, books, movies or whatever else it is they’re adapting. Here are some of our favorites.

Batman: Dead End (aka Batman Vs. Predator)

Batman: Dead End is matched only by the Rocksteady Batman videogames and Batman: The Animated Series in its ability to truly capture the look and feel of the best Batman comics and bring them to life. Directed by Sandy Collora in 2003, it’s an amazing feat of storytelling, action and makeup, as Batman squares off against the Joker, Predator, and another special guest. One of the most popular fan films ever, and for good reason.

Superman/Batman

Similar in feel to Batman: Dead End, Superman/Batman is a love letter to both heroes. The authenticity here is astonishing; several shots are taken straight from Alex Ross’ artwork, and the titular heroes themselves seem as if they stepped right out from one of the comic book artist’s paintings. The plot is a loose adaptation of the “Public Enemies” storyline, but works in a lot more (the Lois/Clark/Superman love triangle, the interplay and differences between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent). Great stunts, choreography and building tension. Maybe an actual Superman/Batman movie could work?

PAC-MAN The Movie (The Fan Film) (aka Project Yellow Sphere)

Pac-Man will always be one of the best videogames of all time, but it has never really had any appeal beyond its core gameplay. Which is why this short film, written and directed by James Farr, is all the more incredible. PAC-MAN The Movie is a marvel of special effects and compelling story, presenting Pac-Man as a kind of friendly lab creation (think the Iron Giant in the shape of a small yellow circle that eats pellets and cherries), and his ghost-eating romps are actually training sessions. Somehow, you come out of this dazzled and loving Pac-Man the character, which has never really happened in any medium before, including the games.

The Legend of Zelda

This maybe stretches the definition of “fan film,” as it was made by IGN Entertainment as an April Fool’s prank, but it would be unfair to leave out. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, is one of the most beloved games of all time, and the idea of a big-budget film adaptation is actually feasible; the Zelda series is the closest games have come to something like Lord of the Rings. This fake trailer pays loving tribute to the franchise and fans’ ideal adaptation, with the costumes and characters all looking and sounding just like they do in the game, in addition to some impressive looking “bosses.” Too bad it was all a gag, but maybe Hollywood will wise up one day.

Saber

No list of internet fan films would be complete without a Star Wars entry. Saber, written and directed by Adam Green, is the story of two women who end up in a lightsaber duel after trying to pick up the same guy. It’s a little risque, but very, very funny, with great editing, reaction shots, and effects – in a way, it captures everything great about Star Wars. Saber deservedly won the 2009 Fan Movie Challenge by Lucasfilm, and a sequel has been announced.

Google+ Hangouts: +1 For Google

Google+ Hangouts

I’d never partaken in a Google+ Hangout before. But, I accepted a friend’s invite.

Ready for the shocker? Google+ Hangouts is kinda awesome.

While checking my email one last time before bed a couple of weeks back – my respite from a disappointing night of New York sports starring the Rangers and Yankees – an invite to join a Google+ Hangout popped up from my friend Frank.

I’d never partaken in a Google+ Hangout before. Video chat has existed for a long time, and it has never really appealed to me. So I guess I just never considered checking Google+ Hangouts…out. That, plus I still haven’t really warmed up to Google+. But, I accepted the invite.

Ready for the shocker? Google+ Hangouts is kinda awesome.

Yes, it’s been around for awhile now. But with new ad campaigns, it seems like Google is really giving its video chat service a push. And I get it.

There were only a couple of other friends in my chat (though you can have more), and the audio was very clear and the video feeds were of good quality. There’s one big screen in the center that focuses on who’s talking, with smaller screens below showing everyone’s feed. It works surprisingly well. But it was the options within Hangouts that made it something special.

I noticed that everyone in the chat had these animated hats, mustaches and eye-wear on, and they followed their head movements perfectly. Frank went for a pirate look; Tyler put on a creepy dog face. I went for a classy, fancy Mr. Peanut-themed look. While this might sound ridiculous, it made the experience unique. And really fun.

Then there are the in-chat apps. Someone opened up Scoot & Doodle, the live doodling app. After figuring out how to open it myself, we all started drawing and writing. Here’s one of our masterpieces:

It may seem basic, but often times, real change or innovation comes from taking basic things and presenting them in new ways – showing you that you need something you didn’t know you needed before. Maybe, as more apps are developed for Hangouts and more animation and options are integrated, it will really change the way we think about video chat and social media.

Kudos to Google for getting out there and pushing Hangouts. It deserves it.

Top 3 Things We Learned at Tech Munch

The Tech Munch conference hit the streets of New York and shared insights from both the bloggers and brands on how to work together and how to succeed in the social media space. Here are the top 3 things we’ve learned from Tech Munch.

Last week, we had the pleasure of attending the Tech Munch conference in New York, where food bloggers, writers, editors, foodies and brands unite to learn about the ins and outs of food in the social media space. (And get to enjoy good food and check out a cooking demo or two. Perks!)

The relationship between food and social media is getting stronger and bigger than ever before. We previously wrote about the growing trend of food trucks and how they utilize Twitter to build their voice and communicate directly with their consumers. With events such as Tech Munch show how the two are becoming more and more intertwined.

At Tech Munch, panelists including Food Network, Bake Space (founder and organizer of the conference), Martha Stewart Living, J.M. Hirsch of The Associated Press and more stopped by to talk directly with bloggers about best practices, trends and how to survive in the social media age.

Above: A cooking demo with Alejandra Ramos of Always Order Dessert…and the delicious results.

With a whole day of discussions, there are 3 key things we’ve learned:

PSA for Marketing Executives reaching out to Bloggers

This was a topic that was brought up multiple times: Get to know your bloggers. All you have to do is read their blog since they typically share their personal experiences and latest finds.  NEVER start an email with “Dear Blogger” or “Dear Miss or Sir,” because they will immediately hit the delete button or – even worse – the SPAM button. Make sure you have an understanding of what they are writing about, and approach them with your product accordingly. If you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to ask; they are human after all. The more personal you are in the approach, the easier it will be to form a relationship for potential partnerships.

Food Bloggers in the Making

Before you start your blog, make sure you have a clear and concise plan and a voice you want to portray to the public. The one piece of advice that holds true is to find your specialty and create a niche. When editors are looking for sources to cover a new trend, they are looking for those that specialize in that specific category. Make yourself stand out and become a brand so that they can come to you as an expert.

Pinterest, Yay or Nay

Pinterest is still on everyone’s lips and is growing rapidly. It allows the user to showcase his or her personality and ideas through imagery, and the perk is that the pins drive traffic back to the original source. Kate Gold, Social Media Director of Food Network, discussed how they share recipes, beautiful food images and even have curated boards from the community that dictate trends, such as comfort foods. Pinterest adds an element to your site and/or blog and allows the user to get a better picture of your personality and voice.  Do you have to be on all platforms to appeal to everyone? No, but get to know your audience and where they are and you can decide from there if it’s the right move for you or your brand.

 

How to Design Web Sites and Products for Women – SXSW Session Recap

A tactical mistake that brands and agencies make when marketing products to women online is to take a regular website and “shrink it and pink it”. This means there is little product info, and stereotypes are resorted to which can insult women and alienate men.

Walking through the halls of SXSW its hard not to notice that most attendees are male, since men still outnumber women in tech. This extends to the experience women have on the web. SXSW we attended a really interesting panel by Brad Nunnally and Jessica Ivins titled “Designing Experiences for Women.” In which they discussed how to create web sites for women and how to create products for women.

Women make up 58% of e-commerce shoppers and 80% of online purchases. So it is important to consider how women use sites and products when marketing to them. However, when brands and agencies are tasked with designing a site or launching a product for women there are some classic mistakes that are made.

Case in point, the iPad. Though now it is a household name, we were reminded of all the feminine hygiene jokes that arose when women first heard the name iPad. The presenters questioned whether Apple considered female users or even talked to any woman when developing the name for their new tablet.

A tactical mistake that brands and agencies make when marketing products to women online is to take a regular website and “shrink it and pink it”. This means there is little product info, and stereotypes are resorted to which can insult women and alienate men.

Products that could be used by either gender are marketed to ladies by taking the same product and turning it and it’s accompanying website pink. For instance, Dell made a micro site to sell laptops to women. According to the copy on the site, women could use this laptop to calculate calories, count carbs and look up recipes. The site’s design scheme was also predominately pink. The panel pointed out that not only is this resorting to stereotypes about women, but would alienate men who may want to buy the product.

When designing a site to promote a product for a male audience, the pendulum swings the other way. Brands and agencies have a tendency to “overmanify” sites and marketing campaigns that promote products for men.

For instance, Dr. Pepper 10 is a low calorie soda. In order to market to men the commercial are “overmanified” with phrases like “10 manly calories” and boldly declarations that the soda is “not for women.”

The presenters pointed out that women make up the vast majority of diet soda drinkers and this approach will alienate them, as well as men who may feel the messaging is too stereotypical. They suggested a more gender-neutral approach, which would have wider appeal.

When designing for women avoid myths, stereotypes, and assumptions. One myth is that women do not play video games. The truth is that 75% of casual gamers are women. They tend to be less likely to play a game all day than men, seeking shorter gaming experiences especially on mobile devices.

To avoid stereotypes- check if your site passes the Buchannan test. Do the site images feature women outside of the home? Are images restricted to women in a mother role? Are women featured doing yoga?  Then that is a fail.

By focusing on other activities, brands and agencies can make a stronger connection with women. Stock images of women laughing while they eat salad are just not relatable. Brands and agencies also frequently feature women smiling while doing yoga when promoting an active lifestyle or healthy living brand, women are less likely to be featured playing golf, tennis or running.

Another common myth is that women only take care of children. Women take care of many people other than children. By making social sharing prominent on a site, this encourages sharing of site information. Women take on a care giving role with adult parents, siblings, co-workers and friends.  They are often researching products and services for others than themselves. Women do not just stay at home with children all day, even if a woman is a stay at home mom she has connections and activities outside of the home. Women will relate to sites that feature women in all the roles they assume, including but not limited to motherhood.

For instance, women often use social sharing to send potential purchases to spouses and friends for approval before they finalize a purchase. By making social sharing prominent on a site, sales increase.

Agencies and brands should put themselves in the shoes of their user. Even if the user is of the opposite gender.

The presenters also discussed visible vs. transparent design. Visible design is obviously geared towards one gender. Such a site can have a gender specific color scheme and copy without worrying about alienating the other gender, since the product is only used by one gender.

The panel used the Gillette Venus razor for women as an example. The product was specifically designed to be used by women in the shower and on legs. The razor was not designed to be used by men for facial shaving, therefore the site’s feminine color scheme and design works.

Transparent design should be used to promote a product that may be used by either gender, even if it is typically used by one gender. Transparent design doesn’t overtly tout one gender. The panel put forward the example of the Nintendo Wii. This product was marketed in a gender-neutral fashion. The imagery includes women, men and children and has been a hit among families.

When designing for women, web developers and even product developers focus on color. Instead of turning a site pink, concentrate on creating a great user experience. Women have a low tolerance for bad design and will abandon a site that they find frustrating.

The panel explained that while men will spend time trying to “conquer” sites or products that take time to figure out, women will not because they are busier and spend more time taking care of others in their life.

Women are also more interested in product descriptions that are direct and inform her of what task the product accomplishes or what benefit it will have to her life or the lives of people she cares about, rather than a list of product specs. Craft product narrative around product features and user benefits instead of specs.

Answering the question, How to design products for women, is a tough one, but a fair one. Final thought from the panel: rather than making beer pink, ask women why they don’t drink beer then design against your findings.

 

Shazam Ads Succeed Where QR Codes Fail

It was around halftime Sunday when I saw the third straight Super Bowl ad with the Shazam logo in the bottom-right corner. I knew Shazam as the app that figured out a song’s title and artist based on a 20 second sample my smartphone recorded. Why is it here? Curious, I whipped out my phone, launched the app and started recording the ad. 20 seconds later, instead of the usual screen disclosing the song and artist info, I saw this.

Curious to see what others thought of this repurposing of the app, I searched out “Shazam” on Twitter. Some people liked it; others compared it to a marketing gimmick that was all too recent.

For the uninitiated, the QR code is a kind of barcode. Advertisers like to stick these complex network of squares on their ads in the hopes that users scan them with their smartphones. Once the phones scan these codes, they are taken to a page with more information about the advertised product. The problem is, most advertisers are lazy and unimaginative with their implementation of QR. They link the QR codes to URLs already mentioned on the ad, place the codes in locations where Internet signals are scarce (most infamously, the New York City Subway), and haven’t done a good job educating the public about the technology.

Like QR codes and other marketing gimmicks, the novelty could fade fast. The standard 30 second ad is a tad short for something that requires you to take out your phone, unlock it, open an app, and wait several seconds to capture a sample. And forget about trying to use this in a loud, crowded bar.

In spite of these drawbacks, I could still see a place for Shazam-enhanced ads when it comes to generating interest.

We’re Acquainted

Unlike QR codes, Shazam is already popular. QR codes began life as an invention by Toyota to track inventory. Shazam is a popular service people use to identify songs. It already has a head start in penetration because so many people enjoy it for its primary use. The image of that soft blue icon with a white “S” over a black circle needs no introduction. There’s a familiarity — a cue that we should be tagging whatever is on screen — something the alien-looking QR code just can’t attain.

We’re Curious

So, we see that icon we know so well, but there is no music playing. Just an ad. There is no readily available context, either. No announcers telling you to tag this commercial to win prices or music. Instead, all the viewer sees is what looks to be an out-of-place icon in ads for Pepsi, Toyota, Best Buy, etc. Naturally, I had to tag these ads when they came on. I was too curious.

The icon’s placement in these ads is the opposite of what we expect. None of the products advertised had anything to do with music or albums. So, why was the icon there? The ad wasn’t going to tell us. We had to go and hunt it down ourselves.

We Like Easter Eggs

What do video games and Easter egg hunts have in common? Both tap into that human desire to discover something. For decades, the video game industry has been sneaking hidden characters, stories and content into its products. They call them “Easter eggs” — hidden things designed to be just barely discoverable.

Advertisers like to use QR codes to link to the product’s URL, even if that URL is a few inches away from the code. There’s no imagination or creativity. And by now, the few of us who know what QR codes do are conditioned to believe they’re a waste of our time to scan for this very reason.

The Shazam interface doesn’t allow for this lack of originality. A successful tag never takes you to someone’s homepage. Instead, you go to a screen where Shazam gives you data on the sound sample you just tagged. In the case of the Super Bowl, advertisers seem to only have the option to place special content on this screen, like a video, a sweepstakes entry form, or an MP3 download. Unlike QR codes, they need to give you an Easter egg to reward your curiosity.

Many have heard of Shazam, but not enough people use it so that everyone knows what to do when the icon appears on TV. There’s something thrilling in it, as you feel like you’re one of the first to download this app which lets you see the pastel blue egg behind the couch before the rest of the family.

See You at the Grammys

As mentioned before, this kind of ad wouldn’t have much of a place during regular programming, but maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps a better use for these campaigns would be for special events where companies typically buy longer spots and users get enough time to tag the ads. With Shazam-enhanced ads planned for the Grammy Awards on February 12th, we won’t have long before we see if the spots find success in engaging consumers where the QR codes failed.

Interview: Ethan Nicolle, Co-Creator of Axe Cop – Part 2

Ethan and Malachai Nicolle

In the conclusion of our two-part interview (in case you missed part 1, you can find it here) with comic book artist and writer Ethan Nicolle, co-creator of Axe Cop and creator of Bearmageddon, we discuss his younger brother’s inevitable growing up and what that means for Axe Cop, why playtime isn’t much fun to talk about, and how Bearmageddon – an awesome mashup of B-movie horror, comic book action and smart comedy – still has heartfelt, real-life sentiment.

Flightpath: You mentioned in the commentary during the first Axe Cop trade paperback that at a certain point, Malachai is going to reach an age where he’s a little more conscious of the comic and he’s going to change, like all kids do. Do you think Axe Cop will continue through that, or do you see it coming to an end when the innocent way it’s created can no longer be?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, I don’t know. I think one fun aspect of Axe Cop has been that Malachai is constantly changing. Every time I talk to him to come up with new stories, he’s on a whole different kick. He’s grown up a bit more, he’s thinking about different things, his mind is rapidly developing. So I mean, even Axe Cop today is not the same Axe Cop he was two years ago when we created him. [Laughs] It’s fascinating to see Axe Cop mature.

I’m just kind of wide open to whatever. We probably will take a break here and there, and we’ve kind of been taking a break. I’m working on Axe Cop material I got from him back in April, I got a bunch of material for a new miniseries and stuff. So we talk on the phone maybe once or twice a month, and that’s about all we do together on it right now. It’s all me drawing all the stuff that we got.

Yeah, so I don’t know what comes next. We’ll feel it out. At some point we’ll go, “You know, this is kind of tired. So we should give it a rest or shut the door.”

Ask Axe Cop #2Flightpath: The Internet can sometimes be an ugly place in terms of comments and people trolling. There’s a lot of positivity around Axe Cop, but I’m sure you get the occasional jerk. I’m guessing you can take it, but do you shield Malachai from that?

Ethan Nicolle: He hardly ever even reads comments. He doesn’t even get why people want to sit there and talk about it. Once an episode is done, he’s done and on to the next thing. A lot of people want to interview him, and he doesn’t say much when they interview him, because he doesn’t understand why you want to sit there and talk about it when you’re done.

He just sees it as playtime. So if you play with a kid, and then two days later you go, “Let’s talk about playtime the other day. What made you think about that? How’d you come up with that?” It’s like, “What? Why don’t we just keep playing? Why do we have to talk about it?” [Laughs] I don’t think that’s even on his radar right now.

There’s an occasional curmudgeon on the Internet that freaks out and writes a blog about how stupid Axe Cop is and how he hates kids, and the guy just usually looks so ridiculous. He just looks so miserable – the person that writes it is always a guy – he just looks so angry, you kind of feel sorry for him. And usually there’s always a big reaction from people defending Axe Cop, which is great, but not required. So I mean, it happens every once in awhile, but I’ve actually been impressed. I don’t know if we’ve had any trolls on axecop.com. I don’t think we really have. There’s been a couple of people who’ve used bad language and I just deleted the comment. But other than that, people have been really respectful and I’ve been really impressed.

Flightpath: As it’s gotten more successful, I’m guessing a whole other set of responsibilities have come your way – merchandising and marketing.

Ethan Nicolle: That’s one of the tough things. I can only put so much time into that. I might be able to accomplish more if I could clone myself. One thing that’s definitely helped has been that I now have a licensing company, Surge Licensing. They did all the licensing on the Ninja Turtles originally, and they’re huge Axe Cop fans, they love it. They’ve gotten a few things off the ground – they got a Halloween costume made, some tee-shirt deals, and the big thing that we got recently was Munchkin Axe Cop from Steve Jackson Games. It was really successful, and they said it was one of their bestselling Munchkin games. That’s been awesome.

My online store is something that started out of necessity. I was dirt poor, I had no job when Axe Cop hit. I had had two jobs, and I had been laid off from both in the same week, about a month earlier. It’s really what made me able to dive into Axe Cop as a job, because even though it was getting tons of exposure, no one was paying anything for it.

Flightpath: Is there any chance we might see Axe Cop action figures at some point?

Ethan Nicolle: We’ve come close a couple of times. You’d think at the point we’ve gotten, that you’re gonna see something. There’s nothing for sure right now, but I just feel like there’s gotta be eventually. I mean, it’s an easy action figure, right? [Laughs]

Flightpath: Just take one of the old C.O.P.S. toys

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, just take a C.O.P.S. toy, slap an axe in his hand. We’ve actually had fans make them, and one guy at Comic Con gave one to Malachai at our panel. He still has it and was playing with it at Christmas.

Flightpath: What have you found in terms of monetary support from people who read your comics online? I noticed you have a college fund for Malachai.

Ethan Nicolle: You know, I’d have to talk to my dad, because he gets all the money directly for Malachai on that. I could always check, but I just never do. I don’t think it’s a ton, but it’s a little bit of money here and there. On Bearmageddon I put up “donate and get a free wallpaper,” and I’ve actually been impressed. They have the option of $1, $5 or $10, and the majority have been $5 and $10 donations. That’s really impressed me. We’ve probably had around 50 donations, and most of them have not been $1. There’s a thankfulness that people have online. A certain group are very kind.

Flightpath: And what comes next for Axe Cop?

Ethan Nicolle: There’s a third volume of Axe Cop coming out – I think it’s at the end of February – so I’m looking forward to that. It’s another collection of the online stuff. And then the new Axe Cop miniseries, which I’m working on right now, starts coming out in July. It’s called Axe Cop: President of the World, and it’s funny because we didn’t plan it out, but it’s going to be during the election. [Laughs]

Flightpath: You also have Bearmageddon going right now, and I’m curious how you approach creating a webcomic like that, because it’s one continuous story and not standalone stories.

Ethan Nicolle: It’s actually a script that I wrote. So I wrote the entire story out in film script format, and then I’m doing chunks of pages at a time. I’m working on basically three projects right now. I’m working on Axe Cop the webcomic, then I’m working on the new Axe Cop print-exclusive series that’s a follow-up to Bad Guy Earth, the other one we did with Dark Horse. And then I’m also doing Bearmageddon. I’ll just do a group of pages from each one at a time, and try and keep ahead of all of them, as much as I can. [Laughs]

BearmageddonFlightpath: People should know that Bearmageddon is really not like Axe Cop. It shares certain sensibilities in that it’s funny and it’s violent, but it’s more an adult story.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, it’s not for kids. Malachai’s a little mad at me that I’m making a project he can’t read. [Laughs]

Flightpath: What are the plans for Bearmageddon? Will it be going for a long time? Will there be print versions as well?

Ethan Nicolle: It’ll go as long as it takes to tell the story. Depending on how long it is, I might release it in two volumes, or I’ll just release it in one. I haven’t even talked to a publisher at this point because it’s still so early. My guess is that it’s gonna be around 200 to 250 pages. So it’ll still be awhile, because I’m only doing two pages a week.

Flightpath: I noticed in a lot of your work, including Bearmageddon, that there’s a real blend of humor, action and gore. What’s that informed by? What did you enjoy as a kid growing up?

Ethan Nicolle: I grew up on Ninja Turtles and stuff like that, but I did get into independent comics. I was a big fan of SLG [Publishing]. I’ve always had a thing for cheesy movies – Mystery Science Theater, I got into really big-time when I was younger, and that was kind of my gateway drug in getting into really bad movies on my own. I love the really bad violent movies, that are just over-the-top crazy. Stuff like Dead Alive, that are so violent and could never happen in real life. That kind of thing is hilarious to me. I guess I’ve always liked the combination of action/comedy, and I like action/comedy/horror too, which is a genre that I don’t think has been done a whole bunch. Shaun of the Dead is probably the best example. Ghostbusters is good. I like being a little more light-hearted, but still getting to have monsters. Just all the stuff that I love in entertainment. I love action and I love monsters, and I like to laugh.

Flightpath: Not that I know you [Laughs], but there are some elements of Bearmageddon that seem like they could be autobiographical. Particularly the relationship between Joel and his little brother. They seem to have a very warm relationship.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, that, for sure. In fact, I think I even wrote a pretty heartfelt blog on Bearmageddon, on one of those pages where he’s talking to the little brother. I was always the oldest brother in my family. I have three brothers total, plus I have two little sisters. And my brothers always looked up to me, and they always treated me like I was a hero of some sort, even if I never deserved it. Before I was ever any sort of success, they treated me like I was already. So it’s special to me, and I see it more now. As I’ve grown up, I look back and go, “Man, I didn’t even appreciate it as a big brother when I was younger.”

Flightpath: Ken, the store manager of Wow Mart, is my favorite character. I just love his put-downs; he seems like he could be a Mr. Show character. Will he be making a return?

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Yes. We will be returning to Wow Mart eventually.

Flightpath: It seems like things have worked out for you in that you’re getting to do webcomics, release a print version later, and also make original graphic novels.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, and I always have the book in mind when I make my comics. I’m always thinking ahead to the book. So even if I go, “You know what, this episode is going to be kind of a dud today. It’s not going to be very exciting for people to read this,” I’m thinking ahead to the book. Because that’s going to ultimately be the more important audience. You want it to work more in the book than you do one day on the website.

That was one thought that I had when originally I decided to do webcomics. I went, “You know, there’s a good chance I could expand my audience by a bunch of people. But also there’s a good chance that a bunch of those people won’t buy the book even though they read it for free online. But just say like 10 percent of those people buy the book – it’s probably gonna be a pretty good deal.”

Interview: Ethan Nicolle, Co-Creator of Axe Cop – Part 1

Ethan and Malachai Nicolle

Axe Cop, Avocado Soldier and Uni-Baby. They don’t sound like the names of traditional comic book characters, but then, there’s nothing traditional about the bizarre-yet-brilliant webcomic in which they appear. Launched in 2010 to massive viral success, Axe Cop stars, true to its name, an axe-wielding police officer in adventures featuring vampire ninjas, a T-Rex with Gatling guns for arms, and a female Abraham Lincoln. It is crazy, hilarious stuff, making for one of the most original and downright fun comics in years – online or in print. And if it sounds like it comes from the mind of a child, that’s because it does: Axe Cop is written by 7-year-old Malachai Nicolle and illustrated by his older brother, the Eisner-nominated artist Ethan Nicolle, whose gifts for straight-faced humor, action and storytelling help make the comic so effective. In part one of our two-part interview with the elder Nicolle – also creator of the excellent new Bearmageddon horror/comedy webcomic – we discuss how Axe Cop came to be, how it quickly went viral, and the origins of some particularly strange story details.

Flightpath: I know you were doing creator-owned print comics like Chumble Spuzz before Axe Cop. What led from that to launching a webcomic with Axe Cop?

Ethan Nicolle: Well, I got into comics before the Internet was a big thing. I was in high school still, and the Internet hit when I was around 15 or 16. So, I always thought the way into comics was through a publisher. You gotta get them to print your book, and then they gotta sell it for you. I was always working towards that goal, and I finally accomplished it with SLG Publishing, with my book Chumble Spuzz. I realized that after all that work, they finally print your book and they put it back on a little shelf in the back corner of a comic book store, and very few people are willing to go back and spend the money to actually buy that book and check it out. And I started realizing that my goal wasn’t to make money off that bat like that, my goal was to build an audience; and if I just want people to read it, why not just put it on the Internet? I had planned to do my next book that way, which was Bearmageddon, but then I wasn’t sure how to go about doing a webcomic.

So I wanted to do a practice run first, and I had these Axe Cop comics that I created over Christmas with my brother. We were playing and Malachai wanted to play “Axe Cop,” because he had been given a toy fireman axe but wanted to fight bad guys. As we played, the first episode of Axe Cop happened and it was so funny, I drew it. I ended up drawing the first four episodes during that visit. We were like, “Well, we’ll just throw these up online and make kind of a quick website.” Just to test the functionality and see how people react to the way that we lay it out and everything.

I could never have foreseen the success. Basically, in about two days, it exploded and became my job overnight.

Flightpath: That’s amazing. You did have a lot of critical success though, with Chumble Spuzz. You were nominated for an Eisner.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, a little bit. I had an Eisner nomination, it got some great reviews. It’s just that hardly anybody actually read them. The people that did read them loved them, but that was the thing. I was going, “Man, people that actually read this love it. But I can’t get anybody to read it. They don’t want to spend 10 or 11 bucks on it.”

Axe Cop Episode 1Flightpath: So you had some Axe Cop stuff in the can that you did with your brother, and you decided to put it out there. Once you posted it online, you said it became a success in just a couple of days. Did you do anything to actively promote it, or did people somehow find it?

Ethan Nicolle: You know, I had a small amount of fans that followed me at that time from Chumble Spuzz, from the rock band I used to be in. So there was like a handful of fans that any time I posted something, they’d check it out and share it with their friends. We put all the sharing buttons on it, as you usually would do. StumbleUpon, Digg, a Facebook button, all those things. The best I could do, tracing back how it went viral, it was through sites like Reddit and Meta Filter and these sites where a lot of people go on and share stuff. It was just all over those websites, and it all happened kind of in one night. Entertainment Weekly [named it Site of the Day], that was a big one. It was just a really fast climb.

Flightpath: Did you log back in and check the visits? Were people emailing you? What was the signifier that something was going on?

Ethan Nicolle: Well, that night I was actually not even at my house [or] at my computer. I just had my phone, which was receiving emails, and emails started coming in like crazy. “Ask Axe Cop” questions just starting rolling in really fast, and I had my Twitter account set to notify me when a new person started following it, and I just started getting rapid amounts of Follow, Follow, Follow. [Laughs] It was just going crazy. And every time I checked my email, a bunch more emails would be in. It was just rapid fire emails all night. I fell asleep for like three hours that night, and when I woke up there were like another 100 emails in my inbox. It was crazy.

Flightpath: Going into your technique for creating Axe Cop – how exactly does it work with your brother? Do you sit down and guide him through story construction, or do you draw what he’s telling you, as he’s telling it to you?

Ethan Nicolle: There’s lots of different ways that we do it. It really comes down to playtime and kind of an interview. It’s almost like I’m a cop at a crime scene and I’m interviewing him because he’s a witness, and I’m trying to get all the details I can and piece it all together. [Laughs] He tells it to me out of order, and the story constantly changes here and there. So I find the pieces that fit.

The first few episodes, I credited him as “creator.” The first few episodes I never even planned on publishing, it was just something for the family. So I just decided to call him “writer” and me “artist.” But my bigger job beyond just drawing it really is piecing it together, especially as we’ve gotten into these bigger projects, where [there’s] a full-on big story. It’s the part of the project that’s, I don’t want to say a headache, but it’s a real struggle, you know? [Laughs]

Flightpath: Do you see his storytelling chops evolving as you do more and more of these?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, he gets the hang of certain things. Earlier on, I would have to try and explain, “For it to be a good story, we need something bad to happen, so that something good can happen and we can be happy.” So I’ll try and find out, “Do any good guys get killed? Does anything bad happen to the good guys?” One thing I just started doing was have us pretend to be bad guys, so that we’d actually start inflicting lots of damage on the good guys. So if I keep switching sides of Malachai, because a lot of it’s role playing, he’d give me what I wanted. It’s not that I want him to come up with a specific outcome of the story and repeat it back to me, but I just look at the story and go, “This needs a big fight here, it needs some kind of conflict.” Just a general idea. And I ask him questions until I have a full story, basically.

Flightpath: There are a couple of recurring themes or motifs in Axe Cop, and I wanted to get your opinion on them and where they come from.

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Okay.

Flightpath: I noticed there are lots of decapitations.

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] Yeah. If you think about kids playing with toy swords and just fighting each other, they’re fake fighting, swinging the swords, going, “I cut your leg off! I cut your arm off!” They’re not imagining that guys have blood shooting across the room. [Laughs] They’re not reveling in the gore. What makes Axe Cop funny to me is you take that kind of innocent look at [violence] – I wouldn’t even call it violence, in the context of what Malachai’s playing, because he’s not thinking violently –

Flightpath: It’s like Looney Tunes violence.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah. And so you take that, you put it in the world of Axe Cop, you illustrate it out and you put that dead serious look on his face, and it’s comedy gold. [Laughs]

Flightpath: There’s another one, which is someone getting something on them, like blood from a dinosaur, or they eat something, and then they become that thing. Where does that come from?

Ethan Nicolle: [Laughs] I don’t know where he got that. All I know is, that [while writing the] original Axe Cop, that first episode, we were playing together and we’d just cut off some dinosaurs’ heads. I love horror movies, over-the-top gore Peter Jackson kind of stuff, and I was like, “Oh man, I just got blood all over me!” And then Malachai goes, “I got dinosaur blood all over me, too! I’m turning into a Dinosaur Soldier.” [Laughs] He decided right there that if you get something’s blood on you, you turn into it. And it just became a running thing.

Flightpath: It’s funny because it kind of established the rules of the Axe Cop universe, in a weird way.

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, and it’s funny ’cause when we started playing together, he assigned me to be Axe Cop, and he was Dinosaur Soldier. And since for the story I needed Axe Cop to stay Axe Cop and not keep changing, it worked, because he gave me that control. So I keep Axe Cop as Axe Cop, and he kept transforming. [Laughs]

Ask Axe Cop #1Flightpath: You were talking before about how you wanted to break into comics, you got published, but you ended up going to the Web, where you could reach a lot more people. Do you think that’s the future, especially as the print industry changes? Will webcomics take up more and more of the comic book landscape?

Ethan Nicolle: Yeah, I think that the Internet is effecting all forms of media, for sure. I don’t foresee in my lifetime the printed book dying off completely. I think most people that have held a book are going to want to hold a book later on, but that’s because I’m ignorant of what technology may come down the road. There could be a device invented that’s a great replacement. They’ve got the Kindle now, but I don’t think that’s a great replacement for comics. The iPad is kind of cool, but I don’t feel like I own the book until I have it in paper form.

People are now used to getting to sample things more because of the Internet. They’re used to more interaction. They’re also ordering things online now more, so you’re getting less people walking into stores and flipping through pages to buy your book. Things are just changing, so you have to have an online presence. It just doesn’t make sense not to. I’m interested to see where it goes with comics and books myself.

Flightpath: If you had decided to self-publish Axe Cop in print, do you think it could have possibly reached the level of popularity that it has as a webcomic?

Ethan Nicolle: No. Number one, I don’t think I ever would have, unless I’d gotten a bunch more done. I’d only done four of them [when we launched it]. At the point that I had those four done, I was only thinking that every time I’d visit Malachai for a holiday, I’d do another couple of them with him. I wasn’t thinking that it was gonna be what I did all the time. [Laughs] And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, I just didn’t think that was the reality. It was like, “I can’t spend all my time playing with my little brother and making these goofy comics. I gotta work.” [Laughs]

Be sure to come back this Thursday for part 2 of our interview with Ethan Nicolle!

10 Awesome Music Sites & Blogs

our favorite music sites

There are some hardcore music nerds here at Flightpath. Sometimes there’s crossover between our tastes, sometimes not, but everyone has his or her favorites. (Personally speaking, my love of ELO, the Beatles and Guided By Voices is well-documented around the office, to the point where I’m sure everyone wishes I would just shut up about them already.)

Anyway, just as we make connections with music that speaks to us, so do we make connections with web sites we trust that cover music. So, without further ado, here are our favorites, selected by myself, Tyler Abrams, Mike Liss and Roxanne Oliver, in no particular order. (Our only rule: none of the biggies like Pitchfork, Stereogum, Rolling Stone, or sites like last.fm.)

Dust and Grooves – As someone who owns probably around 600-700 CDs, this may seem like an odd choice. But about a year ago, I made a conscious decision to switch to vinyl, and this site expresses why. It’s a photo and interview blog, where site creator Eilon Paz visits vinyl collectors around the world to photograph their collections and talk to them about their love of the format and music. It’s beautiful stuff. The photographs are stunning, mixing black & white and color, and capturing the beauty of an old vinyl record and a shelf completely filled with albums. Dust and Grooves will remind you why you love your favorite albums, and what you’re missing out on when you only experience them through iTunes or CDs. – Dan

Tiny Mix Tapes – A few years back, I had a slight obsession with this thing called the  “Automatic Mix Tape Generator,” a section on Tiny Mix Tape’s site where anyone can submit an idea for a mix tape and, in turn, receive a track listing based on that idea from volunteers dubbed as “Mix Robots”.  At the heart of the site, though, is the music review section, which is split into 3 parts: Featured reviews targeting the mainstream and not-so-mainstream, Delorean reviews for the pre-TMT music that demands to be re-heard (or buried further away from the public), and Eureka! reviews for the ultra-obscure/experimental music that most shy away from.   The thing that keeps me coming back to TMT is the down-to-earth style of the reviews, where the reviewer doesn’t float up into some music critique bubble that only other music critics can understand. – Tyler

All Music – I hope this doesn’t cost me too much cred, because it is a bigger site, but I’ve always found All Music to be a good resource. Essentially a library of reviews, you can find information on just about any album here. What I like most is that the reviews don’t exactly seem unbiased – they’re written more from the perspective of, “If you’re already a fan of this band, here’s what you’ll think of this album.” And in most cases, I agree with them. (As a Beatles fan, I’ve always liked their appreciation of current-era Paul McCartney, which I think features some incredible work and isn’t quite lauded enough.) Whenever there’s a new release that I’m excited about, the first thing I do is check All Music to see what they thought. That’s a high compliment for a web site. – Dan

La Blogotheque – Is most well known for the Take Away Shows, a series of very personal, acoustic videos that are directed by Vincent Moon. The English site is only translated for that Take Away Shows, but if you happen to be well versed enough to read French, La Blogotheque’s articles are insightful and reflect the same spirit of the videos. – Roxanne

OMG Vinyl – Another vinyl blog, but this one is simultaneously a vinyl/news/reviews/deals site, and sticks the landing for each. It also touches on a lot of genres that I don’t get that much exposure to or gravitate towards, so it’s a good way to get me out of my music comfort zone. – Dan

Gorilla vs. Bear – The exponential growth in music production is just way too overwhelming sometimes, with artists cranking out a single every minute, and then other artists swooping in and remixing those singles or mashing them together with other singles.  What Gorilla vs. Bear does is handpick the good stuff from the junk pile and posts about 4 or 5 of them on a single day.  And on slow days, there will just be one post.  At last, the current amped-up music production scene is finally distilled into this tiny and minimal site so you don’t short-circuit from music overload. – Tyler

NPR Music – In my humble opinion, NPR can do no wrong and the music section of their website is no different. From up-to-date news, the First Listen segments, and Tiny Desk concerts of some of my favorite musicians, their dynamic content always makes for a good read and listen. – Roxanne

BrooklynVegan – Staying up on your favorite bands coming through the city used to mean grabbing a fresh copy of the Village Voice every Tuesday night and pouring over the music coverage ads. But for the past few years, if you keep at least one toe in the New York City live music scene, you follow BrooklynVegan.

A self-described “NYC-centric mostly-music blog,” the site focuses on music news, show listings and reviews, concert pics, MP3s and much more. In a world of cooler-than-thou music tastemakers, BV cuts through the snark with zero attitude and coverage of bands from a broad range of genres and levels of success. And because it’s still primarily run by a single person, it feels more like getting tips from the best-versed friend you could have, rather than the anonymous editors of some glossy.

A full-fledge community eco-system lives through the comment posts, where you can find everything from what time the band you’re seeing tonight took the stage last night to why Anonymous 10:17 and Anonymous 11:04 can’t stop flaming each other. Since while BV keeps its coverage on the level, when it comes to the back-and-forth of the comment boards, it can quickly devolve into third grade recess at the Coolest School in Williamsburg. And hilariously so. – Mike

The Hype Machine – A Tumblr-based music blog, which means the content is consistently being updated/re-blogged. Despite being mostly based in a hipster/independent audible aesthetic, there is not a day that goes by where I do not discover a new band or song that makes me want to buy an album. That being said, it is wonderful for supporting new and upcoming musicians to gain notoriety, however dangerous for my bank account. Venture wisely, but with enthusiasm! – Roxanne

Low Times – Just prior to this post going live, I listened to the debut episode of the Low Times podcast. The show features Tom Scharpling (host of The Best Show on WFMU), Daniel Ralston and Maggie Serota all interviewing different musicians (in this episode, they talk to Janet Weiss, Owen Ashworth and Catherine Popper, respectively) for extended periods, taking advantage of the podcast format to set their own pace, tone and length. The talks are both smart and funny, unfold naturally, and the hosts give their interview subjects room to breathe while still injecting their own personality into the show. (I particularly liked Scharpling’s question, “Was there music when you were a kid that you were not allowed to listen to? Was there anything your parents drew the line on?” because it’s something we all went through, but I’ve never heard asked to an actual musician before. And kudos to Serota for getting Popper to discuss jamming with Chevy Chase.) It’s clear that they’re real music fans, knowledgeable and curious about their favorite bands and records. I’d encourage everyone to get on board now. – Dan

Interview: Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits – Part 2

bill-hunt-the-digital-bits

In the final installment of our two-part interview with Bill Hunt, the creator of The Digital Bits discusses his site’s landmark Alien Quadrilogy feature, the future of home video, and helping two of Flightpath’s favorite films get the special edition Blu-rays they deserve.

Flightpath: I wanted to ask about the Alien Quadrilogy feature. It was really rich with information and you seemed to get a level of access that I’d never seen before. How did that come about?

Bill Hunt: The backstory on that is, the producer of that set, Charles de Lauzirika, [became] a very good friend of mine. That happened because when the very first Alien was going to be released on DVD, I talked to the people I knew at Fox, and they said, “Next year we’re going to be doing our first special edition, and it’s going to be Alien.” And I put that news in The Rumor Mill on The Bits. I got an email within a couple of hours, basically, from this fella named Charlie, who said, “Listen, you don’t know me, but I’m an assistant. I work for Ridley Scott. I saw this news and I told Ridley, and he had no idea that Fox was going to be putting his movie out. He would love to be involved. He would love to do a director’s commentary and all that kind of stuff for it. So who do I contact to make that happen?”

Flightpath: That’s amazing.

Bill Hunt: Yeah. So I put them in touch with Fox and got them all talking together, and as a result of that, Charlie got his sort of first special edition producing job. And he’s of course since done some of the greatest special editions on both Blu-ray and DVD that have ever been done – Gladiator, Blade Runner, the Alien Quadrilogy, and the Blu-ray version of that – amazing, amazing work.

When he was just getting into that, we sort of hooked up and became friends. So when that Quadrilogy project began to happen, Doogan and I were writing a book about DVD. It was called The Digital Bits: Insider’s Guide to DVD. It was something you could take to the store, find out what the good discs were, and figure out how to hook up your DVD player and that kind of thing. And I wanted to do a feature on what it takes to put a really good special edition together, because I had never really seen anything like that. To me, a good special edition producer is almost like an archaeologist for one of these catalog films, because they’re going back in boxes and they’re interviewing people who worked on these films 20 years ago. It’s this kind of really in-depth research that’s involved. So I told Charlie, “Listen, I think it would be a great topic for a whole chapter of the book.” And he thought it was a great idea, so we went to Fox and said, “Can we have permission to do this? We’ll go behind-the-scenes for the year-and-a-half or whatever it takes to document it all, but we won’t put any of it on the website until the title gets announced – we weren’t going to leak secret information – but we’ll release it in the book. And then at a specific time, when the title gets announced, we’ll do a series of stories on the website.” And they agreed. It was amazing. They signed off on it. So literally, for a year-and-a-half, for every two or three weeks or whatever, I went to commentary recording sessions, and into the Fox archives to look at all the boxes of material. It was pretty extraordinary.

For the very original DVD release, I was at one of the sessions where they were doing the hi-def transfer for the original Alien. I was there in the capacity of doing that stuff [for the book], but also as a friend of Charlie. And it was riveting – sitting in the room with Ridley Scott when he was doing commentary. Ridley would be in the booth doing his commentary, and we’d take a break, and he’d come out and have a drink or something. It would be Charlie, the recording engineer, and Ridley and I, sitting in the room and we would just start talking about the films, and it was amazing. Then he would go back in and complete the commentary. We did that for all the actors involved – Tom Skerritt and all those people – and it was really amazing.

Flightpath: Did that lead to you doing advising on bonus features or anything like that?

Bill Hunt: We do a lot of that. It’s very often not credited stuff. I did get a credit on one of the Alien box sets and a couple of other things. But a lot of it is when the producers are working on these things, and then they have a question [like], “I’ve got two options [for bonus features],” or “I’ve got this content and this content but there’s only room for so much, and I’ve got to choose one.” That kind of thing. Producers or studio people will call me and ask my opinion about things.

A similar thing happened on the Blade Runner set when Charlie was in Warner Bros. working on the first DVD release. I was kind of behind-the-scenes on some stuff there too. These executives at Warner Bros., many of whom I’d known for years at that point, said, “We just don’t know about this. We’re really putting a lot of money and resources into it, but this is a film that has never sold well on any format. We just don’t know.” I turned to them and I said, “Trust me. You’re going to sell just so many copies of this, you’re not going to have any idea.” It was one of the first DVD titles that was ever released – in a real bare bones format – and nothing had been done with it since then. It was one of those legendary cult titles, so it was just ripe for that in-depth treatment.

And then there are a couple of titles that we have actually helped get on DVD. Synapse did a release of the Leni Riefenstahl film, The Triumph of the Will, that we kind of helped happen. And then there was another film called Six Days in Roswell, which was this great comedy/documentary that a friend of mine actually had directed, and he was looking for distribution on DVD. So we put him in touch with a company and sort of helped that happen. So every now and again, we do that.

There’s things that we say on the website and that we reveal, but there’s also a lot of things we hear and learn and information we’re given that we don’t reveal. It’s not necessarily to be controlling of information, or any kind of an ego thing. It’s just that, what we’ve learned over time is that with a lot of these special edition things, if information gets leaked too early, they can actually fall apart. Sometimes when a studio is planning to do a release, they haven’t contacted the director yet, or they haven’t contacted the actors yet. They plan to, but they haven’t done it yet, because they’re preparing the gameplan and trying to pull assets together. A couple of times it’s happened where information has gotten out early, and an actor or an actor’s agent has heard about it and said, “Well, they’re obviously going to be coming to us for something, so we’re going to jack up our price.” Whole titles have been scuttled because of leaks breaking out on the Internet. So we try to be careful not to say anything until a project is well underway. It’s a really interesting balancing act.

Flightpath: There are other sites – I won’t name them – that get into the game of posting spoilers for upcoming movies. I feel like that’s something you’ve resisted, or at least when you get to advance screenings, you’ll give your impressions of the film, but you try not to be a source of spoilers. Is that a conscious decision on your part?

Bill Hunt: Yeah. Very, very much so. I’m kind of a mixed-mind about spoilers. I remember as a kid, how amazing it was to see the ending of Empire Strikes Back and have to wait three years to get the answer to that, because there was no Internet, and magazines didn’t cover it very much. So, yeah, I definitely think those things shouldn’t be spoiled. When I see a theatrical screening of something, I’ll go on the website and review it or talk about it, but I very much try and just give an impression. When I do a little synopsis of the story, what I try and do is just set up the story. I don’t go through and do a recap of the whole thing and reveal everything. I just try to give people everything they really need to know to go in, and that’s it. Give them just enough to get them intrigued or get them interested, or tell them why it’s good, why they should go check it out, and that’s it. Let them go and see it themselves. That’s something we’ve always tried to do, is not ruin it for people.

Flightpath: Where do you see the industry going from here? It seems like the streaming wars are really heating up, and at the same time, they’re still trying to push Blu-ray.

Bill Hunt: Physical media is gonna be around for another 20 years, is my feeling. But what you’re gonna see is, is it’s gonna shift in importance. There’s an inevitable trend toward all-digital – streaming, downloading, that kind of thing – and I think that’s unavoidable, and that is gonna be the future, probably. But there will always be some physical media, in terms of like, a really gorgeous box set with nice packaging and all that, that our generation is going to continue wanting to buy. Physical media will still be around. How are old are CDs? You can still go to the store and buy CDs. We still have them, we still use them. So DVD and Blu-ray, I think, are gonna be around for awhile, and you’ll still be able to buy them. But they’ll be rarer and the importance of that will change toward the digital.

One of the great things about the disc format is, you know, you put the movie on there, and then you’ve got all this extra room. The tendency with the studio is, “Okay, we’ve got all this extra room. Let’s fill it up with good stuff.” You don’t have that concern with a download. There’s really not a lot of reason or incentive to include all of the extra ancillary bonus content as part of the download, because really, most people who download just want to see the movie. They don’t care about all the rest.

The other interesting thing I see happening is, I really kind of see the whole industry contracting in the same way that the music industry has. Look, you can charge $39.99 for a physical disc, and people will buy it. A lot of them will wait for a sale, but you can charge $39.99 for a physical disc. You can charge $99 for a box set. You can’t charge that for a download. At best, you’ll get maybe 10, 15 bucks for a download – at absolute best. So what will happen is, the amount of income coming in will go down. You can say, “It will be cheaper for people,” and all that jazz, and there’s certainly good aspects to it. But one of the concerns I have is, you’ll see a lot less extras; a lot of that stuff will go away. The amount of money coming into the studios from the DVD boom, a lot of that went right back into remastering and preserving and restoring the catalog. That’s kind of changing. A lot of studios are selling their catalogs. Disney let the Miramax catalog go. The financial value of the catalog right now – in a world where DVD is fading and Blu-ray is still only a percentage of DVD – is down. So, money isn’t being put into restoring films as much. Certainly, a big classic like Citizen Kane or Ben-Hur, is going to get the money to do a restoration. But, for example, with Godfather, Steven Spielberg had to step in and help pay for the restoration of the Godfather films. Paramount wasn’t all that interested in spending the money to restore those films. They needed restoration, and Steven Spielberg said, “Listen, I’m going to put money into this, because it’s important.”

One of our guys who occasionally writes for The Bits, Robert Harris, he’s also one of the greatest film restoration guys in the business. He did the restoration on Godfather, he did the restoration on Lawrence of Arabia. A dream project of his has been to restore the original road-show version of The Alamo, the John Wayne film, which is in terrible shape right now. It’s in absolutely terrible shape, and if a restoration isn’t done fairly soon, that film might get lost. That original version. There’s just no money. He’s been trying to get that project going forever, and there’s just no money. The studio’s just not willing to spend the money, and nobody’s stepping forward with the money, and it’s just a really complicated, political thing.

So, that’s kind of my concern. There’s a lot of advantages of digital. But with everything going digital…record stores, video stores, book stores are closing. There’s a whole sort of infrastructure that’s going away.

Flightpath: It’s like an ecosystem that gets effected just from the format change.

Bill Hunt: That’s absolutely right. In some ways there are good aspects of the downloading thing. And I get the convenience – I get all that – Netflix and stuff. But at the same time, it sort of feels like the golden age of this stuff has passed. And as things go more and more to the download side, it gets a lot less interesting for people like me. What we love covering is the special editions and the features and all this stuff, and that really is going to be less important going ahead.

Flightpath: I have one last question for you, and it’s related to this. I wanted to know if you could use your powers and your influence to get a special edition made of a movie that I feel really needs its due.

Bill Hunt: Sure. I do it all the time!

Flightpath: I don’t know if it’s something we would agree on or not, but it’s the Martin Short comedy, Clifford.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] Nice!

Flightpath: It’s one of my all-time favorite movies.

Bill Hunt: This is part of what I do every day. People email me and say, “Hey, this movie should be out. It should be a special edition.” [Types on computer.] That is an MGM film. I will absolutely put in the good word with all the right people. I will tell you that the odds are really long. [Laughs] There’s a lot of titles that deserve special edition treatment.

Flightpath: Well, the other one I was going to say is Ghostbusters II. It’s also one of my favorite movies.

Bill Hunt: Oh, totally. The first Ghostbusters has been given a really good special edition, but II never was.

Flightpath: They kind of ignore it. It’s not even out on Blu-ray.

Bill Hunt: I think there’s a possibility of that. Clifford‘s a long shot. [Laughs] Ghostbusters II is more likely. But I will put in the good word.

Interview: Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits – Part 1

bill-hunt-the-digital-bits

For years, The Digital Bits has been a leading source of home video news, thoughtful reviews and industry discussion, developing a huge following among cinephiles and casual movie fans alike. From the beginning, it has been a champion of film restoration and presenting films with the best picture and sound possible; it helped establish the language of what constitutes quality bonus features; and it has an uncanny ability to offer smart film and disc critiques while addressing the technical aspects of DVDs and Blu-rays in an easy-to-understand manner. Today, its review archive is a treasure trove of insights and information on film and home video releases. In part one of our interview with Bill Hunt, creator of The Digital Bits, we discuss why he launched the site, the events that helped it make gains in popularity, and his new role as Star Wars therapist.

Flightpath: Can you talk a little bit about your life prior to The Digital Bits, and what led you to start the site?

Bill Hunt: Well, I’m originally from North Dakota, and I studied film at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. And right out of that, rather than getting into film, I actually got into video production. Did a lot of corporate stuff. I lived in Minneapolis for awhile after college and did a lot of directing and editing of corporate videos – training things, that sort of stuff. And that actually brought me out to California. In kind of a sideways way, I was doing video out here, and once I was out here I thought that maybe I’d establish some contacts in the film industry, and maybe see if I can’t put my foot in those waters and get involved there.

The interesting thing is that I actually became friends with a lot of people who worked at the studios. I’ve always been really interested in the technology of home video – video technology, film technology – and so when DVD was being developed, I had a lot of contacts at the studios, and so I was following it really closely and I was learning a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes things about the technology. At the time, like many film enthusiasts, I was a big LaserDisc fan. I kind of thought, for quite awhile, that a movie disc format with discs the same size as a CD would probably be a huge hit if it happened. That wasn’t necessarily the prevailing wisdom in Hollywood. There were a lot of people, very early on, who didn’t think that was going to be the case – people that I talked to at the studios.

But when it became clear that DVD was happening, they were developing a format, I started writing about it. I was using EarthLink at the time and I had a free homepage.

Flightpath: And what year was this?

Bill Hunt: This was ’97. Real, real early. When I would talk to these folks at the studios, I would put on this EarthLink site the interesting information I’d heard from them – what discs were being planned, what the technology was all about, what studios were going to be supporting the format. That sort of thing. It initially started as like, an email newsletter that I sent to a few friends, and then I moved that to the EarthLink site. But then within a month, EarthLink called me up and said, “You’re getting way too much traffic. You need to do this as a business.” Because what was happening was, there was really nobody covering DVD. Even Variety and Hollywood Reporter weren’t covering it. Video enthusiasts – Videographer and magazines like that – were sort of talking about it a little bit. But really, there was nobody who was diving into it, especially online. It was a time when there were very few websites devoted to this stuff.

So what was happening was, I was posting this information online, and all the Hollywood people who worked at the studios and the movie directors whose movies were potentially being considered for DVD, and just the whole Hollywood community, jumped on board, and just the whole enthusiast community jumped on board, and traffic just went crazy. So, within a month I bought a domain name and started doing The Digital Bits. I ended up quitting my job doing video production, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Flightpath: Where’d you get the name from?

Bill Hunt: You know, it’s interesting. I was trying to come up with something that wouldn’t be obvious, which is both good and bad, because obviously on the Internet, if you want to read DVD news or Blu-ray news, you search “DVD” or “Blu-ray.” But my thinking was that everything was going digital. All these things were moving from analog to digital, so digital had to be in the name. And “bits” just seemed like bits of news, bits of information, and it tied into the actual binary bits of digital information. And it all just kinda worked, and it’s good because a lot of other DVD websites have come and gone or had to rebrand themselves later. And we are still plugging away.

Flightpath: What were some of the tougher learning curves in launching the site yourself and developing it? Because as you said, there just wasn’t much around at that time.

Bill Hunt: Yeah, there really wasn’t. Just learning how to build a website – and this was of course, ’97, which was very, very early, so it was very early HTML – that was definitely a learning curve. And it’s still a learning curve, because after I got it up and running, it took off so quickly that I’ve never had a chance to go back and redesign. So I’m actually, right now, doing a redesign that will take The Bits from sort of the original HTML model into blog, database-driven content. Yeah, so I’m just now doing that. And the reason is because, in addition to being the web guy, I was the reporter; I was the main contact with all the studios. So there just was never enough time, and that’s what I’m doing now.

Flightpath: I was going to ask about that. That’s one thing I always kind of liked about The Digital Bits. I feel like I’ve been visiting it as long as I’ve been interested in DVDs and movies, but you know, it’s always kind of felt the same. I’m not saying this to discourage you, but I’ve always liked that you seemed to resist the sometimes knee-jerk reaction of websites to redesign every year.

Bill Hunt: Yeah. It was both purposeful and not. One of the reasons it’s taken so long to work on a redesign, is because one of the things I hate about a lot of websites these days is that the blog format tends to really McNugget everything. I used to read the old music magazines – Crawdaddy and those kind of magazines, and the LaserDisc Newsletter, and some of those things – and one of the things I liked is that you’d get one long column in which the person would go from one topic to another, and kind of tie them together, and give you a little context. And so you’d get lots of news, but you’d also get some background information, and you kind of would see how it all fits together. You also got some personality, because there was room to add a little personality to it. That’s kind of always the way I wanted to write and the way I’ve always done The Bits. The problem is, when you go to the blog-driven format, the tendency is for every single piece of news to become a news McNugget. And so you get like 20 posts a day versus one or two good, long, substantial ones. The struggle has been to try and figure out how to adapt to the blog format without losing that personality. You know, everyone is trying to drive up hits and drive up content, and the more posts you do, the more hits you get. So there’s that theory. But my feeling is that, the people who like The Bits and who have stuck with us over the years, like The Bits for what we don’t do as much as for what we do. [Laughs] It’s like you say, there’s personality and we don’t do the McNuggeting. I have no desire to take a press release that I get from a studio about a Blu-ray release and just copy and paste it, and upload it and call that a post. Anybody can do that; it’s just not very interesting.

Flightpath: The problem with shorter content is that you can’t inject as much personality, or really, thought, into something.

Bill Hunt: I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, the news is everywhere. There are a hundred websites that are posting this kind of news. But what people tend to come to us for is perspective, so that’s what we try to bring to it.

So that’s been a challenge. And then I would say that the other challenge has been sort of the business side. Trying to figure out how to dive into the advertising model, and selling advertising and dealing with the other side of the studio – the ad buyers and the media people. One of the most challenging aspects of that has been that in the film industry, at the studios, there’s just a gigantic revolving door. So people go from one of the PR agencies to one of the studios, and then they go back to another studio, and then they go back to a PR agency. So it’s this constant churn of different people you’re dealing with.

Flightpath: Are you doing all of it? Those are very different hats to wear: creative and business.

Bill Hunt: I do a little of each of it. My wife, Sarah, does a lot of the business-end now. I really tend to focus on content and looking behind-the-scenes in the industry, maintaining those contacts, and doing reporting on those issues. We have columnists. For example, Barrie Maxwell, who does our classics column, reviews all the different formats but from a classic film perspective. Adam Jahnke does a lot of our more eclectic, more offbeat things. There’s also Tim Salmons, Todd Doogan, Jeff Kleist, Mark Altman and a few others who cover different things. And another good friend of mine, Matt Rowe, started a site called MusicTAP. So we partner with him on music content. We try and spread things around. But my whole day is spent answering emails, answering inquiries, talking to people in the studios, talking to DVD producers and special edition producers. That really is, I would say, the lion’s share of my day. And that’s hours, some days.

Flightpath: The Digital Bits launched way prior to things like Facebook, Google+ and social media. What did you do to try and spread the word?

Bill Hunt: The answer is we did almost nothing. The real advantage was that we were doing this before anyone else was really doing it, so there were very few other places to go. There were a few other good websites: DVDFile happened around the same time, plus DVD Review, Home Theater Forum. And Steve Tannehill’s DVD Resource Page was doing its thing. There were a handful that started around that time, but we were fortunate to be among the first. So everybody in that group, in that interest field, knew who we were, and it kind of spread via word of mouth within the industry and within the enthusiast community. And then certainly that was helped by the fact that we were right in the thick of the original format war, which was DVD versus DivX.

Flightpath: Yes! I still don’t understand DivX.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] It was so ridiculous. We actually broke the news of DivX. We were the first publication, in print or anywhere, to reveal that Disney and Fox, for example, were going to adopt this format called DivX, which was sort of a pay-per-view flavor of DVD. And then we actually contacted DivX, and within a couple of weeks, we actually went to DivX and did a really substantial feature on the technology. We gave it a very fair shake, originally, and reported all the details of what it was and how it was intended to work and what it meant. After that, we sort of did a separate thing and said, “Well, here’s what we think about it.” And it really just kind of took off from there.

Flightpath: Related to that, was there a specific review or a feature that you ran, which really turned the corner for the website?

Bill Hunt: I would definitely say the DivX thing did, because that format war supercharged interest. Interest was really picking up, in terms of DVD, at the time. That topic just absolutely went everywhere. It was all over mainstream media. Attention coming to DVD was really [borne] out of that controversy about this format war. So I would say that.

And then also, when the Star Wars special editions came back to theaters, which I think was ’97, there was talk that those were the obvious movies to bring to DVD. Those are the movies that everybody would want. And I think it was in 2000 when The Phantom Menace came out, there was this controversy – it came out on VHS, it came out on LaserDisc, but it wasn’t on DVD. It was a huge thing. It’s like, [George] Lucas is very progressive about technology, and these are obvious films to bring out. And so we, along with several other websites, did this whole Star Wars-on-DVD campaign. And Lucasfilm took notice, and they basically said, “We’re gonna do it.” And a year later they put out Episode I on DVD. So we were covering that, and that also was a big landmark event for the site.

But I guess – probably the biggest thing that’s really helped The Bits grow over the years is that we’ve just assembled a really great group of columnists. I mentioned some of them earlier and there have been others as well that made key contributions and moved on. But for example, Todd Doogan coming on board and bringing his experience as a laserdisc reviewer and his time at TNT’s Roughcut – that was a big deal. Adam Jahnke – who started as a writer for Troma – brings a really refreshing and unique expertise and writing style to the site in his Bottom Shelf and Jahnke’s Electric Theatre columns. And Barrie’s passion and knowledge of classic films is as strong and deep as anyone I know. Each of our writers comes from a different place and a different perspective, but we’re all of very similar mind in terms of our love of this stuff and what we’re trying to accomplish. These guys are a big part of The Bits’ success and popularity. Even more importantly for me though, is that they’ve all become really great friends. Hell, they’re like family at this point. So I guess that’s really the thing I’ve gained and appreciate most from The Bits over the years – the friendships with them and others in the industry.

Flightpath: You mentioned Star Wars…it’s funny, because I’m a Star Wars nerd. And I feel like, reading your review of the Blu-rays and all the Star Wars releases where Lucas makes changes to the films, you almost have to act as a therapist for Star Wars fans.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] It’s really true. It is true. And the funny thing about that is, I’ve said a couple of times, even in my reviews, is that I’m the same way. I grew up with those films; they had a huge impact on my life. It’s taken me years to learn how to sort of separate my practical, just common sense perspective, from the feelings I have connected to Star Wars. But having done that, having been able to do that, now I find that a lot of other people still aren’t able to do that. [Laughs] So in my review, I just try and say, “There’s good and bad here, but it’s not the end of the world. This isn’t rocket science, it’s not brain surgery. The films look good.” There is an aspect of that.

The other interesting thing about this website – tied to both format wars, tied to Star Wars, tied to you name it – is that I get hundreds of emails a day from people. Just readers who have questions or who want help. One of the things I tried to do very early on was to keep The Bits very focused at sort of a mass audience. Widescreen Review is a great publication, but you have to be a real expert and enthusiast to really appreciate all the detail it’s going into. My goal was to always say, “Okay, I want to do two things. I want to expose people who are new to DVD or Blu-ray to the technology, and explain it to them in a way that they can understand, and help them to appreciate it, to get the most enjoyment out of it. And then on other side of the coin, I want to expose people to a lot of films that they maybe haven’t seen before.” One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was in college, as a film major. Growing up in North Dakota, I didn’t have a chance to see a lot of foreign films, or independent films, or art house films. And suddenly, I was a projectionist for the film department, and I was watching [Akira] Kurosawa and Sergio Leone and [Federico] Fellini. That was just an amazing time for me – discovering all these great movies from around the world. So, what I was trying to do, was sort of bring my love of those things to people who may never have seen a [Stanley] Kubrick film or a Fellini film, and say, “You know, you might really be interested in this, and here’s why.”

We didn’t want to talk to the in-crowd, necessarily. We wanted to talk to everybody. We wanted to get everybody into the fold and let everybody share in the fun. Because of that though, we’ve developed a readership where, whenever they have a question or an issue, they start emailing. [Laughs] So, you know, half my morning is spent just going through emails and trying to answer as many as I can.

Flightpath: With great power comes great responsibility.

Bill Hunt: [Laughs] I guess so. I guess so. And the other fun thing about the site is, the longer we’ve been doing it, people just sort of feel like they know you. It feels like a family, to a degree. People have no problem emailing and talking about stuff, I think, because we do put a little bit of our personality into the site. They feel like they know who we are.

Be sure to come back later this week for part 2 of our interview with Bill Hunt!

Blogs and Podcasts: Writing and Promotion Tips

blog-writing-tips

Upon reading a recent Search Engine Land post regarding blogs and why so many fail, I felt it was time to take a quick stock of how the blog – and by extension, its audio-form cousin, the podcast – landscapes have changed, and what factors impact their success.

Part of the reason blogs and podcasts (which is now a market that’s just as saturated) fail is because the creation of the content is only part of the work. It’s the same as any business – you have to use your network, call in favors, and post ads (in this case, links) in order to actively promote it. I have asked friends for retweets, and have had friends ask their friends for retweets. I don’t do it for every post of course; but if you have something exciting that you believe in, then self-promote. No one else will do it for you. And don’t just use Twitter and Facebook – reach out to fan sites, other blogs, message boards and directories. This isn’t to say you should spam your link, but there’s nothing wrong with a friendly, “I thought you might be interested in this” email or post. Over time, people will become fans and revisit.

Relying on search to drive blog (or podcast) popularity is antiquated. Don’t misunderstand – writing SEO friendly titles, URLs, and using the right keywords help, especially for long-tail visits. But you need to be pretty active to make one of these things a success – as detailed above – unless you happen to be one of the few entrants in a space, and then people may find you. There’s a surprisingly small number of, for example, New York Rangers-themed podcasts. My guess is that I could start one tomorrow and build up a sizable audience after a few months. But that’s not all.

Scheduling is extremely important in a blog or podcast’s identity. If you start out as a blog with daily updates, and then fall off that schedule, whatever readers you have will most likely abandon your site for something else. Maintaining a constant presence is of utmost importance if that’s the identity you want your blog to have. If you write weekly, high-impact insights, that’s fine. But pick a schedule and stick with it. The same goes for podcasts – as soon as you miss a show, you’re giving your audience a reason to find a more reliable program. This may seem like simple, obvious advice, but failing to adhere to an established schedule is one of the biggest reasons why blogs fail or never achieve their potential.

It really always comes down to content. If you put in the work and come up with content that no one else has, people will visit even if you have to bring the link to them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, really. If I started a Rangers podcast, I could sit in my living room and record me and some friends talking about the last game. That might get me a following. But what about if I reached out to the Rangers and got Derek Stepan as a guest? Or tried to get a press badge for not just games, but other NHL events? Or went to an away game and interviewed fans of the opposing team? It would make for content no other podcast has. The same is true for blogs.

You have to assume that someone is writing a blog similar to yours, and he or she is just as good a writer. If that’s the case, you need a differentiating factor – something you do on your blog that they don’t. Maybe it’s interviews, maybe it’s something else. Think of something you look forward to most in a magazine, and try and make that happen on your own blog.

Ultimately, you’ll get out what you put in. And that goes for quality content, and then getting out there and pushing it.

Interview: Mike Nelson of RiffTrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000

mike-nelson

Mike Nelson is a hero to those who love (or love to hate) bad movies. Having served as head writer and host of the classic TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, Nelson played a large role in elevating movie riffing into a new form of comedy. After the show ceased production in 1999, he kept the flame alive with various projects, but most significantly with the 2006 launch of RiffTrax. An innovative site where users download audio commentaries and sync them with DVDs and Blu-rays, RiffTrax – which features Nelson and fellow MST3K stars Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett – lampoons everything from Michael Bay’s Transformers to classics like Casablanca to oddities like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. RiffTrax has also produced a series of successful live shows that are simulcast to movie theaters nationwide, with the latest installment set for August 17: a riffing of the low-grade 1962 fantasy adventure, Jack the Giant Killer. We recently spoke with Nelson about taking a chance on Twilight, sending the Tweet that may have started an Internet forest fire, and blowing up a cheese factory.

Flightpath: I know that after MST3K, you started doing some commentaries for Legend Films on DVD releases like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Little Shop of Horrors, and that led to RiffTrax. But when did the idea of “let’s record commentaries on MP3s and have users sync them with their DVDs” actually hatch?

Mike Nelson: It was actually quite awhile ago. I think probably the first time we ever did some specials for MST, we got to use modern movies because we were just taking bits of the EPK and using that. People were like, “Why aren’t you guys doing this,” which is fairly obvious, why we weren’t. We were thinking in the old days about bundling DVDs with the commentary, kind of before MP3s really took over. So it had been brewing for awhile.

Flightpath: I find that part of the charm of RiffTrax is the syncing. It gives it kind of an underground feel and adds to the experience.

Mike Nelson: You know, we sort of tentatively launched it. We knew that there was at least some demand, because I would get emails. A lot of people saying, “Why aren’t you doing this? This idea is so obvious, you should do this!” And so I knew that there were at least some people who were interested in it, but people say a lot of things. We get suggestions for movies, and people are like, “This would be killer, we would love this,” and then nobody buys it because it’s just a little too off the beaten path. So this seems like it could’ve taken that route, but like you say, there’s a savviness to people who like to be early adopters, and there’s something fun about it.

Flightpath: With RiffTrax, you can do anything because you’re only offering the audio files. Was that really freeing for you compared to MST3K, where your scope was more limited?

Mike Nelson: Yeah, and time limits [on MST3K] were kind of frustrating. Not always, because sometimes you could edit a film and make it actually better than the filmmakers did [Laughs], so you could leave out all the dull parts. But a little bit restricting when you were cutting a lot of stuff that was funny. And that was frustrating for us because we’d write the movie first before we’d edit it, because we just didn’t know how much time we could have. And you’d have to cut a favorite passage because if you didn’t include another part that you needed for the plot…it just presented a lot of complications. So to just be able to do the movie, is sort of freeing.

Flightpath: I wanted to know if I could go through a few RiffTrax with you, and you could give your thoughts on the movie itself and how you attacked it.

Mike Nelson: Sure.

Flightpath: Okay, Birdemic?

Mike Nelson: [Laughs] Well, it’s one of those things we’ve been talking about a lot lately, because a couple of people have emailed and said, “Why did you make me sit through that?” And I think they meant it sincerely. [Laughs] A lot of times people are kidding. It’s one of those things where it’s like, it’s totally indefensible that I like it, because generally, despite what I do for a living, I like to champion good things. But there’s this fun side that’s undeniable, and sometimes things that are totally inexplicable make you laugh. And again, this is one of those where I find it absolutely delightful. And yet if you go, “That is the worst thing. Banish it to the deepest pits of Hell,” I’d be hard pressed to disagree with you.

Flightpath: Twilight?

Mike Nelson: Twilight was very risky for us. In fact, I had a bet with the CEO of Legend, who we partner with. He said, “No, it’s a girl movie. It’s not our audience at all. It’s a bad idea and it’s a risk.” So I bet him a sushi lunch that it would be a success. And it was one of our biggest ones, and it was really, really fun once we weighed it in, because obviously none of the people who work at Legend would be watching these movies or know anything about them. So screening it was a delight, because we were like, “Wow, this is the movie we’ve been waiting for.” [Laughs]

Flightpath: I just felt that with its long dramatic pauses and how serious it took itself, it was perfect for you guys.

Mike Nelson: Yeah, we always are laying out the criteria. We say it has to be sincere, and you know, the pauses – that’s just sort of a technical thing, you have to have room to say something – and it has to have goofy elements. And, boy oh boy, does it excel at all of those things.

Flightpath: The Room?

Mike Nelson: That was also a risky one. We had heard the rumblings about this being the “new B-movie.” There’s something about these really bad movies that you have to know the story going in. You have to know, is this sincere? Is this a put-on? Because how do you relax and enjoy how bad it is when you’re sitting there going, “What is this? Who made this?” And that was my concern about it, that it was just too weird. But then like, two viewings of it convinced me. Once you sort of see the disjointed logic and everything, and you get the story of it, it really helps, and that made it enjoyable. And it was successful for us. But again, another movie like Birdemic, that stands on its own, but we think is enhanced by us.

Flightpath: And you met [The Room director and star] Tommy Wiseau?

Mike Nelson: I didn’t meet him face-to-face. We had several discussions with him; he was concerned about our RiffTrax, and he called us up. I think he really thought that we were stealing his movie or something. I don’t think he fully understood what we were saying, that it was just a commentary to it. But he – for a long time – tried to talk us into settling a lawsuit that he was going to bring, and I think we just couldn’t get through to him.

But then after that, coincidentally, he was at Comic-Con, and my son who had seen The Room went and waited in line for him and got pictures with him and with [Greg Sestero, who plays Mark in The Room], and he mentioned who he was. And again, Wiseau seemed confused, but [Greg] was like, “Oh yeah, I heard about this. I heard it’s really funny!” And he’s since admitted that he loves it. So at least somebody knows and understands the spirit of it and thinks it’s funny.

Flightpath: The Internet has evolved into a real destination for comedy, from Funny or Die to College Humor to RiffTrax. Why do you think that is?

Mike Nelson: I think [it’s] immediate access to things that you really like without the filter. You can pick or choose what or when or where. Now that that’s becoming just totally ingrained, I just don’t see that changing. I don’t see the tides of that changing, especially with Hulu and all of that. It just makes no sense. The gatekeepers, I think they’re in trouble as far as that goes, because you can make something and give it directly to the people who want to have it for exactly the kind of arrangements you want to make on it.

I love it. I mean, obviously RiffTrax couldn’t be possible without that, and just connecting on that level and reacting to what people want to see very quickly, I think makes it exciting.

Flightpath: Kind of an extension of that is Twitter, which has drawn a lot of comedy writers and comedians, and you got on board pretty early. What do you think of Twitter?

Mike Nelson: I like it. My use for it is fairly limited. People like me to crack wise about stuff, and that’s pretty much what I use it for: mostly jokes, a few advertisements about what we’re doing – which I never feel bad about, because I’m talking to the very audience who presumably likes what I have. I just try to make it a nice balance of very light stuff and things of interest, pointing things out to people and jokes, and then a few bulletins about what we’ve got going on. It works for me, and then all the people that I think are funny or want to pay attention to, I do the same. It’s perfect.

I know from the outside, when I first was looking into Twitter, I just didn’t understand. “Why? Who would do this?” You have to maybe spend a couple of hours actually doing Twitter and reading what’s going on, and then you get it. “Oh, okay, I understand how these little bulletins work.”

Flightpath: I’d imagine it’s also kind of a good comedy workout, in that you have 140 characters to say what’s in your head perfectly and funny.

Mike Nelson: Yeah. It’s very similar to what we do with RiffTrax, because you get this setup and you get this amount of space to say it in. So we’ve been well-practiced at that. I did a book once [in the Pop Ink series with the Charles S. Anderson Design Company]; it was graphics mostly, but they wanted commentary on it. When I collaborated with them, they would send me the pages back and say, “You need to trim three letters from this.” [Laughs] You know, it became so unbelievably technical. But I had been trained for like, “Okay, make it three letters shorter. How do you reword it to make it fit?” I kind of like the challenge of that.

Flightpath: Did you send the Tweet that basically created Rebecca Black? Is that true?

Mike Nelson: I have been credited for that. We were watching that over the weekend that that happened, and it did sort of fan out from my Tweet about it. Usually just by sheer scale on Twitter, when you post something and you get the replies, you’re kind of like, “Okay, I got 30 or 40 or whatever, that’s fairly decent,” – direct replies or ReTweets or whatever – and this one was just like, insane. Just so many people responding, and it just went on and on. I happened to be traveling that weekend, so I was sort of paying half an eye to it. But another writer here, Conor Lastowka, was Tweeting me, “Uh, we’re up to however many million, and it’s climbing.” So that was kind of fun to watch. It did seem to fan out from there. And obviously you never know for sure. It’s like the forest fire thing. It’s really hard to know what was the thing that started it all.

Flightpath: How do you compare writing for RiffTrax, which is released quickly and online – people can get it instantly – with writing for other mediums you’ve worked in, like TV and print?

Mike Nelson: I just consider the writing of RiffTrax a hard slog at times, because you’re concentrating so much that the amount of time that it takes would probably surprise people, and probably be pretty daunting to most writers. But once you get the efficiencies of it, and you understand what you’re doing – and obviously we’ve done this a lot – there’s something very nice about relaxing into that. It’s like, some people just like doing manual labor to think. This is kind of the opposite. It gets you away from all of the other writing. You know, writing is hard, and I always try to avoid it. Even though I do it for a living, and I’m constantly writing.

When I hear people say, “Oh, when I just have some downtime, I just love to do some writing,” I’m like, “Really? Are you insane? It’s really, really hard!” But there is an element of relaxation to doing it for RiffTrax, where you know what you have ahead of you and it looks like a lot of work. It’s kind of like when I was a kid, I used to like when my dad would to tell me to move a big stack of wood. It was just like, “Well, you know, you just have to do it.” And there’s something about that, of just having this large task ahead of you, and just putting your head down and doing it.

Flightpath: RiffTrax is going back to movie theaters with a new live event. What can you tell us about the movie that you’re going to be riffing and the live experience?

Mike Nelson: Live is always exciting for us, because rarely do we get the immediate feedback. Like I said, you’re sitting in a room doing the slog of writing, and then when we get together amongst ourselves it’s always fun to sort of refine the script. That’s got a writing room feel to it. But you’re still not interacting with an audience, and so that’s always a blast, and the feeling of the infectiousness of laughs is just good for the soul.

The movie that we have is sort of a lift for us, because in the past we were sort of limited to public domain movies, and we’ve worked a lot of the best ones. Titles that could be recognized by an audience and get people excited, we’ve already done. And so this being a brand new one is pretty exciting for us. It’s Jack the Giant Killer, which is kind of a Sinbad adventure-style movie, with stop-animation giants, and wizards and witches and leprechauns in jars, and stuff like that. So it’s pretty perfect for us. It’s not quite an A-level version of that movie; it’s definitely in the B camp.

Flightpath: I have one last question. This is one thing I’ve always wondered. How close was the actual young Mike Nelson in real life compared to the one seen in the MST3K episode Time Chasers, who had hockey hair, temped in a cheese factory, and was in a band called Sex Factory?

Mike Nelson: [Laughs] It wasn’t very close. The cheese factory simulation was spot on, but I was basically playing guys that I had worked with at the cheese factory. I was the odd man out there and looked on as kind of strange, but yeah, through college I worked nights at a cheese factory. It was like 12 to 14 hour days, and I just did it because it was a job that was close. About a couple of years into it I realized that everyone I was working with had been making like five times as much as me, because it was the most hated job in the world and no one would do it. I was like, making minimum wage, putting in 14 hours a night. Stories of the cheese factory never ended in the writing room, and finally the guys were like, “Can we just do an episode about this?”

Flightpath: Well, I’m glad you got out.

Mike Nelson: [Laughs] I did, I did. My fantasy was that I’d make it big in Hollywood, and I would buy the cheese factory, I’d pay off all the workers, have a huge party, and we’d blow up the factory. That’s every guy’s dream when you have a bad job.

Interview: Professor John Carey of Fordham University on 3D Technology, From Photography to YouTube – Part 2

Professor-John-Carey-of-Fordham-University

In the final installment of our two-part interview on the history and future of 3D with John Carey, Professor of Communications and Media Management at Fordham University, the co-author (with Martin Elton) of When Media Are New discusses YouTube’s foray into 3D, the hurdles still facing the technology, and what will succeed it.

Flightpath: It seems to me that Avatar fueled the new 3D craze, including the push for 3D TVs. Was that the case, or were the TVs in the pipeline, and then Avatar just happened to be this huge success?

John Carey: I think the TVs were in the pipeline, and Avatar helped. Now, having said that, 3D TVs did not do well last year. As I understand it, they are not doing that well this year. Now, there are lots of reasons for that. You have the problem of multiple standards, which you had in the early days of HD also. In other words, there are three or four 3D standards, different types of glasses, and when people see that, they tend to say, “I might bet on the wrong horse here, and I’m gonna wind up with the wrong 3D, and no one’s going to produce [content] for this.” So that’s an issue. There’s also the cost of the glasses, which is a big issue. There’s active and passive 3D. The passive glasses can be as cheap as the ones you had in the old days for the movies, and essentially they don’t cost anything. And the active ones are like $150.

Once again, I’ll do a comparison with HD. How did HD get known by people? Often, it was some big television event like the Super Bowl, and you invited 15 people over, and they saw your HD television set and they said, “This is fabulous, I’ve got to get one.” If you did that with 3D, you’d have to have 15 sets of glasses. Well, that’s $1500. That’s a big problem.

Flightpath: If you have 15 people in a room, can you all be looking at it from different angles? Or do you have to be directly in front of the TV?

John Carey: That’s another issue. Once again, it varies with the standard. With some standards, you have a fairly wide viewing area, with other standards you have to be pretty much directly in front. So if you had 15 people in a room, yeah, that would be a problem.

Wearing the glasses for a long period of time is an issue. If you think about it, these active glasses, they’re somewhat heavy. Think about people who are doing something else while they’re watching television; they’re reading the newspaper, many of them will have their computer open. So you’re gonna have the problem of, essentially, looking at the screen and then looking down and having to take off your glasses. That’s a significant issue.

The other thing that’s a challenge to 3D TV is that 3D without glasses is coming along. You already have it with one of the new videogame systems.

Flightpath: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about the Nintendo 3DS. They were able to introduce glasses-free 3D to the mass market.

John Carey: It’s called auto-stereoscopic, and it works. There are two issues. You have to be looking directly at it, but since it’s typically one person using the videogame [system], that’s okay. It also is, at the moment, outrageously expensive for anything but a very small screen. So if you have a [portable] game [system], and it’s five inches by five inches, that’s okay. If you tried to make a TV set that was, say, 40 inches, it would cost several thousand dollars. Having said that, like all electronic technologies, the price will come down. The estimates I’ve seen are that auto-stereoscopic 3D will probably be feasible for regular television sets in five to seven years. In that sense, 3D with glasses has a [small] window of opportunity.

And then, coming behind that, will be holographic television. The Japanese have the 2020 Summer Olympics and they say they will be broadcasting that or cablecasting it in holographic television. Other people say that’s too ambitious. Now, holographic television exists. It’s used a little bit in medical imaging, but a set right now would cost about $40,000-$50,000, so that’s not feasible. And it’s roughly 10-15 years away.

So these are all the things that are coming down the line, and the current generation of 3D has to kind of find its place before these other things take over.

Flightpath: Do you think that without the use of glasses, 3D will be the success people wanted it to be in the ’50s, or will it always play second fiddle to 2D?

John Carey: I think it will ultimately be successful. But I think what is gonna happen is that it will not be like HD, where let’s say, 75% of programs [are available in HD], and it will eventually be 100%. 3D, I think, will never be 100%, and there are a few reasons for that. One is that, with 3D with glasses, if you watch it for a long period of time, like five or six hours, almost everybody gets a headache. So what that means is, unlike HD, where your goal would be that you’d get an HD set and then everything would be in HD, with 3D, the goal would be you’d get a 3D set, and then maybe one of two hours a night, you would watch shows that lend themselves the most to 3D and then the rest would be in 2D. It’s likely [that] sports will be big-time 3D, and then in terms of other genres, I’m not quite sure which will be successful. And it also may be that over time, production techniques will change to take advantage of 3D. That’s happened with HD. If you look at production over the last 10 years, HD lends itself more to bright colors and pastels. It lends itself to moving shots, like from a helicopter, so you see more of that in production. It doesn’t lend itself so well to dark scenes. So like, Law & Order really doesn’t look particularly good in HD. A different set of issues will come and play out in 3D, as we learn what works in 3D.

Flightpath: A key to early television adoption was having TVs in bars, and the same was true for HDTVs. Do you think that will be a key for 3D TV?

John Carey: It’s absolutely a key thing. The story about early television in the late ’40s and bars, that’s absolutely right. With HD, they actually did a fairly poor job early on. If you went into an electronics store in say, 2000, or 1999 when they were first introduced, they had HD sets but they weren’t hooked up to an HD service. They were hooked up to regular analog television, and people looked at it and they said, “What’s the big deal? This doesn’t look particularly good at all.” And they actually missed the boat. What they really should have done is subsidized them and put them in sports bars. And they did eventually do that, but it wasn’t until around 2004 or 2005, that when you went into an electronics store, it was hooked up to real HD and bars were getting it. And that’s, by the way, when HD started to take off.

Now, with 3D, you have the same issue. Right now, I think they’ve done a really poor job of marketing it. The World Cup, some of that was in 3D. There were some tennis tournaments in 3D. There were very, very few demonstrations of it. It’s been a little bit better in Europe. The U.S. hasn’t really had much at all.

The issue is, people have to see 3D if they’re going to eventually buy it. So you’ve got to have some content, and you’ve got to have a place where you can see it. Now, some electronics stores are exhibiting it, but not all of them, and certainly not enough. The obvious place to do it would once again be sports bars. In a sports bar, let’s say it’s a big football game, you could have one set that is [showing] the game in 3D, and then two or three other sets with the game in 2D. So everybody can see it, and those who buy or rent the glasses [from the bar], they can experience [3D].

There was an interesting thing I saw, a photograph of what Sony is doing in Japan. In Tokyo, on sidewalks, they have a big panel, and in the panel there are cutouts. The glasses are built into the cutout. So you can walk up, see a sample of 3D, and not walk away with the glasses. And it doesn’t have to be manned or anything like that.

One way or the other, they’ve got to deal with that issue of demoing it for the public. And they have not done a good job so far.

If I were betting, I would bet that 3D TV with glasses will be a failure. But what will happen is, as before, it will sort of fade. And then, when auto-stereoscopic 3D without the glasses comes in in five or six years, by that point there will be enough content that will have been produced, the problem of the glasses will have gone away, and I think at that point it will find a market.

Flightpath: What about 3D making its way over to computing? YouTube just launched its 3D channel. Do you see that as being anything more than a gimmick or a way to get in the 3D game, or will it play a role in the future of experiencing content on the computer?

John Carey: I think, in the computer world, the biggest early opportunity is videogames. There are some videogames in 3D, and if you think about the type of person who might wear glasses for three or four hours, and would put up with all kinds of things in order to have the most super experience, it would be the gamer. So that’s certainly where I would start.

The YouTube 3D [channel], at the moment, I’m not going to say [it’s a] gimmick. It’s a novelty. They have to get content. They’re trying to encourage people to shoot 3D and put it on the YouTube channel. It will be a novelty. What will be interesting is, will people, especially the amateurs, come up with something that’s totally new? In my mind, when I hear about something like that, I don’t say yes, I don’t say no. I say, “Let me take a look at it. Let’s see where it goes.”

Interview: Professor John Carey of Fordham University on 3D Technology, From Photography to YouTube – Part 1

Professor-John-Carey-of-Fordham-University

3D technology is seemingly everywhere. Blockbuster movies are now routinely released in 3D, 3D television sets are for sale at every Best Buy, and the Nintendo 3DS has introduced glasses-free 3D to video games and the mainstream market. Recently, YouTube launched its own 3D channel, bringing user-generated 3D into the cultural and creative mix. While 3D has come and gone over the years, it has proven to be a resilient technology, and has never been more omnipresent.

To get a better understanding of 3D, from its history to where it’s going, we recently spoke with John Carey, Professor of Communications and Media Management at Fordham University. Carey, co-author (with Martin Elton) of When Media Are New, has researched new media development and adoption for over 25 years, and has conducted studies on everything from consumer use of mobile video technologies to the impact of HDTV on viewing behavior for clients such as A&E Television Networks, Cablevision, NBC Universal and more.

In part 1 of our two-part interview, Carey explains the origins of 3D, its failure at being adopted on a mass scale, and the role that sports and other content may play in the future success of 3D TV.

Flightpath: Let’s start at the beginning. Can you talk a little bit about the first time 3D was introduced? I have an image of those kind of cheesy black and white photos from the ’50s, of a packed movie theater where everyone is wearing 3D glasses, as representing early 3D. I think a lot of people have that image. Is that really how 3D began?

John Carey: It actually begins a lot earlier than that. If you just take the general notion of three-dimensional images, it traces back to the 1840s. The very first attempts to do photography, they were trying to do 3D. And the reason is kind of obvious. If you think about photography, and then you say, well, “How do people see?” People have two eyes, and two eyes allows for depth. So they were trying to figure out a way that they could get depth in photographs. And it actually existed by the late 1850s. There were these stereoscopes that allowed you to see 3D. All through the late 19th century there was some 3D photography, and then it actually became quite popular by the late 1890s. So from say, the late 1890s to around 1920, stereo photographs were very common. They ultimately lost out in terms of real popularity to the simplicity of a photograph on a piece of paper that you could hand to someone, because the stereo photos all required that you use a special viewer.

Flightpath: It sounds like they were viewing the photos in a View-Master.

John Carey: The View-Master that you may be familiar with was sort of the remnant of the 3D photography experience. As far as I know, it still exists. It certainly existed when I was a kid.

Flightpath: Were people buying 3D cameras back then? Who was using them?

John Carey: In the 1890s, [3D] was high-end amateur photography, and certainly professional photography, and many people were shooting 3D images. It was quite popular for awhile. I don’t want to exaggerate. 2D photography was way more popular and used than 3D. But 3D had a significant niche in that world.

Flightpath: And when were 3D movies introduced?

John Carey: The first film I’m aware of is in the 1920s. There was an experimental 3D movie, and there were also some experiments in the ’30s and ’40s. Then 3D movies took off in the early 1950s, and the reason for that was that the movie theaters were getting clobbered by television. People who used to go to the movie theater two or three times a week were now going maybe once, and they were hoping to bring them back into the theater. So they tried actually a number of gimmicks, and one was 3D movies. There was Bwana Devil and Dial M For Murder, a Hitchcock film. There were probably about 20 of them in the ’50s.

They would try anything [to get people back into theaters]. They had things like Smell-O-Vision, where they’d introduce smells into the theater. They introduced panoramic, very wide screens. All of these were just an attempt to bring people back to the theater.

But, in every decade after that – the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s – some 3D movies came back. And once again, they had a little bit of popularity, and then they went away.

Flightpath: It’s funny because 3D being introduced by the movie studios to get people back in the theaters is exactly what they’re doing now. But what led to the marginalization of 3D? Did the market just say, “This is a gimmick, we don’t want it,” or were the glasses too much of a barrier?

John Carey: It wasn’t the glasses, it was the fact that [3D] was a one-trick pony. By and large, what they did was, they would find a way to throw something at the camera, or shoot something at the camera, and that was the appeal. After awhile it just sort of wore off. “So, the tomahawk from the Indian is coming at me. So what?” Some people also argued, and this is an issue today, that with live-action actors, the 3D can get in the way of the story. That you notice the technique and that makes it harder to get into the story.

I don’t think the glasses were the issue. The projectors were an issue, and how many theaters could project 3D. The glasses were not such an issue because it was still a rarity. In other words, you’d go to maybe two 3D movies a year. That wasn’t such a big deal. That is more of an issue with television, if you’re going to be sitting there watching it for three or four hours a night.

The big boost for 3D movies was Avatar, because it was a huge success. The question is, would Avatar have been significantly less successful had it been in 2D? My opinion would be no. I think it still would have been quite successful. But it certainly was one of the best 3D movies ever made, in part because they did very little “throw-something-at-the-audience,” and they used depth of field instead. If 3D is gonna make it, that’s what’s gonna make it – not some axe coming out towards you in the theater.

So Avatar was successful, but then if you look at the movies that followed, not so [much]. There were a few successes. I think Alice In Wonderland was successful. There’s another key thing here. Many of the successes, especially in the last 10 years, have been animation. 3D seems to lend itself very much to animation and somewhat less so to live-action actors.

Flightpath: Roger Ebert is famously anti-3D. I just saw Thor in 3D, and I was underwhelmed. Watching scenes in a coffee shop in 3D didn’t really add anything to the experience, and I thought the image seemed muddled.

John Carey: That points to a problem, which is, if there’s nothing that’s taking advantage of 3D in a scene, is that helping or hurting your experience? If it’s clearly and explicitly designed or shot to take advantage of 3D as Avatar was, which had beautiful depth of field, then yes. But that’s kind of a rarity. There are some directors who are dead set against 3D, and there are some who are in favor of it. But even the ones who are in favor of it say, “You have to shoot it right.” You have to take into account exactly what 3D is good for and then shoot to it. If all you do is have a 3D camera instead of a 2D camera, chances are, it’s not going to help the film.

Flightpath: When did 3D come to television?

John Carey: You had experiments with 3D [on television] going back at least to the ’70s. They tended to be of one kind. They tended to be commercials, [and] they were promoted – because you had the issue of where are you going to get the glasses – so there was often a tie-in between the commercials and let’s say, 7-Eleven. So you’d go to 7-Eleven and you’d get the glasses, and then there would be a program that would have some 3D in it. And the most recent one like that was the 2009 Super Bowl, that had some 3D commercials. You had some in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, but not a lot.

Several things were responsible for 3D coming into television today. The penetration of high-definition TVs is now very high, and they make very little money now on selling an HDTV. The early sets, around 2000-2002, they’d make $1,000 profit. And now they might make $20 or $30 profit off an HD set. So the manufacturers needed something to boost sales and to boost profits, and there was also a lot people looking at 3D movies being successful and saying, “Well, if that’s what’s going to drive people, let’s start to launch it.”

There are number of obstacles for 3D TV. When HDTV came in in the late ’90s, there was a lot of content available. Virtually every movie made since the ’20s was made in 35mm or 70mm, which is more than enough for high-definition television. So you had all that content, and then beginning in the early ’90s, most television programs were shot either in HD videotape or they were shot in film. So once again, you had all this content available to you.

So, one of the challenges for 3D TV is, where are you going to get the content? There are a number of places. What’s the total inventory of 3D movies? It’s probably about a hundred. So there are not that many, but there are some. You can up-convert from 2D movies to 3D, and I’ve seen it; it’s okay, but it’s not nearly as good as if you shoot originally in 3D. They’re gonna up-convert Titanic and the Star Wars movies, and it’ll be interesting to see what they look like.

The other thing people are banking on a lot is sports. If I was gonna place my bets, that’s where I’d place my bets. But there’s a lot to it. Some sports seem to lend themselves better to 3D than others, and some of this is surprising. Golf is quite good in 3D. Football is surprisingly more difficult to do in 3D, and one of the reasons for this is the angle of the cameras. With golf, inherently, the way they’ve been shooting it, someone is standing and looking at the player, so you get this sort of straightforward thing of the ball coming at you. With football, most of the cameras are high up, and they’re looking down. So if you shoot 3D that way, you’re not going to get very good depth, because it’s between the player and the field. What you have to do is put the cameras closer to the field and then you get the full depth of the players themselves. So what they have to do, as I understand it, is have two crews.

Flightpath: You have to have two separate broadcasts.

John Carey: That’s right. Now that also makes it more expensive compared with HD, because with HD you can just downgrade it to standard resolution.

So you have some movies, and more movies are being produced. You have sports. It remains to be seen how much they’re gonna shoot of other things.


Be sure to come back next week for part 2 of our interview on 3D with John Carey.

BlogHer Food 2011: Takeaways

This weekend I attended the BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta. I came to the conference to learn more from about food blogging from the agency-side and from a blogger’s perspective, as I write my own food blog. It was a breath of fresh air to step away from the agency side of things and meet with other bloggers to discuss food, recipes and techniques, as well as building a network of friends. I told a couple of colleagues that this conference felt more like a community than a place to network and find leads.

BlogHer Food had various sessions covering topics including recipe writing, social media, branding and search engine optimization. Here are my takeaways from the two-day event:

General Food Writing

  1. Write from the heart. Readers like authenticity. Think of your readers and you will always make the right decision.
  2. According to Amelia Pane Schaffner (@ZTastyLife), when writing a restaurant review,”It’s good to have a balance; excessive ranting is bad. There must be something positive about a restaurant.”
  3. Donna Pierce of @BlackAmerCooks advises food bloggers to be honest and write negative reviews about restaurants.

Recipe Writing

  1. Food blogging is not repurposing someone else’s work.
  2. When adapting recipes, ask for permission from the author/creator of the original recipe.
  3. Useful sites to read for info on ethics and copyrighting : www.blogwithintegrity.com and foodethics.wordpress.com

Social Media

  1. Use social media to promote your brand.
  2. Use the different social media channels effectively.
    • Mrs. Q (@fedupwithlunch): “The power of #socialmedia: you can reach so many, [and more] when you use a hashtag.”
    • Facebook is for conversations.
    • Twitter is for nuggets of information.
    • Be careful when using social media. According to cookbook author David Leite (@davidleite), “It can take years to build a reputation, but it can take two tweets to lose it.”

Search Engine Optimization
This SEO session offered great tips on how to optimize recipes without sounding like a robot.

  1. Have keyword phrases and voice – these are the two most important things about blogging. Write like you are going to write normally and keep your keyword phrase(s) in mind. It will come to you organically.
  2. Want to be seen in Google ? Use Google Rich Snippets, or hrecipe.
  3. Content is king, but structure is queen. All recipes should follow the same structure.
    • Recipe Title
    • Ingredients
    • Directions or Instructions or Method
  4. Name your photos. An example they used is ‘Braised-Lamb-Shank.jpg’.
  5. Optimize your website for mobile using HTML5.
  6. If your blog runs on WordPress, utilize the following plugins:
    • HRecipe
    • EasyRecipe
    • RecipeSEO
  7. If you use Blogger (like me – deecuisine.com), you can optimize your content manually with the HTML editor by effectively using:
    • unordered lists <ul> to list Ingredients
    • ordered lists <ol> to list Instructions
  8. Again, structure is important. It may seem daunting the first time, but after a few blog posts, you’ll get the hang of it.

The closing keynote was inspirational, motivating, and the perfect way to end a conference with these key takeaways, which can be applied to anything beyond a food blog:

  1. Quality is everything and can sell itself. Having quality content will allow you to make a name for yourself.
  2. Stop giving away your value so cheaply.
  3. Think outside the laptop! If you want to be a brand, consider modifying your website to be readable beyond the laptop; use HTML5 so your website is readable on mobile devices.

My favorite quote from the BlogHer Food conference comes from David Leite. “You [food bloggers] are some of the most powerful people in media right now. The first time a blogger posted a recipe from my site I flew into a fury. I wanted to bring out the lawyers I was told very quietly by my publisher — don’t annoy the bloggers. They are too important. But don’t abuse your power. You can use it for good or you can use for evil. You can be seen as great, or you can be seen as skanks.”

The Intersection of Sports and Social Media

This is one of the best times of the year for a lot of sports fans. It is the time when the sweet smell of freshly cut grass fills our nose and the unmistakable sound of the crack of the bat fills our ears. Sports bars will soon be filled with ball fans and millions across the country will join together at their respective club’s ballparks to cheer on their favorite team.

The magic of sports is not one that is best enjoyed alone, although it can be done. The true enjoyment of the game comes from the social aspect of coming together and “sharing” your love and enthusiasm for your game. Yes, we all know Yankees fans don’t always agree with Red Sox fans but the sport of baseball is what brings us together. In fact, one of my colleagues mentioned the fact that sports can take the place of regular social interaction. “It gives you something to talk about with someone who you don’t know and may otherwise have nothing to talk about.”

It is this sharing of your passion and love for the game that makes sports a natural fit for social media. To me, and I think most would agree the main purpose of social media is to facilitate connections by sharing content that others will find valuable. So when I saw a recent article highlighting the MLB Fan Cave and how they proposed to use social it was intriguing.

The MLB Fan Cave is the second part of a campaign that originated last year. Last Year Major League Baseball encouraged fans to compete for the dream job of the ultimate fan. Fans were encouraged to use social channels to explain why they should be chosen.

Mike O’Hara, who was picked from the 10k+ applicants will be manning the fan cave along with his sidekick Ryan Wagner. According to the article the main job of this fan is going to be to hang out in a Manhattan location that is equipped with 15 flat screens to watch all 2,430 regular season games. The two will also be expected to be tweeting from an official MLB Fan account (@mlbfancave ) and not only offer their own observations but also respond to comments and connect to other fans.

The duo will also be authoring a blog and producing videos . In short, they are expected to use all of the major social channels to broadcast their experience and share their opinions and observations of the game. Now of course there are also some additional features such as well-known players stopping by (Joba Chamberlain and others) as well as prizes and contests for everyday fans who visit the physical location.

What makes this interesting to me is that it capitalizes on the very essence of what makes sports social. It allows these two otherwise unknown individuals to share and connect with other fans using all of the tools and from an official capacity of the Major League Baseball Name. It is too early to tell whether or not this campaign will be a home run, but by bringing the traditional offline activity of sharing and connecting around your love for the game to the online social channels that help facilitate connections it is clearly a smart play.

Rebecca Black and the Cyberbullying She Didn’t Deserve

rebecca-black

I stumbled upon the now infamous video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” via a Tweet from MST3K’s Mike Nelson, which appears to have been the starting point for the video going viral. Like most people, I didn’t like it. The lyrics are beyond simple, and the use of auto-tune (which is something I’ve never liked, and is probably a true dividing line between generations) was mind-numbing. The song is almost a parody of modern pop, as Rolling Stone said, which is probably why it’s gained such traction. And I won’t lie; of course I laughed at the video as I watched it.

But that’s where it ended for me. I really had no idea when this was made, where it was made, and whether or not it was an actual hit song. I knew, however, that it wasn’t made for me. It’s a song by a 13-year-old girl – reason enough to back off – that I can see younger kids liking a lot. Anyway, the video spread fast all over the Internet, and I was really shocked at how dark the sentiment became not for the song, but for Rebecca Black, the person. In a time where bullying and cyberbullying (something those of us who graduated high school before the 00s thankfully never had to deal with) are getting real notice, from schools to the White House, the volcano of cruel remarks and vitriol hurled at her is downright sad.

If anyone releases music or art, it’s open to criticism. That’s fair. Parodies are fair. But take a look at the YouTube comments, or listen to Rebecca herself recount some of the messages she received during her Good Morning America interview. “Cut yourself,” “Get an eating disorder,” etc. Unequivocally, a line has been crossed, and it’s disturbing. This is people from all over the world, of all ages, joining the pile-on; lots of “Internet tough guys” – people who would never have the guts to say the things they say online to a person’s actual face – hiding behind a screename, who for whatever reason, feel empowered by belittling someone anonymously. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have fun with the video or song. But there’s a fine line between funny and mean, and the mean never get it. Conan O’Brien’s “Thursday” parody? Funny. Fake Charlie Sheen’s tweet to Rebecca Black? Mean.

And what’s particularly gross about this? She’s just a kid. Is there that much to be gained by making fun of a 13-year-old? Also, she’s not talentless, but actually seems to be a pretty decent singer. And most importantly, she didn’t write the song; if you want to blame someone, blame those who wrote it for her. Thankfully, she seems to be handling this – the fame, the criticism and the acclaim – just fine. But if we are serious, as a culture, about ending cyberbullying and toning down violent rhetoric, maybe giving Rebecca Black a pass would be a good start.

Going further, the ultimate happy ending to this story would be that maybe, just maybe, we learn not to be so quick to be vicious, mean or snide, but maybe be more thoughtful and supportive. Rebecca Black is someone who seems like a genuinely good person – she’s donating all her profits from this to Japan, something she really does not have to do – and is not deserving at all of the poison verbal arrows slung her way. There will be others like her in the future, and hopefully, we will have learned a more human way to react.