VfR – Vision for Reality

I’m beginning what will grow into a series of posts and other content around a new theme I’ve been thinking about for a long while. I call it:

VfR – Vision for Reality  

Peony collage
A single Peony bloom – reconstructed in a digital montage.

I’m a media person – both a content creator and a strategist. I’m asking myself how to think best about social media and other new media technologies. A term to encompass these is “New Media.” The discussion of new media commonly includes things like: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, social media, big data aggregation, internet-of-things, questions of privacy, tech mediated relationships, (can you add to this list?)

The core idea, or theme of these posts will be to encourage and equip the Church to embrace its prophetic role in culture related to technologies that are radically reshaping our cultures and us as individuals.

Being prophetic is not about telling the future. Being prophetic is telling it like it is, revealing the truth, and exposing lies. The Church is always meant to be a community that calls out and invites in. But it is always, to some degree or another, outside of all other things, whether it be culture, politics, movements, and other worldviews.

For instance, we can read a lot about research that implicates our addiction to smartphones and social media in various crises. Youth depression and suicide seem to be negatively affected by these innovations. If social media is proving to be a negative force in our societies then how should the Church respond? What answers and alternatives can we and should we provide?

But you might argue, we always run into this with something new. We can’t be Luddites or we’ll be irrelevant. And, where should we have stopped our development? Horse and buggy, steam engine? Or before that?

My feeling is that this tech and innovation is different from what we’ve encountered before. It’s a new level that impacts everything from automobiles and washing machines. You might be able to posit both negative and positive fallout from even those long-ago developments.

I want to think about what may be significantly different about the developments that are presented to us now: artificial intelligence, virtual relationships, virtual worlds, internet of things, pervasive data collection and tracking?

It’s not all insidious on the surface, but if we consider it all together, I think it should raise some questions in our minds.

What part do we play?

What part can we play?

What part should we play?

Is this all bad? Is this all good? Is this a mix?

How do we feel about that?

If we (followers of Jesus, in His Church) fully embrace these technologies,

  • What do we gain?
  • What do we lose?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What can we, or should we, do?

Does anyone want to have this conversation? Let’s do it!

Mobile, In Reverse

My daughter, like many young creatives, invents her own workflows for digital photography – shoot on DSLR, edit on mobile.

Reverse Mobile DSLR shot crop

I teach mobile production – that is, creating content on mobile, for mobile. But I’m also a traditional photographer and filmmaker – that is, making things with film!

This week I was struck by how creative people solve problems in very personal ways. I noticed this with my own daughter, who is growing to be quite a talented photographer.

But she does stuff backwards! (At least, from my own training.)

I’ve been teaching her how to use a DSLR to expand her photography beyond her mobile device. She has learned how to take really interesting photos with her iPhone 7, but has been a little intimidated by my old Canon DLSR with a big lens.

That is, until she really got hold of it. Now she’s a maniac! She is shooting a lot.

So what’s the next thing I want to teach her? Well, I’m thinking about putting a copy of Photoshop and Lightroom on another computer at home so she can learn those programs and learn to edit her images, “the right way.” But she doesn’t wait for me to figure out my licensing on AdobeCC and all that…

She invents her own workflow: DSLR to mobile.

This is how it goes:

  • shoot using the DSLR, capturing on an SD card
  • The SD card goes into the Mac Mini
  • The photos import into Photos App

So far, so good. But, instead of needing Photoshop (or Affinity Photo, or…,) she just:

  • emails them to herself at the original size, saves them to her Camera Roll on the iPhone, and
  • edits them in the free Snapseed app.

She is already comfortable with that app, so why mess with something hulking like Photoshop?! And, Snapseed has many more fun features for processing photos than boring old Photoshop.

Butterfly in Motion
A butterfly comes in for a landing on summer flowers – photo by AK

She makes really interesting, really good photos.

The things we old(er) folks can learn from our intuitive younger counterparts!

Do you have a backwards story like this?

Natural Light Tabletop with Pixel 2

Natural Light Tabletop with Pixel 2

I’ve been picking up a few shots for a curriculum I’m working on with some other folk. The lessons are designed to help media organizations and individuals to learn, and then to pass on, important skills in content production using mobile devices.

These shots will be part of lessons on capturing still images using a mobile device. I’m collecting screen shots and many, many photos to use as examples in the curriculum.

Keeping the gear to a minimum, just window light on my dining room table and a little tripod for the phone. The goal is to help people anywhere, with any device, create nice content.

 

My “Best Kit” for Mobile Production

I was prepping last week for a short trip to Asia. As I was sorting gear, I thought I’d write a bit here about what I chose to take, and why. Here’s the layout.

mobile gear layout 2

One of the things I’ll be doing on this trip is introducing co-workers to opportunities to use mobile devices and simple gear to create compelling content for their varied audiences. I decided to bring some examples of gear from what I’ve collected over the years.

I want to over the key technical needs for video, audio, lights, and mounting a mobile as a camera. I also want a kit that will fit in a small camera bag that will then slip into my normal carry-on. I’m thinking one-person-band like many of us in the mojo world.


full rig vert 2

Full Rig: I am thinking of mostly run-and-gun shooting, with lots of handheld shots, easily transported, but also something I can set down for a longer shot, like an interview or event, if needed. Of course, I might often choose to strip this down to a few pieces for even more mobility.

My kit ended up being mix-and-match from different manufacturers, but I’ll explain why I chose what I did and spec some models if you want to check them out for yourself. I’m not sponsored by anyone and this is all stuff I’ve picked up over the last few years. There may be some new options that you can also check out based on this list. Create your own “ideal kit.”

 


Basemanfrotto tripod: When I want to set this all down for either a steady shot or just between shots, a nice small tripod is essential. I’m using a Manfrotto Pixi Mini tripod for this one. It’s beautifully designed, very compact and solid. The best part for me is how it feels when I fold the legs and handhold it as a support. It also has quick, one-button leveling. It’s not as infinitely flexible as something like a Gorillapod, but it’s a neater package. If I know I’m going to need to mount my camera on a tree branch or light post, I’d bring my Gorillapod.


shoulderpod handle

Phone Mount: For traditional (horizontal) video production, I really like this mash-up. I’m using a Shoulderpod H1 handle, topped by a Movo PR-1 smartphone grip rig. You can see that I’m also using the Shoulderpod short plate arm when I want to have a mic and light mounted to the rig. I love the Shoulderpod gear. It’s elegant and very high quality. The feel of this handle is great by itself and reminds me of my film shooting days with Aaton cameras and their famous wooden grip. Of course, Shoulderpod also makes a nice grip for a phone as well and it comes as a kit with this handle. But their clamp (at least the original model I have) is missing one important feature – a cold shoe. If I want to go really compact, with just a phone and a small movo grip topshotgun mic, the Movo clamp has a convenient cold shoe to let me just mount the mic (or anything else) up top, and I’m ready to go. With a Shoulderpod and other clamps, I have to add an arm. So, kudos to Movo for adding the shoe, and a handy bubble level. Maybe it’s not as pretty, but I’ll take it. (Movo’s handle, on the other hand, is a short little thing that’s harder to hold. Go figure; mix it up.)


rode videomicroAudio: For on-the-go news and documentary filmmaking, or for capturing b-roll shots, I want a good external microphone. This one is Rode’s Videomicro mini shotgun mic (with their SC7 cable to make compatible with a smartphone.) It’s a big improvement on the phone’s mics and well worth the investment. I can mount it on the phone clamp or on an extension arm, cage, etc. Connecting the mic to a phone like my Google Pixel 2 requires adding a 3.5mm to USB-C dongle. That’s becoming more common. I also add a Rode SC6 adaptor. I audio connections horizlike to monitor audio while I’m filming, especially for interviews. The SC6 lets me connect two mics – like a shotgun and an Aputure A.lav microphone (shown in the gear layout) or two lavalier mics. Plus, I can monitor through its headphone jack.

 

 


aputure led light

Lights: I generally shoot with existing light unless I’m making a scripted, narrative film. But having a small LED light can be very helpful as a supplement for news and doc shoots. This Aputure AL-M9 is small, rechargeable, color-accurate, and dimmable. Their color correcting gels are pretty lame, but, oh well. I would bring a larger LED panel if I’m really trying to light something and so more color adjustment.


sirui tele lensCase and Lens: For a compact and really solid kit, I really like the Moment photo case. They make them for some of the higher-end phones. I don’t like to mess with clip-on lenses if I’m trying to travel small. Again, I’m cheating here by using a Moment case with a Sirui lens. (I’m killing my product endorsement opportunities here, I know!) When I got my Moment case for the Pixel 2, I also ordered the Moment 2x tele lens. That first version from Moment was really pitched as an ‘art’ lens because it was so soft at the edges. (Their new version looks really sweet and they’ve re-engineered the lens for much better image quality, so it’s worth checking out.)  But, when I needed a tele lens, Sirui had a 60mm (2x) tele lens that looks great and mounts on the Moment case. If you are looking today, I think either lens is a good choice – with Sirui being a more budget-friendly option. I carry the tele lens most of the time and not always a wide angle because the Pixel 2 is pretty wide already. This is still for the world of single-lens phones; the add-on lenses do interesting things with more recent multi-lens cameras, so check them out.

There you have it – my running rig. I build it up and down as I need it. And it fits easily in a small camera bag.

This is what’s in my closet and carry-on for simple but effective shooting. I bet there are things you may like and recommend. What say you?

4 Reasons Why Homeschoolers Should Study Screenwriting (and get English Comp credit for it.)

If you have a budding homeschool writer or filmmaker, they should be learning to write screenplays. Screenplays represent a unique literary genre that forms the foundation of one of the most influential forms of art and entertainment in our world today, movies and other visual stories.


I’ll begin with two quotes:

“Film is the literature of our age”  AND  “Those who tell the stories shape the culture”

script-tight

The first is by Steven Spielberg. I’ll reveal who said the second one in a moment.

These two quotes remind us how influential and pervasive stories through film have become in our culture. No one can deny the influence of these stories, whether told on a cinema screen or a mobile phone. My 30+ years as a professional filmmaker have convinced me of the importance of raising up a new generation of filmmakers and writers who will take us into the future.

So here are the four main arguments I’ll make to encourage you to consider screenwriting as an important field of study for your creative homeschooled student.

  • Screenplays are a unique literary genre, deserving disciplined study.

  • Screenplays make use of the major elements of all good creative writing.

  • Screenwriting is the foundation of a highly influential cultural expression, movies.

  • Christians can make better movies.

First, as Mr. Spielberg argues, screenplays made into movies are the pervasive form of storytelling in our modern culture. And, they truly are a literary genre unto themselves. They require discipline and study to master their unique form and storytelling conventions. For instance, did you know that screenplays are always written in the present tense? That’s because all we can write is what we see on the screen in front of us. We can’t make full use of inner thoughts of characters. A well-written screenplay reveals their choices through the ways they act when challenged. If you have a budding screenwriter, this is a great creative challenge.

Secondly, screenplays make use of the same storytelling elements found in other literary forms, such as short stories and novels. For instance, we must create interesting and dimensional characters, devise interesting plots with rising conflict, and draw our audience into the story with vivid descriptive language and compelling themes that touch our emotions while entertaining us.

Third, most people don’t understand the immense importance of the screenplay as the foundation of all movies. It has been said that it’s possible to make a bad film from a good script, but it’s impossible to make a great film from a poor script. It’s like the blueprint, foundation, and framing of a movie. Of course, movies–good and bad–exert tremendous influence in our culture.

That leads us to my final point

…making films that are powerful and influential and reflect a Christian worldview. I believe all Truth is God’s Truth, and that all Beauty reflects His Glory. I hope to envision and equip young storytellers to follow God’s call to speak powerfully to culture through many forms of films and videos. Most of us admit that few popular films that are labelled “Christian” exhibit the highest literary and artistic reach we are capable of. There was a time when the Church led the way in the arts. We should aim that high.

Now, to the second quote; “Those who tell the stories shape the culture.” It’s from Aleister Crowley, the famous British occultist in the early 20th century. His vision was to undermine the Christian worldview and values of his culture, and he argued for a takeover of popular storytelling to achieve his end. He saw the potential.

I have had the privilege of teaching many passionate and creative young homeschoolers who are learning to tell powerful stories of their own. I am so encouraged by them, and they give me great hope for the future. They are learning to tell stories that change the world.


For further reading: There are a zillion screenwriting blogs out there, but one I especially like is The Rabbit Room. They have a film section, plus many other forums that, to me, represent some of the best writing and thinking about the arts in the Church today.

Making Something is Easy, but it’s Not Enough | Echo Hub

“…it’s easier than ever to make something. But it’s as difficult as it ever was to make someone feel something.”

Scott McClellan writes a good article in EchoHub this week. If you are creative person, it’s easy to get caught up in the creative act or even the technology that makes it easier/cheaper to create (a real tendency in the filmmaking world) but forget about the long discipline of learning to tell good stories.

Scott writes:

So, it’s easier than ever to make something.

But it’s as difficult as it ever was to make someone feel something.

Our job as communicators is found in the difference between those two pursuits.

[And]

In other words, if I really want to be a filmmaker, I need to invest in more than just a camera. It’s easier than ever to make a video and publish it on the Internet, but it’s as difficult as ever to make a video that makes a difference.

Read the whole post here: Making Something is Easy, but it’s Not Enough | Echo Hub.

THE MICROBUDGET CONVERSATION: SCRIPT V. STORY | The Filmmaker Magazine Blog

As we’ve been in the process of making a ‘micro-budget’ short film, I have been thinking about the viability of such ventures.

As we’ve been in the process of making a ‘micro-budget’ short film, I have been thinking about the viability of such ventures. I know it’s possible to work like we have been working – with volunteer cast and crew and donated locations and gear. And I believe our film, structured, scripted, planned, and all that, will benefit from the approach.

This article, published a while back on Filmmaker Magazine’s blog, makes the argument that micro-budget filmmakers should embrace an alternative approach that emphasizes the discovery of stories that flow from real life, rather than struggling to come up with the perfect screenplay.

 … if our goal as micro-budget filmmakers is to make films free of budget restrictions, we need to find alternative methods that embrace the places we live, allow us to believe they are interesting, and trust the people around us to bring us some really interesting material. We all know this familiar adage: life is stranger than fiction. Once we let life leak into our narratives, I think we will be shocked at the abundance we suddenly have with the stories that are available.

THE MICROBUDGET CONVERSATION: SCRIPT V. STORY | The Filmmaker Magazine Blog.

I have a lot of experience in documentary filmmaking so I can appreciate the freedom and excitement of seeing stories unfold in the process of making a film. And I can see the author’s point that taking this approach can get filmmakers away from the computer and into the real process of making something. There is a part of me that does sometimes want to just pick up a camera and see what happens.