Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Time out Tuesday: Art Heist

This week I came across a piece of marketing for HBO that just had me hooked for hours. And it wasn't because of anything slick from the PR department, it was all about the storytelling.

"Art Heist" is an interactive website which invites you to explore a story in a non liner narrative. Each of the short films is told from four different camera angles and you can choose to flip back and forth and go back and replay portions.

Parallel story structure isn't anything new. The idea that many stories are taking place at once and only once you have gone back to see all of them will you come away with a better understanding of the whole story, has been toyed with in the arts since forever.

The entire story structure of one of our oldest surviving stories, Oedipus Rex, is built upon the device. Shakespeare knew of the emotional punch it could carry and devised the climax of Romeo and Juliet around it. The film Pulp Fiction hings on it as a device. It's the basis of pretty much every french screwball comedy ever made. In sci-fi aspects of Back to the Future 2 touched on it. I can make a list a mile long of other works that have used it: Magnolia, Timecode, 24, Rashomon, and NBC's criminally short-lived Boomtown all toyed with the idea.

I can't say for certain how this could translate into journalism, but it's all very inspiring and a nice alternative story form to play with.


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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Time out Tuesday: Choosing Thomas

When Deidrea and T.K. Laux learned during their first pregnancy that their unborn child had trisomy 13 (a rare DNA abnormality which makes it impossible for newborns to live more than a couple hours to days outside the womb) they were faced with a choice, carry the child to term and say goodbye to him within days or abort the pregnancy twenty weeks in. They choose Thomas.

"Facing death can be the hardest for a family expecting new life. Follow T.K. and Deidrea Laux's journey after they learn that their unborn son has a genetic disorder. They hope the intimate look helps others understand and cope with infant loss"

Dallas Morning News shooter Sonya N. Hebert produced Choosing Thomas with stills, video and excerpts from Deidrea’s personal diary to take us deep.

With the most intimate of moments, from welcoming Thomas into the world to saying goodbye to the young life. It's a heart-wrenching emotional story with many genuine lessons and a deep look at a subject that is often covered in the most superficial of fashions.

It's not often that something comes along, especially these days, that stops us in our tracks and makes us reflect on more important things; this piece does that.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Time out Tuesday: Journey to the End of Coal

This week I've found something that is just cool. Very very cool.

Journey to the End of Coal takes a look at the exploding growth of China's economy and the new energy needs that have come with it. By visiting various sites around Beijing, viewers are invited to dictate the path of two freelance journalist as they seek out the stories of the millions of Chinese coal miners who power China's economic growth.

The "very cool" twist on the story however is that "dictate" part. If you ever read a "choose your own adventure" book as a child then the structure should feel very familiar to you. Through a series of choices in travel and how you go about asking questions the miners story is reveled.

"Your journey begins in Datong which is located just a couple hours away West from Beijing. You travel from there all around the region and visit its major coal mines, from the “best” state-owned complex to the worst private coal plants."

It's a unique way at seeing how journalism works, and it feels authentic.

It's so good I find myself forgiving the blurry photos and lack of visual variety. I think it's because I understand how difficult access was. Which brings me to a good point, as far as reporting and photography goes, the piece is lacking. We gleam a lot of knowledge by witnessing the information gathering, but in the end there is no reporting occurring, at least not in the traditional sense. I wonder if this is something the journalist behind the project recognized afterward and then came up with this ingenious idea.

Those concerns addressed however, as an experiment and an alternative story form, I think it works in a major way. For one it shows folks that there is a real issue here and the obstacles that come in the way when trying to shine a light on that issue. In another way, it uses the shortcomings of the actual reporting in a way that shows viewers what the story is really about.

Journey to the End of Coal is the closest thing to a teaching tool to show the public (and some confused college kids) what journalism is really about. Our craft isn't TMZ, Fox news and paparazzi, it's in-depth investigative feet-to-the-pavement walk-the-line hard work. On a good day anyway. But it's what we strive for in between Friday night football and city council meetings.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

They came from over the hills

Do you remember that scene from Jurassic Park where the Tyrannosaurus Rex first appears?

I never remember the dinosaurs or the car or the screaming kids from that scene, I mean I do eventually, but it's not the first thing I think of.

I remember the water, and how it vibrated like a door ringer to announce the giant bird/lizard/whatever-scientist-think-it-is-this-week that was about to make its grand entrance.

That water was on my mind Monday as I roamed around dense greenery and over mounds of upturned dirt at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, an arms length away from a small crew spouting out nautical terms as they hoisted a pair of 15 (or so) foot metal and wood beams.

"That's not starboard."

"Of course it is."

"How do you know?"

"Because I know where the holes are supposed to be," artist David Rogers concluded the exchange with a laugh before climbing a ladder to introduce two beams to a steel bolt.

I frame a shot of giant ants over the horizon and I could see them crawling from one flower to another, the soundtrack from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (the good one, not the Keanu "dude I only have one expression" Reeves train wreck) playing in my head.

I was told of a giant spider in a remote part of the park, and when I stumbled though the woods unable to find it, it found me, and visions from grade school of watching Jeff Daniels fight off the beast followed.

Around a 25 foot tall praying mantis I looked to the lady bugs crawling all over it, and I remembered the water. How the little details, like "the animals always know first," are important.

It was like being in a movie.

It's funny, well not funny ha-ha, but funny hmm how much pop-culture influences how you see things. I'm always reminded of something when I'm out shooting. Weather I'm looking for the perfect wide angle "Lawrence of Arabia" shot or the super compressed "Chungking Express" or the layers of "M*A*S*H" or the compositions of "The Good The Bad and The Ugly" or the details of "Jurassic Park."

I guess inspiration is where you find it.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Time out Tuesday: In Bb 2.0

I sat in on a lecture about social media recently and a gentleman asked the speaker what was the point.

It was an interesting question, and answer seemed obvious. To explore new art forms and models of communication. To bring a simple medium to the people. And ideally to collaborate.

The first two have been happening, I don't always get it, but the 3rd one not to much.

It seems the premiere use of the social web has been to tell everyone how great they are, (BTW I'm great), or if you prefer PR jargon, to life-cast. Collaboration is in the minority. Like drinking tap water, everyone thinks its a great idea but no one does it.

Well this week I'm writing about something where people are doing it, and it's the most inspired I've been in weeks.

It's a collaborative music project where folks have recorded "instruments" and then, by employing YouTube and its pause/play button and volume control, invites you to come and create a mix.

Oh, and it's addicting.

I've played this three times now, mixing the elements in different orders and each time it not only works, but it creates a sound scape that tells a different story, with different characters and different emotions.

It's brilliant!

When sound boards starting coming out they were fun but of little use once the novelty wore off.

Then came the beat pads and drum loops, my god I loved those. I've spend hours playing with them.

But now this, this is the next evolution! Turning it into a living breathing collaborative animal. Well almost, It lets me mix it my way, but I'd sure love an option to upload my own "instrument" to the mix and really make it a "social" experiment.

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