DIY Days, the media conference that focuses on the do-it-yourself ethos (hence the name), is coming back to New York City next month.
The event, founded by transmedia filmmaking pioneer Lance Weiler, is going to be held at the New School on April 27th. Best of all: it is entirely free. Check out the schedule, which includes Turnstyle Transmedia Hangout guest Brian Clark of GMD Studios, here.
The event is also looking for volunteers to help bring it all together.
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When last we talked with Gabriel Diani, of the comedy duo Diani and Devine, he was in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign for their adaption of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn: Robot Edition was a rousing success, gaining attention across the internet.
Now Diani and his partner in all things Etta Devine have returned to the crowdfunding mines in hopes of scoring a theatrical release for their feature film The Selling. We met up in a cavernous coffee house near their Koreatown apartment in Los Angeles to talk about campaigns new and old, and the struggles that DIYers face in the entertainment industry. [ProTip: the TomTom's coffee we went to is an amazing place to write in the middle of the day. Talk to me on Twitter if you want the details.]
“This time around it’s a bit more stressful,” said Diani, “because the first one was just a lark that we did.” (more…)
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Christian Hernandez on Tuesday, May. 29th
When James Cameron plunged to the bottom of the Marina Trench in his sleek, $8 million submarine, it heralded a new age of underwater exploration. But the deep sea isn’t the only aquatic frontier left to explore. Around the world, there are countless undersea caves, flooded mine shafts and other underwater tight spots that have remained off limits to divers because they’re too narrow or dangerous to navigate. And happily, the right craft for the job probably isn’t a multi-million-dollar submersible, but something so accessible you can make it yourself.
“Our goal is to get as many OpenROVs out into the world as we can,” said David Lang, the co-founder of a new underwater robot (or “ROV,” remotely operated vehicle). He’s also the facilitator of a 300-member online community of professional ocean engineers and hobbyists who are collaborating to make the robot better (the “Open” part of the project’s name). To meet their goal of robotic ubiquity, Lang and his partner, Eric Stackpole, share the prototype plans on their website and will soon sell out-of-the-box OpenROV kits.
Clearly, Lang and Stackpole are driven by the unique opportunity to develop a new technology that could change the future of underwater exploration. But theirs is also an older, more familiar quest: a hunt for gold.
Specifically, they’re after a legendary bounty of golden nuggets in the hills of Northern California. Earlier this month, Lang and a bunch of friends hiked to a flooded gold mine where the treasure is said to remain sunken and hidden. They found no treasure, but instead several ways to improve the ROV. When he got back Lang told me about the expedition and shared these photos.
Photo: Jelena Jovanovic
“About nine months ago, I was working in an office. The company I was working for ran out of money so I lost my job. But then I had this epiphany: I really wanted to start making things with my hands. I’ve spent the last nine months re-skilling myself — taking welding classes, learning how to use laser cutters and 3D printers — and writing about it for MAKE Magazine. Part of that process has been teaming up with Eric and working on this OpenROV project.
Photo: Jelena Jovanovic
“Growing up in Humboldt County, Eric heard about the story of an underwater cave in Northern California and rumors of gold at the bottom of it. When we first met, Eric told me the story and I was captivated. We found as much information as he could online and then went up there and explored before we had the robot. We walked through the hills and found the cave and the underwater portion, just like we heard in the stories. It was pretty exciting. Because that story of gold was one of the reasons we started the project.
Photo: Jelena Jovanovic
“The ROV shines a light and then live video comes back. It’s tricky to see. Something we’re still developing is a compass heading and depth sensor. That’s really important because it’s hard to orient yourself underwater with the live video, until you have those sensors. That’s something for the open community to develop.
Photo: Jelena Jovanovic
“We started doing this for fun, but we quickly found a lot of other people had different uses for this type of thing. We hear a lot from people who have places they really want to explore; we hear from scientists who have studies they want to conduct. One of the important aspects of the OpenROV design is that we’ve left this payload module — a space on the ROV that is specifically designed for people to add and modify. They can add a robotic arm or a pH sensor or a GoPro camera. Whatever tool they need they can modify the ROV to do that.
Courtesy of OpenROV
“I never expected to really find gold. For me, the joy was always in the process of learning how to build the robot. And to have a dream to build this open-source underwater community of people who have other ideas. This was the first story, but it’s really not the only story. Someone was just telling us about an underwater cavern in Death Valley where there’s this really rare species of fish. No divers have been in this area of the cavern, so we’re thinking about bringing the ROV there. There are all of these new and exciting places to explore — that’s what keeps us going.”
All photos courtesy of David Lang.
This post is part of a Turnstyle series about new science media, with profiles of the next Carl Sagans and previews of the emerging platforms they’re using to tell their stories.
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With just a ten millimeter wrench and a screwdriver, Brian Simmons has built and sold more than 100 motorized bicycles in Oakland, CA, under the label Rebelbikes. The company has been around for three years. The two-man shop based out of the comfort of his living room.
Simmons’ two wheeled creations are motorized pedal assisted bicycles that can go up to 35 mph. His ultimate goal is to see bicycles replace cars, and while he knows it’s a stretch, he is taking his dream on one bike at a time.
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In terms of proven storytelling talent The Canyons might just be the biggest project to plant a banner at Kickstarter yet. Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero) has written and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Auto Focus) will direct this thriller about the quest for love, sex, success and power in contemporary Hollywood. The film is scheduled to go in front of the lens this summer.
The writer-director team, along with producer Braxton Pope, are self-financing the film. The trio have turned to the crowdfunding site as a means to up the production value, and start building awareness, for a project they chose to keep out of the studio system.
“We didn’t want to be in the position where people perceived it as ‘Oh these guys are begging for money. Why would they be doing that?’” said producer Pope in an interview last week, at the start of the campaign. “I saw someone tweet ‘Why don’t they ask Martin Scorsese for a loan?’”
Pope has been working with the luminaries of the independent film world– directors like Gaspar Noe and Gus Van Sant– for over a decade now. This is his first time dipping his toe into the crowdfunding pool.
“I think I foolishly had some reservations about it,” said Pope, “but once I really discussed it with Paul and Bret, once we explored it a little bit, we realized it was kind of a no brainer. Especially with the new model that we’re embracing to get the movie done.”
The “new model” Pope refers to is the DIY one, from production all the way through distribution. After a different film from the trio fell through at Lionsgate, a company that Pope has a long standing relationship with, they chose to strike out onto the self-produced path with The Canyons.
“We decided to be autonomous and take control and not have to push dates. Not have to hire actors that might not be best for a given role. That we could just make it and tell the story the way we wanted to tell it.”
The campaign for The Canyons is aggressive in its reward offerings. On the day that the campaign went live, Turnstyle’s crowdfunding columnist indie filmmaker Lucas McNelly expressed strong reservations online and in a conversation over the structure of the campaign. In short: McNelly felt that the producers were putting too much into the rewards relative to the money they were looking to raise. More than one film project has tripped itself up by over-promising on the rewards.
Pope, as it turns out, is an avid Twitter user, and was watching the feeds.
“I read Lucas McNelly’s tweets because I was curious to see his explanation for his critique. Look, I’m by no means a crowdfunding expert . This is the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve initiated, so I don’t presume to know things I don’t know. What I can tell you is that one of the people who is working with us has been through Kickstarter before, is very fluent in Kickstarter and one of his jobs on the production is to oversee the rewards. Get the posters printed. Mailing them out. The DVDs. All our rewards. He’s priced out everything, so there’s no reward that we’ve posted that we haven’t budgeted and accounted for the hard cost.”
One key factor for The Canyons vis-a-vis its generous rewards is the goal of the campaign. The film is going to get made one way or another. What Pope, Easton Ellis and Schrader are looking to do is with the campaign is different from what we usually see at this stage of production.
“It is true that we have more rewards than kind of comparable campaigns, but the reason for Kickstarter wasn’t just trying to get financial resources. A big part of it for us is engaging the community and getting people to participate. We very self-consciously wanted to try and be generous with our time. Giving people access to us and creating a lot of rewards so that people feel invested in what we’re doing.”
This kind of strategy is similar to the self-distribution campaigns we’ve seen for films like On The Ice. Here the filmmakers are looking to get around the huge costs that can come with marketing a movie right from the start.
“In the past when a studio puts up all the P&A (prints and advertising), then you have to sit behind those dollar figures and those spends before you recoup and that can be very, very costly.”
Pope is thinking differently about the fate of the film and putting those thoughts into action right from the start. Before the era of digital distribution and social media an indie film faced a virtual cliff face of obstacles in order to find an audience.
“You were still in the trap of once you’ve executed this movie: how were you going to get it seen? What’s the marketing, what’s the distribution plan?” said Pope. “In the past if a movie went straight to DVD then that was essentially perceived as– in a lot of cases– as a failure. With VOD I don’t think there’s any kind of stigma and I think it’s really opened things up, because there’s been a shift in how people consume films and consume media and content with streaming.”
While our conversation focused on the campaign as a marketing and distribution tool, the campaign will have an impact on the quality of the production. Pope notes that the dollars raised will add days onto the production, and give them the option of exploring “the ARRI Alexa’s which are very difficult to get for free, [but] we can ge them for reduced rates. It may mean some different locations that we may not have had access to, because now we can afford to get them permitted or rent them out as opposed to just exclusively getting locations for free from friends.”
Pope aims to use the campaign to build a community, one that can act as advocates for the production, and that also has a say in the film. One of the more interesting parts of the reward structure is access to the casting process. Backers will be able to vote on finalists for the film at LetItCast.com.
“We want to be transparent and we want to be open and inclusive. Hopefully at the end of it we’ll have created a movie that is compelling and works artistically,but I think bringing people into the process is an important shift for us,” said Pope. “When you do movies with studio partners there’s a lot of control over releasing information. There’s a lot of secrecy. In this social media era there’s a new transparency and I think it’s different and exciting.”
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Continuing our on the spot podcasting from the Los Angeles Music Video Festival.
Jesse Lamar High and Nik Harper are the directing duo LAMAR + NIK [VIMEO], who sort of buried the lead in our conversation. These two guys drove all the way from Oklahoma starting at 8PM on Thursday night to make it to the first day of the LAMVF. They even slept in the car.
This is the kind of dedication that serious DIY guys have. LAMAR+NIK built a model city out of ice for their video Reds for the band Houses. Just the two of them. Hear the tale of how this amazing video was made by two guys with a regular old refrigerator.
Catch all of the LAMVF coverage right here or subscribe to the Turnstyle News Podcast, on iTunes or RSS to get all the podcast episodes!
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Elle Schneider is part of the team behind the Digital Bolex D16, a video camera project that has stirred up excitement in the DIY filmmaker community and a quarter of a million dollars on Kickstarter. She is not what you might expect from a start-up trying to push the digital filmmaking revolution into its next phase: a small young woman with blond bangs who you might find at a casting call for “bookish barista girl”. Combating that sort of shorthand thinking is one of Schneider’s motivations for working on the D16.
“When I started freelancing,” said the USC film school trained Schneider, “which was tail end of 2010, really beginning of 2011 and all of 2011 I found a huge problem in getting work because I was a girl. There’s an assumption that because you’re female you don’t know how to do anything technical, and it just sort of is assumed incompetence…other than a couple of documentary gigs here and there I just wasn’t getting much work.”
The big barrier, Schneider told me, is that as a beginning cinematographer you’re trapped in a catch-22. Productions want to hire directors of photography, or DPs, who have their own equipment, but without paying work, that equipment is impossible to acquire.
“I had many jobs where it was: ‘Your reel is fantastic but you don’t have the jib arm, and I want the DP that comes with the jib arm.’ That’s what it comes down to,” said Schneider. Before Schneider joined cinematographer Joe Rubinstein’s quest to bring a relatively inexpensive professional caliber digital camera to market, she saw how that conundrum worked from the producer’s side as well.
“I was on pre-production for an action short and I was looking for DPs. I put an ad on Craigslist and I got 300 responses and it was not surprising to me that some of the people who had the best gear also had the worst reels, because its just people who have the money that can go out and buy the stuff.” Deep pockets standing in for talent, an affliction that can be seen at nearly every level of the film industry.
Lowering equipment costs levels the playing field for young filmmakers, and that has a positive effect for those who have traditionally been at the margins of the industry.
“Having a female filmmaker who has access to these tools in an affordable way,” said Schneider that would allow for many many more DPs and directors to make projects which they currently can’t make.”
MUCH MORE THAN SHINY
Schneider hopes that the D16 can help level the playing field for filmmakers who want their work to stand up to scrutiny in a market that has become more and more competitive on the level of image quality. The D16 will shoot images at a resolution beyond that of the DSLR cameras that have become the entry level cameras for DIY filmmakers.
The camera shoots in what’s known as RAW format. The simple version: it’s the unprocessed information right off the camera’s sensor, as opposed to more compact formats like jpegs. While this yields a higher quality of image to work with, it also means a much bigger file and calls for a round of digital processing before editing software can work on the footage.
To that end, the Digital Bolex team is working with software engineers to create a transcoding work flow (a way to get the images into editors like Final Cut) that won’t intimidate first timers. Schneider also revealed that Rubinstein has an ambitious vision of what the software side could be: an emulation of actual 16mm film development, but acknowledges that the vision might be out of reach at present.
That notion speaks to another aspect of the D16′s appeal. The camera isn’t just named after the legendary 16mm film camera manufacturer Bolex, but bears that company’s blessing. The camera body emulates the style of the classic cameras, right down to the hand crank. Nor is the crank just for show: in the D16 it becomes a programmable interface which can adjust audio volume, focus and other features.
“We’ve gotten a lot of comments on the body: ‘I don’t know how much of a work horse this will be. I don’t know how professional it is if it’s shiny.’ Well that’s the reason that its shiny: because we want anyone to pick it up and not feel intimidated by it,” said Schneider. “We’ve been accused of pandering to hipsters because it has a retro look to it but it’s also: when was the last time you guys got a well designed ergonomic camera?…we paid a lot of attention to the design and how to hold it and stabilize it.”
Between the classic styling and the hunger in the DIY community for cameras that can output high quality images at a fraction of the cost of cameras studios use, it’s not that surprising the D16 project met its funding goals. What does surprise is the speed with which it happened. The project blew past its funding goal in just 48 hours, and the 100 cameras that were available for pre-order all but sold out in that same time.
Schneider points to an early endorsement by DIY film guru Philip Bloom as being instrumental to the explosive success of the project. It also doesn’t hurt that both she and Rubinstein put together a smart marketing assault in the form of a debut at SXSW, a well built website, and an approach to the pitch that puts storytelling over tech talk. After all, with a group of people as passionate as the camera community they’re bound to pick apart the technical details on their own. Rounds and rounds of blog and forum posts have proven this to be true, some of them crossing the lines into angry personal attacks.
Schneider said they were ready to defend their tech specs online, but admits she was caught off guard by some of the anger displayed by a few critics.
Aside from filmmakers, there’s another community angle to the tale. That of Kickstarter itself. There’s a dawning awareness amongst creators on the site that wildly successful projects have the opportunity to plow some of their success back into the wider ecosystem. As more projects are successful, the reputation of the site, and thus the whole community, rises as well. Game developer Brian Fargo has put together a movement in the gaming community on Kickstarter dubbed “Kicking It Forward”, in which devs are pledging five percent back to other projects in the community.
Rubinstein has already been an active member of the Kickstarter community, having backed 51 projects already. “Everything from the TikTok to a giant adult sized big wheel,” said Schnieder, “which is yet to show up at his doorstep, but I’m curious to see it when it arrives.” She called her business partner “a Kickstarter fiend; he’s donated thousands of dollars to Kickstarter campaigns.”
Yet the majority of the projects he’s back haven’t been at quite the same scale, unit price wise, as the D16. Schnieder believes that the D16 has the highest average donation of any Kickstarter project. [A request to verify this was not returned by Kickstarter at press time.] The raw average balances out at $625 per backer, which doesn’t tell the real story.
While over 300 of the projects 412 backers (at press time) have come in with pledges under $100, the real money has been made on the pre-orders. 80 of them at $2500 and 13 at $3500. Rubinstein and Schnieder used the limited reward number option to control what they’d have to produce on the initial run. They also set the project goal at less than half the maximum possible pre-order amount ($100K vs. $270K). It is a strategy that has paid off.
REVOLUTIONS ARE 360 DEGREES
The D16 will do more than offer filmmakers a chance to shoot at 2K for just over $3000 when it hits the market; it will also give them a set of limitations to work against. The large file format of RAW means that the D16 will eat memory cards like they were Pop Rocks. While this seems to fly in the face of everything digital stands for, Schnieder sees creative and financial advantages.
“I only was able to shoot video at film school and that sucked. You see people do take after take after take. People who don’t understand how to direct actors, so you have to keep going, because they don’t know how to change it up. I think teaching schedules and shooting smaller amounts of footage is a really good thing, something that people could get back to. It’s great to have the safety of digital that you can just keep shooting, but the thing is once you get to the point where you have to preserve all this digital footage it becomes rather expensive and difficult to store. In some ways those costs can be similar to the cost of shooting film. A lot of people don’t take that into account.”
The promise of the D16 is that of a romantic revolution. A return to some of the ways of the past– the Bolex body, smaller “film loads” that lead to greater discipline– alongside with a broadening of access to high end equipment. The response Rubinstein and Schneider have elicited from the DIY film community shows that the dream of a broadly based digital cinema is very much alive, and restlessly looking for a way to come true.
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It can be easy to get jaded about the state of indie filmmaking. The past half decade has seen the rise of stripped down mumble-core auteurs, improvising small scale stories that use the latest in digital filmmaking to remove the layer of abstraction that filmmaking creates between audience and story. Yet, the increased intimacy — the reliance on small moments — has meant abandoning the power of melodramatic poetics from American cinema.
On paper, Bellflower could seem to be in the same vein. It’s a love story that runs the full course from hook-up to betrayal and break up, set against the backdrop of the lives of rudderless 20-somethings who spend their seemingly endless free time working on impractical DIY projects. It even has one of those elusive “What does this really mean?” names in the form of Bellflower.
Thankfully, writer-director-star Evan Glodell has bigger ambitions than a quiet break-up film. Bellflower is the return of sturm und drang to the American Indie scene; it’s a personal story told with the fury of Mad Max. Bellflower explodes onto the screen with a bold visual style backed by Glodell’s skill as a real DIYer: not only did he build the major props in the film — modding the muscle car dubbed Mother Medusa, and a real working flamethrower — he also custom built cameras to make this a break-up tale that looks like a grindhouse action flick.
“The hardest to build camera,” Glodell says, “the biggest camera, was only used to shoot one scene and then ended up using it for a montage later on. We thought we could get away with not ruining the look because it was so different. But that was entirely done to just have some subtle differentiation where it seemed more unreal.”
The style evokes the tilt-shift looks that have become popular in online photography and videography in the past few years. Yet this isn’t a case of an upstart filmmaker riding the coattails of trend. Bellflower began production back in 2008.
“It’s kinda sad because when we were doing it no one knew what it was. So I was on the forward edge of it and now I’m on the trailing edge of it. A lot of the stuff that people think is tilt-shift is actually large format photography.”
Glodell, who plays the lead character Woodrow, and his cast spent the summer of 2008 making the film. They took time off from and quit jobs to risk everything on the project. Actor Tyler Dawson, who plays Woodrow’s best friend Aiden, says that the goal wasn’t necessarily to have a breakout Sundance hit.
“In our minds, all we really wanted was to work more. We were like maybe someone will give us money to make some other movies. So all of this is awesome, but it wasn’t really our goal.”
The sense of unreality creates the sense that Bellflower takes place in a world of its own, one just a widdershins twist away from our own. While some audience members have a problem with how the characters seem to have no real world concerns, that would be missing the point.
“It’s not real,” says co-star Jessie Wiseman, who plays Milly, the woman who demolishes Woodrow’s heart. “To create that world [Glodell] cut out anything about the police, money or jobs.” Stripping away the banal facts of the character’s lives removes the barriers to building the gonzo-grindhouse emotional truth of the story. It’s almost counter-intuitive, and a rebuke of the prevailing indie style, but Bellflower is revealed to be a psychological fable thanks to the strength of Glodell’s gear-head imagination.
A self described “garage tinkerer”, Glodell began his fascination with tearing down and building stuff at an early age.
“When I was a kid I learned how to make shocking devices in middle school and I would sell them to make money for like five bucks a piece. They were originally just things with a button you pressed and if you hold the wires it would shock you. And then I finally figured out you could hook it up to a stereo system so that you could get electrocuted to the beat of the music. Which is like the ultimate party toy.”
Glodell originally pursued engineering as a way of bringing the images in his head to life. His time in school for engineering didn’t last long.
“They had this day when they took us on this orientation, it was engineering 101 orientation ‘You’re gonna meet a real engineer in the field’ and the guy was like totally cool but his life didn’t seem like the life I wanted at all. I freaked out and I left that day I was like ‘I’m outta here’ so I was only in school for a week. And when I left that was for some reason the thing that popped back up was ‘You know how I can make those ideas that are stuck in my head? I could get a camera and be a filmmaker.’”
Engineering’s loss is cinema’s gain.
Bellflower goes into limited release this Friday, August 4th.
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Robyn Gee on Monday, Jul. 11th
You might have heard about the yarn bombing phenomenon - street poles covered in colorful yarn, or cars covered in tight-fitting knit sweaters (check out Turnstyle’s awesome photo gallery).
But have you heard of poetry bombing?
Augustina Woodgate is an artist from Argentina who’s many passions include secretly sewing poetry verses into clothing labels in thrift stores. She does not let the store know what she’s doing. The project started as a way to celebrate national poetry month in Miami, Florida, but she says it will not end any time soon.
Stay tuned for an interview with Woodgate.
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Kai Hsing on Wednesday, Jun. 29th
Many of today’s microbreweries creating sophisticated craft beers started as homebrew enthusiasts who were able to turn their passion into real successful businesses. Almanac Beer Company, a new startup brewery in San Francisco, continues to follow that tradition while using influences from the Bay Area’s rich food culture to produce a truly unique beer.
WIN ALMANAC BEER GEAR: Facebook like Turnstyle AND drop a comment on our wall that includes the words “Almanac Beer” to be eligible to win a t-shirt in your size AND two Almanac Beer glasses.
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