The “Dear American Voter” Project

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After a few months of interning at a small, independent television station called Link TV, which broadcasts internationally-minded documentaries, news reports, and films, I was hired as a new media assistant to work on an interesting project. It was called Dear American Voter. The idea was that the 2008 American presidential election would have a wide-ranging impact on global politics, and Executive Producer David Michaelis wanted to give people from other countries, or folks who are simply globally-minded, a platform to discuss American political issues. Of course, Americans would also participate in the discussion. Dear American Voter became an online video discussion website in which you could submit a video of yourself talking to your webcam, and people could then respond.

Mind you, this was in 2008, when the original iPhone didn’t even have video recording capabilities and Facetime was still years away. Our emphasis was completely on webcams or simple FlipCam-esque “good enough” quality videos.

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At the start of the project, we had a difficult time finding people who were willing to appear on camera to express their opinions. For people who aren’t actors or television presenters, it’s a very intimate and potentially embarrassing thing to appear on camera, with the added pressure of presenting an articulate opinion about a complicated political issue. And with a webcam, you are often inviting the viewer into your home. It’s entirely understandable that people were self-conscious and hesitant. Of course, there are about 1000 times more video bloggers online nowadays than there were in 2008.

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Penny Arcade’s Strip Search

Strip Search, from the team at Penny Arcade, is essentially America’s Next Top Comic Artist. It’s a reality show in which cartoonists compete for the ultimate prize of a place in the Penny Arcade office (and a bit of cash). Penny Arcade, for the uninitiated, is a web comic about gaming and all its tertiary subjects that has grown into a successful company, a fabulously popular convention called PAX, and numerous online shows.

What I find really appealing about Strip Search is that the participants were obviously not cast for television. They’re not there for their smiles or how they look on camera. They’re on the show because they’re all cartoonists and illustrators with promising futures, and they’re all the more charming for being real humans rather than teevee humans. As such, their sincere vulnerability only makes you more emotionally attached and it’s hard to see any of the inevitably neurotic artists be eliminated from the show. Naturally, I’ve since looked up their work online, so they have at least one more follower.

It’s best to start from the beginning and watch the first show. Some of the rough audio mixing and recording is a little annoying, but it’s gotten better as they’ve progressed. But my sympathies are with the production company, who have probably not dealt with so many mics at once. Good audio is incredibly difficult to get. (Do you watch Survivor? It’s a small wonder that you can hear anything on that show because those people aren’t even miked. Audio folks are unsung heroes).

Explore the Strip Search site or just start watching.

Studio Ghibli’s “Giant God Warrior Appears in Tokyo”

Well gee whiz. Apparently Evangelion-creator Hideaki Anno commissioned Studio Ghibli to make this live-action short, based upon creatures from Nausicaa. There are some conflicting reports concerning the exact details, and it doesn’t help that there aren’t any subtitles yet. Hopefully a kind soul will post translated Youtube captions soon before I have to bust out my old Japanese textbooks. Watashi no namae wa Andy desu.

@Seinfeld2000

“Imagen Seinfeld was never canceled and still NBC comedy program today lol”

I just can’t get enough of this and it’s difficult to explain why. You’ve likely heard about the Modern Seinfeld Twitter feed, which posits what storylines the Seinfeld show might pursue in the internet age. It’s amusing for half a second, but is actually devoid of humor. Kramer becomes obsessed with Wikipedia. George becomes distraught by reading WebMD. They’re entirely reasonable premises to create comedic stories, but there’s no comedy.

Entire @Seinfeld2000. I first learned of them by reading this article on The Awl about weird, spambot Twitter users that post meaningless messages. The writer mentions Weird Twitter, a term that has come to refer to a certain brand of humor that is intentionally idiotic or non sequitur or bizarre, and often is a parody of the more pretentious stodgy ways that many professionals use the medium. The most mainstream example might be comedian Rob Delaney, who brilliantly writes stupid things like:

And in the context of Weird Twitter, The Awl writer also mentioned @Seinfeld2000.

@Seinfeld2000 takes the premise of a modern television show parody Twitter account and infuses it with the unique voice of a low-IQ knucklescraper who is unable to understand the concept of imagining modern plots for the show, and is also unable to spell, or remember the characters’ names. It’s brilliant. On one level it is a direct satire on how unfunny the original Modern Seinfeld account is by being completely unaware of its failings, but it’s completely hilarious on its own merits. That being said, it may be an acquired taste:

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shutterbug: A Short Experimental Film

A few years ago in film school, I had an assignment to make a movie using an old 16mm wind-up Bolex camera. I didn’t feel like making a normal narrative; instead, I lugged that clunky camera and a tripod around San Francisco and shot some timelapse footage. Mind you, I didn’t have any sort of automatic timer to control the old camera, so I literally stood in place while manually progressing the film, frame by frame. Most shots are about 15-20 minutes compressed into 15-20 seconds.

With one roll of film left, I needed to create a unifying theme for all the timelapse footage, so I asked a girl to walk around pretending to take pictures. She’s using a magic camera, I guess; I wasn’t too concerned with the story. She was an actress that I had directed before in a more traditional film project.

All of the film was pretty glitchy so of course I used glitchy music. Unfortunately the footage is literally just a mini-dv camera recording a projection of the film because professional telecine scans can be quite expensive. A lot of work for a small pay-off — my silent peers in the class were indifferent — but I like it.

Fitzcarraldo in a Bottle

Fitzcarraldo

I had a great idea. I’m going to create a model of the ship from Werner Herzog’s film, Fitzcarraldo, in a bottle filled with dirt.

Ships in bottles are such fascinating objects and I was really charmed by this exquisite recreation of a scene from Jaws in a bottle. Myself, I’ve never made a real ship in a bottle before, aside from this little toy. So I started by searching for a reasonable hobby kit facsimile of Fitz’s ship, but the closest I could find were paddle wheel steamboats. They might be adequate, with some modifications, but it would be more fun to have a one-of-a-kind model. So I’m thinking of creating a 3D model and ordering a plastic print from Shapeways. I could even have it printed in separate parts or bifurcate the hull or do whatever I have to do to get it inside the bottle for assembly. I’m considering one of those bulbous wine jugs so that I can make a steep dirt hill inside.

fitz doodle

Afternoon Update: I made a rough 3D model. It has to be pretty chunky if I order a small 3D print, because the miniscule details like the handrails would be too fragile for the manufacturing process, so I might just add the tiny bits to the physical model with toothpicks or something like that. But I haven’t considered the disassemble-reassemble-in-a-bottle factor. Even if I cut the hull into 2 or 3 main segments, the model will only be 3 or 4 inches long. So anyway, what did you do today?

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Bill Watterson’s 1990 Kenyon College Commencement Address

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A good graduation speech is such warm tonic for the troubled soul. In 1990, notoriously elusive Calvin & Hobbes artist Bill Watterson addressed the graduating class of his alma mater, Kenyon College, in a speech titled “Some Thoughts On the Real World By One Who Glimpsed It and Fled.” Here it is in full:

I have a recurring dream about Kenyon. In it, I’m walking to the post office on the way to my first class at the start of the school year. Suddenly it occurs to me that I don’t have my schedule memorized, and I’m not sure which classes I’m taking, or where exactly I’m supposed to be going. As I walk up the steps to the post office, I realize I don’t have my box key, and in fact, I can’t remember what my box number is. I’m certain that everyone I know has written me a letter, but I can’t get them. I get more flustered and annoyed by the minute. I head back to Middle Path, racking my brains and asking myself, “How many more years until I graduate? …Wait, didn’t I graduate already?? How old AM I?” Then I wake up.

Experience is food for the brain. And four years at Kenyon is a rich meal. I suppose it should be no surprise that your brains will probably burp up Kenyon for a long time. And I think the reason I keep having the dream is because its central image is a metaphor for a good part of life: that is, not knowing where you’re going or what you’re doing.

I graduated exactly ten years ago. That doesn’t give me a great deal of experience to speak from, but I’m emboldened by the fact that I can’t remember a bit of MY commencement, and I trust that in half an hour, you won’t remember much of yours either.

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