Monthly Archives: December 2007

Lighting and Shooting Discovery’s New Mobile Series ‘Go Green’

When partners Brian Weidling and Paul Galichia formed Tumbleweed Entertainment in Venice, CA 18 months ago, the idea was to produce content for the Internet as well as reality TV, screenplays, documentaries for TV and theatrical and commercial production. The mobile platform wasn’t on their minds at all.

“When we got into business, we didn’t even know there would be this world of mobile work,” says Weidling. “It didn’t seem like mobile was ever going to play the role of being a legitimate place to bring original content. We were trying to figure out how to do the Internet, as far as how to do original content, get distribution deals.”

Then came the opportunity to produce “Go Green!” for Discovery Communications. When they took on the 12-episode series, focused on ways that people can “green” their lives,” they thought the series was headed for the Internet. [“Go Green!” debuted on July 10 on V-Cast, Sprint, Amp’d, MobiTV, Helio, SmartVideo and Modeo.]

Aimed at the 18 – 40 demographic, “Go Green” episodes are 3 to 4 minutes in length. The format includes a host, middle school science teacher Andrew Kupersmith, who introduces experts and describes the segments. Episodes include “Under the Hybrid Hood,” about hybrid car technologies; an allergy-free home; water waste prevention; and how to get better gas mileage out of your existing car.

Weidling says that, in preparation, he and Galichia watched a lot of Discovery programming, especially on the Internet. “You do produce differently,” says Weidling. “We knew that uploading files that have a good look to them can be difficult.”

Drawing from his past experience, and from programming he’d already seen on the small screen, Weidling had already come to some conclusions regarding camera movements. “You try to not put too much effort into camera movement,” he says. “If there was a big camera move from left to right, it would pixelate. And it blurs when the image gets compressed down that small.”

Thinking that the content would play on the Internet, Weidling was also concerned about bandwidth issues. “It was more important to get across good solid information substantiated by good research that would come across in a way that would appeal to the audience, and not look schlocky because of bandwidth issues. We tried to keep it simple.”

How do you be creative in those constraints? Weidling says they had footage of the same shot from a variety of different angles, to see what worked best. “We experimented to make sure we got the best look we could get,” he says. “We ended up shooting a lot of wide shots, a lot of tight shots. We tried to make a decision of what we thought looked best, and then got feedback from Discovery. They gave us a good bit of guidance as to what they were seeing, issues they were having.”

Although the episodes would have a host and experts, describing the problem and explaining solutions, Weidling knew one rule of thumb from his production experience. “We needed a lot of B-roll,” he says. “We’d need 180 shots to get that B-roll.” One huge benefit was the ability to make use of Discovery’s rich archives. “We were able to get a lot of beautiful footage, which was very helpful,” he says.

The feedback Tumbleweed got from Discovery often related to the fact that the series would play first on mobile phones. “As the phone component became part of our production, we then decided to try to really take that into account,” says Weidling. That especially included graphics. Graphics that previously filled a single page was broken down into three pages. “Rather than put three facts on one page, we put one fact per page so it’s easier to read,” says Weidling. “We also made sure they were presentable on a mobile screen. We did many many tests, uploading them to a mobile screen size to check.”

“You’ve got to think visually and take into account that it’ll be three times the size of a postage stamp,” he continues. “That plays into not making what’s happening on the screen too busy. And you certainly want to make sure it’s really well lit so each character looks good and doesn’t have a lot of shadow where it gets blurred out. The lighting was very important to the whole process, so that everything looked as it did, so you had confidence you could separate out each object wth your eye.”

Tumbleweed Entertainment used its Canon XL-H1, an HDV camera that Weidling deems “amazing.” “It was really perfect selection for this content,” he says. “We could have gone with a $100,0000 HD camera and that probably would have got us a little bit something more in certain areas. But for the kind of budgets we’re working with for mobile productions, and for the tight timelines, we had to be mobile to get as much done as we can. Mobile budgets aren’t the same as TV, but the productions are worthwhile enough so that if you can figure out how to get as much possible out of each shooting day, and that’s what the Canon XL-H1 helped us do. Economically it put us the ballpark but also gave us a professional look and gloss.”

Lighting was a 2- ton truck lighting package. “It was a huge set of lights, not just a couple of little fill lights,” says Weidling, who says the package was rented from Wooden Nickel in Burbank. “This is probably one of the areas where we spent the most money. It really makes a difference.” The production company had six primary shooting days for the stand-ups, and another 8 days of B-roll production, all around Southern California.

Now that Tumbleweed has a mobile series under its belt, partners Weidling and Galichia are open to more. In the final analysis, how different was it than producing for the Internet? “I don’t think it is that different except taking into consideration your audience,” says Weidling. “The Internet is a little more of the wild, wild west and you can have content that might be a little bit too racy for mobile phones. Whereas on the Internet, people expect it. The mobile phone audience is very tech-savvy but isn’t necessarily into the gross-out factor that the internet can give you.”

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New on the Scene: TileFile

WHO: David Bolliger, CEO
WHAT: TileFile
WHERE: Sydney, Australia
WHEN: According to Bolliger, the company has been in stealth mode for the best part of two years. “We’ve done a number of interesting things in Asia leading up to the real deal,” he says.Some early investors, invested in Mixi, the dominant social network in Japan, gave the nascent TileFile a leg up. “We’re focusing on the American and Australian market, just to kick things off,” says Bolliger. “But we have seeds sown in Japan and Korea, which I can’t talk about.” TileFile is funded largely by VC money; Motorola Ventures became an investor in November 15 this year.
WHY: “I’m a filmmaker by training, and I love the new, vibrant Internet with video and photos,” says Bolliger. “But it troubles me that it’s a fractured media experience, with videos on YouTube, photos in Flickr and so on. Yes, you can hyperlink to everything, but hyperlinking isn’t really a great media experience. It’s a primitive media experience compared to what we do offline.”

Bolliger thought it would be great to make video, audio and photos a tile…with a twist. “If the front were the tile and the back were the social network, now you not only have photos or videos but packages, with a media experience in the front and the ability to socialize and make comments with people most closely related to the video.”
TileFile is aimed at the TV, the PC and the mobile phone. Bolliger describes it as “not only content-neutral but location-neutral.” “You don’t need to download any software,” says Bolliger. “The users can organize their own media, the media of their friends, media that lives in the internet, into this paradigm and have a less fractured experience, with maintaining all the social advantages. This is a richer, drag-and-drop way to share content—a next-generation experience.”

If TileFile sounds suspiciously widget-like, Bolliger agrees. “Tile file is a variation on a widget where it’s media-focused. The front is media. Then the back is the people. We’re wrapping the media in the people. You click ‘details’ and it flips over, and you can drill into the various layers depending what was on the front. The problem with widgets is that they exist because people want to make their own combination of different bits of the internet…but widgets are islands. Tile files are more like plates on a sushi train. You can organize them in any sequence, hit play and see all the different media together. When you’re interested in a particular media, you can flip it over and see the social media.”

With regard to TileFile in the mobile environment, Bolliger reports the company already has a “very sophisticated phone application” that hasn’t been released yet.

“The whole vision was that the Tile is good on the small real estate of the phone,” he says. “From the user experience, we’re taking the thumbnail to the next level: social packages. You can use familiar paradigms to greater efeect. When you can look at what you did on your phone on the giant screen, you have nonlinear access. You can drag it to friends on the web as well as the phone.”

The mobile application will be “a high-end experience with a common denominator,” promises Bolliger. “We have the user experience around a TileFile feed, which is a river of TileFiles. If all my friends use TileFile Mobile, I get to see a composite stream of all the new stuff from all my friends. I can comment on the piece of media and forward it. When I find a TileFile I like, if I send it to you, I”m not just sending you the media but the whole social activity around it, and you can get into it. It’s a fully featured TileFile application. Most of what you can do on the internet, you can do on the phone.”

“One of the key things we see happening is that we’re entering an era of web-based messaging for mobile, now that phones are better at dealing with the internet,” adds Bolliger. “Historically phone messages have been dead on arrival. I send an SMS and that’s it. But if I send you a TileFile, then that thing can live on the Web. You can join it later and add layers of description or comment. You can take the code and put it on your blog. The beauty of this approach is the moment it happens on the phone, it also lives on the Internet. So what you did on the phone is immediately available on the web as a TileFile. TileFile is not a destination site like a Facebook or MySpace. It’s an application, so you can combine TileFiles, create files, drag and drop to friends in a media-centric kind of way. Every package has a social layer.”

Bolliger also thinks TileFile has something to offer with regard to the problem of audience fragmentation. “Just as TileFile is looking to deal with the fractured media experience and improve that, we also have the potential to deal with the fracturing of the audience,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of work to make sure we become a sophisticated aggregator of audiences. The Internet, like most societies, becomes either very controlled or very grassroots. The next civilized approach is to say that these things aren’t mutually exclusive.” Bolliger also points out that when the Holy Grail of marketing and advertising is to target consumers with ads for things they want, “the ultimate vision is to bring them the content they care about. “The TileFile feed is media-centric,” he says. “I see what I want to see, I can drill into what I want to drill into. Then I can start to attenuate what reaches me.”

Currently operating as a PC-based experience, TileFile’s mobile application will launch at an unspecified future date.

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Mobile Monday – End of 2007 Musing & Predictions

Mobile Monday is the grassroots powerhouse organization for those engaged in all things mobile. The very robust Los Angeles chapter, which is run by Sarah Miller of Axis Marketing & PR, asked Interactive TV Alliance CEO Allison Dollar to help put together, and to moderate a panel, reflecting back on 2007 and looking forward to 2008. Along with a group of venture capitalists and analysts, I was on that panel. I didn’t have a tape recorder, so alas, you won’t get the wisdom of the other panelists, but here’s what I had to say. Please drop me a note to let me know what your predictions are for 2008.

Coal in the Christmas Stocking – Allison asked us all which companies, features or applications deserved coal in their stockings and why.
My choices were all the carriers for doing such a miserable job of educating the public about their mobile TV offerings. You can go to a website, enter a store and still have absolutely no idea that mobile TV even exists. Apple, which exists because of its insanely loyal customers, did a bad thing when they dissed their own customer base. I know I’d think twice about my loyalty if I’d stood in line in the cold for days to be the first to buy an iPhone, only to see the price lowered a few weeks later. What’s up with that, Apple? And while I’m at it, what’s with the telcos agreeing to participate in warrantless wire-tapping? Shame on them.

What were the most useful “gifts” the mobile industry received in 2007? I’m enthused about the big breakthrough in broadband video this year. Not long ago, the idea that people would actually watch video, much less TV programs, on their PC seemed ludicrous. This year, that’s all been proven wrong. That’s good news for the mobile industry, which is following the same path to wide adoption. Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz’s “quarterlife” was another gift: although it’s a broadband show, not a mobile show, these two savvy Hollywood producers showed everyone else how it’s done. High production values; guild signatories; stories that attract an audience. Listen up, mobile producers.

What were the most popular “gifts” mobile consumers received in 2007? Yes, I chastized Apple, but I also need to give them kudos. Although I was a hater, I have to say that the Apple iPhone was truly a great gift. Everyone I know who has one, loves it madly. Doesn’t that say it all? Apple has really set the bar for the competition. I think a series like “Afterworld” was another gift: made simply so it can easily conform to any handset’s requirements, this series is pretty much the “digital crack” that its creator wanted it to be. Aside from that, I would say that 2007 was a pretty sad year from the point of view of the consumer, who really got the same not-so-great level of service combined with high prices and a chaotic landscape for content offerings.

What were the newsworthy events of the year? The demise of the Disney MVNO was big news. If Disney—one of the most powerful brands in the world—can’t make an MVNO work, who can? Combined with the demise of Amp’d and ESPN’s MVNO, the Disney disconnect leaves MVNOs in a perilous position at the end of 2007. Google’s Android platform is also exciting. Although now it’s merely an SDK (software developers kit), that’s still exciting to me. SDKs bring brilliant Bulgarian math grad students out of the woodwork. This Open Handset Alliance move is a step in the right direction. Also of interest: I read that recent research shows that college students’ number-one Web destination is….social networks. Not porn, which usually drives any new media platform. Social networking it is, then. Nota bene, mobile content producers.

What’s on your wishlist for 2008? I’d like to see the carriers market their mobile content more aggressively. I’d like to see more handsets competitive with the iPhone. I’d like to see the 700 MHz spectrum auction stir things up in a way that speeds the dismantling of the walled garden. And I’d like to see more definitive research on mobile audiences, which results in more impetus for advertising-sponsored content.

Share your predictions for 2008. It’s going to be an interesting year. Verizon’s bid to create an “open” network is just one salvo in the evolution of the struggle between the closed and open networks. The 700 MHz auction will liven things up, but the carriers will work hard to maintain their position. The consumer will continue to be lost in the shuffle…for now. Although I don’t believe that at least the first half of 2008 will show any mobile TV breakthroughs, by the last quarter of 2008, we may be able to reap some of the benefits of a rocky start to the year.

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