Bear with me on what my unravel as a long strand here, Im trying to weave into one a stream that’s been flowing all day. Never one to write in that organized a fashion, I see a path:

  • celebration of some incredibly original, creative video forms- and I want more;
  • reading something way out my normal scope; which leads me to
  • an incredible video experience about a box, but its more than the video;
  • and speaking of the mystery box;
  • the overarching reach of an education connection.

Are you ready? Please place your minds into the upright and locked open position…

On video… Yes, bring it on, turn it on. Earlier this week I caught wind of this simple. but elegantly creative short video- this came from a tweet by George Siemens referring to a blog post by John Connell.

Watch this short video, the whole thing, and you will know what I am talking about when you get to a certain point.

Now I don;y know about you, but this electrified my on many levels, for a simple video, with a clever twist for a powerful message. Now this many have been done before, and there is certainly nothing in the YouTube age that could not have been done 20, 30 years ago in other forms– but we likely would have never seen them.

But that’s not really why I wanted to write about this video– I would love to collect a few more of these kinds of videos that somehow jar us, surprise us in a clever way, a hook, a magic inflection point.

What? Well I wrote last month about another video that had a beautiful elegant simple style that would have been dull as a straight up documentary style report, that again, hits you with a surprise:

Got it? It’s something about the simpler form, the style really many people could do, on their own, without lots of equipment or a hollywood budget.

Do you know of more like these? I’d like to roll out a full playlist.

Moving on to the next bullet…

I was reminded today of the power of reading from sources outside the normal things I look at. One my last travel, in an airline club, I picked up a copy of American Cinematographer for a reason that baffles me. It’s full of ads for all kinds of film, lighting, and other technologies that are mostly foreign to me. The articles highlighting the work of pros in this field, which really is not defined well by entries like “a photographer who operates a movie camera”…

So when I babble on about PHP or RSS or plugins it likely reads like this to someone outside my narrow fold:

In keeping with my desire to have opposing elements coexist, I created a moonlight source to project through a 16′-wide cutout in the top portion of the backing that was both hard and soft from the same direction. I formed a hard shadow using an open-face 18K gelled with 3⁄4 CTO and created a soft source from the same placement with an array of diffused Maxi-Brutes gelled with 1⁄4 CTB. The soft light gave us the wrap we needed for the fog to carry the light into some shadows, and the 18K gave us the glint we needed to bring the moonlight to the fever pitch required for the content of the scene.

So I don;t know the equipment or the terms, but as i read the February 2010 article Bad Moon Rising by the cinematographer of The Wolfman I don’t need to know the specs and the techs to appreciate the craft of people who do this and also the massive amount of teamwork that it takes to produce the movies that come to our screens.

Filmmaking is an interchange of creative ideas that either hits upon a point of collaboration or doesn’t. I believe that when minds come together who are meant to be together, that creatively charged atmosphere is conveyed on the screen and directly to the audience. That’s how truly great films have affected me. When I think back on the cinematography I’ve admired over the years, it’s usually not the prettiest film or the film with the most dazzling action footage that impresses me. Although I respect those types of movies, the films that get inside me with their emotional treatment of a story are the ones that hit home.

….

When I see or read interviews with my favorite cinematographers, such as ASC members Gregg Toland, James Wong Howe, Conrad Hall and Allen Daviau, I notice that when they discuss their artistry, they almost always pass the credit for their accomplishments to another person. They shot some of the most incredible images in movie history, and they understood that they could not claim cinematography to be a solitary form, but rather an essential component of the art of film. I think the collective spirit of the entire production team is what makes great things happen on the screen.

How often do we in our field really work to this level? And pass the credit?

So my suggestion is break out of the usual blogs, books, magazines, videos, music you watch, and sample something outside your regular circle. There’s no promise of inspiration, but when something does raise your eyebrow, you will appreciate the venture.

And this magazine I picked up by fluke led me to another amazing discovery. There was an article (not online) about another viral video (I miss a lot of these!) that caught a lot of attention- and is another stunning online form to appreciate. What’s in the Box was created by a 24 year old Dutch university student that emerged mysteriously, Alternate Reality Game-like.

Now I think it is worth watching on the source web site, which takes some exploration to find the video link. You can find it on YouTube rather easy (an exercise left for the Googlers), but there is additional content around it that make for a more mystery-like experience.

It’s all shot in video fashion very much influence by first-person shooter video game form (and the movie borrows liberally from Half Life), it is a science fiction thriller as the scientist (you never see but you see what he does) is dealing with some “singularity” related disaster, triggered? or not, but the “box” and then there is chase scenes as he is pursued by military personnel.

Another interesting piece of the style (which is very Cloverfield like too) is when the scientist attaches the “Computer Brain Interface” which provides superimposed data display gamers are used to seeing, but also very connected to the continually emerging range of augmented reality technologies we are seeing.

And then there is the second short video sequence staged in 2018– it’s connected to the story, but not in a clear direct line.

And what the heck was in the box?

The element of mystery in this video is great because it extends beyond the video tiself in ARG like fashion and as typical, there are places where people, on their own, dissect the clues in an amazing intricate fashion (e.g. see the comment stream on a post in joystik about the video).

And the other level of creativity is the blurring of other pop culture; the overlaps in the video with Half Life that had many people speculating it was a promo done by the company that makes the game (not). There is music and other innuendos to the TV show Lost (those numbers might come in handy on the whats in the box web site).

And step back and marvel what was created by 2 students in their 20s, using off the shelf software, a lot of creative self made technique.

This kind of creativity (and the videos mentioned above) really have me scratching at assertions that the age we are in has seen a demise of creativity. e.g. as the NYTimes cites:

Digital culture, he [[aron Lanier] writes in “You Are Not a Gadget,” “is comprised of wave after wave of juvenilia,” with rooms of “M.I.T. Ph.D. engineers not seeking cancer cures or sources of safe drinking water for the underdeveloped world but schemes to send little digital pictures of teddy bears and dragons between adult members of social networks.”

And I love the arc from “Whats In the Box” to/from JJ Abrams idea of the Mystery Box:

So some might say this approach is fit best for TV shows and Alternate Reality Games? I think back to Steven Johnson’s insightful Everything Bad is Good For You where he clearly outlines (graphically too) the simplicity of the stories of TV I grew up with (e.g. Bonanza, Hawaii Five Oh, etc) with what we see now with The Wire, Lost, etc where not only are the stories more structurally complex, but there is now, with the net, this extra layer of audience participation.

Old style TV, neat single line stories, wrapped in 30 or 60 minutes, and they even told you when to laugh. New style TV, overlapping plot lines, un-answered puzzles/problems that generate viewers to research, analyze, and collaborate… what a difference.

So now I am trying to wrap my grey matter around the idea- is there a place for a Mystery Box approach in education? Most of our enterprise seems built more around the simple plot lines, scripts, and laugh track of old style TV. It was really not until into graduate school that there were things I remember being more of a problem to be solved, and not so much set up for us.

It certainly seems a bit more in line with the kind of open ended exploration going on now with Urgent Evoke, where the goal is provided but the path left to the participants.

But the other thought is about seismic shifts we are seeing in the movie/video/television empire, whose old fortified castles are being undermined. This has really been propelled by taking what previously was a craft limited to the few that had access to expensive equipment and Hollywood sets/budgets to the kind of thing a Dutch nanoscience student can do on a home computer– and what many of us can do with free software that comes with our computers, and a frictionless means of sharing what we create.

So if you want to predict a parallel revolution in the enterprise of education, what is the driving factor that might undermine the somewhat exclusive capabilities of educational institutions? What is the equivalent of the change from a form that required big budgets and special equipment to something we can all do on our own? Is it really similar or not?

Some will likely chime in that it is opencourse/content- and thats a piece of it, but not the whole thing. There is more. There is something about an education that happens in the context of others, and with skilled people who are much more than “a photographer who operates a movie camera”, but I am also thinking back to that movie production environment, driving by a goal, but open to creative ways of reaching it that are not just what we have done before.

My own unscientific hunch is that we are seeing ever more of an continuing explosion of creativity, exploration, happening “out there”- the pundits who are saying otherwise are spewing BS as far as I am concerned, cause no one can really see it all, to enough of it all to really be sliding weights on the scales of culture.

But in many ways, back in the ivy halls, they/we are writing new episodes of Mannix (never got over that episode where he fell from the roof and kept on chasing the bad guy).

We need more Mystery Boxes.

And people who can craft them.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. Some will likely chime in that it is opencourse/content- and thats a piece of it, but not the whole thing. There is more. There is something about an education that happens in the context of others, and with skilled people who are much more than “a photographer who operates a movie camera”, but I am also thinking back to that movie production environment, driving by a goal, but open to creative ways of reaching it that are not just what we have done before.

    Amen!!!

    And I love that you randomly picked up a cinematography magazine, you’re a nut in all the best ways.

  2. Hi Alan … loved the post and the thinking behind it. When I saw the first video I recognized it as a take off on a great AARP commercial, “Lost Generation.” It has the same basic structure, but in my mind tells a better story — especially when viewed through a, “those damn kids these days” lens. Take a peek and let me know what you think:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42E2fAWM6rA

  3. Hi Alan,
    Love this post. And in response to your idea here:
    “So my suggestion is break out of the usual blogs, books, magazines, videos, music you watch, and sample something outside your regular circle. There’s no promise of inspiration, but when something does raise your eyebrow, you will appreciate the venture.”

    I am offering this suggestion for just such a place I (now) visit regularly. I suppose that technically this is not a recent venture outside my usual reads – I started following Jon Katz 2 years ago when my children gave me one of his books to sample while we were on vacation. I came home, found him on the web and was hooked. His photography is just, well, beautiful…see what you think… http://www.bedlamfarm.com/
    I do indeed ‘…appreciate the venture…’ each and every time I remember to take a look.
    fwiw
    Cheers,
    @cljennings

    1. Hi Cindy,

      Thanks, I love the Bedlam Farm web site- gorgeous photos and great writing, and you had me at “cute labrador photos”.

      I decided to create a new folder in my reader I call “inspire” for more outsider blogs.

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