Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My pre-iCloud life

I thought it might be handy to write down how I handle files and directory structures before iCloud forces me to rethink everything I do.

Because what I have is a kind of belts-and-braces version of iCloud, at least in some regards.

Let me start with the hardware, as one should. I have a MacBookPro, creaking at the knees a tad, but still offering valiant service. To that I can add an iPhone and an iPad, both shiny at time of writing. I am a MobileMe subscriber and a Dropbox user.

So how are things set up? I sort files by type, all my Text documents are in a single folder, called Text Documents, all my spreadsheets are together in another, all my PDFs in another, and so on. I have a rigorous file naming system which Ive blogged about before, but which enables sorting by project and date simply by sorting by name. So a folder filled with thousands of text files is not the jumbled mess you might initially assume.

Three key folders sit inside my iDisk, Text documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations, each with a symbolic link back to my main Documents folder. Default FolderX knows each applications key folder and guides all my open/save dialogs to the right place. And yes, that's my iDisk, not Dropbox. I was helping a friend with their setup and noted that they synced their disk with no issues. Like many early adopters I followed the standard dictum that this was unreliable and you just didn't do it. But hey, it actually works, at least in my recent experience. Perhaps Apple got their act together while all our backs were turned.

So what does this mean?

Effectively, I have the same files available to iWork on all three devices. Sure, when I add a file to one of the iOS apps, it will drop some features, and I have to be conscious to maintain my file naming patterns and save back out. But it's a glimpse of what's to come.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Aaron Koblin - TED

Aaron Koblin is one of the more interesting artists working in software today. He sees the creative form of the 21st Century to be that of interface...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

On Curating

Curating has become, in the data flood we are currently floundering in, one of the anchors people are using to find and establish meaning as we attempt to engage with this swirl of endless cultural material. It's become particularly prevalent in the film industry.
I was a curator once. An actual one, one who works in a gallery or museum, who puts on exhibitions and so on. I left the role at a particular juncture within the visual arts industry, when curators were moving front and centre. That time was held a personal journey for me as I moved from Dublin to New York, from a burgeoning visual arts scene to a highly developed one.
My first job title in Dublin was ‘exhibition organiser’, where the role was clearly on logistics. Get the list of work, establish the values with the artist, organise insurance, transport, the installation and hanging, manage the production of the catalogue and poster, liaise with the writer and designer, work with the director on promotion, and liaise with education on talks.
The creative aspect of the role rose and fell with the artist in question, usually in terms of the decisions around the catalogue design and the exhibition layout. Some artists needed more support than others, some less. In short, the engagement with the material was mainly functional in nature and creative only to a point. Co-ordinator is the term in popular use now and it’s used in many industries, today co-ordinators hop between creative sectors quite easily, it’s a set of transferable skills.
At the time, the act of curation, for me, became an extension of that kind of work. Making a decision to show this artist, in your space, at this particular time, and to craft an exhibition of their work. Having learned the technical skills of exhibition-making, it was time to engage with why this person, at this time in that space. Not that there was always an entirely rational reason for the selection, quite frequently it was from a gut instinct, with the various contexts being nonetheless fully borne in mind.
The curator steered their way through the emerging culture, finding things of interest. For me successful curation lay in being interesting in turn, where your take on things, somehow, contributed to the forward momentum. And having a take meant literally what you picked up to look at.
In a way the act of curation was simply selection added to those earlier learned logistics. It was the job of the artists to provide the work, my role lay in ‘look here’ and opening the door.
There were shows where the artists managed everything, self curating in short, the exhibition making broadly came from them. Blue Funk, a media group who dealt with issue based work was one, Derek Spiers, a photojournalist was another. You selected them, you facilitated them, and that was that. There were others where you stepped in more and the shape of the exhibition emerged from the engagement with the artist, the material to use, the amount and the presentation all formed through the interaction.
In each and every case, the artists made the work and the artist’s work was front and centre. The exhibition was a point of encounter with the work, that was its point.
Then I went to New York.
My first gig was an exhibition of Irish artists for NYU. I was called a curator and introduced as such to the industry there. I rolled that term around seeing how it sat. I had always viewed the term as pertinent to a museum where scholarship underpinned exhibition. In one of my first evenings there, we went for dinner, and there on the top of the Anarchy Café’s menu was “menu curated by....”. It was the first indication to me that the term might have had some slippage, that it might mean something different.
The second indication lay in my visit to Exit Art, a gallery on lower Broadway which my contacts in the visual arts had suggested as a possible venue for exhibitions I might curate. I visited over several months and it became clear that their view on exhibition-making was that an exhibition was a piece of work in itself which used artists work as its raw material. The curator was front and centre here.
Which in a broad and diverse world, is all well and good. The problem for me, is that this view has become the dominant view of curation. Curators set themes now and seek work to amplify the theme.
The exhibition title lies as some clue, a divination rod for the public to unearth hidden meaning and perhaps a stick for the curator with which to poke around and uncover work. In addition, this ‘mature’, developed notion of curation has become allied to a stagnation in personnel. Gallery directors have long lives it appears, and younger independent curators are barely fostered. And in the absence of an ongoing venue, independent curators cannot develop or ascribe meaning through a succession of shows, a programme, instead each exhibition becomes the event, a here’s-what-I-have-to-say.
There are some interesting developments, my students rarely indicate ambition to be shown in the major venues. It’s almost as if it was in a different realm, instead they seek to do their own work and self-exhibit. There are many pop-up spaces emerging in Dublin with artist led events. The circle closing again perhaps, it recalls Independent Artists and Living Art from the seventies. And independent curators, who feel equally excluded, have the relationship with artists that inspires some hope, there are projects, however isolated it appears to me, which seem to ring with a sense of authenticity.
Curation has entered the film world’s vocabulary. One of the outcomes of the digital revolution has been the diminution of films prominence in popular culture. As the net engulfs ‘content’ filmmakers have had to adopt multiple roles in order to keep afloat and to establish meaning. We are not just to produce work, we must promote and exhibit work, not only our own but also work we believe in. A return to the original meaning of curation at least in how I saw it, ‘Look here’ and open the door.
I personally hope that we keep that naive simple view, that we leave the art of being interesting to our filmmakers.

Friday, May 6, 2011


I quite like pitching and I've only realised why quite recently. At first I thought it was my natural tendency to sell something, I’m usually happy when I am in the space of selling an idea.

But now I realise that it is closer to me than that. Over the course of making a film, many films are made; the films in all our heads as we push a script through development, the films in the financiers and partners heads, the actual film you shoot, the scenes you don't get to shoot, the unused sequences that lie in Final Cuts bin, the rough cuts, the final cuts and the film you get to release into the world. And then when you show it, you realise that, in the end, there's no actual film. There’s just the films we all carry in our heads, no one even sees the same film when it's on screen. That at least explains the reviews I read, or the responses you hear after a screening, the film is more like a trigger to something, a pitch in itself.

So, why do I like pitching? Why is it close to me? Well... for a brief moment, between you and the financier or partner, your film lives, right there in the space between your heads. And when it goes well, the financier has had a good time or at least the desire to see more. And so, why not, let's make a film, floating somewhere above the coffee, as I lean in and say "Well... it's really-"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sony's latest iTunes Extras is another step after Apple's start

PaidContent profile Sony's latest release, a Will Ferrell movie, The Other Guys, which will have some interesting new features available in their iTunes version.

iTunes Extras are as I've noted before at least a start from Apple in acknowledging the issues facing film in the digital era. They re-introduce the idea of DVD extras, available only when you purchase the movie via iTunes. To date, they've been a predictable set of additional video clips and slideshows along with text. So far, not really a new deal, all very familiar. It's limited, in fact, by the unavailability of directors commentary in the current format.

In the Sony offering you can search for any word in the script and the movie will jump to that spot in the dialogue. Which is pretty neat. Other options including sharing a clip on your social networks and having direct links to the songs on iTunes.

A step forward after Apple's start perhaps. Good to see studios stretch a bit and interesting that Sony was the one to do so first. Perhaps it stems from their experience in the music industry, a few years ahead of the film industry in dealing with the digital revolution.

The PaidContent article talks about one-upping DVD, but the reality is this is about one-upping piracy. The key differentiator in the future for legitimate paid for content is to offer more than the pirates, to make purchasing the digital film compelling. The article makes some good points about how the Extras format pushes consumers to buy rather than rent. I think there needs to be some preview of additional material and functionality in the movies iTunes page for that to be a compelling factor.

The overall issue, of course, is the limitation that the film be viewed in iTunes at all, and the relative clunkiness of the Extras .ite format, a bundle of HTML, CSS and Javascript. There's only so far it can go here. The main creative act in the Sony offering, the 'wouldn't it be neat if..' is the script integration. We need a lot more of that, deeper too, looking to interaction with story itself.

All our future viewing devices, large or small, will be precisely that, devices, computers in various forms. The future here surely lies in some format, as yet undetermined, whereby content is not simply presented, much as a player might do, but also available through creative programming to be interacted with. The future of film lies as an application running on a device.

There's a lot of experience in the gaming industry, there's a lot of talent in the film sector. Apple have fundamentally changed people's relationship with applications with iOS, essentially shifting the public's perception of them as a new content form.

All in place. But not here yet. My gumption is that it'll start in two ends of the spectrum.

First, a major film will plan a digital release as an application, iOS, but also Windows and Mac and perhaps Android, offering only rentals via Netflix, iTunes etc. It'll be big, it'll be expensive. It'll be along the lines of a game, or at least employ a lot of gaming style interaction, and it'll probably be a lads, sci-fi, film. At some point the money on that will make sense, including the marketing requirements they'll face. They'll target the gaming market as a core and build upon it. They'll make this approach the story and get a lot of media attention.

Second front could even be first off the bat, small teams will form where filmmakers will fold programmers into their team at story stage and will fashion the shoot around the requirements of the planned application. They will release on iOS and perhaps Android alongside their Festival release, they'll embrace mobile as part of their strategy. The film will be made by respected indie filmmakers and will get a lot of attention as a result.

This all builds upon the revolution in production and distribution and marketing the film industry has been dragged through over the past years. The filmmaker's role has expanded from maker through to distributor and marketer and curator as Ted Hope has expounded upon at length. Transmedia, storycubes all of these exploratory approaches will end up forming ways of exploring the question of "how to make a compelling interactive rich narrative which isn't a game?" I'm hoping, that here, on this end of the spectrum, we'll see some diversity in approach and theme.

This year, perhaps, we will see the first one. If not, by the end of 2012, for certain. There, that's my new year's prediction, time for a resolution or two, methinks...