Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On Rabbit Holes and Finding Lost Things.

So, it's finished.

After three long, sweaty months of finding something to talk about, finding the time to talk about it, actually making it, and then taking everything I just made, tearing it up into tiny, bite sized tidbits, throwing it into an Oscar the Grouch type garbage can, pouring gasoline over it, flicking a spent cigarette on the whole thing, and then walking away in slow motion like some disposable action hero in some disposable action flick...

...I finally finished it.

No, not the magnum opus that I've been planning on writing as soon as I get that gig where I babysit an abandoned ski lodge and crank out page after page of "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" over and over again in some blind, alcoholic rage. No, nothing like that...yet.

I'm talking about that YouTube video that I said I was going to create those many months ago.

"Dude! Did it actually take you that long to finish one video? Man, you must suck at doing this."

Well, yes, but that's not why it took so long.

It wasn't... entirely why it took so long.

Remember back on my previous post where I kind of decided, after long deliberation, what my next video should be about?

Yeah, that didn't happen.

I started my quest for my next video by attempting to answer the question of "how do you know your audience". I went in with full intent of answering it, or at least trying to find an answer to it. The subject was a prison of my own design, because knowing your audience doesn't seem to be a problem for other people, according to Google. I come from a background of taking what you can get, in terms of finding and cultivating an audience while at the same time entertaining and/or educating them. If people show up, congratulations, you've found your audience.

My contention is that these days, there doesn't seem to be that dynamic anymore. I research this topic, and apparently, I broke Google. "You want to make a video, but you don't know your audience," mocked Google. "What are you, an idiot?" It is either presumed that you know your audience already (I mean, its obvious when your audience is a boardroom meeting or a classroom full of barely attentive, overly hormonal teenagers). But what if your audience isn't intended to be either? There has to be other types of audiences, right? There has to be situations where people still wing it. I mean, does a busker consult charts, graphs, flowcharts and the oh-so-trendy infographic to determine which subway platform to play on?



Before internet: Make things, People like.
After internet: People like, Make things.

Research was going to be my thing now. It was finally going to elevate me to where I needed to be. My type of writing is mostly from-the-hip, and not from the more commonly accepted research and report method. So in order to build my case, I decided to research, and try to evolve passed passionate diatribes that went nowhere. I didn't think that the subject was so philosophical that it baffles search engines; it's almost as if I'm back in school, and I had the audacity to raise my hand when something wasn't clear to me, while every set of eyes slowly turned and cast their disappointment toward me.

But, hey. What do I know? I thought I was thinking clearly. I thought I had a good point. I thought I was on to something, but once again, as the saying goes: Ask a simple question, get looked at like you have three heads. Perhaps I'm confused. Perhaps, I'm speaking another language. Perhaps, my information is out of date, I'm living in the past, too naïve in my reasoning. Perhaps, I've been cooped in the house for too long with no one to talk to except for a 15 month old.

Perhaps, I honestly don't know what I'm talking about.

The inside of the rabbit hole
I kind of crawled down a deep rabbit hole on this, which is what I'm good at. My thing is that I look for things. Maybe because I was named after the Patron Saint of the finder of things that can't be found... even though, I'm not Catholic... Maybe it's because it's a pet peeve of mine when I can't find things, like my keys, or my mind. I kind of crawled down a deep rabbit hole on this, only to come out the other side with a more tangible subject matter. Something that was less cerebral. Something that an audience that I haven't found yet would be able to understand. Maybe.

Instead of spinning out of control on a subject that I thought I understood, I thought I'd bring it closer to home on the other thing that has been preoccupying my time. Let's talk about writing. We can all get behind writing? Right? Okay. Good.

Specifically, what type of writing would be a wiser choice when it involves a career. I'm not overly impressed with my chosen subject, but I have to keep in mind that vlogging is still relatively new to me. I'm still working out the kinks and figuring out how these things are supposed to evolve and become something greater than what it started out as.

In any case, my latest video was fun to make. Can't wait to see where I can take this. Thank you for watching and reading.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

"...And I Want To Be A Paperback Writer..." Do You Know Your Audience?

Yes, It's been a while since I've posted to this blog. My other one has been needing attention too.

Yes, I do take this blog seriously. I take all my blogs, my YouTube channel, my business, my projects, my writing seriously.

Yes, I tend to leave many irons in the fire, and tend to do whatever I can in the environment that is afforded to me. Stated another way, I have a hard time producing videos during the summer months when I have a houseful of screaming children whose primary motivation is to watch as much sugar-laden television as possible, so I hammer away at a Novelette that I just started, or do my best to come up with an interesting t-shirt design. All while making sure said children are fed, their rooms are tidy and their clothes are clean. I'm in the business of making things, and I'm doing my best to make sure excuses aren't one of them.

So, yes. Starting a channel and not cranking out material on a regular basis is probably the biggest liability one can do, especially when you're just starting out. Persistence is key in, well, everything, honestly. There is no such thing in this life as "one-and-done" and The Bottled Lightning Company went out of business years ago. You have to keep moving forward, keep progressing, keep growing in order to survive. I want to hone my skills as a writer and as a YouTube content creator, because I feel one has a lot to do with the other. Utilizing both skills at the same time will result in some fantastic material, and more than likely garner the following, the audience I've been searching for...which kind of brings me to my latest video project.

For the past month, I've been trying to come to terms with "Knowing Your Audience". It's a suggestion folded into a lesson that is provided by the YouTube Creator Academy; a channel devoted to content creators, by content creators. I have attended lessons at the Academy, but lately, I must confess that I've been playing hooky. I feel I'm sort of in that place where a certain student might feel a little disconnected because the lessons being provided aren't providing any real sustenance, which in turn will make that student drop out and travel Europe. Next thing you know, they're in an Ashram in India where they find the enlightenment they seek, return to the states, sell their new-agey, spiritually feel-goody book and make a million dollars.

...where am I going with this?

Right, I'm sure "Knowing Your Audience" might make sense to some people. Although I'm not entirely convinced it will. To me, as someone who has had experience getting up on stage on a regular basis, whether it's opening night for a play that a friend and colleague wrote, or stumbling to the stage at a Karaoke Bar, or pretending to care what the morbidly obese tourists at table 7 who rolled in here on their Hoverounds yelling at everyone in the restaurant that "they just have a glandular condition"... sorry... speaking as someone who has learned that having, connecting and engaging an audience is integral to your survival, it doesn't necessarily mean that you can count on it showing up.

And yes, I realize the definition is slightly different from getting up on stage as opposed to making content that will be around forever (i.e. Evergreen). I kind of understand that it doesn't mean the same thing. Or, does it? How do you know your audience will show up? How do you know that you've got what they want? To me, it's a little egotistical to go into something like this, primed on the misconception that "I know my audience".

...I call bullshit...

This. These are the thoughts that have occupied my headspace for the better part of two months while I wrangle my children, and get further away from my intended goals. Since I could never find the time where I could get some facetime with my Handycam, I decided instead to get some writing done. At least this way, I could create something with cartoons blaring in the background, and everyone's happy.

Long story short, lightning struck between then and now. Long story short, things were moving in a positive direction. Long story short, I have a tendency to fall down rabbit holes when it comes to finding advice, especially when I go looking on the internet.

I'm tired of looking for advice on the internet. It's never what I'm looking for, and it's always the same old information, presented in the same old format, told in the same old boring way, but given a new coat of paint and passed off as something different.

I've been writing for a while, but it's not what I've gone to school for, and that little albatros is something I hang around my neck every time I start typing away. Yes, I know it's irrational to think that way, but it may lend itself to my slightly demented, Napoleonic mindset that I always have a need to prove something. And I also understand that going to school does not necessarily equal success in the field that you studied, but that's another subject for another time.

I don't care if it's advice on how to write, talk, sing, make an apple pie, get blood stains out of carpet, everyone is going to have varying interpretations of the same story; you are going to end up at the same place, how you get there is another subject altogether. I guess in some way, the people who dispense this advice actually know their audience, the way that P.T. Barnum knew his. Everyone that dispenses advice professes that they have the secret, the golden ticket, the absolute and unmistakable best way to do something, and they will give it to YOU, you lucky, lucky person you!

YOU! YES, YOU! CHOSEN ONE! TAKE IT! IT'S YOURS...for 3 easy payments of $39.95...but WAIT! THERE'S MORE. People who dispense advice, especially on writing, aren't in the business of selling miracles, they are in the business of separating the vulnerable and naive from their money, while at the same time, filling up their inboxes with offers of stuff for sale. SELLSELLSELLSELLL!!! The way to do it is to do it this way! The only writing format that exists is to write and produce "How-To" manuals.

Well, I don't want to do it this way. I want to do it my own way. It comes down to publishing information or entertainment. Everyone will give you advice on how to publish a list, or how apple cider vinegar cures everything. I'm looking for advice on character development, story structure, and plot development. You know...the other writing. What I'm trying to say is that I got more than a little disheartened on my journey. My definition of being a published author is slightly different that what most people think it is.

Needless to say, I've become more than a little disheartened on my journey. That is, until I found this...






Simple, to the point. Everything you need to know, you know already, and it's people like him, formats and subjects like this that validate, inspire and encourage one to move forward. My next video will be trying to cover this subject.

For now, I need to go change a diaper and get lunch ready.

Friday, June 19, 2015

I Needed to Start Before I Start.

Well now...

That took extraordinarily longer than I thought.

I was going full steam with an idea for a video that I started...months(?) ago now, only to be completely sidetracked by a video that was at the same time healthy and somewhat detrimental to what I was doing.

Along with all the tropes that go along with being a noob in front of the camera; looking at the monitor rather than the lens, pausing every fifth word to read a script and disrupting the entire flow of what I was talking about and stuttering on every other word, I came across a video from an established vlogger and began to question my very intention in doing this to begin with.

Not because I shied in the shadow of greatness, but because I felt a pit in my stomach get bigger the longer I watched. Here's a young guy, obviously very talented, very funny, never at loss for words or subject matter, quite popular...

...and then all of a sudden, darkness falls....





I've seen this before, this darkness. I've seen this more often than I'd care to count. I've seen this in the young and still wet behind the ears, I've seen this in the more experienced and perhaps more jaded. I've seen this in myself. It sucks. It hurts, and I don't wish it on anyone.

A meltdown is not what I wanted to see right when I have spent the past couple of weeks trying to sych myself up to hit the "Publish" button. It made me want to abandon all hope.

Which is kind of what I did with my work in progress. Start, stop, repeat.

It just got to the point where i needed to get friendly with the camera, because it was fighting me every step of the way. And what better way to face my demon, than tackling another demon at the same time?





So there it is, in all its incoherent goodness.

In case anyone from the You Tube Creator Academy is watching, yes, I haven't completely grasped the way of constructing a custom thumbnail, or fully utilize annotations, or work with any other bells and whistles that are at my disposal. But, this one video took longer than anticipated, and I'm sure the process will shrink with each successive project. I also have a habit of crawling down a rabbit hole when it comes to learning something new; I learn something, think of how I can improve, seek out that information, get distracted and then realize it's like a week later, and I haven't done anything.

Also, closer to the point...I still have no idea what my channel will be about.

But I think it's kind of the point, I'll find out along the way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Of Video Producing and Gym-Rats: Getting Lost Is Part of the Deal

Baxter and Knife Edge

"There it is! I can almost see it from here!"

Perhaps it was because this was a new experience for me. Perhaps it was because the air was getting thinner in tiny, imperceptible increments with every step. Perhaps I should have had that extra pancake that morning so I could provide a little more energy to push my legs just a little further. But I was only reassuring myself, however futilely, that the end was in sight.

The end is right there.

We are so close.

Just a few more steps, and we are there. I'm sure of it. I'm sure of it because...well... it sure does feel like the end.

I kept relishing the thought of a job well done; that feeling that one has when one just swam the English Channel, or ran and finished a marathon, or coming in second in a hot dog eating contest. I relished it. I welcomed it.

Katahdin Knife Edge
Knife Edge 
That is, until the clouds parted and the morning sun climbed higher in the sky. And then I realized, much to my dismay, that the comfortable summit that I thought was there, was only a nice piece of real estate along one side of "Knife Edge" trail. And Katahdin was a more formidable opponent than I gave credit for.


Located about 25 miles northwest of Millinocket, Maine, Mt. Katahdin (or, just Katahdin to the locals) is the other bookend of the Appalachian Trail. The end of the line...or the beginning, depending how you look at it. It is the tallest mountain in the state, and yet contrary to popular belief, the first rays of sunshine to hit the United States do not kiss its peak. Natural beauty and silence...precious silence...is everywhere. One could easily get lost on its trails. And by lost, I don't mean taking a wrong turn in the middle of nowhere and somehow managing to take refuge in the only cabin for miles around that houses a hockey-masked, machete-wielding, ten foot tall co-ed murderer. No. It's the kind of lost that happens when you lazily drift away on a sloop in the Keys, or a hammock in Maui, or becoming one with the Earth under the sun, moon, and stars on the Appalachian Trail. Ya know...the good kind of lost.

It's a Bucket List item one must do. Especially if one is a Mainer. You must reach the top of Katahdin and look upon the Earth with a fresh set of eyes, and lungs that are starving for oxygen. Or, if you're really ambitious, then you put one boot in front of the other, adjust your camping gear on your back and you head south until you reach Springer Mountain, Georgia. Either way, standing still or moving forward, the whole experience changes you.

~***~

A month or so ago, I embarked on making animations using Blender for my first video. Which of course led to another animation...then another...
"Grrr...I'm helpful!"

Then, I had to get myself acquainted with Lightworks. Don't get me wrong, using this software is fairly daunting, but once you wipe the blood that has been excreted from your brow after trying to make something work for a few hours, it doesn't seem so bad.

I keed...I keeed.

Everything is fairly self explanatory. I just had to readjust from living in Blender for a month with a two week layover in Adobe Illustrator... boy, are my arms tired...try the veal...I'm tired.

And also, I'd like to clarify something at this moment. I understand that I'm violation of overusing the terms "steep learning curve" and "daunting task" and whining that things are harder than they look. Like I stepped on a tack or something. "Owie! I hurt myself so that means I have to spend the rest of the day in bed with a box of cookies and my Netflix account. MURRRHRHRHRRRRR!!!" But, as that trope that is so often coined by Marines and gym rats alike states, it's just pain leaving the body. In the case of stepping on something sharp and stabby, it's more like blood leaving the body, which has a lot to do with pain...which stays around for a while...ironically. And in the case of learning something as complex as Photoshop, Illustrator, Blender, or Lightworks on my own, it's ignorance, apathy, indifference, and dependence on Windows applications leaving my body. Out goes the bad air, in comes the possibilitytolearnanewcraftandbyexentionbettermyselfasahumanbeingandafunctioningmemberofsociety... air.

Anyway, I felt like I was close to the end of my project when I finally clicked the "Render" button. But I have yet to shoot the thing. STILL have yet to shoot the thing! And I'm still locking horns with Lightworks. I wanted to achieve this one, simple graphic effect, but no one was telling me how to do it, so I had to guess and putter and soldier...or...gym-rat... my way through it. And after a few hours of figuring it out, I finally came close to what I was looking for. It isn't exactly what I was looking for, but I made it happen out of sheer will.

So, what was this thing I needed to do?

See this guy right here?






...and this guy right here?



I have been following the both of them for a while now. They have been a great influence to me as far as how to make a decent YouTube video.

Although their subject matter is quite diverse, the one thing they have in common is the ability to flash images and text on the screen while the video is still going on. If you want to achieve this effect while using Windows Movie Maker, you are unfortunately out of luck. WMM is not as sophisticated as other applications and software out there, and I can't help thinking that it was built that way on purpose. It is a simple effect and one would think that there would be a few quadrillion tutorials to tell me how to do it that doesn't involve me getting a Mac. There are about 3, and I was lucky that those were in English (Germans love Lightworks about as much as they love David Hasselhoff). I think i might have got the hang of it, and I gave it a test flight.

After a few hours of tinkering, I came close enough with my test edit to call it good,
and decided to run with it. Although it's far from professional, it's good enough to fit with the aesthetic of my channel, and it will only improve the longer I use it...and then the soundtrack swells as we see our hero silhouetted against a rising sun with is clenched fist held high, the camera pans back as we hear him exclaim, "As god as my witness...I will never go hungry again!"

...aaaand scene.

Without subjecting everyone to my nasally voice and me not word very good because camera make Hulk nervous, here's a GIF of what I accomplished...

Hey! I made a GIF!!

After a day of learning how to do this one thing, I clicked on the "Export" button and reveled for the moment in accomplishing something that I didn't know how to do before, and with that came a great deal of satisfaction. That feeling slowly fizzled as I saw the morning mist part again, and then realizing that I'm not even halfway there yet.

Fake my way through Blender? Check.

Get on a first name basis with Lightworks? Working on it.

Wrangle the untamed steed that is Audacity?....wait, what?

That's right. I got the video shooty part down, and the make interesting visual thing sussed. Now, I need to learn why when I record audio, more specifically, my voice, in a .wav format in Audacity , it doesn't seem to work when imported into a Lightworks project.

"Delays...delays..."

As I was on my way to the top of Katahdin, the morning fog was cool and dense and it didn't appear to let up anytime soon. Thick, cold mist clung to my clothes and to the trees and made waking slightly more hazardous when the forest vegetation under our feet turned sparse as it gave way to ancient and jagged Earth.

By the time we reached the top, all was clear. Not only were we seemingly above the clouds, but we were rewarded with a bright day, and a sight that is rarely matched. When I reached the top, my lungs were struggling, my legs had had enough and my dogs were barking, but my eyes, my heart and my soul were nourished.

Once the process of making a video becomes second nature to me, I will probably feel the same way. I want to learn things that I don't know how to do, because it makes me feel alive, like I'm worth a damn, like I matter...even if at the end of the day, what I say and do gets lost on other people. All of these technicalities? As much as I seem to complain about them, they interest me. I want to do things that interest me, even if it means I crawl down a rabbit hole or two and get lost for a few days.

But, ya know...the good kind of lost.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Hard Part is Over.

I started writing the script for my first video entry two months ago.

Since then, it's been nothing but rehearse, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, take care of my baby boy and OH... somewhere along the line, I got it in my head to include in the video, an animation of my own design; Something I knew nothing about.
Sneak Peek!

But I wanted to know something about it.

I'm a curious sort who is bent on making things himself.

Just like Photoshop and Illustrator before this, to say that Blender has a steep learning curve isn't really explaining the whole experience thoroughly. I've grown accustomed to Photoshop and Illustrator. I have reached a point in using it where, though not exactly "fluent" in the language of the software, I can at least ask where the bathroom is without sounding like a caveman. When I took that trip to the land of Blender, I not only had to re-learn how to use the mouse (that's the easy part), I also had to keep in mind that I'm no longer working in a two dimensional environment, and remember to appreciate the local custom of working in a three dimensional one.

The experience is not unlike transitioning from driving a Fiat to piloting a 747.

"Hi! Remember Me? You said you'd get back to me all those years ago."
Blender has a ridiculously steep learning curve. That point is only emphasized by the lack of online tutorials. Blender doesn't have legions of experts peppered about the web like Abduzeedo or Chris Spooner. The only resources I could find were on YouTube, and all of them, whether they were addressing novices or experts, weren't telling me what I needed to hear. I had to guess and fudge and get close to what I envisioned, but conceding to time constraints because at the end of the day, what I needed was something so simple, and it has taken me several weeks to get there.

But, it's finished...inasmuch as something can be completed by someone with limited knowledge. It's finished, and it's adequate, which if I look at it another way, it's freaking awesome! The heavy lifting is done and the hard part is over. I am now on to the second stage of making a video, actually shooting the video.

For the editing process, I decided to go with Lightworks; an open source program that (IMO) bares closer resemblance to Windows Movie Maker 10 than the current version. I loved MM10. The learning curve for that wasn't as severe as Blender, but you did have to invest some time in using it. I used , and I loved it. Now, the latest version is made for people who just want to put music behind their vacation photos. I need something with a little more heft, which means I went with the latest version of Lightworks. Which means it's probably going to be a few more weeks of learning.

Why do I torture myself?

I do it because I love it. I do it because I want to publish something of just a little quality on my own.

I do it because I care...

...I do it for you.

Keep watching this space. Fairly adequate antics are coming your way in the near future.

Welcome to the 2 Penny Theater.