This is the sixth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is my interview with Ryanne Hodson, author of The Secrets of Videoblogging.
Let me ask the painfully obvious one first just to get it out of the way. Many of those who dismiss YouTube and other video sharing platforms as exhibitionistic are probably visualizing something like the classic video blog. How have these charges been confronted within the videoblogging community?
In the beginning, a majority of the videos being shared were people talking into the camera, or showing a day in their life, so there were a few critics who called videoblogging narcisistic, self centered and boring. Basically ‘Who wants to see that?’. The reaction the community had was two fold. First of all, we wanted to see that, so that’s what we were making for each other. And we challenged anyone who didn’t want to see that, to make something else. If you have a camera and an idea, make it happen. There were no limits to what you could make. The best defense to criticism of any online media is the choice not to watch or participate. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it. It’s really that simple. To take that a step further, maybe it will even inspire you to make something that you think is better. In fact, that’s why a lot of us started- because several had been television producers and editors and wanted to make something different.
What has been the response within the videoblog community to projects such as Lonelygirl15 which have sought to imitate the visual rhetoric of the videoblog in order to create “fake” or fictional materials?
The initial reaction to Lonelygirl15 within the community was fear that a wider audience would now question the authenticity of our videos as well. It was the first project that really called into question wether what we were saying was real or not. Several of us were trying very deliberately not to be produced or written like a television show, but to simply share genuine, personal and creative moments. Eventually the buzz about the Lonleygirl project died down and they moved onto to more obviously fictional interactive project but the fear of having your genuine voice questioned was a real one that has stuck with a lot of creators.
As you’ve emphasized here, these video blogs are part of an ongoing regular series of communications. To what degree can they be viewed and understood outside of the sequence of their original production?
The context of the videos could never be fully controlled on the web, that’s true now more than ever with videos being shared on facebook, twitter, etc.
A lot of the original videos from 2004 were part of a series of conversations, but could be viewed as their own individual moments as well. I feel like the videos we made back then weren’t meant to be as portable as they are now, but we didn’t have video on phones or wifi on planes then either. A lot of us have moved from strictly editing video for a blog and distributed through RSS to shooting moments on our iPhones, emailing to flickr and automatically posting to Twitter.
You also suggest that these videoblogs constitute a system of communication between multiple people who have gotten to know each other as friends. Does this suggest something significant is lost when we view the work of one videoblogger without looking at others with whom they are communicating?
This was more true in 2004-2005. There is so much video online right now, it really depends on what you’re watching. I find that some communities online are very exclusive and are often making videos for very specific people, maybe mentioning them by name and referring to previous conversations. But there are so many micro-communities happening at this point, that it’s truly like the wild west. Watching a section of a conversation could mean just as much to you as the people it was intended for. That’s why I love video on the web. Everyone has their own interpretation of the importance or coolness of one single video. If you want to trace the conversation back to it’s beginnings, most likely, you can. If you just want to enjoy one piece or one part of a meme, you can do that too.
How has the videoblog changed with the rise of a range of other social media, which also allow for and support these communications within a community?
As I’ve mentioned before, for me personally, Twitter changed the way I videoblogged dramatically. I felt i could share ideas and have conversations more quickly and fluidly, whereas on my videoblog, it would take a lot more time and effort. With the introduction of video on the iPhone and video hosting on places like Flickr and Facebook, several videobloggers have all but abandoned their blogs for the instant gratification of shooting to sharing in the same 5 minutes. This is not to say that creators have forgotten about making more complex content. Using these tools to sketch and have conversations and collaborations has opened up the flood gates of creativity, in my opinion. Making ideas flow faster and further breaking down the barriers to media access is nothing but good for everyone- creators and participants alike.
You suggest that the videoblog is becoming more visually sophisticated as some veterans have sought to move beyond to face in camera approach. As this happens, are they looking towards other kinds of media production for inspiration in how to create more experimental modes of expression?
A lot of us were media producers before we were videobloggers. And every one of us has been influenced by television and films since birth. As the tools get smaller, cheaper and the quality gets higher, people expand what they feel they are capable of. I have a small, DSLR HD camera with a relatively inexpensive lens and mic. I have seen, in the last 6 months, several independent films and a couple TV shows shot with almost the same equipment. If you have the idea and the gumption, the distribution exists, there should be nothing stopping you from making something just as compelling and creative as what comes out of Hollywood.
Ryanne Hodson (RyanEdit.com, RyanIsHungry.com) co-author of the first published vlogging book, The Secrets of Videoblogging, started her career as a video editor at WGBH PBS Boston and in Boston public access television. From Bangkok to Delhi, Amsterdam to San Francisco, Ryanne has taught diverse audiences the hows and whys of videoblogging. With partner Jay Dedman, she produces RyanIsHungry.com featuring stories of individuals hacking everyday life and exchanging notes on survival.