Category Archives: storytelling

Rifftrax and Birdemic

A number of years ago, I heard about the so-awful-it’s-good movie Birdemic. It has been on my watch list ever since, and over the Christmas break I finally got a chance to watch it. The movie has been billed as “The worst movie ever made” and justly so. It is truly bad.The screenplay is bad. The acting is bad. The directing is bad. The editing is bad. The special effects are bad.

Here is an excerpt to give you a taste of how deliciously awful Birdemic is:

Now why would I want to see such a disaster? Well, for one thing, I teach digital media technology. In our program, we learn about film editing, digital storytelling and special effects. With Birdemic, I was thinking we could analyze a film that someone spent time and money to produce, discussing the things that went wrong, and how could things be improved. After seeing it, I’m imagining there won’t be enough class time for a comprehensive analysis unless we devote an entire semester to it. However, we can look at some excerpts and explore the possibilities presented to digital film makers.

One recurring theme in the courses that I teach is that of “working digitally” or doing digital work professionally. Because it is an emerging field, the possibilities are endless. I want students to begin to imagine the kinds of work that can be done using digital media technologies.

Birdemic was created by James Nguyen, a silicon valley software engineer with a dream. Through persistence and audaciousness, his film became a reality. Using social media and publicity stunts at the Sundance film festival, the film was picked up by a distributor, screened in several cities, released on DVD, and by all accounts became far more successful than what should normally be expected. So count Mr. Nguyen as a visionary of what “working digitally” looks like.

I also have a second example of how “working digitally” is associated with the Birdemic film. I’ve been aware of the Rifftrax comedy website for several years. The business model for Rifftrax is to create comedy sound tracks to play along with commercially released DVDs. If you are familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, aka MST3K, you know how this works – basically it is a group of wise-crackers joking around about movies they are watching. After the MST3K television show ended, the Rifftrax website was launched. Below is a sample of how Rifftrax works with the Birdemic film. We see scenes from Birdemic together with the jokes by Rifftrax.

Normally, one buys, borrows or rents a dvd to watch, and downloads an MP3 joke soundtrack to play along with the movie. Over the break, I got the Birdemic film, downloaded the Rifftrax mp3, and had a great time watching this awful movie. But I think it is a perfect example of people doing digital work, creating a product that no one could ever even imagine before computers and the internet.

Denny’s Blog

I am always learning new things from my students. This week, I learned about the Denny’s Restaurant blog. It is full of wonderful, punny food GIFs like this one:

Hamboni Pun
Denny’s Hamboni

This is a great example of self-deprecating humor that shows it is ok not to take one’s self too seriously. Certainly this approach cannot work for all businesses, but it seems to be working for Denny’s.

I like the Denny’s work so much, I challenged my students to make a series of food GIFs and release them in their own social media campaign on Twitter. We’ll see what happens.

Why Mom Was Right About Internet Stupidity

Today, out of curiosity I searched Google for ‘Kansas State University’ and the screencap shown below are the very first results I saw:

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Unfortunately, a K-State student was recently expelled over a very distasteful post she made on Snapchat. This student had attended K-State for three years (a pre-med student), and boom, just like that she was out, three years of college and no degree. Here are some things I don’t know. I don’t know what other school will admit her and let her complete her undergrad degree. I don’t know if she has accumulated debt while in college. I don’t know what she was thinking. There are a bunch of things I don’t know about this story.

One thing I do know. I know that it is possible to earn a degree at K-State without ever taking a class in digital literacies. It is possible in the 21st century to still earn a degree without experiencing any special emphasis on the do’s and do-not’s associated with publishing digital media online. Yet every single K-State student, if they so choose, can publish something that the entire world can see in an instant, by simply pushing a button or two on a pocket-sized machine that they carry with them everywhere they go.

Yes, I will grant, that many of our courses address this topic, along with many others. Perhaps even the core courses that every undergraduate student must take such as expository writing, takes a hard look at this topic. But I find it interesting that digital literacies are not at the center of what we teach in our general education.

A class like what my second-year digital media students are doing in digital storytelling would be an ideal learning experience for all K-Staters. Not only are we looking at the how of creating media, but we also are discussing the whats and whys of digital media. I think a class like what we are doing could fit very nicely right beside the traditional writing and math classes that everyone must take to graduate.

But every curriculum is jam-packed, and many would argue there is no room for another course. But what if such a course was put in place, and we are able to reach many more students early on about the good, the bad and the ugly about online activities? Learning from a bad experience, Kansas State University could ultimately serve as an example of what can be done in the area of digital/media literacy.

Acknowlegements: The idea from this post came from today’s Daily Create activity; an assignment from our digital storytelling class using Portent’s Title Generator.

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Getting the Most Out of Twitter Tweets

I have never had anything I put on the web quite reach ‘viral’ proportions, but I’ve had a few online successes. One thing is certain, it is hard to beat having celebrity exposure. Yesterday, a British actor called David Schneider posted a call for “Enterprise Under Attack” videos, and my digital media students obliged with our classroom attack video.

As of this morning, our tweet of the video had 27 retweets and 78 likes on Twitter.

Star Trek Movie Tweet

Some lessons learned include:

  1. Share something fun, timely, and relevant with someone having a large following. David Schneider has 262K followers.
  2. Make it a good idea if not good quality.
    • We only had a few minutes of class time for this activity. We got a new USB Elmo camera in the classroom. It has a flexible stand which made rotating the room a cinch. Also, our new, wheeled chairs have been a student favorite on our tile floors since we got them.  I also added a Star Trek sound-effect to the YouTube video, but it was our soundless animated GIF that is getting the attention.
  3. It is worthwhile to share your work. Sometimes people will pay attention and appreciate it.

I will need to think about my strategy regarding interacting with celebrities. Honestly, I don’t follow many, and haven’t made a regular practice of corresponding with them, but the few times that I have have generally been positive.

 

 

An Audience of One


Photo Credit-Jim Richardson

I just visited a website of an unnamed person doing the DS106 digital storytelling course and I experienced a classic error that my own students tend to do when I ask them to publish school work in a blog format. That person wrote for an audience of one – the teacher. There was a generic reference to the chapter, but no indication of what the text might have been. So a random visitor from the Internet – me, has no context for what I am reading and no way to learn more about it myself.

Have you ever stumbled into a conversation that really wasn’t meant for you? Awkward, isn’t it? That is what these sort of posts do to the reader. How much better would it be to envision a broader possible audience and write to that audience? After all, whenever you publish anything to the web, indeed you do have a very broad potential audience, don’t you?

I think students everywhere would do well to adopt this practice in all of their classes, and their writing would immediately improve. Stop writing for an audience of one – the teacher, and start writing for a broader audience. What might your grandmother want to know about this topic? A long-lost friend? A random stranger on the street? How would having a larger audience upon whom you would like to make a good impression affect the tone and style of what you write?

If you will simply write for this larger audience in mind, and stop writing what you think your teacher might wish to hear, everyone involved will appreciate it, including your teacher, because you will be doing better writing.

 

 

Experts Talk Storytelling

Storytelling is hard. I’ve been studying it for some time, and I’m always learning. One book that I’ve enjoyed reading is Notes to Screenwriters by Peterson & Nicolosi.

Below are some of the best videos I’ve seen on the art of storytelling. All of these resources, the book and the videos have one idea in common – be respectful of the intelligence of the audience.  Give the reader/viewer something for the mind to work on without explicitly stating it. In other words show, don’t tell. This is easier said than done.

Anyway, here are the videos:

George Saunders on Storytelling (Coarse language alert)

Ken Burns on Storytelling

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Kurt Vonnegut on Storytelling