For our final video project, our group (which included my wonderful ITP colleagues Myriam Melki and Wajma Mohseni) decided to do a weird, abstract piece about a girl and her seemingly troubled relationship with a guy. No spoilers, I’ll just let you see it for yourself (and lessons learned are down below):
Producing a well-shot, edited and cohesive video proved harder than I expected (but we had a lot of fun doing it!). Some lessons learned:
Start with a cohesive story, and then make it weird, not the other way around. We started weird and tried to add a story, and that was challenging. That said, we’re all pretty happy with the final outcome (and how strange our piece ended up being).
Lighting and camerawork are damn important! I felt this was an area we really cared about, and therefore, excelled. Also, the 5D MarkII can make anything and everything look incredible.
Editing can be tricky with different people doing it (all of whom are somewhat newbies). I do think the editing process probably is better with just 1-2 people operating alone (not necessarily at the computer together). “Too many cooks in the kitchen” type of thing.
Setting up scenes took much longer than I expected. Poor actors :/
Dialogue is really tough unless the actors are really good.
Video is fun! The 5D MarkII is fun! Adobe Premiere is fun! ITP Sound & Video is fun! All around, we had a great time. Thanks to our fearless leader and instructor, Gabe.
Monday marked the 1-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. To document the event, myself and ITP classmates Valerie and Asli headed down to Zuccotti Park and joined the march, collecting sounds that we then mixed with some live banjo (shout out to Valerie’s banjo-playing friend!). All sounds are of our own recording.
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality
While I won’t get into the broader (and admittedly complex) philosophical, economic, and political debates at the heart of this Rousseau quote, it is the passage that comes to mind when thinking about the ownership of ideas, concepts and art. Can someone “enclose” and own an abstract idea? Is it even intellectually coherent to be able to lay down stakes and patent a concept? A design process? A user flow? Where is the line between a legitimate right belonging to a private individual and common ownership belonging to us all? What separates impostor from bona fide right holder when it comes to ideas (especially when we can’t really know who first thought of said idea)?
Although I find that line between impostor and legitimate right holder very tricky to define, I certainly agree with the line of thinking that general concepts, ideas and art belong to us all in common. It turns out that the real source of human concepts and art is usually nebulous – or as Jonathan Lethem puts it: “Is an intellectual or creative offering truly novel, or have we just forgotten a worthy precursor?” Most often, the answer is the latter. And we’ve probably forgotten its worthy precursor as well. Originality rarely means first use.
Enclosing the cultural commons isn’t good for anyone. It stifles art, expression and innovation (ask any start-up dealing with patent trolls). Even worst, it tragically takes energy away from real human artistic and technology progress, and instead wastes valuable human cognition on mind-numbing systems, like software patents that no start-up tech founder can really be bothered with, simply because you’d have a hell of a time actually figuring out whether or not your violating a patent anyways (you only seem to know when they come for you).
That being said, I also believe artists, technologists and creators have an unwritten pact to use the commons responsibly. I’d argue that a painter using a photographer’s photo as inspiration for a new piece is a responsible use of the commons that is good for human progress, but a bootlegger simply copying (plagiarizing) and spreading that same photo with little artistic enhancement is simply stealing. On the same token, musicians “sampling” a prior piece of music and coming up with a fresh take is something I think we want to encourage in the world, but replication without enhancement is theft. As artists and technologists, we share in the commons, but we have a responsibility to build and contribute to it as well. I think that’s why so many of us are drawn to the open source philosophy. It serves us, and we pay it back with our own contributions.
On a closing note, I’m reminded of one of my favorite hip hop group’s experiences from a few years back, when they were being sued for not clearing samples in one of their ground-breaking records — A Piece of Strange. This record was a masterpiece that made a big impact in my life and in many others’ as well. Kno, producer of the group, has a great take on the conundrum an artist faces:
“[A Piece of Strange] would have cost $3+ million to clear all of the samples on it – but some people have told me it literally saved their lives. Should it not exist? Should I now be lectured on legal morality? The music I make infringes on copyrights. I am aware of this and have been aware of this, that is why I don’t stress getting rich off of it, I tell people to download it if they want to and I sink any money I do make back into making more records.”
Hip hop is probably one of the best examples of the cultural commons — much of the music is taken directly from prior pieces, but the end product is a work of art of its own. This is something we should want to see in the world.