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Remixing Remix: Mozilla Festival 2012

mozfestDocumentary filmmakers have increasing access to new tools for remixing and web documentary thanks to open source webmakers. At the 2012 Mozilla Festival, Brett Gaylor, director of the 2008 documentary "RiP: A Remix Manifesto," took center stage to announce the official launch of Popcorn Maker 1.0.

Gaylor has been a pioneer in the open source web and video community for well over a decade and through the Mozilla Foundation, he's most recently been a key innovator in web-native documentary.1 He joined hundreds of webmakers who descended on London, November 9 - 11, to see what they could hack.

As I mentioned in my last post about the web-native documentary project "Land of Opportunity," you're probably asking the question--what does this have to do with my filmmaking? This isn't the first time we've thrown around "web-native documentary" and "Popcorn" here at the Center, but the good news is now you get to tinker with it firsthand.

The Web is a Customer Service MediumHere's the philosophy--we are experiencing an intense convergence of media, all signs pointing to the web, one of the characteristics of which is an ongoing defining and redefining of itself. Commentator Paul Ford wrote in "The Web is a Customer Service Medium" that the web is like the horseless carriage, it continues to be a carriage without a horse until it evolves to be it's own definition of a car. Likewise today we still see the newspaper on the web, magazines on the web, books on the web, shops on the web… but one day very soon (some might argue even now), the web will have it's own unique distinction from all those other mediums.

Popcorn illustrates the point.

So what is Popcorn really?

Well at base it's javascript definitions for coding. But if that's already making your eyes glaze over, Popcorn Maker will put them back into focus. At first glance the Maker looks like a video editor. And it is. It's in the film editing layout by design - because it encourages you, the filmmaker, to use it.

So at Mozilla Festival I asked "the David Axelrod of Popcorn," Mozilla's Ben Moskowitz, the most basic question I could think of for a filmmaker--what's the difference?

The answer is that instead of working with all the media files on your hard drive, you're working with what's on the web. You start with a basic video, either a link you pull from Youtube or Vimeo, for example, or even a blank video.2

BBC ArticleNext you add images that pop up… or stay, text that pops up, commentary, embed a web page, insert a Twitter feed. All at the exact time of the video that you want it to appear. Click on the image to the left for an example of how Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow Laurien Gridinoc used Popcorn for an interactive Google Earth video illustrating the journey experienced by a victim of police brutality.

Once again the key here is that everything you are using is on the web. The video you pulled lives online, the Twitter feed you added is updated in real time--so your audience isn't going to read the same feed that you did 5 minutes ago. You can then embed your new interactive video on your own website, or blog or page. Better yet, share it with Mozilla so they can showcase your creative new work. 

If you've gotten this far, you may have noticed that the features are still pretty basic. You don't right click for functions, there's no cut and paste yet. It's a very stripped down version of a video editor. But it's version 1.0, the next iteratrion is already being hacked by the Gaylor, Moskowitz and countless otHowTo: chocolate-covered baconher people who love code. This is a way for you to experience some of the features and capabilities of Popcorn without having to be a coder.

Filmmakers like Luisa Dantas, on the other hand, are working with coders to use the full capacity of Popcorn, which when customized for your project, introduces all the sophisticated interactive features you can imagine (with the right amount of time and money). But as you know from editing, it's one thing to cut the one clip you need perfectly and with precision, it's another thing to be able to duplicate that degree of detail with any web video anywhere. But Mozilla's taken it on, and before you know it you'll be seeing online video remixing on an iPad during the morning commute.

Until then Mozilla Webmakers will be hosting the Festival (likely to be continued in London) annually so that you can show up and experiment. Take for example, Swedish documentary filmmaker Simon Klose, director of "The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard" (anticipated 2013), who, at the 2011 Mozilla Festival, decided that he wanted a way to provide a commentary on web videos that didn't interrupt the video.

Interaction beyond the screen

One year later Klose came back to host a session launching LinkLib.org - a way to send a commentary feed made up of curated web links directly to your audience's smart phones, that is timed to an online video. Instead of pausing your video or seeing pop ups, you look down at your phone for an interesting link related to the video content, that the director thought you might want to see. These feeds can be expanded out to include different streams, one from the director, one from a character, maybe a mass feed front he audience itself. Here's the breakdown:

LinkLib.org1. Pull up a video on LinkLib.org
2. Scan the QR code with a reader on your smart phone.
3. Press play on the video.
4. See a feed of links scrolling across your phone while you watch the video.

So watch a clip from "The Big Lebowski" and get links to IMDB, Wikipedia, or other sources someone thought you might find interesting. Once again, this version is rough. Klose demoed LinkLib at the Festival for good reason: he would be surrounded by hackers, coders, filmmakers, journalists and other media makers who would tell him how to improve the product. Meanwhile his developer partner was sitting in the Philippines listening to the feedback live.

There is a basic webmaking tenet here for filmmakers who may not be used the strategy: hack - and put it out into the world asap so that audiences can tell you how to make it better. If you wait until you have a clean finished product, it's too late.


With that said, what will you make with Popcorn Maker? Are you new to web-native documentary? Send me your experiments with social documentary through Popcorn and I'll showcase them on the Center's website: das [at] american (dot) org.

Still want more about web-native documentary and how it matters to you? Look out for a near future post on the "Web Documentary Manifesto."

1 Mozilla Foundation is the nonprofit venture of Mozilla, the open source web dedicated organization that brings you the Firefox browser and many other innovations we use daily.
2 if you're following: substitute the video link with: #t=,x where x equals the length of the video you want to create.