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Wednesday, 27 October - link


Finished another short film this week.

I was working through a theoretical concept here, the exploration of "augmented reality." What if Google search results covered objects in the real world? How would we interact? What's a good survival strategy existing amidst virtual information saturation?

The video stars Julian Bleecker, a mobile technology researcher and very patient man. He was incredibly charitable to go along with this; I chose him because of his expressive face, his eagerness for odd technology art, and his occasional forays into performance during "Critical Studies in Interactive Media" class he's teaching me this semester.

Cody should be recognizable from the first video of the semester; her playful spirit was perfect. Joanne is an old friend and willing accomplice. Edward I met through Souris; he's a consummate storyteller and struck me as a good person to read onscreen.

And then there were the dozen or so people who showed up to do odd stunts with office supplies. I ended up directing six or eight people, hooting, shouting and hee-hawing behind the camera. I had a terrific time, because these people were so creative and fun to work with. Vincent Diamante, Anita Stokes, Jen Stein in the café scene. Dan Leopard as a man. Erik Larsen, Mark Luntzel, Aaron Meyers,
Jessica Rosenblatt and Liz Supley under the tree.

There are voices in the film, provided by a gal I've known since I was three years old Leigh, and some participants in a workshop I attended last weekend about how blogs and wikis and backchannel might work in graduate schools. So shout out to my "Social Software In the Academy" homies who gave voice to this production: danah boyd, Daniel Chamberlain, Scott Fisher, Richard Hodkinson, Mimi Ito, Liz Lawley and Sébastien Paquet.

And finally I had a number of consultants, helping me flesh out my subject matter and storytelling. Chris Wetherell deserves special mention for taking a break after his Citizens Here and Abroad show to read my draft script and give me tight feedback. Other invaluable advice came from Felicia Day, Scott Fisher, Mark Gray, Howard Rheingold, Liz Supley, Brandon Walston and Daniele Suisa.

The whole work is based on Scott Fisher's research on Wearable Environmental Media at Keio University. These films here might provoke you as they did me; I couldn't help but make a short film in response.


"posted" - seven minutes - 48 megabytes Quicktime

[Can anyone help me distribute this 50 meg video over BitTorrent? That would be great. I tried reading the Make Torret FAQ but my whole body wanted to switch windows - too much going on to tease that out just now.]

Here's a self-critique prepared for Mark Gray and Daniele Suisa's film class where this project was presented today:

Filmmaker: Justin Hall - Date: 27 Oct 2004 Title: Posted - Project No: 2


INTENT: (How you want to affect us)

Scott Fisher has a long history of experimenting with Virtual Reality. His latest research, hosted by Keio University in Japan, is the Wearable Environmental Media project. If you watch the videos hosted on their web site (http://wem.sfc.keio.ac.jp/wem/) as I have done, numerous times, you’ll see a staggering vision for the future of physical space.

Fisher’s latest project brings the virtual into the physical. Wearing a computer backpack and looking through a large headset, his test subject can see trees and landscape. Superimposed over these trees are identification tags – information about the flora and fauna of the area. Wander the world, clicking for context.

It’s a prototype, a proof of the type of world foreshadowed in Howard Rheingold’s book Smart Mobs. With powerful mobile computing devices (aka cell phones), empowered with GPS units (location tracking by satellite), we should some day soon be able to append and engage virtual data tied to physical spaces. Rheingold refers to this emerging technology as “augmented reality.”

I find this concept, and these early proofs-of-concept, both enticing and alarming. I wonder what life might look like, if you woke up in “augmented reality.” If your environment was tagged with additional information, background and context on objects. Whether you like it or not!

Film seemed to be an easy way to simulate that, and experiment with that feeling. Post-It notes are already a popular means for personal information tagging in real space, so I made those notes portals into virtual space. Rather than spell out the lessons, I used voice-overs, performed by a group of academics researching the role of technology in the classroom (participants from the Social Software in the Academy Workshop at the Annenberg Center for Communications). A series of search topics, “man” or “friend” or “jo” or “tree” were fed into a site called “Googlism” which draws simple declarative statements from the search engine Google. The idea was to reduce complex virtual data into simple declarative statements. Layered and spoken by unseen voices when the character approaches the object; the effect should be curious and overwhelming!

That’s the opening of the movie. A funny sort of fish-out-of-water moment. But then we see that people can be tagged as well as objects. Tying search results with individuals could lead to a routine sense of “too much information” as we delve into accurate, erroneous and excessive context on our relationships, both intimate and with strangers.

Ultimately, the protagonist learns a lesson that is carried over from my last film, Robin in Wonderland – there are strange worlds surrounding us. We enter them, often unwittingly, at a pace we can not control. The best way to understand or enjoy the experience is to join, to engage, to participate.

The main character is played by Julian Bleecker. I chose him for his large eyes, performative nature and eager engagement with odd technologies. Bleecker is a mobile technologies researcher and faculty member in the Interactive Media Division at the USC Film School. By the last scene, he has been surrounded by artists, students and provocateurs, bent on having him join their tagging. He picks up the Post-It notepad, and begins labelling the world around him. Whatever the future of augmented reality may be, I hope to see it permit the same sense of play we see in the last scene of this short film.

SYNOPSIS: (What we see)

A man writes himself a note before going to bed, a sticky Post-It note, and posts it on his wall, where he’ll see it in the morning. When he wakes up, he sees that the Post-It from last night is blank. Reaching out to touch it, unseen voices read facts about the wall. These voices follow him, over-sharing about objects and people as he leaves his house to understand this strange world. With help from a prolific native Post-Iter, he finds a colony of people eager to create augmented reality.


• Experimental sound – voice over and room sounds. I spent a lot of time tweaking the volume levels to create smooth transitions – gosh I hope the sound comes across well.
• Inspired performances by non-professional actors. The people who acted in this film inhabited their parts with a solid sense of glee and engagement. It was exciting to work with them – they had exactly the right attitudes. They were creative in the moment, improvising emotion, responding to each other and drawing many lovely little pictures. There’s a sense of play in their work that matches the intent.


• Experimental sound – voice over and room sounds. Maybe too spare. Music might have helped carry the mood.
• Non professional actors – the movie might have had more depth with serious trained acting professionals registering more televisual emotions. And the movie might have had more depth with a more serious, less goofy director, cinematographer and editor (aka rambling me).
• Uneven lighting – the café scene in particular, and somewhat in the bedroom.
• Uneven Post-Its in the environment. It would have been nice to see Post-Its in the background in all the scenes.
• Uneven Post-It mythology. Do they speak their lines when you touch them? When you get near to them? Just one line? Or a whole cache of lines? I didn’t belabor this point too long – I think the movie is consistent enough, for its scope.
• It would have been nice to have a PleasantVille/Schindler’s List effect – everything desaturated except the yellow of the Post-Its. With the time I had, I decided to skip this to focus on editing for story.
• The credits use a cute-ish Post-It concept, but it could have been better executed.
• At seven minutes, this film is too long.


• People remarked on my manic energy as I directed – listening to my footage, I can hear myself chanting during the final scene – “Go! Go! Go! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” sort of whooping people up into a Post-It art frenzy. That was sure fun! I had a great time. Weeks before, I’d read an article about David O. Russell and his unusual style for directing I (heart) Huckabees. I’m not sure that fed directly into my behaviour behind the camera, but I like the idea of feeding off of the energy and excitement of the actors and crew. Certainly, seeing a half dozen people drawing and pasting notes on each other under a big tree because I’d asked them to was a big hoot.
• But this ecstasy had its drawbacks – later, when I went back to find good foley sounds from the scene, I had to pick carefully around my own enthusiasm. There would be a perfect take and I would shout “Perfect! Keep doing that!” during some unusual action. Often, I can be heard panting and giggling, just behind the camera. Not so good for foley or room sounds – next time I need to shut up, and/or make an effort to record extra sound-footage.
• I think I did a pretty good job of getting in people’s faces (camera is the catcher’s mitt and all) but I think I could do still better. More coverage of internal emotional states!
• This was pretty guerilla camerawork – drawing the people together in the locations was my biggest task this time. I didn’t do much by way of setting up, with lights or decorations. Next time, I would like to be able to draw together people, in locations, with some confidence that allows me to pre-prepare lighting and setups better.

Posted on 27 October 2004 : 23:12 (TrackBack)
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