Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Twofer

It’s hard to believe I haven’t written anything for this blog so far in 2017. It is not as though I have had nothing to say, quite the contrary. Those who are my “friends” on Facebook know that since the end of last year - since the presidential election, precisely - I have had plenty to say. And plenty more on other topics, too, from the innocuous to the important and everything in between. Sadly (or, maybe not), Facebook has taken the default role in my online presence. This is nothing new and was not going to be the subject of my musings today, but it is ironic that just last year I was I the midst of a Facebook “hiatus.” I didn’t just abstain (which is difficult when everything that happens regarding my profile generates some kind of notification), I suspended my account. I was in Facebook never-never land. And it was good.

But not so good that it left any kind of lasting impression a year later. In fact, were it not for Facebook’s little features that keep track of my activity, I would not have remembered my stop and start dates or even whether it was two weeks, six weeks, or more. And upon my triumphant return it was clear that both my presence and my absence had no impact on the medium. Sure, some friends missed my online friendship (particularly those whom I only have an online “friendship” with, but also a few with whom I have a history of friendly debate), but in the world of Facebook and social media, whatever I have to add is lost in the noise. It’s not just me, far more “famous” people contribute, too, and their impact, when compared to the whole, is negligible.

Still, if it didn’t do something for me, I wouldn’t do it. What Facebook does for me, primarily, is simple enough. It is what my blog did early on - it gives me a means of publication and the opportunity to build an audience. At one point, I had several thousand “hits” on The 25 Year Plan every month. Since I have not been publishing there regularly, my hit counter has spent more time not counting than it has spent counting. But I get a fairly good amount of response, feedback, “likes,” shares, etc., from Facebook. Why? Because unlike my blog of late, I “maintain” a presence on Facebook. But I have expanded beyond Facebook, too - linking my various profiles in a cross-posting manner. I guess I could do that on my blog as well, but it’s not really for that. It’s more for what I am doing right now; It’s more for this.

So, after three paragraphs of talking about what I was not going to talk about, I probably should write about what I came to my keyboard to do.

A few years ago, I started fooling around with video from these new, so-called, “action cameras.” About the same time, the iPhones and their knock-offs (sorry, the Samsung Galaxy and all others did not innovate, they imitated) were gaining traction. The video from cell phones, smart or otherwise, was not as good as these new purpose-built cameras, and between me and my kids, we tried a few. My boys mostly used them for snowboarding and four-wheeling, I stuck to mostly recording motorcycle rides. The video in all cases was only so-so. It was not, at first, anything remotely resembling “HD” and as far as the editing software available, it was clumsy and/or expensive, usually both. But despite the obstacles, they showed a great deal of promise. Today, the stunning quality of smart-phone video and the rise to the top of the action camera heap by GoPro is evidence of the promise the technology held.

We all, my boys and I, kind of got on board early, but our enthusiasm faded. We all learned a lot and much of that is still applicable. However, the time needed to produce video that entertains and informs without boring the audience to death is considerable. Even today, with the abundance of editing software and the extremely high video quality (my latest GoPro Session measures about an inch and a half square and captures video at a maximum of 4K resolution), making movies takes time. Enter the iPhone and its progeny. With tools like iMovie and other built-in software “apps” that deal with the video footage all on one small device, shooting, editing and producing video became somewhat simpler. Not exactly easy, but considerably easier. While I was in Baton Rouge one day, riding my 2007 Harley Road King home from the local shopping center, I had an idea that resulted in what is now known as “ShirtPocket Productions.”

But first, a few words about the entity, “ShirtPocket Productions.” It is not a real production company, at least not yet. It consists of one unpaid employee - me. It has yet to make a single dime; it has never submitted an invoice of any kind. We have never had a customer. Our expenses are not zero, but excluding the price of the cameras (currently three GoPros and an iPhone), there are none. Travel expenses, gas, food, lodging, etc., are all part of a whatever I was going to do anyway. That I ever decide to record video is an add-on, it is never the purpose. It is a fantasy company, a fun third-person entity I use to talk about myself when putting videos together. It is sort of Warren Miller-esque, but not really that, either. And, while it is not “real,” I have used the terms, “ShirtPocket Productions,” “SPP” and “ShirtPocket Short,” sometimes in conjunction with “the good folks at…” often enough, long enough and publicly enough to be able to claim the copyright to the names. In other words, although today it is a game, in the future it might be something more. Therefore, when it comes to ownership, the names are mine.

Where did the name come from? That ride home from the shopping center was warm - it was what one might call “t-shirt riding weather.” It just so happened that the t-shirt I was wearing had a shirt pocket. I was using an iPhone 5 at the time and for those who remember, the iPhone 5 was no wider, but considerable taller than the iPhones 4 and 4s were. When placed in my shirt pocket, the camera lens stuck up above the top of my pocket. I wondered, “what would the video look like if I started it, dropped the phone in my shirt pocket and rode?” It was not only pretty cool, it was the birth of ShirtPocket Productions. It didn’t become like it is today all at once. In fact, it didn’t become anything at all, it was just a passing thing, a funny play on words, a clever caption. Over time, however, the name and the enjoyment I’ve had with this "company" has grown into something that has become an expression that supplements the art of my still photography and writing.

It has become all too apparent that my interest in such things ebbs and flows. Actually, my interest in most things does, but these are sustained interests that I return to regularly, if not often enough (remember - this is my first post of 2017). ShirtPocket Productions goes through periods of dormancy, too. As I get better and more creative at assembling video (editing, soundtracks, etc.), I am able to do it more efficiently. But it is still time consuming. ShirtPocket Shorts are short - usually one to two minutes long. To create one, with music and fades and titles - even as amateurish as SPPs are - takes at least an hour, usually longer.

And I have learned some things along the way. For example, to use copyrighted music - which is most everything on the radio, in my iTunes collection, etc., it takes the permission from whoever owns it. Even if it is coming from the radio on my motorcycle as part of the ambient background “noise,” it gets flagged by YouTube, by Facebook and others. For my last two ShirtPocket Shorts, I didn’t even try to wiggle around the restrictions (doable, but temporary and I don’t want to open myself up to litigation - SPP doesn’t have a legal department). It turns out the Apple’s iMovie has a bunch of royalty-free music and other sound-effects that do not get flagged. While it is not the recognizable soundtrack I would like sometimes, it is good quality and, oddly enough, tends to refocus viewers on the video itself.

In light of all of this, I am using this return from a de facto blogging hiatus to post SPPs last two ShirtPocket Shorts. In an effort to include this blog more prominently in my online presence, it might be the perfect place to expand the storyline with words and, perhaps even dedicate some longer videos that are beyond the attention span of a Facebook “news feeder.” At any rate, with spring just around the corner and summer coming soon, the raw footage will be piling up. It might be time to give ShirtPocket Productions’ CEO a raise.


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