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January 22, 2009

Podcast Recs 2

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Having been on a podcast-listening bender over the last few months, I'm recommending the ones I've especially enjoyed. Back here I linked to a talk by the behavioral economist Dan Ariely. Today my tip is ...

* Lance Weiler talks to Joe Swanberg. (Go here. Now, in the "This Conference is Being Recorded" box in the webpage's upper-right, scroll down and look for "Joe Swanberg: DIY filmmaking." If you see a better way of getting at this podcast please let me know.)

This conversation is a great introduction to how new-media creators -- webseries makers, for instance -- think and talk, as well as an informative stroll through their concerns and interests.

A quick explanation: We’re all familiar with old-media conversation topics. Let’s take movies as an example. The usual conversation might include riffs about:

  • How hard was it to find financing?
  • What battles did you have with your producers and stars?
  • How screwed-over did you get by distributors?

We've all read articles and/or have attended panel discussions that have focused on these questions.

In the world of new-media creation, nearly all these concerns have been left behind. Why? Well, the new digital tools enable people to make movies for almost nothing. Really-truly they do: The Wife and I are friendly with a guy who makes feature-length movies -- on weekends, with friends -- for less than a thousand dollars each. The webseries that The Wife and I co-created ourselves with a young director friend was, by new-media standards, incredibly ambitious. We like to describe it as a cross between “Barbarella” and “The Matrix.” Yet its total cost was a mere $12,000.

If you’re working without producers and stars, then you aren’t subject to producer/star battles. And, because internet connections and downloads are getting faster every year, moviemakers can now put their work on public display without relying on any distributors at all. Hence: no reason to agonize about financing, producers, stars, or distributors.

So far as new-media filmmaking goes, in other words, those familiar old article and panel-discussion moviechat topics are now kaput.

But it isn’t as though life in the new-media world, however free and loose, is entirely smooth sailing. The old-media obstacles and hurdles may not be issues for people working independently, using Macs, and shooting on digi-videocams. But life under the new conditions presents its own challenges.

New media filmmakers love to get together and compare notes -- they just aren’t comparing notes about what filmmakers used to compare notes about. A few examples of typical new-media filmmaker conversation topics:

  • How might we get paid for our creations? (No one has an answer for this one yet, alas. In fact, it seems as though the freer the new tools make independent filmmakers, the less likely independent filmmakers are to get paid.)
  • How to handle the challenges of making collaborative work when no one involved is receiving a salary? (Example: It’s hard to yell at someone for screwing up if that person is pitching into the project on a volunteer basis.)
  • Working in complete freedom is great -- but how do you arrange your life and scale your ambitions in such a way that you have the time and energy you need to bring your ideas to fruition? (Making a no-budget webseries may not be a project on the scale of making “Lawrence of Arabia,” but it’s still a lot more work than, say, making a drawing is.)

In the podcast I’m linking to, Lance Weiler and Joe Swanberg leave old media concerns behind and talk their way through new media concerns in a serene, informative and engaging way. They’re new-media guys ... who are talking about new-media topics ... in new-media-guy ways. They’re very bright, and they’re nothing if not forward-looking. In their brains the usual old-media topics aren’t present at all; they aren’t even raised to be cast-aside. Listening to Weiler and Swanberg yak is like starting life afresh, or at least like running across a particularly good conversation at a new-media party. Refreshing!

For those who aren’t aware of the two guys: Weiler is a DIY, no-budget filmmaker who has also turned himself into a spokesperson for the DIY, no-budget movie world. Visit The Workbook Project, Weiler’s very ambitious and website, here. Essential websurfing for new-media folks. Weiler may well qualify as a major cultural force.

Swanberg is a DIY, no-budget filmmaker who has become known as a creator of “mumblecore” movies. (Mumblecore movies are films made by new media youngsters with action that consists largely of friends hesitantly hashing out their feelings and relationships.) I’ve only watched a few minutes of Swanberg’s work, and though it isn’t my thing exactly he’s certainly very talented. Check out "Young American Bodies," a racey webseries that Swanberg made with Kris Williams, here.

Give their conversation a listen -- but be forewarned. You’re likely to spend the first few minutes of it feeling very, very old. Stick it out all the way through, though, and you may find yourself shedding the old-media gloom and attaining a new-media state of “Anything’s possible -- but how can we get paid?” cheeriness.

Note to self: Write a posting about how one can’t, or at least shouldn’t, judge new-media creations by old-media standards. A blog posting isn’t a failed essay, for instance; it’s a thing to be enjoyed -- or not -- on its own terms.

Semi-related: I wrote a number of postings about working with The Wife and our director friend on our own webseries. Access them all here.



posted by Michael at January 22, 2009


Curious, Michael, about how much your podcast (and audiotape) listening has cut into your reading, especially of books.

Second question: not meant impertinently at all. I notice you used the word "spokesperson" as the title for a guy, instead of the, IMO, more paleo-tically correct "spokesman". I've also seen some "he and she", "men and women", etc., in other posts. Just asking this unconscious, or an act of solidarity with the language updaters? I myself refuse to use the feminist-required "he or she" "s/he" abominations, just as I refuse to use "Mumbai" or "Guangzhou", preferring the connection with my ancestors to be had by using their terms for things and not those of the New York Times.(Speaking of needless geographical modifications, I've noticed that Donald uses "Montréal" and "Québec", the French names for those polities, rather than "Montreal" and "Quebec", the English names, which strikes me as odd or affected or both).

Just wondering if you feel the need to translate, so to speak, traditional descriptive terminology into items from the One-World PC-vetted non-sinful words list.

I am not asking aggressively! Just wondering where your paleo/boho trad/libertarian heart really beats on this kind of thing, or if you've even given the matter any thought.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 23, 2009 11:03 AM

PatrickH -- What really cuts into my book-reading is websurfing! Audio is mostly for walks, gym-visits, long drives, etc -- times when I wouldn't otherwise be able to read. Given how much I websurf, the audiobooks that I listen to have actually *become* my main book-reading, come to think of it. Not enough hours in the day ...

Are you treating yourself to much audio these days?

Fun meta-reflections bounce around the brain when I'm hooked up to the iPod. With podcasts, for instance -- they're informal, most aren't "written" in any sense ... Yet they sometimes deliver a lot of what I'm used to wanting or hoping for from books. And given that books require loads of boring grunt work to write ... And audios just require a mic and a couple of speakers who are having a good day .... So: Is the kind of effort that often goes into creating book really necessary? At least in many cases? Why not just turn on the mic and tell people what you know, or are thinking? Maybe easier can actually be better, at least sometimes.

"He and she"? Yeah, I know what you mean. (And I like "paleo-litical.") Glad that you're keeping up the fight. In my NYC circles, though, you get jumped all over if you use "he" in the trad way. Where I live, the fight over "he" is finito -- language has moved on. So, out of self-preservation and convenience, I shrug and go with it. FWIW, I always thought the objection to using "he" as the impersonal-inclusive was idiotic. In French, the equivalent is "on" -- it's a masculine noun, and no one has a problem with it ... Sigh. Do you find that, where you are, keeping up the fight is 1) possible, and 2) worth the trouble?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 23, 2009 12:37 PM

Sigh back. Worth the trouble, no. I find the best approach with "he/she" is to make an occasional genuflection and then use "he". Outright challenges like "mankind", "Man", etc., no go. So I do my "fighting" in print, but find myself repeatedly using locutions like "the artist is more likely to use their..." rather than "his". Seems the closest to natural, and isn't entirely unprecedented--e.g. in Italian the pronoun "lei" means both "they" and the polite "you". So maybe we can use "they", but for a different purpose, as a polite replacement for what, in the end, is probably a goner. Sigh.

Audio? PODCASTS. And more PODCASTS. Language learning mostly, but also radio shows (our estimable CBC Radio has many of its best shows available via podcast, including great fripping wodges of one of my favourites "Ideas", which is more or less what it sounds like).

Haven't managed to get into audiobooks yet, although you've turned me on to trying Charlton G, and to

BTW, I hope you read the NYT article on how YouTube is becoming a great search resource, to rival Google ultimately, perhaps. I use it all the time to hear/see vid/songs by my beloved artists: just enjoyed Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads (great song, cool geeky/spaz dance-bot performance by D Byrne, choreographed by Twyla Tharp, IIRC). I'm a lover of YouTube, and like you, it's the web that's cutting into my reading.

Just so much more damn addictive, isn't it all? I'm glad to be alive today, and (believe it or not) to be my age--old enough to remember a world where books were god, to have (even half-asleep) that brain muscle that hard-core readers develop that lets you read for hours at a time. And yet...still flexible enough to love the new-fangled gizmos and whizbangs of today, and use them to broaden my mind.

My most useful online tool for mind-broadening? Ingenious online music theory sites, complete with tutorials on triads, harmonic functions, seventh chords, etc., and...a bunch of configurable ear and eye training doodads! Great stuff:, for example. Learned more from those sites in two weeks of use than from months of book slogging years ago. Makes sense if you think about it. When it comes to learning music, may the best medium win...and it ain't books, if you ask me.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 23, 2009 3:50 PM

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