May 16, 2005
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Can't get your film funded? Vlog it!
From home movies to polished productions, the Web is festooned with video clips
By Julio Ojeda-Zapata

Documentarian Dawn Mikkelson has fought to get an ecological opus, "Green Green Water," funded and finished. Now the St. Paul-based filmmaker has a new way to spread the word about her pet project: a video Web log, or "vlog," with online samples of the work in progress.

Call it Blogging 3.0. The Internet's now-ubiquitous text-based Web logs and its audiocentric "podcasts" are being upstaged by newfangled video blogs consisting primarily of moving imagery. From Duluth and Minneapolis to Mikkelson's downtown St. Paul digs, a new breed of bloggers is festooning sites with pithy, click-to-view clips.

The local vloggers aren't alone. Video bloggers across the country are proliferating to the point where big names in the tech and media realms have begun to take notice.

Google, the Web-search giant, recently solicited home-brewed footage for use online. Open Media Network, a Net firm backed by Web-browser pioneer Marc Andreessen, aims to provide a mixture of professional and vlog-based video. Current, a cable-TV network co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, is focusing on "short form" shows. It has staged a series of video-submission contests, offering the winners money to develop programs for the network.

But vloggers don't necessarily need the MSM — blog-head shorthand for "mainstream media" — to get their work seen. Some are assembling their own media mini-empires. Rocketboom, a top vlog, has evolved from a Manhattan-focused amateur newscast into one that is recruiting national correspondents. The correspondents include Chuck Olsen of Minneapolis, who recently filed his first vlogcast from the Living Green Expo at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Olsen, a prolific videographer and creator of the recent blog-themed "Blogumentary" documentary, has tirelessly preached the vlogging gospel. He maintains his own vlog, Secret Vlog Injection. He has a companion site, Minnesota Stories, in the works. He's jazzed up the left-leaning local New Patriot political blog with video, and is mulling a New Patriot vlog. He's sweet-talked the CEO of a local company into toting a tiny video camera for a firm vlog.

Olsen also has helped guide Mikkelson's firm, Aquaries Media, as it prepares "Green Green Water" for an autumn release.

"Green Green Water," being created with a California production partner, details the effects of hydroelectric dams on the aboriginal Pimicikamak and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nations of Northern Manitoba. The movie has a Minnesota connection because Xcel Energy is among the U.S. utilities that buy dam-generated electrical power from Manitoba Hydro, a lead figure in the film.

Yet few Twin Citians are aware of the topic, Mikkelson said. Rather than wait for her film to debut and, she hopes, make an impact, she is raising awareness now with a vlog featuring portions of interviews with people on both sides.

This vlog, like others, demonstrates a growing potential for distributing video online. Internet users can subscribe to vlog "feeds" using tools called "aggregators" that alerts them when the sites have been updated.

The latest aggregators, including the Web-based and software called ANT, are intended for vlog watching because they organize video for convenient consumption. Those using ANT on their Macintosh computers — a Windows version of the program is on the way — can access the footage they've automatically downloaded in a TV-like lineup with a bit of "Green Green" here and "Vlog Injection" selections over there.

Other Minnesota vlogs in such an ANT array might include "Le Garage" and "The Product," both out of Duluth.

Scott Lunt, creator of "Le Garage," said he got into vlogging because "I'm not a really good writer, and I never felt super comfortable with it." With the digital camcorder and laptop computer he carries everywhere, however, he can film and fine-tune visual nuggets of northern-Midwest life to amuse his subscribers. "I just like the happy accidents of a bunch of raw footage that would be boring without a little editing and music."

Barrett Chase, author of "The Product," is proof that vloggers don't need fancy, expensive recording equipment to make an impact on the Web. He creates his vlog fodder using a compact, low-cost digital-still camera of the sort that also records low-resolution video onto its flash-storage card in 10- to 15-minute spurts.

That gear recently was enough to create a multichapter masterpiece, "Making Beer w/Barrett and Paul," filmed with a pal. And one recent dawn, when Barrett, a postal worker, had finished a night shift and couldn't fall asleep, he wandered to nearby Superior, Wis., and captured the eerie "detritus of the night before. On the video, it looks how it felt (at the time), bleak and just strange."

In a sign that vlogging might spread into the business world, one local CEO has dabbled a bit in video-blog posting with a push from Olsen. The vlog veteran equipped Eric Worre, head of Hopkins-based Better Life Media, with a tiny video camera that stores footage on a miniaturized hard drive.

The firm, which aims to become a self-improvement-themed media giant, eventually posted a handful of vlogs with such titles as, "What makes you happy?" "How not to suck at sales" and "A search for the soul of kindness."

Olsen said the company has been less prolific and enthusiastic a corporate vlogger than he envisioned. But hey, the vlog evangelist said, it's a start.