Weekend Project: Oscar Parodies

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The 82nd annual Academy Awards are just one week away (Sunday, March 7) and this year there are twice as many nominees (10!) for Best Picture.

We'd like to highlight some of the funniest parodies of this year's Best Picture contenders; some examples are below. So if you've got some time this weekend, try your hand at one of these, then tag your video with "ytoscarparody" so we can find it on Oscar Day.








Interactive Adventures: Leaders in the Genre Share Their Technique

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ChadMattandRob are Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Rob Polonsky -- three guys who, simply, "make movies together." Their well-executed interactive adventures are a model of the genre, and so we asked them to make a video revealing how they create these intricate narratives using annotations:


Today, they're featured on our homepage along with the tutorial video and two other strong examples of interactive storytelling. Here's a little more about who they are, how they work and the most important things to keep in mind when making an annotated adventure.

What does your production team look like?
We work with a close-knit creative team (Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Tyler Tuione, to name a few) and thanks to our great friends who help out in exchange for pizza and soda, we're able to work with almost no budget and limited resources. We love that YouTube has developed such a supportive community and has opened the door for creative and motivated people of all ages to create movies of all kinds. We are happy to be a part of that.

What gave you the idea to make this series?
We grew up on the Choose Your Own Adventure books and thought it would be fun to bring that interactive storytelling device to a visual medium. Thanks to the annotations feature, we were able to do that. Cliffhangers, audience participation, winding narratives and multiple endings – those are all devices we love and it's a lot of fun to play with viewer expectations.

How did you go about putting it together? 
We like to think of our interactive adventures as a game, so we start each series with a clear goal for the characters to accomplish. Once we have the goal in mind, we write the story and plot it out on a "story tree" like this one from our series "The Time Machine."


In this example, each box represents an individual episode and the arrows indicate the order in which each one will be linked to the others, via annotations. For example, at the end of the first episode (Box #1/"Start Here"), the annotations will link to the following two episodes (Box #2 and Box #3), and so on.

When we shoot and edit, we treat each box as a stand alone episode. In the example above, the entire series consists of nine separate episodes linked together by annotations. The boxes in the left column represent "fails" and the boxes on the right are the "wins" – these are the videos that will continue the story until the viewer reaches the ultimate/final "win" video. 

Interactive adventures can be anything you want. Make them shorter or longer, with more branches and offshoots...anything you can think up, you can do – this is just a basic outline. For example, our second series ("The Murder") had three separate and distinct storylines, whereas our other two interactive adventures follow a singular path.

What advice would you give to others interested in constructing interactive narratives?
Have fun with them! Make them anything you want. We've found that the less obvious the choices are, the more fun it is for the viewer and the more invested they become. But ultimately, just get out there and make one. The choices are a natural part of the storytelling process, and you'll find them instinctively as you write. Think your stories out, ask awesome people to help you, and let your adventure begin. Don't worry about your equipment, budget or software. Use what's around you, whatever you have access to.  No matter what resources you have, you can always create something.

What's the most common mistake you see people making when building these?
One mistake that's common, and it's one we've made, is not giving a clear goal at the beginning. Keep your viewer engaged by creating a concise end-point they should be striving for the entire time. Think of it as a game; it'll help with the storytelling and the payoff. But that said, experiment and see what you come up with – don't feel restricted in any way.

Tell us a cool fact about these videos that no one would know by looking at them.
Fact #1: We use a lot of our friends as actors and if you look closely, you'll see the same people over and over (usually as the bad guys).
Fact #2: Hidden in "The Murder" are a few alternate scenes; it all depends on when you click the annotation. And in the "The Birthday Party," we hid Easter Eggs throughout.
Fact #3: If you sniff them, they get you high as hell.

What other interactive narratives have you seen on YouTube that inspire you?
They all do! It's great to see the cool ways people use technology to further their creativity. We love the innovative storytelling, the annotation-based games, and the way people utilize the technology to create an international community based around a unique viewing experience. But beyond everything, we love the DIY approach – anyone who wants to can participate.




How'd They Do That? Ninja's Unboxing

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According to his channel, Patrick Boivin started drawing comic books 15 years ago, and quickly discovered that it was faster to tell a story with video. Fast forward to today: his videos have received an astounding 56 million views on YouTube, and he's perhaps best known for the YouTube edition of Street Fighter, an interactive video that uses annotations to play the game.

More recently, the French Canadian made waves with "Ninja's Unboxing," a video he produced for Google to celebrate the launch of the Nexus One phone. After exploring several concepts with the Google marketing team, they landed on this one, which sexes up the unboxing video trend like never before. Stealthy ninjas? Swift kicks and fancy footwork? Nunchucks, swords and box that's decimated for the treasure inside? Oh yes.



How did you make this video?
I created this clip with the technique called stop-motion. Basically, the clip has 15 images per second, and for each image, it took me between 30 seconds to 15 minutes to set the character in the right position. When you play the images back to back, you get movements...You can give life to pretty much everything with this technique.

How many hours did it take you to make this?
It took me full time, one month, alone in my living room. I did everything, except the sound and music that was created by my good friend √Čric Pfalzgraf.

What do the Japanese phrases say in the video?
They say simple things like "There is a USB wire in the box." I wanted the clip to look really important, as if it were a real show about unboxing from another era.

Tell us something about this video that no one would know by looking at it.
Hmm...My greatest tool for creating stop-motion is a software called "Dragon Stop-Motion." It's a brilliant software that makes the animation process so much easier.

What I could also tell you is that I had a hard time with the three ninjas. I created them with different parts of 12-inch action figures that I bought on the Web. My first three quickly revealed to be very bad for stop-motion, and I ended up using the Bruce Lee figure I used in "Iron Man vs Bruce Lee" for the white ninja and the Michael Jackson figure from "Jackson vs Bean" for the black ninja. The red one, which was the coolest one to animate, was an action figure from a Hong-Kong company, Hot Toys (btw, Michael Jackson is also from Hot Toys). If you want to try animation with 12-inch action figures, go for the Hot Toys action figures. 

Unboxing videos are a huge trend on YouTube. Aside from your own, which one is your favorite?
I'm not a big fan of unboxing videos, but there is this one YouTube channel called 2Old4Toys that I think is the best example of "Wow, you make me wanna buy this toy that I absolutely don't need!

What is one essential tip you'd give to any videomaker?
The more you do, the better you get, and the more mistakes you make, the more you learn about not making them again when comes the time to create your ultimate video!

What's your favorite YouTube channel?
I think that Melodysheep and Kutiman are great examples of the impact YouTube actually has on the beginning of the 21st century's pop culture.




Robin Sloan's Creator's Guide [Kickstarter Blog]

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From time to time, we'll highlight interesting views on video from around the Web. Please add links to any articles you found inspiring or helpful in the comments below.

Kickstarter posted this blog post over a year ago. In the piece, they asked one of their participants, Robin Sloan, what he did to make such a great video for his book-writing project. Though the tips are positioned as specific to Kickstarter videos, they actually provide general, good advice about lighting, sound, editing and more. Check it out: http://blog.kickstarter.com/post/173046259/creators-guide-to-video





Meet TheWillofDC: Hot YouTube Community Reporter

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TheWillofDC is currently YouTube's #3 Most Subscribed Reporter of All Time and has a rapidly growing following. Sure, it helps that he's RayWilliamJohnson's roomie and seems to have learned a thing or two from Michael Buckley, but what's really endearing him to people are his twice weekly shows: every Tuesday he releases a new episode of his super-dishy series, "YouTube News," in which he covers every aspect of the YouTube community, and Fridays he devotes to "Winners & Losers," in which he shouts out the folks who've gained the most subscribers in the last week and who've experienced the slowest growth.

Will became a fan of YouTube in college (first subscription=
smosh), and after graduating in May '08 he moved to DC to work on a presidential campaign in Virginia. Once that job ended, the recession was in full swing, so he says: "I just took the time to be lazy and spend all day on YouTube and other fun social networking or game sites." Now, Will now claims YouTube as his full-time job -- "and I wouldn't have it any other way!"

In this interview, he reveals how he manages to stay on top of the seemingly infinite activities of YouTube users and offers some invaluable advice on the best ways to start making YouTube your career.


What tools do you use to keep up on what's going on in the YouTube universe?
First and foremost, I'm very active in the YouTube community. I try to be in constant contact with a vast amount of 'Tubers and everyday I watch more videos than I can count, making sure to comment and interact on them all. I also get tons of information from my viewers, who have their own vast network of people they love, watch, and gather information on. I use Twitter to keep up with a large number of YouTubers, as well as attending their live shows on Ustream or BlogTV.

What's your routine for collecting all this information?
Now that my job is YouTube, it makes doing YouTube News so much easier because I spend all day on the site and have a pretty good feel for the community and what is going on. I start with reading the YouTube blog and the YouTube business blog. Then I watch videos (meaning everyone's I'm subscribed to plus everyone on the most subscribed lists, and all the videos under the popular tab and then finally any sent to me or that I find randomly surfing through). After that I spend time responding to all the comments on my videos and checking messages. In the afternoon, I usually try reaching out and interacting with other YouTubers, basically seeing what they're up to. I have Twitter open on my phone and computer 24/7. Also checking up on the more popular YouTubers' individual websites. With food and some outside time mixed in there, LOL.

How do you decide what to cover?
For "YouTube News," I usually have around 5-10 stories or subjects on a list of possible things to cover. I then go with my gut on which stories are the most interesting or would get the best reaction or what I think YouTubers want to hear about the most, and I cover those. It's a pretty simple process.

For "Winners & Losers," when I wake up Friday, I update my own Excel spreadsheet which I've been doing for over a year now. Because the YouTube page is delayed, I go to each YouTuber's individual channel to get the most up to date number. After putting all that into the spreadsheet and seeing the difference between the previous Friday and the current one, I figure out who dropped and by how much, or who grew and by how much. Obviously any big drops or gains get immediately noted to mention. Then I look at each individual YouTuber's history and see if anyone is trending better or worse over time. I try and spread around who I cover, which is why I've been covering when people only move up or down one spot a lot more lately. I always include people I feel the YouTube community want to hear about. Also I get a lot of comments from my audience telling me who I should include and then I include them. While I would love to cover every user in the top 100, I don't because the video would probably be 10 minutes long and I feel people like my episodes best when they are around 3.5 minutes.

What advice would you give about optimal days/times/frequencies to post?
I try and pick a time when I think the most people that watch me will be awake. I've found I do very well releasing a video anywhere between 1pm and 4pm EST. I know many people think Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to upload but I think any day other than Sunday seems to work just fine. I chose Tuesday and Friday because it's what works for me. The key is consistency and sticking to one upload day and time.

You follow in the footsteps of Michael Buckley -- how can others also take what's out there but give it a fresh spin?

I think Michael Buckley has inspired more people to start making videos than anyone else on YouTube, although that could just be my bias because he is the reason I started, LOL. Before I did "Winners & Losers" and "YouTube News," I was making vlogs which I look back at now with such embarrassment -- but that's where everyone has to start. You have to get the awkwardness out of your system and find your voice. No one wakes up one day, joins YouTube, and knows how to make the best video or become the most popular. Everyone goes through the process of finding their foothole in the community and the style they are most comfortable with. I believe I'm good at being a reporter and it took me a few months to figure that out and realize that was my place. So, I guess long story short: my advice is to not rush anything. Make a video because you enjoy it, not because you think it will go viral. Find your voice and do it thoughtfully and with purpose. Find something out there you're passionate about that you believe others would be interested in as well and go for it. I don't have the best camera or the best editing software nor am I the most attractive guy. But I found something I'm passionate about and I believe I draw people in because they enjoy seeing how excited I am about it and then it begins to excite them.

Other advice?
I feel like I could give advice for hours, but on top of what I've already said I think the biggest thing to remember is to be excited about what you're putting out there. If you don't like a video you made, no one else probably will either so why bother uploading it. Be consistent in everything you do and engage with you're audience. While there are many YouTubers who have believed in me enough to promote me or feature me, I think so much of my success came from my dedication to my audience. With the site growing so fast, I believe networking and interaction with your audience is key to any hope for success. Finally, you have to have fun with it. While YouTube can be a business, at its core it's a community of people loving this new social media experience "thingy." Our generation hasn't seen anything as great as YouTube in a long time; so I say let's ride the wave and enjoy it.




Weekend Project: Join the "We Are the World" Chorus

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The 25th anniversary edition of "We Are the World" just debuted at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and is live now on YouTube. Producer Quincy Jones wants you to get involved -- not only by donating to help Haiti, but by making a video in which you record your own version of a classic verse from the song. Read more here in our interview with Jones, then upload a video response to this clip:





Five Tips for Building Your YouTube Audience

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Excerpts and summarization of "Chapter 7: Building Your Audience from YouTube: An Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts" by Alan Lastufka (aka fallofautumndistro):

I am routinely asked about how to gain more subscribers. First, you can’t fake it. Well, okay, you can fake it, but any cheat you attempt will be transparent and won’t really do you much good in the long run. Second, while having thousands of subscribers is good, it's not necessary to enjoy your time on YouTube or even to "go viral." All it takes to go viral is for one viewer to share your video with another, who shares it with two or three others, who each pass it on, and so on. But obviously, the more subscribers you have, the greater the chance that one of them will pass your video on...to be the seed that quickly becomes a forest.

Before you set out to earn more subscribers, remember that your content has to be good. I can show you how to get a lot of traffic to your channel, but if your channel description, your profile icon, or, most important, your videos don’t entertain or pique visitors’ interests, they won’t subscribe!

Review your channel design. Take some time to write a compelling channel description. Make it personal, make it funny. Insert a favorite quote of yours. And make sure the featured video on your channel is one of your best.

Now you’re ready to set out to actually use some of the following tips. The best way to drive traffic to any web page, whether it's a blog, a new e-commerce site, or your YouTube channel, is to create inbound links. Inbound links are hyperlinked (usually blue and usually underlined) words or phrases that, when clicked, take viewers from a web page to your YouTube channel page. With that in mind, drive viewers to your channel by:

  • Commenting on other videos. Every time you leave a comment, your username is hyperlinked and takes those who click on it directly to your YouTube channel.
  • Commenting on other channels. Videos typically receive new comments at a very quick rate, depending on when that video was uploaded. But channels, unless they are extremely popular, tend to receive far fewer comments. So your channel page comments won't get buried to the bottom as quickly as your video comments. If you find a video maker whose videos you enjoy, leave them a channel comment.
  • Create playlists. Playlists show up in the YouTube search results. YouTube is the second biggest online search engine after Google. If you create interesting, entertaining or educational playlists of good videos, viewers will check out your channel and hopefully subscribe as they want to get to know you.
  • Network and collaborate. Appear in videos on channels that are more popular than your own. The video maker will either give you a link in the video description, or annotate directly to your channel page. This is a great way to drive viewers to you, and a great way to have fun while building your audience.
  • Make videos. Sounds silly to say, but if you don't make videos, regularly and consistently, people won't watch. Hours and hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. A video that's a week old may as well be three years old. Stay current to stay relevant.

Remember, you want people visiting your channel as often and as much as possible, in hopes they will subscribe. You can't do that if you only interact within your own bubble. So get out there and watch, comment and interact with other video makers.

For more tips and information on building your YouTube audience, check out YouTube: An Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts: http://tinyurl.com/youtubebook.




How'd They Do That? RhettandLink's "T-shirt War"

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222 T-shirts + 2 days yielded this fun video from RhettandLink. However, the companion how-to video by VeryTasteful is worth watching, too. It explains the "onion skin" technique used in this stop-motion video, as well as what happens when a fire extinguisher is one of your key props:








My Equipment List: vlogbrothers' Hank Green

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Well, the equipment list from Shane Dawson was so popular, we're pleased to now have vlogbrothers' Hank Green revealing his essential toolkit:

Camera: Canon Vixia HF-20

Microphone: 1 cheap audio-technica wireless lav mic and 1 Equation DS-V7 (with an XLR to 3.5 mm adapter)

Tripod: The cheapest one Best Buy had

Lighting: Two $10 halogen work lights from ACE Hardware. I need to get some blue gels for them because they're too yellow

Editing Program: Final Cut Express 4

Computer: Macbook Pro

Other: Western Digital 500 MB Hard drive – a big piece of green cloth

Advice: "Have a good time. Seriously. You have to work hard, you have to understand your audience, but if you aren't having a good time, everyone will know it...and so will you."

Proudest video: "I'm just gonna say my '15 hours in Target' video, because it's something I said I'd do, I did it, and I think it forced me to be really creative."




How'd They Do That? InstrumenTube

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Sure, there are tons of videos out there of people playing or teaching musical instruments. But InstrumenTube cuts right to the chase: the video is the instrument. Play piano, electric guitar, upright bass and more, from YouTube itself. The folks behind this novel idea -- Guy Dayan (concept, creative), Adam Ben Ezra (music, concept), and Daniel Barak (creative, "bad lighting") -- explain its genesis and execution.



What gave you the idea to make this video?
Well, the one thing that shaped the idea was a craving to interact with YouTube's viewers and help them make music on the website. So after an overall examination of YouTube's features, we found it -- the timeline [a.k.a. red player bar] and the annotations -- which helped us implement the project.

How does it work?
InstrumenTube is basically a series of simple videos of a single instrument played in a specific way, matching up with a chart on the bottom, which perfectly aligns with the YouTube timeline – or by using deep-linking annotations. Once you let the full videos load, you can start clicking on the appropriate place on the video or timeline to get the note you want.

Tell us a cool fact about this video that no one would know by looking at it.
The production budget was so low that even when we bought a projector to light the room for shooting it didn't work 'cause it was so cheap. This ended in a piece of cardboard wrapped with aluminum foil being held for hours and hoping the sun wouldn't go down too fast.

Have people sent you creations they've made with it? Which are your favorite?
New "InstrumenTubes" started to pop up on YouTube a short time after we launched our project. They're not only video responses, but they seem to be a new YouTube genre, and we're very proud of it. For example:






Dayan is also the force behind the YouTube climate thermometer video, which won the YouTube/ Cannes Young Lions contest, and TubePetition, an interactive PSA allowing people to use collaborative annotations to make a stand for the environment. Finally, his guyguy82 channel has possibly one of the coolest designs we've ever seen – definitely take a look!




Weekend Project: Video Valentine's "Cards"

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Paper hearts and chocolates are nice and all, but nothing says true love like a video valentine. Here are a few examples to get you in the mood for l-o-v-e.








Meet Kevin MacLeod: He Makes Free Music for Your Videos

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Kevin MacLeod is "a guy who writes music for film." He says: "I just do it as much as I can. If I don't have a film to work on, I'll invent something that needs a soundtrack."

Search his name on YouTube and there are over 36K results. That's because MacLeod is a popular source of royalty-free music, which he provides for free under a Creative Commons license; all he asks in return is credit in the video's description. What this means is that you can go to his Web site, Incompetech, browse tracks by mood or genre, and then download the one that best suits your video. The FAQ on his site tells you all you need to know about using his recordings.

MacLeod doesn't know exactly how many YouTube users download his work every day, but it is a lot. "I remember one day I scanned through the top 20 featured videos and my music was in 11 of them," he recalls.

"Scheming Weasel," "Deliberate Thought," "Plucky Daisy" and "Sapphire Isle" are the most popular of his tracks among YouTube users (he's not sure why), but his own favorite is "Ghost Dance." "I did this as an opening theme for a Sherlock Holmes audio production, and I think it is perfectly fitting for the genre," he reveals. "The piano arpeggio technique is interesting, and fits well with the opening phrases, which are later picked up by the orchestra."

If you're a musician and you'd like to allow your work to be used for free under the Creative Commons, MacLeod has these bits of advice:

  • Start by getting your own web site. There are a pile of aggregation sites out there who promise to add value to your works by setting them with hundreds of other composers, making it a one-stop shop for producers who need music. Using a site like that is a fantastic way to get lost in a sea of not-so-good music.
  • Set up your site to be easy for people who are making films to find what they want. Make life easy for other people, and they'll appreciate it.
  • Share your music as liberally as you can. I recommend the Creative Commons: By Attribution license. If you add stipulations like "Share Alike" and "Non-commercial," you're limiting the usage of your music. The goal is for more people to hear you, not less.
  • Promote yourself. Hey, you have a free product; it isn't that hard of a sell!
  • Be patient.
  • And of course, Keep Writing Music (but if you're the kind who writes music, it isn't really possible to not write music).
Of all the videos that include his compositions, which are MacLeod's favorites? He's got a few, which he breaks down by type:

Narrative: "Balls of Mystery" by captainstargood



Non-Narrative: "51 things i found around my house" by HurricaneAubrey



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