We Built a New Website

This week we launched the new mobberly.org.

This has been a 9 month process. The old website was massive, and had become very dated in appearance and functionality. So we needed to updated it.

But we didn’t have a budget to hire a company to update it. So we decided to do it ourselves. Because we have other jobs, we knew it would take a while. Here’s the process we used.

1. In January we began tracking how people used our current website. We identified what people wanted to see. And we identified the content we thought was important that people were not seeing. We also found many pages that no one was visiting.

2. We also began talking with ministries, asking them to dream about their pages. We asked them to look at their content.

3. And we looked at other churches, looked at what they were doing on their websites.

We took a day to retreat and work through the data we had collected. We came up with a 2-fold purpose for our website, and 4 priorities to consider when making a new one.

The purpose of our site is to:
1. Help new people find out about our church
2. Be an Information hub for attenders

Our priorities were:
1. Mobile friendly
2. Guest friendly
3. East to navigate
4. Simple

65% of people visiting our website use a phone or tablet. So a responsive site is critical for us. The other priorities were straight forward.

We began to lay out our new site. We used our Strategies as touch points for the menu. We made campus pages with campus specific information, so people can find the information that relates to them. Once we knew how the site would look, we went to find a company that could allow us to build it.

In the Summer, I started trying out some web companies. It several attempts before I found one that could do everything we wanted. We settled on thechurchco.com. They have been very responsive, and our site is awesome.

So then it was time to build. I built the basic menu structure, and then pages, and then began to move content, edit content, create content. Initially we just used stock images. but as the site began to take shape, we started changing those out for our own. My Assistant Director spent a lot of time capturing new images of ministry here.

Finally, we launched and had all of our ministries go and proof their pages. We asked them to send one email with lists of corrections. (Not several emails…) I’ve made quite a few tweaks and corrections this week.

Today we had our first Sunday. On a whim I checked last weeks Analytics and noted the most used links on the old page. I made some redirects for the new page. In the space of an hour I saw 54 hits on the live video streaming link. Apparently a lot of people had bookmarked the old stream page.

I’m pretty proud of the new site. We worked hard, and thought things through. I think it will be a big improvement for us.

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There Really is No Excuse: Make a Film

“I’d make a movie if I just had a decent camera… microphone… lights… actors…. crew…”

How many time have you heard, or even said something like that? But none of those things are stopping you from making a movie.

The other day someone talked about a challenge to create a short film using just public domain or free sources; Video, audio or pictures.

I was intrigued and started thinking about this. So, there are several places online to find footage you could use. NASA is a major resource. Just about everything ever shot for any of their space programs has been made available for free use.

So I searched for little known stories from NASA. And I quickly found a story about the lunar landing with Apollo 11, one that I hadn’t heard of.

Then I was off into the archives from Nasa, looking for footage, audio and images. I did research on sites that took me through the events moment by moment.

In the end I cheated. I recorded a VO. The astronauts just sounded so professional that you couldn’t tell how stressed they were. Even so, I created an entire short film, with a complete story (beginning, middle and end) out of freely available footage.

There truly is no excuse. Free footage. Record audio on your phone if need be. Edit in one of the many free programs. You can make a short film now.

Like Vader, Social Media is Altering the Deal. Pray They Don’t Alter it Further.

Remember that scene in Empire Strikes Back? Lando discovers Vader is changing things. He complains and Vader responds, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it further.”

Vader is Social Media and Lando is every business, organization or personality that has built an audience on those platforms.

Last week the big news was that most of the major social media networks had banned Alex Jones and his media channels.

I don’t consume Alex Jones or Infowars content. That is my choice. I don’t need to be protected from any sort of speech by large privately owned companies. Now, these companies can enforce their TOS as they see fit. But this road doesn’t lead to a good place.

Generally the internet is the great equalizer. There is a very low threshold to publish anything and the market decides what is good or bad. Do we really want gatekeepers?

When any corporation that bills itself as some sort of neutral platform removes a voice because they don’t like what they’re saying, that should give us all a moment of pause. Even so, many people just didn’t care, because Jones is a terrible voice.

This week it was Prager U complaining of shadow banning. While I may not agree with Dennis Prager on all things, or with every video his channels put out, he’s nothing like Alex Jones. Yet Prager U posted this:

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After a bit of attention was brought to the issue, Facebook issued this apology:

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Pager U was not satisfied.

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So… what?

We had a deal.

These are private companies and they can do whatever they like. But there are two significant problems with the sort of behavior.

First, these social media platforms have presented themselves as open networks. They don’t have views, they allows us to share our experiences and views through their networks. They have limited restrictions for content, and generally have spent a lot of time building trust with their users.

These platforms have a sort of social agreement with the users. They have built their brand on being open. This trend is a shift away from that.

Unfortunately, these platforms aren’t admitting this behavior. In fact, they deny it. They want to continue to appear to be neutral, but also cut down on the speech they don’t like. This is problematic for users.

People who use these platforms trust that they can see content from accounts they follow (like or whatever). They signed up for it, and trust that the platforms won’t censor what they want to see.

Second, these platforms have taken money from people to build their audience. They allowed these channels and accounts to be created, and to spread their message. And they encouraged them to spend money to build their audience, to boost posts, place advertising and so on.

Now- after all that time, effort, and money has been expended- they suddenly decide the message these accounts have been sharing is not allowed. They cut off access to the very audience they encouraged the accounts to build.

The deal has been altered.

Again, they can do whatever they want, but this does not lead to a good place. But hey, these channels can get their message out other ways, right? Sure, but the platforms invited them in, asked them to invest time and money. And now they don’t want them?

If they did not want this content on their platform, they should have said so from the beginning. Not after a large audience was built. Not after they accepted payment to help build that audience. Not after users signed up to get that content.

At the very least, they should immediately refund every dollar spent on boosted posts and advertising.

Businesses and channels who took these social media platforms up on their offer to build audiences didn’t do it for the short term. I manage a few accounts on different platforms, and if they suddenly threw me off for doing what I have always been doing it would be an utter shock. These accounts exist for a reason, and the users who make up my various audiences are fans/followers/etc for a reason.

The social media platforms are changing the deal, after its been struck with both users and channels.

People who build audiences have a right to expect the platform to continue to give them access to those audiences. People who use these platforms have a right to expect them to allow the content they want to see through to their feeds. Companies who use user information to generate income, and accept payment from accounts to build and reach audiences have a responsibility to those users and account owners.

Because these are private companies, there’s not much recourse. They can use other means of communication, but the audiences they built on these platforms are on those platforms. Conservative voices who find their deal is being altered can’t do much more than pray it won’t be altered further.

3 Reasons I’m not making Tutorial/Review/DIY/Test Videos on Youtube Anymore

youtube noI have a love/hate relationship with Youtube.

There is so much to love. It’s the great equalizer: the bar to publish is so low. Anyone with a computer and internet can publish content to the masses. The wide open nature of the platform is one of the reasons it is the 2nd largest search engine in the world.

You can learn to do almost anything from Youtube. I’ve changed garbage disposals, replaced car door handles, and much more just by watching a video from Youtube. You can research almost anything before you buy it. Someone has reviewed it. You can find innovative ways to do things. I have a small camera jib that cost me $20 to make, and I learned how to build it from a Youtube video.

I even have a few DIY/review/tutorial/test videos on my Youtube channel. But I’m not making any more. Here’s why:

1. Youtube as a community doesn’t need my voice in this space.
There are literally millions of people doing it, and doing it better. No one will notice that I’m not publishing this sort of thing anymore. No one will say, “man, when will that Scott guy make another how to video?” Instead they will find hundreds of other videos talking about the same things I used to.

My voice isn’t needed in the space.

Yes, I’ve made videos that help people. And that was very nice. But for every video I’ve made, there are many others out there doing similar things, reviewing gear, showing how to do DIY filmmaking- and doing it better than I can. Youtube as a community doesn’t need my voice in this space. And I’d rather not be on the other side of the camera, anyway.

2. Youtube as a company doesn’t care about casual creators.

The recent changes to Youtube’s partner program made it clear that they only care about a certain sort of creator. Even though I had been a good partner with zero strikes for years, they cut me loose. Why? I’m a casual creator. It’s not about the couple of dollars I lost, it’s about the respect in the relationship.

I got the message loud and clear, they do not care about me. Even though most of the videos uploaded every day- the videos that make Youtube the size it is- are uploaded by casual creators or small creators, they only care about people trying to grow a large audience. I know those are the meat of their model, but that doesn’t make it easier to stomach the blatant disregard for the years I was a small contributor to the content library.

So why should I work to help them?

I know, seems petty, right? What about the audience? Why don’t I just make videos to help people? I considered doing that. Still making the occasional video. But them I got the latest batch of comments.

3. Youtube’s tech audience is full of trolls.
Seriously, I don’t need this.

The comment section of many Youtube videos is a dumpster fire. I don’t just mean the TSIS sufferers. Those people are bad enough, but it’s worse sometimes.

Comments from trolls who didn’t watch the video but want to criticize it.
“You’re an idiot because you put music on an audio test video!” – Uh, I put music on the intro, but the actual test doesn’t have any, and you would know that if you watched it…

Comments from people who think you did it wrong.
“You’re an idiot because the camera settings are different, it’s not a good comparison.” – Uh, this wasn’t a comparison video…

My favorite: Comments from jerks
“You’re an idiot because your voice sounds funny!” – Uh, didn’t you ever heard the maxim- If you can’t say anything nice say nothing?

Frankly, this is the main reason I’m done with these videos. I’m not doing anything unique, Youtube doesn’t care about me, so why would I put up with this junk? No one will miss my infrequent videos.

I had gotten to the point where I just was turning off commenting. But that means the YT algorithm wasn’t showing my video because views, likes and comments drive it. So less people were seeing it, defeating the entire purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, some people were totally cool. Even people who disagreed with a review or wished something was different. They were kind. And if I was someone building a big audience of fans, they could drive down the trolls and “haters” and such. but I’m not trying to do that. When I made helpful videos it was to help people. If no one sees them, or if they don’t need the help, why would I subject myself to this sort of idiocy?

The internet troll thing is a symptom of larger societal problems. It’s not getting fixed anytime soon. I’m just done with it.

So, I will leave up some of my videos. And I leave the rest of it to other creators.

I will still use Youtube to post videos, just not those kind of videos. Expect to see trailers and teasers, and content I’ve made; BTS clips, stuff like that. Do not expect to see a tech review or instructions on how to do something. There is a vast array of content creators out there doing that. More power to them.

Paper Edit Continues

I posted on the production blog the other day, explaining the Paper Edit of the documentary.

I have been working at it for a while. I’m down to the last 3 transcripts. This is a tedious process. But I am seeing the content of the interviews again, and seeing how the final film will come together.

I am very ready to start assembling the video into the time line of the editor.

Converting Audio From Video to Text

My feature length doc film has hours of interview footage. Hours.

So now, I’m working through the footage. And I’m experimenting with ways to convert audio from video to text so I can do a paper edit.

One way is to make comments in the metadata of each clip. Then you can export the sequence from Premiere as an Avid Log Exchange file. Then change the “.ale’ to “.txt” and import to Excel. It’s not pretty of smooth, but you can see columns with time code and comments.

I tried using the old Adobe CC “speech analysis” in Premiere 7. I downloaded the previous version from the Creative Cloud and had it process a couple of clips. Let’s just say the accuracy was pretty bad. Very bad. But, I thought I could maybe use it. So I saved the project file. And then opened it in the latest version of premiere, which still kept the metadata… as speech analysis information. But, when I exported the ALE file and tried to import to Excel, the speech analysis data doesn’t;t show up. And you can’t copy and paste the data from the speech analysis text box. I don’t know why.

Now, I’m trying the Youtube auto text caption option. I exported an interview with timecode embedded in the video. I used a super low resolution because I only need the audio and I wanted the file to be small. The video was automatically transcribed, which was great. And I could download a file. But I can’t get Premiere to like the file. They just won’t display correctly.

But, I guess I could just copy the text and do the edit that way. The caption file has the file timecode listed. Copied the text, and pasted it “special” into a word doc, to preserve the formatting.

So, that’s where I’m at; Exporting clips of interviews to Youtube and then copying the captions to a transcript. It’s working so far, but I’m always open to a more efficient process.

The Reluctant Release: When They Don’t Want to Sign the Release Form

Release forms. No one likes them. But you need them. You need releases for people, places and for materials. A lot has been written about this subject, so I won’t go into it here.

What do you do when someone doesn’t want to sign one? I recently had this happen with a couple locations for my documentary project. Here’s how I tried to work through the problems.

Be Patient.

My first reaction was not patient, or helpful. Didn’t these people know I needed this? What was their problem? I’m nerdy enough that I almost always get a small shot of adrenaline when I get a form returned, or an email about a form. Weird, right? So, inevitably when I’m first reading it, I’m not calm and cool.

And of course the real issue is: what is their problem? Why would they say no? In my case the locations didn’t say no, outright. Both offered ways to get permission, but neither were acceptable. As I reviewed both, it became clear that one location simply didn’t completely understand what was being asked of them. The other was, as I would find out, going to be rigid and over reaching in their requests. Let’s look at the first location.

Try to get to the core issue. Get the facts. Why don’t they want to sign the release?

Be Clear.

I realized that the initial request had not been very clear. It had been handled through a 3rd party, so I was able to get into contact with the location myself and start to work through the issues.

I explained what the project was. I showed them what gear I would be bringing (a single mirrorless camera, not a full crew). I talked about risk, the fact that I would be attending the event anyway. We talked about the fact that the event was the subject of the film, not the location. The camera I would bring is the same as I would bring if I were a parent. There was no additional risk to the location.

Be Persuasive.

Once I convinced them that my presence would not be a major risk, I began to ease their other concerns.

It became clear that the location was concerned about being shown in a negative light. I’m not sure if they had a bad experience before, but I worked to put their mind at ease. I told them about the film, and why it was important. I sold them on what I was doing, on the purpose of the project. I reassured them that the location was just background for the film.

At one point the location said they didn’t have the power to give me permission to shoot because they were just the venue. I explained that while I had permission from the event and the people involved, because it was private property, I needed permission to shoot there. They asked to get written permission from the event organizers, which I provided.

Be Flexible. (Where you can.)

The location asked me to change a few things in the location release. None of them were important. I felt they were overkill, but I could easily put them into the document if it made them feel better.

I specifically limited the number of people in my crew to one. I specifically mentioned I would not hold them liable for physical injury to myself. (This was in addition to existing language already related to liability). They asked to only be shown in a positive light, but I agreed to not show the location in a negative light. I could do that because the location isn’t the focus on the film. I would be surprised if anyone could even identify it by the footage. The location is a neutral part of the film, just a venue.

It’s not always possible to meet every demand or request. Don’t give up more than you should. Don’t agree to things that might compromise your film, your finances, or put you in a legal bind.

Be Persistent.

After I made the changes, the location representative said he would sign the release. And then went silent for 2 weeks. The shoot date was rapidly approaching. I had an email saying they agreed to the release, but no signed release and no plan to obtain one.

I waited a few days and sent a email with a countersigned copy of the release. All they had to do was print and sign it. I suggested I could just get it from the office when I arrived. Whatever I could do to make it easy for them. About a week out from the event I sent another email, asking if they had seen the previous one and including the release again.

2 days before the event I called them. I left a voicemail. I thanked them for agreeing to sign the release, and suggested I could just swing by the office and pick up a signed copy since I would be there already.

1 day before the event I got an email saying the document would be waiting for me at the office. I had started a month and a half before the shoot date trying to get permission. It had taken almost 6 weeks to get this done. But I needed this location.

Be Creative.

While I was in limbo about permission, I started working on Plan B. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

If the worst happened, I could go to the public street and shoot an establishing shot of the location. I could do interviews off site. I could fill in with B Roll from other locations. The only thing needed from that location that I couldn’t get without permission would be some recording from the award ceremony. My plan was to audio record it and then seek permission after the fact to use it. If I was not able to get permission, I would use voiceover to describe the events.

That would not be ideal, but it would be better than nothing.

If you cannot get permission, what can you get? Can you get a different person, different location, use a different audio element? What else can you do to communicate the same thing? We already know you’re creative or you wouldn’t be making a film. So be creative and work it out.

Which brings me to the other location.

This one I did contact directly. But they sent back my release and had altered about 80% of it. Most of the changes were things I was already doing, so it didn’t matter. But 2 parts were not OK. We went back and forth a bit, and it became clear that at least of of the points would not be something we could agree on. They would not bend and neither would I.

So now what?

Same scenario as before. Be creative. I was only looking for a few shots of awards, and to interview a few people who were going to attend. So I began to find other options.

My film isn’t about a particular event at a location. There are multiple events throughout the year. My film is the story of these kids going through the season. So, not being able to shoot at one location was not the end of the film, or necessarily a big deal. I would have liked to shoot there, to use footage I captured there. It would have made things easier. But I went to work on doing what I could while I was in town.

I contacted several other locations near the tournament, looking for a space to shoot interviews. There were some folks I was hoping to talk with who were available at this location, so I needed a place. In the end it was a contact made through someone I knew that opened the doors. Building relationships is important. I would be able to shoot my interviews in a location near the tournament, but out of the elements and in a relatively quiet space.

I also shot interviews with students before and after the tournament. This won’t be the only tournament that wasn’t represented in the film. I only attended 5 others this year. The difference is that I was at this one and could have shot video. Even though this wasn’t ideal, it also wasn’t a deal breaker. I made the most of the situation and pressed on.

Every project will have set backs. Every creative work will have hurdles, roadblocks, detours. The difference between finishing a production and giving up is how you handle the issues as they come up.

I’ve Been Busy…

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but life has been busy.

I have been hard at work on my feature documentary. We are about to make a trip out to the last tournament. I’ve been working several paths to get the word out about the movie.

2 shirtsI’m selling a couple of shirts to help with funding the rest of the project. So if you want a sticker or shirt, swing on over the the website and see what you can do.

I’ve got a few things to share about the process of making this film, when the time is right.

And, honestly, I am so ready to be done with production, and into Post. I can’t wait to get these stories told.

Amazon Finally Allowed Me to Remove My Series

I started back in February, February 19 to be exact, trying to remove my series, Peculiar, from Prime availability. Finally was removed on April 6. Yes, it took over a month to get the title removed from all marketplaces.

When I first started, I went through the normal process and everything seemed like it was fine. In fact, I just assumed it had worked as it was supposed to. Until I noticed it was still in my Prime queue…

So I logged in and saw there were a bunch of errors. I tried to remove availability again.

You cannot just delete the content because Amazon wants it to be available in case anyone purchased an episode and needed to download it again. I never offered the show for sale, but I still couldn’t just delete it. So I set the availability to no regions. But the error would not go away.

I did somehow get the series out of the UK. I don’t know why that worked, but the rest wouldn’t.

At one point the error changed from a publishing error to a captioning error. The message said I had to re upload captions. To a show I’m trying to remove. Which was currently available. With captions…

I ended up talking to 3 different AVD customer service reps. All had different answers. None really knew what was going on. The 3rd rep finally asked the techs to manually remove the episodes. It took about a week to get that done.

My series page still shows errors, but the episodes are not available any more. It should not be this difficult to remove a series from Amazon Video Direct.

Peculiar Premieres on Christian Cinema Feb 21

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All 10 episodes of Peculiar will be available via TVOD on Christian Cinema starting Feb. 21, 2018. Episodes are available for $0.99 each, or get all 10 for $7.99.

I’ve written about the changing landscape of SVOD and indie film, and gone through some of my reasons for moving Peculiar away from Amazon and Youtube.

The day after Youtube cancels my partnership, just a few days before Amazon lowers their royalty rate, my show will be on TVOD for the first time… and available to a Christian audience. I’m curious how making it available through a portal that caters to a Christian customer will go. Might be good, might be average.

In the past month episodes of Peculiar were started 165 times on Amazon. But the show was only viewed for 932 minutes. Meaning the episodes were watched, on average, under 6 minutes. That makes sense, considering Amazon isn’t a religious platform.

There aren’t a lot of comedies on Christian Cinema. Virtually no TV sitcoms. My show is both low budget and different in content. So it may not fit. or it may be well received. Time will tell.

I won’t be missing the money that Youtube or Amazon paid.