My 2018 In Review

The past year has had ups and downs.

In January Youtube dropped the hammer on casual creators. By August I gave up making tutorial videos on Youtube. I still think this was a dumb move on their part.

That was followed by Amazon lowering royalty rates for their AVD content. So, I pulled my series off Amazon (and off Youtube). I placed it on Christian Cinema. Both of those decisions cost me money. My first (and to date, only) royalty check from Christian Cinema was $0.74. That means no one is watching it… Even when the series was on Amazon I was making maybe $5 a month. But more people were watching it. Half of my reviews on Amazon were 1 star. The other half were 5 star. Oddly, It’s the same on Christian Cinema… Also oddly, you can still find new and used copies of the Peculiar DVD on Amazon.

But current film projects… Well those are moving along.

Did you know I made a short film? Yeah, it was part of a challenge someone told me about: Make of movie using only stock or public domain footage. I cheated a bit and used a VO. But chose to show the NASA Apollo 11 landing.

Meanwhile I was primarily focused on my feature length doc film. I completed production, which is major for any film. Then started down the new-to-me road of post production on a documentary. I made a paper edit, which was fun and productive. And have made several passes on the over all edit. We had a screening, which gave me great feedback.

The current edit is 1:50:40 in length, down from the first assembly of over 4 hours, down from the pre screening version of 2:05:00. It’s definitely a feature project. And the response so far has been very good.

I did not complete the film this year. I had some stuff happen, which I will go into later, but generally life happened and the release will happen sometime early next year.

At work we built a new website from the ground up. It took 9 months because we had to do it in between projects.

Pretty soon after that I started seeing doctors. I’ve seen more doctors in the last 3 months than I saw in the previous 10 years combined.

Generally, I’ve been blessed to be healthy. I had a few accidents, asthma as a kid, but over all, I have been healthy most of my life. Maybe that helped lull me into a false sense of security, and helped me fool myself into thinking I could live in an unhealthy manner without consequences.

This year in health, I threw out my back doing yard work- was down for 2 days. I went to the ER twice, back to back days, for high blood pressure events, which led me to the new pill/diet/exercise routine I am on now.

I lost 11 pounds of the weight I’ve gained over the last few years.

After all of this I developed persistent, unexplained, low-grade pain in my abdomen. After trying to treat it as an infection, I had a CT Scan.

Thank God, it wasn’t anything serious. Gall stones. There’s not a lot of treatment short of surgery, so before that happens I am continuing my diet and exercise routine, which at the least will help keep more from forming. And may shrink the ones there. A lot of people had gall stones their entire life. A lot of people have their gall bladder removed. I want to try to not have surgery.

Currently, I feel OK. Blood pressure is regulated, and I’m more active than I have been over the last few years. The movie is almost complete. Family has had some health challenges, but we are on the mend and doing well.

I imagine that like 2018, 2019 will have some good stuff and some bad stuff. But overall I expect it to be a good year! I’m praying for less health issues and more success with filmmaking in 2019!

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How to Get a Warranty Repair From Dell: Public Shaming

Dell, like many electronics companies, does not like to repair your computer under warranty. Especially your laptops. People treat consumer electronics as consumables these days, and fixing your laptop for free costs them money, when they would rather you buy a new laptop, which makes them money.

This is the story of how my daughter’s 5-month old, less-than-$200 laptop almost cost $120 to repair, but eventually Dell stood by their product and repaired it under warranty.

My daughter, who was 12 at the time, had saved her money to buy a new laptop. She had just enough to buy an inexpensive netbook and a subscription to Office 365. She wanted to write, she’s thinking of becoming an author one day. We went to the local electronics store, and decided on a Dell. We chose Dell over some other brands because Dell was known to us.

For 5 months my daughter babied this computer. It was moved from her desk to our room every night. It was never dropped, bumped or mishandled. She took good care of it, better care than I took of my own laptop, which cost 5 times more.

So she comes to me with a broken hinge. It takes about 30 seconds to realize that dell has designed this laptop with metal screws going into less than 1/4 inch of plastic. 3 of the 4 pieces of plastic have snapped. Only one screw it holding. Every time she opens the laptop stress is placed on the screws. The brittle plastic could not stand up to the strain of normal use.

This is an obvious design flaw.

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See the small pieces of plastic on the small screws. That’s all that holds the screen onto the hinge.

So, I get on the dell website, and chat up a customer service rep. He has just told me the computer is under warranty, BUT his supervisor has told him the damage is physical damage and not covered under warranty. I have sent him pictures of the damage, and the case is perfect, not even a scratch. But the hinge is broken, both are really. I ask to have the supervisor get on the chat. He arranges a phone call.

A while later the supervisor calls. He starts to explain why broken hinged are considered physical damage. Starts with drops. I stop him and remind him there is no damage to the case, the computer has not been dropped. At this point he says the craziest thing: Sometimes opening and closing the laptop can cause physical damage. ???

I, politely, go off on him for a bit. First, laptops are designed to open and close. And my daughter did not mistreat this computer. This is an obvious sign flaw, or manufacturer defect in the plastic. Neither of which negates my warranty claim. He changes his tune and suddenly the repair will be covered.

The box arrives and I send it off. You might think this is the end, but if you know much about warranty repairs, you know there is another hurdle.

You see, even though the CS supervisor has ruled my repair under warranty, the same “physical damage” dodge is in effect for other employees. A few days later I got an email from the repair depot saying my repair would not be covered and would cost $120.

OK, here we go. Same dance all over again, but now they have the computer. i call the tech, who doesn’t answer. So I call the customer service line. I need an out of warranty repair reclassified as a warranty repair. Who can help me? I get transferred from one person t another and finally back to a lady who decides she will be the brick wall. She starts reading her script. I interrupt. I ask if she has the power to classify the repair. She says no, and to let her finish. I stop her again, and basically I’m told that no supervisor will help me. She will not transfer me, she will not help. I explain my conversation with the previous supervisor. She says I would need to talk to him. I ask to be transferred to him, and she refuses to transfer me.

Now, look, I’ve been polite, but direct, up to this point. But this is the last straw. This woman could transfer me, but she won’t. She is saying that Dell will not stand by its product. She is saying the even though I was promised an under warranty repair I won’t be getting one. I am done. I am over Dell.

I have one last thing to try, and that is public shaming via social media. I know that Dell has a couple of active twitter accounts. So I start telling my story, mentioning their accounts. Eventually I get a response.

Dell isn’t stupid. This screen bezel will cost them about $50 to replace. How many people do I have to drive away with my public complaints about their product to make it worthwhile to fix what should ahem already been fixed.

So I get in contact with one of the accounts. I DM them the whole story, start to finish with pictures. They go to work. The next day I’m told the repair is underway, for free. The days after that I get a shipment notification, the laptop is on the way back. We get it back and it is repaired and ready to go.

It should not be necessary to basically threaten the brand of a major corporation to get them to stand behind their products. But that was what it took to get my daughter’s laptop repaired. Will it break again in another 5 months? I don’t know, but for now its working fine.

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.

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.

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 or 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 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 a super low resolution video, 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 ended up copying the text and pasting it. 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.

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.

My First Short Doc Film

I found what I think is my first real doc short. I’ve done interview/b roll projects for work and stuff for years. But this was a project I just wanted to do to educate about the importance of reading young. It’s from 2014 and stars my family.

Also, it was a pretty dry creative time for me. I was working corporate AV… too many hours for not enough pay. We were looking for a decent job, planning to move. We had sold our house and were living in my in-law’s home. I just needed to make something.

I had a 1st gen Canon EOS-M, a microphone and Zoom H4n recorder. I didn’t say, “Hey, let’s make a documentary film.” I just interviewed the family, shot some B roll and put it together. It’s too long, pacing is slow, the coloring is heavy handed, and I hate the music. But otherwise, not bad for throwing something together. Things have changed a lot in 4 years.

Creatively, it helped sustain me through a weird period.

I Don’t Understand the Amazon Video Algorithm

I have no idea how Amazon Video chooses what videos to show people.

I mean, I know that you can impact things by having more reviews, or sharing the links to the video and generating more traffic. But when that’s not happening, what makes Amazon Video show content to people?

Recently I saw a spike in older content that’s on Amazon Video, which I placed their through Amazon Video Direct. I’ve done zero promotion for this in the last year. It just sits there.

I assumed that people who are searching for religious video content on Amazon might stumble across it. And I’ve seen a steady trickle of payments that reflect that. I’m getting enough to pay for my lunch once a month. Not bad for content that was just sitting on a hard drive. AVD payments are always more than my similar content on Youtube. Always.

Then October happens. Suddenly there is a spike in minutes viewed and number of individual streams. And almost all of it is for the series. And based the a couple of reviews, the people seeing it aren’t looking for religious content. (It’s always a fun adventure to see how a non Christian reviewer sees content that is meant specifically for a Christian audience.)

So I don’t get how Amazon is populating the series to viewers. I search through Google to see if the link had been shared somewhere, but didn’t find anything other than the normal listings. Its actually easier to find the series on Youtube or Parables TV if you search on Google.

Overall the numbers of views aren’t huge, but its about 5 times what I normally get. Now, in November, the views have dropped back to the normal rate. I wish I understood this better so I can capitalize on it more when my doc film releases next year.