May 10, 2010

Sparrow Songs: One Short Documentary A Month

I just came across The Sparrow Songs project, which is "a project by filmmaker Alex Jablonski and cinematographer Michael Totten," featuring one short documentary made each month for a full year. They're now 6-episodes in, and have been chronicling some interesting characters all in the LA area. Episodes have included interviews with musicians, a puppet maker, and porn stars to name a few, and the format is very simple and clean; Errol Morris-style.

Watching through these pieces, I'm really bummed out I only just discovered them today. They're absolutely gorgeous (shot Canon 5DMii) and very personable. This video, Episode 5, is Alex and Michael's attempt to film people at during the late-night hours of a 24-hour donut shop, and I absolutely love the revelation at the end:

The project's a self-funded side project: both Alex and Michael have wives and work in the film industry by day. But, like any art project, it's a continuously evolving effort that they get out just as much as they put in:

Making these films feels good. The act of constructing them feels good. Each month is a journey from chaos – “we have no plans, we have no idea” – then into action and effort – the arranging, the shooting — and then into a system and an ordering – through editing – that makes some kind of sense out of the whole initial mess.

In a few posts, they talk about how the camera they use is pretty powerful in that it's so affordable to make great-looking video for so cheap, and how the device is so small and familiar that subjects are a lot more comfortable to speak on camera, and I think the trend toward this style of short-form documentaries will absolutely explode in the coming years (if it hasn't arguable started already). I've always loved this short on green roofs in Vancouver, but there's also Philip Bloom, who's made a decent living from his 5D work, Broccoli City, and I'm sure hundreds more. Feature-length work is now too expensive and exhausting, and even broadcast-formatted work (what Current TV was basically aiming for) is too limited. The returns right now for online-broadcasted media is still limited and very uncertain for decent exposure, but featuring your work online allows you to evolve the story on video as the story evolves in life. Such is the case with one doc, Genome: The Future Is Now, where Marilyn Ness is releasing episodes of the doc as it's filming, but conscious of formatting the overall project to fit for feature distribution or televised broadcast if she's able to lock a contract.

However, with YouTube now opening up Rentals for any user, having ads or pay-per-view are accessible to anyone: distribution costs are null, production is cheap, and revenue is available. Some web video personalities have made hundreds of thousands, which proves it can be possible. I think we've passed the nickelodeon phase of web video and are quickly getting into the form working to its own.