When we got back to New York, Maricarmen sent me a link to C3TEC’s Facebook page, where she posted several pictures and videos that she took while on the shoot with us on Saturday. You can really get a feel for the rain forest and the whole production. She also shot a great little video of the helicam moving up and down a river in El Yunque. Check it out if you have a moment!
Sunday, May 12, 2013: call time 6:00AM
Another early call, another sunny morning. Off to the Mogotes, a distinctive and dramatic feature of Puerto Rico’s northern Karst landscape. This is for the section in the video about the importance of a clean water supply. It’s an easy job for the helicam: go straight up, do a 360 panorama from above, and come straight down.
The battery lasts for seven minutes but somehow no one is paying attention to the time, until suddenly we see the little helicam come spiraling out of the sky and crash into the trees.
Luckily the camera’s okay, and so’s the little download chip, the most expensive part of the entire rig. Eric doesn’t seem worried about the heap of blades, struts and wires on the grass; he’s got three more helicams in the van if we need them, but we got our shots. It’s a wrap, and it’s not even 8AM.
We have plenty of time to get to San Juan for margaritas and lunch and a walk on the beach before heading to the airport to go home, wake up tomorrow and get to the edit room.
Saturday, May 11, 2013: 11:45AM
It’s sunny and hot and very sticky in Caguas, as we arrive at the baseball field. Michael is directing Eric and the helicam, whose mission is to zip around over the field for aerial shots of the little league game and the surrounding neighborhood. Did you know that your breath can travel several blocks in about five minutes?
I’m working with the RED camera crew who have to get slow-motion footage of a pitcher pitching and a batter swinging. Their body positions have to match up with our graphics of how oxygen travels through the lungs into the bloodstream and then into the muscles that power the arms that pitch the ball and swing the bat.
If you’ve never been to a Puerto Rican little league baseball game, it’s a raucous event. Mothers bring panderos and other percussion instruments for their plenas, their songs of encouragement to their sons. I’ll have a little audio clip up here soon. You have to hear this!
The last shot of the day is at 4:00PM, at C3TEC itself, and it goes off without a hitch. Props to Enid, Nereidin and Maricarmen at C3TEC for all their help! Then it takes more than two hours for the RED camera digital files to be downloaded to a drive and back ups made, 460 gigabytes in all. It’s just about dark by the time we hit the bar La Verguenza, in the center of Caguas, for a few beers.
Saturday May 11, 2013: call time 5:45AM
We depart from the hotel just before dawn in two production vehicles, with Maricarmen from C3TEC following in her car. After yesterday’s heavy rains and dark gray skies, it’s a huge pleasure to see the sun rising on our left. Our crew includes Carlos, Director of Photography, his assistant Alphonso, digital media wrangler Alfredo, sound man Juan, helicam operator Eric, his assistant Brad, the grip Cangri, our production coordinator, another Eric, and production assistant Gilberto.
By the time we’re climbing Mt. Cubuy sunlight is raking across the tranquil landscape of cows in fields – like a tropical version of a 17th century Dutch painting.
It’s only 6:30 when we arrive at El Yunque. I’ll direct Eric and his team after they assemble the helicam for its trip up and down the river over gentle rapids. They’ll shoot through the tops of the trees.
Michael works with Carlos as he and his team set up for close ups of the waterfall, and hope to find some rainforest creatures for closeups. Juan, our soundman, stays away from us to immerse himself in the sounds of the El Yunque, and the rushing water. We have the forest to ourselves.
We finish here on schedule and head down the mountain a short way to the eco-lodge where we have a list of shots to get, including a closeup of a jagrumo leaf for the photosynthesis section of the video.
Michael is planning to pull off something tricky: to merge a move in Google Earth with a helicam shot of a jagrumo tree with a dissolve to our leaf and then through to a graphic about how photosynthesis works. You’ll have to see the video for yourself to see what I mean.
We also need to convincingly illustrate clean air: breezes blowing through bamboo stands, RED camera time lapse footage of clouds appearing in the blue, blue sky, moving slowly across the frame.
While waiting for the sun’s angle on the tree canopy to be just right, I hear a roaring waterfall crashing over bolders in a river below us near enough to send the helicam scampering over it. Serendipity!
Friday May 10, 2013
It’s 9:30AM and we’re at 1,800 feet, though on the ground now, having driven half way up Mt. Cubuy in El Yunque National Forest. We’ve stopped at an eco-lodge to scout the deep green views above and below us.
Tomorrow at dawn we’ll be back to film the forest with both the RED camera and the helicam, the cool little robotic helicopter camera.
Teddy Roosevelt established Luquillo Forest, now known as El Yunque, as the first national forest in the U.S. in 1906. Walking along by the river to the waterfall, then down a road through the trees, all I can think of “this is not the walk through Central Park I do everyday on my way to work!”
As we come down to sea level the road leads to the highway and we’re off to the north and west, to the northern Karst region of Puerto Rico, where the Mogotes are. The Mogotes are these amazing camel hump hills, made of limestone, and they hold a large part of the water supply for the island. They’re featured in our script because of this.
It’s an hour and a half ride and lunchtime when we get to the most famous cave, Ventana. We sit at an outdoor café, inhaling exhaust from the cars refueling at the gas station right next to us but no matter. The Mofongo – fried, mashed, refried plantains – are all good and garlicky, and it’s hot and sunny.
It only starts to rain as we head off up the trail to the cave. What’s a little tropical rain shower? Climbing down into the cave is just challenging enough for city slickers like us to make it fun. The flashlights we were handed before we left are essential for piercing the total blackness. We may be in the dark, but we’re not off the grid. Both a text message and a phone call manage to find me. I ignore them! Bats are chirping, water dripping. What’s a little mud, bat guano and moss matter when you finally get to the back of the cave, which opens on to lush, green tropical landscape far, far below.
As we slip-slide our way back through the darkness to the mouth of the cave to retrace our steps, it starts to pour. By the time we get back to the van, I look like I’ve been in a wet t-shirt contest.
We spend the rest of the afternoon, three more hours, looking for the right places to launch the helicam so we can get the shot we need to match both the Google Earth footage, and the graphic about karst water systems. All the rivers we drive by are flooding their banks as it continues to rain so hard we can barely see the road.
We found two possible locations for this shoot planned for Sunday morning. Gilberto has driven about 100 miles today, but Mission Accomplished.
Thursday May 9, 2013
At 3,500 feet, the view of San Juan from the plane window looks like what you see in Google Earth. Why am I surprised?
Michael and I arrived yesterday, were picked up by Gilberto and driven straight to C3TEC, a brand new science center in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Liberty Science Center, in Jersey City, NJ, has been working with the city to bring the science center into being. It’s good to finally meet the Director of C3TEC, Enid Seneriz; the head of Education, Nereidin Feliciano, and PR/Marketing whiz, Maricarmen Reguero.
We’re here to film little league baseball players, forested slopes and big leaves in El Yunque rain forest, and the unusual karst formations known here as the Mogotes. What’s the connection?
Mother Nature. We humans live in cities but depend on clean air and water to survive. We need to protect the ecosystems that produce the oxygen we breathe and maintain the water we drink. The island ecosystems are part of the global ecosystem that keeps Planet Earth habitable for life as we know it. Even our own breath, and even our pee are part of the system.
That connection is the message of the video we’re producing that will introduce visitors to C3TEC when it opens in the fall 2013.
After C3TEC, our next stop is the baseball field where we’ll film two teams of 12 year olds on Saturday.
Tomorrow we’re off to scout the El Yunque rainforest and the Mogotes. Good thing we can scout our hotel now. We’ve already been up for 12 hours and it’s only 4:00PM. Looking forward to some good Puerto Rican food at Los Olivos, and a good night’s sleep.
On November 11th MediaCombo partner Michael Owen helped kick off the next phase of an inter- national project to promote peace in the Middle East called Blood Relations. Michael organized a video shoot with commercials director Stephen Lee, and filmed interviews with blood donors at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Blood Relations is a mutual Israeli-Palestinian blood donation initiative, based on the question: Could you hurt someone who has your blood running through their veins?
It’s the project of the Israeli – Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace Forum, who came together on September 14, 2011 to donate blood to one another, and it has gained momentum, as well as support from the Peres Center for Peace.
Ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi produced a trailer about Blood Relations, available on YouTube, that describes the anguish and hope that fuel this undertaking. It’s impossible not to be inspired.
The trailer was screened at the Other Israel Film Festival on November 11th, at the JCC in Manhattan, along with a call to donate blood.
Michael was asked by his London client, the ad agency Mad Cow, to donate his time as a producer to document the views of New Yorkers who came to give blood in a symbolic gesture to promote peace between Israel and Palestine. These interviews will be incorporated into a larger film about the project.
The Multimodal Learning Conference, held at the Metropolitan Museum this past weekend was surprising and illuminating. Opera director Peter Sellars gave a breath-taking keynote address. The artist Kimberley Kelly led us through a serious but delightful salt-tasting activity. Artists, nueroscientists, art historians and educators offered new information and ideas in every session.
The big idea that emerged for me is that we should be aiming to personalize the experience of visiting a museum for every visitor.
The purpose of the conference, organized by Art Beyond Sight, was to focus on ways that museums could and should help blind and disabled visitors truly engage with objects on display.
However, as Peter Sellars eloquently put it, “The giant lie is normalcy!” He continued, and I paraphrase:
Art proves that there is no normal…that there is only the extraordinary…. Disability in our lives – whether in ourselves or in someone we care for – demands patience, and creates a zone of deep attention, a need to slow down, which is what a work of art does too.
If there is no normal, then there’s no one-size-fits-all type of museum visit either. Hence the need to create not just programs, tours and experiences that engage disabled visitors but programs, tours and experiences that can meet the needs of each visitor.
People may have stated this before, but the context of ML conference really brought it home for me.
As a media producer I work with curators, educators, exhibit designers and often visitor services experts to craft content and design ways to create positive user experiences. Personalized technology is available; now we have to design so that visitors can personalize their experience.
Listening to Jane McGonigal’s podcast,Gaming as a Spiritual Practice on Buddhist Geeks shortly before her book, Reality Is Broken, was published in February, I was struck by the similarity between her vision for how gaming can make a better world, and Clay Shirky’s notion of “cognitive surplus.”
McGonigal estimates that people spend 3 billion hours a week playing games. While they’re immersed in games people are highly motivated to take on epic challenges, work productively and collaboratively, and accomplish big goals.
McGonigal says that people can be induced to behave this way in the real world too – to use their skills, time and energy to make the world a better place. They would be motivated by the same things that motivate them in the virtual world: the joy of the challenge, their confidence that they can make a difference, the pleasure in being part of something larger, their interest in achieving the goal.
Clay Shirky would describe what gamers have to offer as “cognitive surplus,” and says this commodity is already being put to use on projects that have in his words, “civic value” – projects that make the world a better place.
In his TED talk, Shirky describes how people with the skills and the desire to be of help stepped up and used available digital technology to create the crisis-mapping platform Ushahidi. Ushahidi is now in use around the world.
Did the challenge that produced Ushahidi have the elements of a game as Jane McGonigal describes them?
- a clearly articulated challenge
- required skills
- specific roles to play
- opportunity for satisfying work
- feeling of belonging to something bigger
So do the ideas of “cognitive surplus,” and game-playing only apply to helping solve crises and major newsworthy events? Can they be harnessed to accomplish smaller tasks on a local level? Could they be harnessed to help small museums rejuvenate themselves to serve old and/or find new communities more usefully?
This question is fueled by Nick Poole’s distressing post on the OpenCulture blog, about the perceived irrelevance of small local and historical museums – the ones that don’t have blockbuster, or even new, exhibitions, or a social media presence, and are not as visitor-focused as most museum-goers expect these days. They’re stuck and need to evolve if they’re going to survive, but they lack financial and other resources to do it.
Enter cognitive surplus. Both McGonigal and Shirky believe that the volunteer manpower is everywhere. It just needs to be attracted, and nurtured.
I bet there’s local “cognitive surplus” in every community that can be harnessed. Can a project designed with a game like scaffold help local museums dust themselves off and demonstrate their value and relevance to their communities and niche content audiences?
One place to look might soon be the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, where Nina Simon has recently become the Executive Director. Both of these notions are related to the concept of “participatory engagement,” and as she wrote in her announcement about taking the job, “I also believe that small and mid-sized museums are the leaders when it comes to innovation, particularly around participatory engagement.”
If you know of examples where this is happening right now, please share them here.