Monday, November 30, 2009

Open Source Culture: Video Mashups

Why open source?
The most compelling reason is to paraphrase Newton - to see farther by standing on the shoulders of giants.
In software development, this means that I can, for example, use django to publish a content rich website, instead of writing my own web publishing software.
This sort of example though is not very powerful, after all you could make a similar claim about microsoft word.
The additional power comes from the release of the code behind the application.
1) From a pedogogical standpoint, I can look at successful and well architected open source projects and improve my own coding abilities
2) From a practical standpoint, if I think that I can improve say the data aggregation feature in django then I can contribute to the django source code (rather than wait for the team to get around to implementing this feature)

The economic model for open source software is consulting, if I am a large contributor to django then I can go out and assist people in implementing their django implementations. Write the software for free and charge on the maintenance fees so to speak.

Open source software is very compelling as a model to emulate probably because
1) I can use software that other people make and realize my software vision
2) Perhaps I dont have the time to build an entire software package myself, but I can still contribute to an open source product and thus satisfy my desire to be part of this creative/technical/whatever process

Now writers, filmmakers, artists, etc look to the open source and are interested in emulating some of these aspects
Say I want to use the music of miles davis as the soundtrack to an animation, or clips from taxi driver in a movie, or if i want to make an animation staring mickey mouse, or I want to use parts of a the fan man in my own novel about the east village (Walter Benjamin for example kept notebooks composed entirely of quotations from other books)
Why open source culture?
The pedogogical nature is apparent.
I want to make an animated movie but I want to using an existing character, or I want to learn how to edit rather than shoot, so I want to use some existing clips to make into a movie.
However from a creative standpoint - perhaps I want to respond to a particular work by using that particular work, or an aspect of that work (think of all art that uses mass market appropriation like Warhol's brillo boxes, or Richard Prince)

But what does it mean to open source a cultural artifact and how can you use a these cultural atoms to create a work of originality? What are the atoms of cultural that we need to isolate in order to talk about open source culture.
I'll first talk about filmmaking, since I have made some movies.

The building blocks of film is the footage, the assets. In an animation, you could also imagine the assets being a character as well as all the photoshop layers of different character parts that can be animated seperately.

However the building blocks of film is also the score, the dialogue, the script, and the editing timeline.

There is a difference between releasing all the assets in a 'hard day's night', and the wav file of the song 'a hard day's night'. In the case of audio - I can go in and cancel out certain notes and frequencies. I apply certain filters and actually turn the song into an entirely new song. With a clip of a hard day's night - I am in many ways bound to the baked clip unless I want to insert a green screened character or use another compositing technique (for example forrest gump meeting past presidents, or the old coke commercials combining living performers with deceased performers). Now, it is possible that I could take all the clips of say, 'The Shinning' and turn it into a romantic comedy, however I am stuck with the framing, the acting, the lighting, the cinematography of the original movie. It will always look like 'The Shinning' more than my remix 'Winter in the Old Hotel'. A video mashup looks much different from a musical mash up. A musical mashup can still be considered a song, most video mashups dont resemble a narrative.

Another building block of film is the editing timeline. This is an interesting aspect of filmmaking that people dont really look into when considering open source culture, but is another aspect that could be shared. The cutting, the pacing, and the types of cuts will be different for Hitchcock's Rope compared to Lucas' Star Wars. In addition to open sourcing assets, filmmakers could open source editing timelines. In final cut pro, for example, you can export your timeline as an xml document. The clips are referenced as filenames that can be replaced by any other clip. So I can upload the cutting of a film for other people to use in their own films.

Further to build on open source software collaboration is the notion of version control.
In an open source software I different people can build on different version of the same software, diverge for a time, and then recombine into a master version. There is a lineage to open source software. I can see the same thing taking place with open source culture, placing culture within a context, an artistic lineage.

I am going to explore this a bit more in a series of studies providing the editing framework for classic movies - stay tuned!
Also - please contribute comments, criticisms, and suggestions.

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