Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lists rule, apparently

So yesterday, I threw together a quick little video. The whole process — conception, writing, filming, editing and uploading — took me less than a day. At its core, it’s just me reeling off a list of ten fairly random things I just throught of off the top of my head. And twelve hours after I published it, it had twice as many hits as a video I published a week ago. In fact, even while it was still “sending to subscribers’ feeds”, it clocked up at least two dozen views. Here it is:

I still don’t know why people instinctively flocked to this one, but the response so far has been generally positive. It could possibly simply be that YouTube has just tweaked something and now subscription videos are more reliably appearing in feeds, but that’s pure speculation on my part. Or maybe the “list” format is more attractive, because it presents little bite-size nuggets of goodness that are more easily digested. Or I’ve misjudged my audience over the last few months.

It wasn’t something I thought was particularly good. I was proud of the “dubbing” gag, but the rest didn’t seem to me to be more than solidly mediocre. I wanted it to be funnier than it turned out, but it was just something that, as I said, I threw together in an afternoon. It does invite further discussion, of course: lists like this are subjective, and people can always add their own ideas or dispute yours.

One thing I did learn, though, is that the term “cold calling” for a particular type of telemarketing is not generally known in America. The term exists, but apparently as business jargon. So, Americans: for “cold calling” read “telemarketing”.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to extract cash from other people

I got a phone call this morning — at 7.30 am, I should point out — from the publishers of the Yellow Pages. One of their reps was in my area, and they wanted to know if I would be interested in talking to him about the creation of a QR code, which would “make it easier for people to find your business”, according to the warm, friendly, non-threatening yet businesslike male voice on the other end of the line.

It was one of those moments where you feel that you have slipped into some sort of parallel dimension, one in which everything was basically the same, save for some very small, but significant, differences. I’m no longer in the Yellow Pages, right? Right, but there’s still my (free) online entry. But what use is a QR code online? No, no, I misunderstand: I can use my QR code in all my printed media. But anyone can get a QR code for themselves, completely free, and in seconds. Well yes, but a lot of small businesses don’t know how, so they’re offering this service.

I told them I wasn’t interested and hung up, but that last bit stuck in my mind: a lot of small businesses don’t know how. And so they saw an opportunity to pounce.

The “how” is simple. True, a lot of small businessmen — by which we usually mean plumbers, joiners, tilers, electricians and so on — don’t know how, but they almost certainly know somebody who does know how, even if it’s a 12-year-old nephew. Just to prove the point to myself, I went online and got a free QR code in less than ten seconds. And that ten seconds included the time it took to google for a QR code generator, which led me to And here it is:

So it’s really easy to get one, and it’s free. Granted, it’s a bitmap rather than a vector graphic, but it should scale perfectly well nonetheless.

But do I need it? Well, quite frankly, no; and I doubt that many plumbers, joiners, tilers, electricians and so on would need one either.

QR codes are a great invention, and are put to excellent use. Bus timetables now have QR codes embedded in them, for up-to-the-minute information about delays, cancellations and such. VR cards can be encoded into a QR code which can be printed on a business card. Art galleries have QR codes next to each painting, pointing to lots of information about the painting itself, the artist and so on. They’re brilliant, although I’m not sure I’m willing to have one on a T-shirt.

Why would I use one? Well, perhaps if I were running some kind of special campaign, with a long or cryptic URL: I could have the QR code embedded on billboards and flyers. Such a QR code could include a parameter that tells me, the website owner, where the visitor found the QR code.

But I don’t have billboards and flyers all over the place, and I don’t run the kind of campaign that, say, Coca-Cola or Time Warner might run. And I don’t know any plumbers, joiners, tilers, electricians and so on who do. When I need somebody to fix the sink, I find their phone number in the local phone book or Yellow Pages, or ask my neighbours who they’d recommend. I might google for them, but a printed local directory is likely to be slightly more geographically accurate. What I don’t do is see their posters up everywhere and think, “Gosh, if only that had a QR code, I’d visit their website.”

There’s something about this whole business that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It seems to me to be rather opportunistic to try to sell something to somebody who almost certainly doesn’t need it and could have for free if they do. Generally speaking, if somebody does offer you something you’ve never needed before, promising you that it will drive customers to your business, especially if it involves new technology... get the advice of somebody you trust and who knows about this stuff.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the virtual cutting room floor

I don’t use every second of footage I shoot. That probably doesn’t need further explanation: after all, if I go somewhere and come away with forty minutes’ worth of material for a ten-minute video, that’s thirty minutes of video sitting on my computer’s hard disk, unused.

Most of that, to be sure, is from trimming down shots. When I’m pointing a camera at something for one of my travel documentaries, I want a good twenty seconds at least; and I’m probably also going to take several shots from various angles, some close-ups of interesting details, some establishing shots from further away. But how will that footage actually get used? That gets decided later, when I am doing the research and writing the script: it might be just a second or two during a montage, or I might spend a whole minute explaining the historical significance of whatever it is we’re looking at.

Sometimes, though, for various reasons, a scene might never get used at all. Often this is because it simply wasn’t relevant: when focusing, for example, on Obernburg’s Roman past and mediaeval remains, a casual mention of a war memorial honouring the dead of the Franco-Prussian War is a complete non-sequitur, no matter how magnificent the memorial is. Other times, the footage was just not usable, such as the spectacular shot through the window of the Merkurbahn funicular in Baden-Baden — a great idea spoiled by the really extraordinarily bright reflections.

So here are some of those scenes, collected into one, commentary-free video.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

So, what have I been up to?

Well, quite a lot really. There’s a sort of irony in the fact that having lots of exciting things to blog about leaves me with little time to blog. I could blog about blogging, which would solve that problem, but I think it would bore me, let alone you.

Perhaps the most important thing that happened to me recently was an actual TV appearance. That’s not as spectacular as it sounds: basically, it’s a tiny, local, private broadcaster called, which broadcasts to two districts. Still, I was interviewed for one of their shows, and if you understand German, you might like to watch it by following this link.

It was fun to do, and they were very nice about it: the interviewer, Sabrina Koblenz, obligingly asked if I’d consider making videos for money, quite deliberately.

In fact, generally I’ve been making sure that people in the area get to know me. I’ve turned up with my camera at a few events in my local village, with the effect that all my neighbours now know what I do. Here’s one:

Kleinkahl is the kind of place where few people can be anonymous for any time, and so by the next event, people were stopping me to ask what I did with my videos, the organiser gave me a shout out and now I feel I pretty much have carte blanche to film anywhere and anything. Why didn’t I think of this before, you may ask? I only moved here in November, is my reply.

I’ve started a playlist for my videos about Kleinkahl, so they’re all in one handy place. I like to think that eventually, it will become an interesting portrait of life in a small German village.

All I need now is for somebody to give me obscene amounts of money to make videos, and I’m all set. Meanwhile, I shall endeavour to blog more.