Product as Process Part 3: Video Sprint Features

Making The Future of Art with our team at Transmediale 2011. Photo by Patrizia.

Today is a big day for us. We’re finally going to send off our PIE application. These last several days have been a push to get clear about our process and the questions in the application have been a helpful tool for reflection. The very first question in the application asks:

How are you telling the story of your product?
Give us a link where we can experience that story.

This mini-series of blog posts has been our attempt to answer that question. We’ve done it in public because we think you (whoever you are reading this) would find it interesting too. In our first post we covered the motivations behind the idea of Product as Process and how as a production company we cannot have a functional conversation about our work and call our videos products. Our second post charted the history of the Video Sprint and its roots in code sprints, hackathons and rapid prototyping. For our final post dedicated to telling the story of the Video Sprint, let’s look at its key features:

Video Sprint Features

  • Event-Based: we work with existing events and events that we help to create
  • Fast: we work at high speeds to meet absolute deadlines
  • Authentic: we create from our own subjective perspective

The Future of Art Videoblog: Episode 2 does a good job of showing these features in action:

The Main Event

Over the last couple years we’ve had the pleasure and privilege of gaining access to some great events. We’ve produced videos for the world’s biggest auto show in Frankfurt, the world’s biggest financial services conference when it happened in Amsterdam and two of Europe’s leading media art festivals in Berlin and Eindhoven, to name a few.

We’re excited by the possibility of what we could achieve supported by the resources and talent at PIE. We currently are in conversation with art festivals in London and Frankfurt, an academic seminar and an artist retreat in Austria, and a web event in Berlin. With the help of PIE we’d expect to scale our approach by including bigger events and expanding our team.

There’s a certain series of talks held in California every year that we’ve had our eye on for a while. There’s been a lot of excitement lately about a pretty big athletics competition happening in London this year. We hear Austin’s got a nifty tech conference. And there are those sort of famous film festivals in Utah and France …

What do you think?

Is there a particularly interesting or inspiring event where you’d like to see us produce a Video Sprint?

Product as Process Part 2: The Video Sprint Prototype

We shot, edited and screened The Future of Art during the 5 days of the 2011 Transmediale festival in Berlin.

In the first post in this mini-series, we talked about the influence of code sprints on our video production process. In order to apply our learnings from these experiences we had to synthesize a broad knowledge base which includes design thinking, traditional video and film production, and even musical composition and improvisation techniques. One critical turning point came when we participated in Transmediale in 2011 and produced The Future of Art.

The Future of Art: An Immediated Autodocumentary (AKA Video Sprint)

At Transmediale we met Adam Hyde, the originator of the Book Sprint. Up until we saw how Adam was talking about his work we hadn’t settled on a convincing name for our process. My background in art theory and film history had birthed the almost-German-in-its-complexity mouthful “Immediated Autodocumentary”. We could tell Adam was onto something. Despite having been born more than a year ago, our process finally had a name.

Delivered in Beta: The Video Sprint Prototype

But we’re telling the story backwards here. Rewind to almost a year earlier. The first prototype for what would become the Video Sprint process occurred during a 2-day Open Design workshop at the Betahaus during Social Media Week Berlin 2010. We came into the workshop looking for an angle on how to interest workshop participants in our project Postcards from Berlin.

It quickly became clear there was a more interesting story at hand. This was our first encounter with Makerbots, laser cutters, bio-plastics and Arduinos. Maker culture and the Open Design movement inspired us!

We decided to focus on telling the bigger story behind the workshop. We hit the ground running on the second day, and shot, edited and wrapped the video within the next three days. Before long our video Delivered in Beta was posted on the popular design blog Swiss Miss. Within about a week the video had over 10,000 organic plays. Here’s what the long tail has looked like since:

Delivered In Beta – Vimeo Plays Statistics

Delivered in Beta has had over 33,900 organic plays to-date, including plays on Vimeo.com and embedded plays.

Needless to say that traffic spike got our attention. We wanted to learn how to get that kind of response again.

And we have.

The Future of Money – Vimeo Plays Statistics

The Future of Money, created for a presentation by Venessa Miemis at SIBOS 2010 (the world's biggest financial services conference) has had over 48,800 organic plays to-date, including plays on YouTube.com, Vimeo.com and embedded plays.

The Future of Art – Vimeo Plays Statistics

The Future of Art, created during the Transmediale media art festival in Berlin in 2011, is our most-viewed video so far, with over 58,000 organic plays including Vimeo.com and embedded plays. What makes this especially significant, is that while Delivered in Beta comes in at just under 9 minutes and The Future of Money at about 7.5 minutes, The Future of Art defies conventional web video wisdom with its duration of over 21 minutes.

In many ways the last 2+ years have been about repeating and refining the process. It’s not all about plays either – it’s about maintaining high quality while travelling at high speed. We’ve come to understand the mechanics of how to produce meaningful and sincere videos under the pressure of extreme deadlines. Inside the framework of the Video Sprint process we’ve prototyped various different transmedia formats under very different circumstances, from workshops and conferences, to trade shows, festivals and crowdfundings.

Most importantly, we’ve had the privilege to gain the trust of major brands, government culture organizations, non-profits, foundations, and individual crowdfunders in the process of making our own work – telling the stories we want to tell. This is the most rewarding aspect of our work and why we love what we do.

In our final post in this 3-part mini series, we’ll take a look at the key features of the Video Sprint process and reflect on the close relationship our work has with events.

Product as Process Part 1: Introducing the Video Sprint

Image by Zen, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s been less than 48 hours since our first blog post and we’re already feeling the slightly euphoric adrenalin rush of what it’s like when we are producing one of our video projects. Working in public under the scrutiny of our audience gives us a rush – we enjoy giving a good performance. It forces us to iterate rapidly and make bold decisions as opposed to waffling in the safety and obscurity of keeping things under wraps. The first big insight we’ve had as we’ve been filling out the application form for PIE is:

We don’t have a product. We have a process.

If we try to boil down what we do to something akin to a commodity – a product – it weakens our case and narrows our focus too strongly. We think we have more to offer than that. So let’s settle (for today) on the idea that what we do is a process. We’ve had it on our to-do list for quite some time to try to define our process and there’s no better time than the present.

We call our process a Video Sprint.

That name comes from a variety of influences. The video part is obvious – after all, we “produce videos which blur the boundaries between documentary and fiction, artwork and essay”. But what about the sprint part? Its genesis can be traced partly to agile software development, where a sprint can be a hackathon or a piece of the Scrum development cycle. We’ve participated in both hackathons (Mozilla Drumbeat) and Scrum (Postcards from Berlin) ourselves:

Working on the Future of Education demo with members of the Popcorn.js javascript community at the Open Video Lab at Mozilla Drumbeat, Barcelona. Gabriel sits far left editing video material. Photo by Homardpayette.
Gabriel with the developers of Postcards from Berlin the night of the site launch – the team's final sprint in our Scrum product backlog.

Despite the inspiration we draw from it, software development is still a far cry from video production. In our next post in this series we’ll take a look at the story behind the first Video Sprint prototype. Stay tuned!

Is KS12 a Startup?

We went on a road trip last year from Portland to Big Sur. It really gave us a chance to recharge our batteries after the Object Oriented production wrapped and think a bit about the future of KS12.

A couple days ago I was having a Skype call with my sister. That’s not easy – we’re nine hours apart – with her living in Portland, Oregon and us here in Berlin. So we usually connect on the weekends when she’s not working. Since last year she’s been at Wieden + Kennedy as an Interactive Strategist. I was telling her about how we’d like to grow KS12 and she asked me whether I thought KS12 is a startup. I said it depends. Considering we’ve been doing this for years now it doesn’t feel new the way a startup is new. On the other hand, we’ve had ups and downs figuring out what exactly it is that KS12 does. If you’ve been paying careful attention to our website there are pages which have come and gone over the years as we’ve iterated on our identity and process. So yeah; KS12 is sort of a startup in that we’re still defining things, and also not a startup because we’ve been at this for a while.

Then my sister told me about the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). According to them, they are “bringing together the brightest minds in business, marketing, and technology to create the most interesting and engaging startups imaginable.” At first glance I was drawn to the video content on the site – YouTube pitch clips of previous incubator participants. Watching a couple of those videos started to bring up familiar and contradictory feelings; on the one hand identifying as an entrepreneur, on the other hand not having an interest in building a web platform or mobile app. But luckily today I dug a little deeper. I found out that PIE has been involved with a handful of companies that are producing media: Uncorked Studios, Refresh and Epipheo.

Me and my sister last summer in Big Sur.

Our curiosity is officially sparked: can KS12 get itself incubated?

We’re going to give it a shot at least. Seems like a good time to try. We’re going to use this blog to chart the process of trying to define the KS12 product as something worthy of investment. The worst thing that can happen is that we’ll get rejected. The best thing that could happen is you could be seeing a lot more KS12 videos soon. Cross your fingers for us – the deadline for the application is next Tuesday!

Footnote: I wonder if there are any other incubators with this sort of relationship to an advertising agency. From my knowledge of these sorts of initiatives, PIE does seem unique.