It all comes down to Just One Story…
©2009 Diane Wolkstein & Philip David Morgan c/o Rosegarden Television,
formerly Promenade Digital [Mediaworks].
The way my story begins is with a dreary New York City night in November 2009. On that evening, I used a Flip Video camcorder to record four different stories told by the celebrated teller (and my dear friend) Diane Wolkstein as part of a program produced by the editors of the mythology journal Parabola.
Of the four stories recorded, Diane only approved one of them — the classic Taoist tale that begins with a farmer’s horse running away. Still, the simple act of recording short single stories on a flash–drive video camera led me to wonder: What if a streaming video storytelling series could be created this way? Hence, Just One Story…
While it might seem novel or faddish to use a Flip camcorder — or, indeed, any flash drive camcorder — to record a New York City legend and then share it with the world as a streaming video, it helps to remember that storytelling and video are not exactly strangers.
In 1986, at the height of the VHS videotape era, the H.W. Wilson Company launched a short–lived series called American Storytelling. Made solely for library and school use, it presented some of the best tellers in the United States (including Diane), each telling a different story — but recorded inside a television studio, under standard TV production conditions.
When H.W. Wilson began selling its series to the educational markets, it claimed in its slick color brochure that “the intimate nature of the video medium is especially well–suited to to reproducing the unique relationship between storyteller and audience, capturing all the flavor and vitality of a live storytelling session. In simple but evocative stage settings, each personal storyteller creates the immediacy of a live performance.”
But how can intimacy and immediacy be possible when your subject is recorded under studio conditions with the only other human presence being not an audience of ordinary people, but a phalanx of technicians?
Indeed, it should be noted that, while the series may have helped the careers of the chosen tellers, American Storytelling was really an attempt to put a living art “under glass,” not to be touched or interacted with, the publishers’ claims notwithstanding.
Thankfully, most storytelling videos do not follow the studio model employed for American Storytelling. Indeed, as VHS gave way to the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD), many tellers chose instead to simply employ a video crew to record them in live performance. Most of my favorite storytelling videos take this route, showing not only the raw act of the telling art, but also how people actually react to it, as it happens. That alone is far greater than the most exacting studio production money can buy — and money alone can never buy spontaneity.
The introduction of flash drive–based video camcorders in the last several years has done more than replace their earlier record–to–tape/disc predecessors. The new breed of camcorders — which was perhaps best personified by the Flip Video line — have helped to make push–button videography practically foolproof. Just One Story… was christened inside New York City’s Orchard House Café, which is a small venue and where an older camera setup (camera + tripod + electrical cables) would prove impractical and a rude inconvenience to other patrons.
To be sure, the Flip isn’t perfect — the basic model can’t do more than 30 minutes of recording, and then only in standard definition. None of the Flips take Secure Digital (SD) memory cards (although the HD models — one of which I eventually bought in 2010 and now use on a regular basis — allow for a generous 2 hours of recording time). And you cannot plug in an external microphone, which might allow for greater sound quality depending on what you decide to shoot.
On the other hand, a Flip is certainly ready to rock out of the box, and in a tight place such as the Orchard House Café, it is capable of miracles. (It can also be mounted on a tripod or any similar device; I use a Targus monopod.) And unlike other portable media devices, I can replace the batteries (AA size) very easily.
Sadly, Cisco Systems — the company that bought Flip’s parent, Pure Digital, for USD 590 million — was unable to capitalize on all of the above, and they decided to end production of the Flips in the Spring of 2011. (I was even more upset that some 550 people lost their jobs.)
Despite Cisco’s decision to kill the little gadget, the most crucial takeaway from the Age of the Flip is that it is now possible to make quality cultural video on the quick and the cheap almost anywhere in the world. Think of the grassroots/underground media activists who’d swear by theirs. If the decision of storytellers to knock out the TV studio and bring the cameras into the audience was a statement, then so is the kind of technological advance that knocks out a van of video gear and puts the “mobile truck” in your pocket. Quite literately.
Just One Story… will return in 2012 — and that will be just the beginning.
Meet the Gardener
Photo: Diane Wolkstein (Cloudstone).
Yes, I really should introduce myself, shouldn’t I?
My name is Philip David Morgan, and I often call myself a “child of the media,” having been born during the rise of broadcast television in the United States (there were only three networks back in 1962).
I’ve been a practicing webmaster since 1996, when I created The Diane Wolkstein Pages as part of my personal website (this was before the Web truly became “bigger than big”). The Pages were really little more than an unofficial “fan site” to promote and celebrate the legendary New York City storyteller and author. But Diana (a close friend of mine since 1993) saw potential in being online, and when her official website was launched in 2000, I was brought on board as webmaster — a role I continue to serve even today.
I did more, however, than become Diana’s official webmaster in 2000: That was also the year I (accidentally) became the audio engineer for her feature–length concert video of Inanna (2000, released 2007). And if you’ve seen the 2007 videofilm Diane Wolkstein: A Storyteller’s Story, please note that some of the footage of her telling Eleanor Farjeon’s “Elisie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep” is mine. (Both videos are available for sale as DVD–Rs from her website.)
And then, in 2009, I ended up taking things one step further: I used a Flip Video camcorder to record what would be the first episode of Just One Story…, an ongoing video series devoted to documenting live storytelling in the raw (no special staging, no video EFX, nothing). To create a home of sorts for the series, I also launched a banner called Promenade Digital [Mediaworks] — a mouthful of a name based on my initials, which I decided ultimately was a tad too vain.
Hence, Rosegarden Television (a/k/a Rosegarden Media and Entertainment), with a new homepage on Tumblr — because media production doesn’t pay all the bills (if any). (Which, in turn, is why I have a no–so–glamorous supermarket job. Part–time, by the way.)
I could say more, but I think it will be better to move onward with tending to the newly-planted Garden. I will have more to say about Just One Story… soon, when I will start posting news about the show along with (remastered) episodes.
For now, it’s a pleasure to meet you.