Taking a break

For the past five years, I’ve been recording one second of video every single day, then assembling them to create a video representing that year of my life. I typically put these videos together after each birthday but I was a bit late this year. When I finally got around to it recently (see above), I made a startling realization: I’d been sick five times in 2017. I’ve written before about my recent illnesses but it wasn’t until watching the 1Second video that I realized how bad things had gotten.

I got a physical and a blood test and it doesn’t appear as though I have any serious diseases. But I’ve really run myself ragged this year and I need some time to step back and re-assess my priorities in life.

Thus, I’m going to be taking a two month break from the Slashfilmcast. For the first time in my life in over a decade, I won’t be running any podcasts. Instead, I’ll be focusing on my full-time job, my relationships, and my family.

I’m also planning on unplugging more — in some senses, at least. Starting later this month, I’ve committed to deleting Twitter from my phone for awhile and spending more time writing/blogging and reading. (That said, I will probably still auto-post some blog posts and Periscopes on there.) I realize I’m incredibly blessed and privileged to even have the option of doing any of this, and I am grateful to those in my life who have supported these decisions and made them possible.

I hope to return and join the podcast again for our Last Jedi review in December. At that point, I’ll know a lot more about the shape of things. In the meantime, we have a huge list of awesome Slashfilmcast guest co-hosts that listeners have been suggesting to us via email. I look forward to hearing new, exciting voices on the podcast. I look forward to learning how to relax a little bit more. And I look forward to slowing down the pace of things, for just a little while.

One Second for Every Day of My Life – 2014-2015


Another year, another video where I recorded one second for every day of my life.

As with previous years, it has been a challenge not just to maintain the project, but to maintain it in a way that performs good storytelling. Anyone can record a second of video everyday – not everyone can use these seconds to create a narrative, an intense feeling, or a memorable moment. Over time as this project has gone on, I have continued to optimize my life around experiencing these moments, rather than recording them. This has led the videos to suffer overall.

But despite all the challenges, I must say that going through all my seconds at the end of the year was still an intensely rewarding experience. So many moments I would have forgotten resurface during this process. I recall people who were incredibly important to my life, and others who I was grateful to have just tangentially connected with.

A few big themes emerge for me:

1) This was the year of the cello – I have no idea where my cello proclivities are going to lead me, but for now, it’s incredibly valuable to me that I have this video document showing exactly how hard I worked at this thing this year. Every single second of cello represents a day that I practiced, and I am proud to have worked so hard at it.

2) Meeting my heroes – I’d almost forgotten that I’d had the opportunity to meet and talk to some awesome people this year, including directors Bong Joon-Ho and Megan Griffiths, as well as George Takei. It’s nice to have mementos of many of these moments.

3) I made a movie – It’s world premiering at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 29th (buy tickets here). And in this video, you see many seconds where I’m hard at work, either editing the movie or sending it off to film festivals. I’m so grateful for the folks at Cut.com for joining me on this endeavor. I can’t wait for y’all to see the fruits of our labor.

All in all, I hope you find these videos provide at least a somewhat-interesting perspective into my life. They certainly are worthwhile for me to continue making, and I plan to continue them as long as I am able.

Go here to see the past videos/posts on this project.

Another Year in the Life of David Chen



Last year, I wrote a whole series of essays about my attempts to chronicle my life one second at a time. You can watch last year’s video here.

I have finally completed this year’s video, which starts the day after my birthday in 2013. Round 2 of the 1SecondEveryday challenge was considerably more difficult this time around. Here are some thoughts on doing this project again this year:

Time is a flat circle – It’s true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. When you compare the two videos, there are a lot of similarities. A lot of riding the Microsoft Connector bus. A lot of sunsets and scenes from my apartment. A lot of shows at the Seattle Theatre Group (plus Sasquatch!). I’ve started to get into a routine here in Seattle, which is simultaneously comforting and terrifying – it means this place now fully feels like home, but I now fear becoming complacent.

Food – Again, I depended on food for a lot of the seconds. It’s very difficult not to. It’s also hard not to depend upon all the things one sees every day in one’s routine.

I lost the will to go on – About 2/3rds of the way into the year, I definitely lost the will to keep doing the project. It became exhausting to pull out the camera(s) and take some video whenever something interesting was happening. As a result, I didn’t think strategically about stories I could tell using this format. For instance, I could’ve done a whole sequence on the Kickstarter film I’m doing with Stephen Tobolowsky. Huge missed opportunity! Towards the end, as that Kickstarter project started to gain steam, I definitely got a little bit of my mojo back.

Nonetheless…

In the end, it was still incredibly rewarding – Not only do I now have a visual chronicle of my year, but the seconds help me remember a bunch of stuff that I would’ve otherwise forgotten. Plus, the process of revisiting all the seconds, choosing which one was my favorite etc. was as emotional as it was last year.

Moving to a one Month Release Cycle? I’m thinking of releasing these 30-seconds at a time every month from now on, then perhaps doing a 1-year video every calendar year. The amount of work required for one of these videos just feels like it’d bear more returns spread out over time.

One Year in the Life of David Chen

Here it is. After endless seconds recorded and a dozen hours of editing, I’ve finally completed this video that features one second for every single day of this year of my life. I don’t know how much I have to add beyond the previous blog posts I’ve made on this topic, but a few lessons learned come to mind:

– The biggest challenge is to continue making seconds each day. It becomes exhausting to either a) create interesting moments, or b) find unique images in day-to-day life. As days went by, my motivation started to waver, as did my willingness to pull out a camera whenever something spectacular was happening. In these moments, I had to trust that the final product would be worth it. But to be sure, when I show this to people and they get excited about doing it themselves, the one thing that I warn them about is to make sure they have the commitment and discipline to take this project to its completion.

– On that note, recording food became a huge temptation. The reason for this is because if you think about it, food is one of the few things that is noticeably different from day to day, especially if you work a regular 9-5 job. It was an easy fallback, a crutch. As a result, more shots of food ended up in the final video than I probably would have preferred.

– Storing, organizing, and editing the video snippets became onerous. If you attempt this project, I’d strongly recommend you update the video every few months or so, rather than doing them in one fell swoop at the end. Cesar Kuriyama’s 1 Second Every Day app apparently automates this entire process to a huge extent.

– Watching and editing this video was an emotional experience. I remembered profound moments that I might’ve otherwise forgotten. I re-lived moments of lasting significance. My heart broke while contemplating the connections I’ve lost, and swelled at the relationships gained. More importantly, the project encouraged me to try to live life to its fullest – to find beauty in every day, and in the subtle moments that we might not think of. I might not have always succeeded, but I tried. In the end, the production of the project became as worthwhile as the final product.

– I’m still looking for a way to go beyond this project. One Second Everyday can convey a lot, but I still find it restrictive and wish there were a better way to capture my life and the lives of those around me in a way that will result in a watchable, enjoyable final product. Oftentimes it’s within significant constraints that art is made. I’m just searching and hoping to try out some different constraints in the near future (let me know if you have any ideas!)

– I’ve put together a version of this video that features a no audio except for a soundtrack backing it. I’ll release it later. I’m pretty happy with the version featuring a soundtrack, but I think this version with audio is the definitive version.

– If I were to title the video, I’d go with this: Huge Stretches of Monotony, Punctuated by Moments of Awesomeness. Perhaps that’s an apt description for many of our lives.

On a personal note, it’s been an absolutely crazy year. I changed jobs, changed lives, changed everything I’ve ever known. The least I can do is thank the people who appeared in these seconds or made them possible. They have made my life in Seattle what it is and have inarguably changed it for the better.

Six Months In

It’s been awhile since my last update, and I definitely feel the impact of my absence from the blogging world. I love writing, but these days I’m just so exhausted from all that life demands that I can’t really muster the energy to write something intelligent on a regular basis. But I’m grateful that the recent break has allowed me to recharge and rethink what’s important to me.

One thing I have kept up is my 1 Second Everyday project, which recently passed the six month mark. I thought I’d update the video to celebrate the occasion. It was also cool to see this video mentioned in a Fast Company post about the 1 Second Everyday idea.

The one thing I’ll re-iterate about the continuation of this project is how simultaneously challenging and yet gratifying it continues to be. It is challenging because it has become quite difficult to continually try and find new and interesting things to shoot, especially if my routine has been pretty similar for many days in a row. Conversely, many of my friends now “get” what the project is, and so are much more forgiving these days when I whip out the camera and ask, “Can you be my second for today?”

At the same time, I actually have fond memories of browsing through all my previous seconds, remembering many of the key moments of this crazy year of my life. I wouldn’t trade that memory preservation for anything, even though this project is getting more and more difficult for me to muster the will for every day.

I should also note that I’m glad to witness the rise of Cesar Kuriyama, who’s helped me with my own project and who’s single-handedly pushed the 1 Second Everyday idea into popular culture. His Kickstarter for a 1 Second Everyday app recently succeeded with flying colors and I can’t wait to see the final product!

Experimenting with Music

The 1 Second Everyday project continues! This past month was marked by thousands of miles of travel, plus my dear brother’s wedding. The numerous shots of planes are meant to convey what an intense month it was, but by using them, I was unable to use any other seconds from those memorable days. Quite the conundrum, and one of the limits of the project (i.e. conveying two ideas from the same day). Another limit is trying to convey the momentousness of a wedding using only one second. I wish I could’ve “borrowed” seconds from other, more boring days to use instead, but I do ultimately feel that that ends up betraying the spirit of the project.

I also tried something new: adding music to the proceedings. Some observations on this:

  • I agree with an earlier observation I blogged about that music totally sets the mood for the entire video, regardless of what the mood for these seconds actually is. While each second differs dramatically in tone, the music sets a single tone for the entire thing.
  • The video with no music is able to convey a sense of momentum, just by the perpetual, continual change of the sound of each 1-second clip. It takes us inexorably into the future. The video with music is unable to do this quite as effectively, but it feels like it conveys an entirely different type of momentum altogether. 
  • In general, I think the type of music you can use for this situation is either really pensive/somber, or really upbeat and happy. Anything in between (e.g. hip-hop, folk music, etc.) just feels “off” to me, but your mileage may vary.
  • The track I used was Dave Porter’s “Matches in the Pool,” off of his Breaking Bad soundtrack. I recorded a podcast about the Breaking Bad soundtrack that you can listen to here.

I’m undecided as to whether the final video will include music, so I’ll most likely still end up producing two versions of it. Your thoughts are welcome.

The First Three Months

I know updates have been sparse on here recently. Honestly, between my job, all my podcasts, and trying to do social things outside of those things to keep myself sane, I barely have any time to do anything else these days.

BUT! My 1 Second Every Day project soldiers onwards. Here’s a video that shows the first three months of my life in Seattle (approximately):

A couple of observations:

  • After three months of this, it’s difficult to fight some of the “sameness” that creeps into these images. By far, that’s the biggest challenge: trying to make sure what you shoot today isn’t similar to what came before it.
  • The biggest weakness of this project is that there is pretty much nothing here of my work at Microsoft. I don’t really do any shooting on campus because I don’t want to risk the possibility of revealing anything confidential, but it remains a huge part of my new life that remains undocumented.
  • When I’ve presented this project to my friends, the one thing they all overwhelmingly say is: “If I did a project like that, it would be incredibly boring.” As I mentioned in my initial post, maybe if that’s the case you should try and make some serious changes to your life. But I have a corollary now to add to that: you don’t need to have a super interesting life to make a decent video with this project. You just need to be able to find the beautiful, fascinating, amusing things worth highlighting in each day. I think it’s a challenge worth undertaking. 

More Thoughts on 1 Second Everyday

First off, I’ve been continuing my 1 Second Everyday project. Here’s an updated video that depicts my first two months (approximately) in Seattle:


After I made my initial post, I had a lot more time to reflect on this project and specifically, its constraints. I also had a fantastic, lengthy conversation with Cesar Kuriyama, who has helped to popularize this type of project.

Before I delve into some of the things we discussed, I should emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to do this. We are just at the beginning of an era when regular consumers having the capability to record and edit these types videos, so we’re all just writing the rules as we go along.

Cesar and I discussed the following issues:

First, a reminder for those attempting to do the same project – It’s best to record multiple “seconds” each day, as you may not know which one will mean the most to you until later. See more on this topic below.

Can it ever be longer than a second? – Limits encourage creativity. They force us to innovate and to avoid excess. Nonetheless, I wondered about the one second limit. Cesar saw changing it as a slippery slope: if you make some segments longer than one second, then you’re “privileging” certain days, when each day should get its own “chance” to be a part of the project. Taken to the extreme, this could destroy the integrity of the project.

Personally, this doesn’t bother me too much. I agree with limits, but one second occasionally seems arbitrarily short. One of the people that has done a similar project didn’t impose a one second limit on her project and the resulting project was still great.  If you watch the above video, you may notice that some of the segments are slightly longer than one second. Here’s what I can promise: the overwhelmingly vast majority of segments will be one second long. Some of them will be slightly longer than one second. None of them will be as long or longer than two seconds. 

Should you add music to the final product? The video I just mentioned is scored to LCD Soundsystem, and gained popularity partially as a result of that. Cesar is against scoring these types of projects. From his blog:

Being able to listen to any particular moment is crucial to remembering it. The sound of my dad laughing… Tina Fey’s Bossypants audio book while I’m driving through Tennessee… even the sound of slapping my cousin hello brings me back, haha :)Not to mention that music directs you towards a certain mood. And some of these seconds can switch from joy to sorrow, then back to joy in literally a heart beat.

A great discussion ensued about this topic on my Facebook wall. C. Robert Cargill defended the notion of using music thusly:

Those are interesting thoughts, though I would argue that it is hard for anyone to really glean real emotion from one second clips. I come from the Kerouac school of writing: “Be in love with yr life.” A piece like this *should* be a celebration. I should, for a few brief minutes, feel like you aren’t just living your life, but that you are living the hell out of it. The right piece of music married to that kind of footage could do just that.

I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to handle this yet, but it’s likely I’ll produce two separate videos: one with music and one without.

What about releasing the videos on a regular basis? – People who follow this blog know that I like to produce content. A lot of content. Photos, videos, audio: I get a thrill out of recording some slice of this world and presenting it for all to see on a regular basis. The idea of working my ass off for a year-long project and only being able to release a single video that might be seen by just a few hundred/thousand people seemed like a lot of work for not that much payoff.

Should I release monthly updates of the project? Maybe do a halfway point (6 months) video? There are disadvantages to this, of course: any sort of progress update would likely blunt the impact of a final video. Cesar chimed in on this topic with some of his thoughts: 

Much like my thoughts on music, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer, just personal preference. Off the top of my head I could think of at least a couple of reason why I prefer yearly.

– when I first came up with this idea, I was adamant about doing something that wouldn’t feel like a chore. I think posting per month for the rest of my life would feel a bit more like perpetual homework. (although the App I’m currently developing will largely resolve this)

– Like you so eloquently explained in your blog post, I often keep several seconds to represent a particular day. I’ve found that I often need time to reflect on what ends up being the second that I want to remember forever. Example: In my video, you’ll see me playing Settler’s of Catan a bunch. The first time you see my play that board game is actually the first time I was taught how to play by a friend’s husband. He’s explaining the rules in it. I remember that was the day I biked all over the Ohio State campus. And I had recorded a second there. I’d always wanted to check out that campus since I was in High School. I thought it was pretty obvious that would be my second of the day. In the months that followed, Catan became a HUGE part of the life of my friends and I. We love getting together to play the crap out of it. Because I didn’t post my compilation online until the end of my first year, I was able to change my mind and switch the second for that day. Learning how to play that game became a pretty significant event in my life. Obviously unbeknownst to me at the time. This ended up being the case for a considerable amount of seconds. It wasn’t until months later that I realized certain events became truly significant.

– a short reason. Much like yourself, I tend to post a couple of things online every day. Sometimes its a cool online nugget, and sometimes it’s something personal. I think demanding the attention of my friends once a year to get a glimpse of my life is much more absorbable than requesting 30 seconds of their attention monthly.

– I guess one of the things I’m getting at is… there’s a lot you can get away with if you wait a long time before posting… another example is the 2 horrible months when my sister in law was in the hospital. I was always petrified recording those moments. I wasn’t even on facebook during that span of time. I can’t imagine posting something like that while it was still happening. I was so scared my family would hate me for putting all that in a video. The night before my flight to TED I shared the video with my Sister in Law, her mom, & my mom… I thought: “well… if they’re not comfortable with me sharing this on the stage at TED and online… I’ll try to explain my reasonings… but if that fails… then I’ll just have to cut the video short because there’s no way I would do this without my families approval”. Luckily they loved it. It worked exactly as I intended it… a reflection of how bad things were, and how grateful we should be that we’ve moved on to better days.


– There was something exceptionally magical about how friends in my “seconds” reacted when they saw themselves in the compilation of my first year… most didn’t know they would be in it. For some weird reason, they felt a lot closer to me. They were often happy that I decided that they were a meaningful part of my life. I don’t believe this would have the same effect if we had shared a particular moment together, & I was posting it just a month later.


As a point of fact, I still think it’s possible to post monthly compilations, then switch out a “second” or two when it comes time to create the year-end project. I haven’t decided how I’m going to proceed, but it’s likely that this will be the last time you see a cumulative progress update on this project (at least until maybe I’m six months into it). 
***

That’s all for now. Thanks again to Cesar for his guidance. Hope you enjoy the video.

The First 30 Days

What is one year like in the life of David Chen? We’re all about to find out.

Earlier this year, a woman named Madeline released an interesting video on Vimeo. She had shot one second of video for every day of her life during the year 2011. I found the result to be unexpectedly inspiring and moving.

Several months later, /Filmcast listener and all-around awesome dude Cesar Kuriyama took to the stage at TED to unveil his own “one second every day project“, which he’d been filming every day for the 30th year of his life.

Kuriyama is passionate about the project and believes everyone should engage in it. I think the final result is fascinating, a seemingly endless series of context-less images. Context-less, that is, to everyone but the filmmaker. It’s a compelling snapshot of one’s life, a video that is evocative for the creator and intriguing and enigmatic for the viewer.

So, I’m pleased to announce that I am also undertaking this project. My birthday this year was May 20th, right around the same time I uprooted my life from Boston and moved to Seattle. Starting on that day, I have filmed one second of video every single day. Around this time next year, I’ll plan to publish the result, a chronicle of my first year here.

In doing this project, I’ve made a few observations about how best to approach it. First of all, I think this project works best when the second that you record is somehow representative of the day that you had, or at least, how you want to remember that day. In practice, this can get a bit tricky; often times the most interesting that happens to me is an interaction I have with someone else. While I can frequently “anticipate” when a good “second” will arrive, it’s often inopportune to whip out a camera and start recording. Secondly, it’s useful to record multiple seconds for each day, giving you the option to choose from a number of them. As a result, it’s also important to have a robust cataloging system for all of your “potential seconds.” Finally, I don’t have experience with this yet, but it sounds like it’s useful to create a master file for the final video, then stitch the videos together intermittently and continuously add them to that file, as opposed to doing them all at the end. Alternatively, one could also create videos for each month, then bind them all together in the end. I may end up going this path because it will allow me to release regular video content, but it also robs the final video of some of its uniqueness. We’ll see. 

As a proof-of-concept, I’ve stitched together my first 30 seconds, representing my first month here. You can find this video below:

When I began working on the project, I asked Cesar Kuriyama, “What if you do this every day for a year and the resulting video ends up being incredibly boring?”

Kuriyama responded, “That’s good! Because then you’ll look back on how boring your life was and you’ll resolve to change things.”

Not a bad point, that. I don’t know what the end result will motivate me to do. I can only hope it will show a life lived full, with love, laughter, and friends, a humble aspiration for the beginning of my new life.

[I am indebted to Cesar Kuriyama for his counsel and for helping me to establish a workflow for pulling these clips together. Be sure to check out his other work.]