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.]