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.]

A Kirkus Star for The Dangerous Animals Club

The venerable Kirkus Reviews has reviewed Stephen’s upcoming book, The Dangerous Animals Club, which is an adaptation of the podcast that I produce with him, The Tobolowsky Files. They’ve also given it their prestigious Kirkus Star, which is awarded only to books of “remarkable merit.” Here’s an excerpt from their review [Subscription only]:

Tobolowsky contributes intriguing insights into the absurdities of TV and film production (his description of acting against a green screen is particularly amusing), the politics of graduate school life and the perils of pet ownership, endowing both the most mundane and rarified endeavors with equally close attention and appreciation. His reminiscences of the early days of the AIDS crisis and the decline and death of his mother provide the collection with profound emotional ballast, but even in the heavier sections Tobolowsky’s light touch and effortless empathy delight and sustain readers’ engagement.

A copiously examined life rendered with humor and heart.

May it be the first of many.

The Tobolowsky Files in Boston and NYC (February 2012): A Photo Journal

This past week I had the privilege of traveling with Stephen Tobolowsky to the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston and to The Bell House in Brooklyn, where Stephen shared his stories and his insights with hundreds of fans. There’s something magical about live storytelling that binds us together in the words and performance of another human being. It’s an unforgettable experience and I hope each of you get to experience it at some point.

Below you’ll find a photo journal of our travels. New York was so lovely and exciting that I’m reminded of how sad I am that I don’t live there. Huge thanks to the fine folks at the Coolidge, The Bell House, the Independent Film Festival of Boston, Bumpershine, and Creaghead & Company for making these performances possible!

On the Uselessness of New Year’s Resolutions

Merlin Mann wrote this piece on new year’s resolutions (via Marco) almost a year ago but it’s still advice that I hold dear. Essentially, Mann argues against making huge, sweeping resolutions, in favor of smaller, more systematic decisions that are reasonable and achievable. The latter is a more mature way to go that will probably end up leading to more change:

Don’t set yourself up for failure by demanding things that you’ve never come close to achieving before. I realize this is antithetical to most self-improvement bullshit, but that’s exactly the point. If you were already a viking, you wouldn’t need to build a big boat. Start with where you are right now. Not with where you wish you’d been.

I have the will and the time to start a workout regimen but I’ve recently been beset by some pretty significant injuries that prevent this. Therefore, one of my new year’s resolution is to walk 5 miles, 4 days per week. It’s simultaneously small but ambitious. I’ll be using the Runkeeper app on my iPhone to monitor my routine and you can keep up with me here. Here’s hoping that 2012 will be a more healthy year than the last one.

Announcing the Launch of Davechensphotos.com

I’d like to make this official: as of this moment, my new photography website, Dave Chen’s Photos, is online!

It’s been a long journey to get to this point. I’ve spent the past year amassing thousands upon thousands of photographs from a wide variety of events and situations. I’ve studied with master photographer Jerry Ghionis and read up on the techniques of flash photographer David Hobby. My hope is that the new site will reflect the breadth and quality of my work through an elegant, simple, classy design.

Shortly, I’ll be writing a blog post about the two photo website services I’ve tried this year: 4ormat and Bigfolio (which hosts the current version of the site). I know many of us dislike flash but there are reasons why I chose to use a service that only hosts flash websites. I will get into those later, but iPad and iPhone users are not left out, as there’s a fully functional mobile version of the site as well.

In the meantime, check out the new site! Put it through its paces. And ask yourself: would you hire this photographer if he was local? Why or why not? Your answers and feedback are welcome in the comments below.

Thoughts on the First Tobolowsky Files Live

Last week, Stephen Tobolowsky and I took to the stage of the Brattle Theatre for our first-ever staging of The Tobolowsky Files Live. By most measures, the shows were a success: hundreds of people showed up, most of whom appeared to enjoy themselves (based on the comments I got afterwards and the general “mood” of the room. See also this lovely review from Pajiba). More importantly, Stephen and I got to play around with how we are going to do this thing in Seattle in January, when our audience is estimated to be around 700 people. Subsequent shows are currently being discussed for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and maybe even Boston again in a few months.

Photo: Tech Check at the Brattle (t-minus 2.5 hours till the show!)

The Brattle Theatre was an excellent host for us. Not only did they take a chance on what, at this point, is somewhat of an “unproven property,” they also made a whole weekend out of it, honoring Stephen by playing many of his movies in the theater, and by making him the guest of honor at the annual Brattle Gala. Here’s a video of them presenting a gift to Stephen at that gala:

As for my own personal experience, it was, by any measure, a thrill. Many people from the audience had never heard Stephen live, so it was great to be spreading the “Tobolowsky gospel.” Moreover, I met tons of amazing fans, both of the /Filmcast and of the Tobolowsky Files. One couple had driven four hours just to see the show that night. It was humbling and inspiring to see. And it was heartening to know that I had helped to create something that brought people together in a way that I hope was powerful.

Beyond that, there is something magical about the art of live storytelling — the idea that by uttering a few words, a person can change the entire mood of a room, can make you re-think your life, can move you and make you angry, sad, or joyful. Stephen Tobolowsky has this gift. To see him deploy it in an intimate theater with people whose hearts were open is an experience I shall never forget.

Some of my personal thoughts on Tobolowsky Live night #2 (mp3)

A few other snippets of media:

Here’s a video I recorded of Stephen and I chatting before the very first show. I was pretty nervous. Stephen may have been too, but he remained a consummate professional:

I was able to place my iPhone in my front breast pocket before I walked out on stage the second night. The video is almost incomprehensible, as the camera is at an extremely weird angle, but I still think this gives you a sense of what the mood was like for the packed audience that night.

Lastly, here’s a photograph I took of Stephen and Ann on their last day. Her support and encouragement helped to make last weekend possible.

Stephen and Anne

The Tobolowsky Files LIVE

It’s been a bit quiet here this past week. That’s because I’ve been busy putting together the following:

The Tobolowsky Files will have three LIVE performances in Boston during November (11th, 12th, and 13th)! Then, in January, we’ll be heading to Seattle for a performance at the historic Neptune Theater. It will be epic! Buy your tickets now!

I am beyond excited about this. There is nothing quite like seeing Stephen perform his stories live; I’ve seen it happen and the results are moving, powerful, even transformative.

More importantly, I can’t escape the thought: this is how it begins. With a few, jam-packed shows at a cozy, intimate venue. If these go well, not only will it do much to spread the word of Stephen and of the show, but it will also demonstrate that we have a viable business model on our hands. Perhaps even viable enough for me to seriously consider a career change…

Stephen recently did a live interview for a packed house for Seattle public radio. Our show is apparently quite popular there. It is not popular in Boston, where pretty much nobody knows that it exists. In my mind, this presents a number of interesting challenges and questions for us:

– From state to state, how big is the podcast’s reach? And how many of our listeners in each state are big enough fans that they are willing to spend money to see Stephen live?

– Given a situation where most people are not aware of the podcast, is Stephen’s existing popularity as an actor sufficient enough such that people will come see his show even with no knowledge whatsoever of his storytelling abilities?

– Suppose people don’t know about the podcast NOR do they know any of Stephen’s work. What are ways to entice them to come?

Stephen already has a Facebook and Twitter page, and I’ve created a Facebook event for the live showing in Boston. In the weeks to come, we’ll be playing around with some ways of selling the show that I hope will be effective. I look forward to sharing them with you.

I hope you’ll join us in Boston or in Seattle. And if we sell out (or come close to selling out) both locations, you can expect there to be many more performances down the line.

A Word of Thanks

Just wanted to give a shout out to my online buddy, Scott Neumyer. In addition to his day job, Scott is an author as well as a photographer. Coincidentally, these are two fields that I’ve recently made some inroads into, with the new Kindle Single Stephen and I just published, as well as my increasingly serious photographic pursuits.

Occasionally in my online travels, I’ve had the privilege to encounter super nice people who are willing to help me out, just out of the kind goodness of their hearts. Scott has certainly been one of those people, guiding me through some very uncertain processes and doing so with lots of patience, generosity, and graciousness. Thanks, Scott. Any success in my future endeavors in these fields will be partially due to you.

Check out Scott’s book on Amazon’s e-book store!