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I like to watch, continued


MORE: The best of the rest - Six must-see video blogs. BY MIKE MILIARD

THE ROAD AHEAD

Ravi Jain likes limits. They challenge him. So he conceived his vlog DriveTime with some specific restrictions in mind. Itís something he learned doing graduate work at MassArt. "Thatís always been appealing to me. Set yourself up in some confining situation, and then figure out, within those constraints, what can you do?"

DriveTime is a talk show. One thatís filmed every week entirely in Jainís car. Usually during his commute from his home in JP to his job in Allston. So it serves the dual purpose of being a way-cool conceit while allowing him the time to film regularly.

Every week Jain, 34, does an opening segment with his lovely co-host Sonia in the passenger seat. ("Iím married to you, and you drive me to work. And since I donít want to take the bus, Iím your co-host," she quips.) Then, after dropping her at work, he picks up a guest. Maybe itís James Hull of the Gallery at Green Street, or Dennis Crowley, founder of the mobile social-networking company Dodgeball. To say the least, itís a novel way to learn about the artists, musicians, scientists, and sundry other thinkers in Boston and beyond. And itís a pleasant surprise to open my iTunes on Friday or Monday mornings and find a new DriveTime episode downloading automatically.

When I meet Ravi and Sonia on a recent morning, Iím expecting to hitch a ride in his white Audi and get interviewed for the show. But that carís old, and the roads are slick that day, so Iím picked up in a different vehicle, one sans camera. (Underscoring the closeness of the vlogging community, Ravi and Sonia bought the car from Steve Garfield.)

The setup in the DriveTime Audi is pretty simple. Jain stuck a clamp onto the dashboard, then affixed a basic Sony DCR-TRV11 camera to that. "Itís nothing really special," he says. "I finally went out and got a wide-angle lens for a whopping $22 investment."

A couple years ago, Jain created seven eight-minute-long episodes of a Web-based sitcom called Three Abreast. But the time he put into filming and editing it was more akin to doing a feature film. "What appealed to me about video blogging," he says, "was the immediacy of it."

Itís a novel medium, and Jainís is a novel approach. And even within the constraints of his automobile, heís able to offer new features from week to week. One guest called in via car phone. Heís filmed during the day, on the way to work, and at night, on his way home. Heís even had a musical guest. (Rather than the back-seat cello concerto heíd hoped for, he had to settle for a ukulele serenade. "Such was the power of your performance that weíre completely fogged up right now," he applauded.) When itís time to read viewer mail, Sonia simply reaches into the DriveTime glove box.

There are perils. One DriveTime episode almost ended in destruction when Jain forgot to check his blind spot and was nearly sideswiped by an oncoming vehicle. But, he insists, "that near-miss was completely independent of the fact that there was a camera on the dashboard."

ITíS PERSONAL

Other video blogs are more freeform. JP artist Amy Carpenterís criminally under-updated Welcome to Amyville is simply a series of funny, free-spirited slices of life. She dances with abandon to Madonnaís "Vogue" in her closet. She rides a tandem bicycle with a beatific smile. In her car, she espies a mulleted dude in a white convertible in the next lane. "Look at that guy!" she gawks as the camera zooms in. "Heís, like, straight out of the í80s!" She pays tribute to her soon-to-be-vacated apartment, sifting through mounds of kitschy gewgaws as she begs viewers to help her move. "Just think of all the stuff you could acquire! It would be amazing! Besides," she says, shaking a Magic-8 ball thatís been altered in postproduction to read YOU WILL HELP AMY MOVE HER CRAP, "itís your destiny."

People ó including, apparently, a sizable fan base in Germany ó are watching. And they care. In one clip, Carpenter films herself sitting silent and dispirited under a brumous sky while Björk plays on the car radio. "Iím really sad looking at your last video," reads one of the postís 21 comments. "Iím so accustomed to view your wonderful smile." Amy later responds that sheís okay. She hadnít slept all night, she writes; the weather corresponded with her mood, and the song happened to put her in the mind of one of those "wow, life is such a movie" moments. "Iím smiley," she reassures her fans, "but Iím not ALWAYS smiley."

Serra Shiflett, a 25-year-old grad student studying video and new media at Emerson, is another vlogger who revels in the mediumís storytelling capabilities. Heads Off, the vlog she does with her boyfriend Mike MacHenry, is billed as an "exploration of our city, and our society." It does just that through its concretion of little moments.

Using a simple three-chip Cannon GL1 camera, editing her footage on her Mac with Final Cut Pro, Shiflett shoots ó or allows others to shoot ó things that catch her eye: carving pumpkins, making wine, getting a buzz cut on the front porch, her cat drinking from a faucet. Itís like a photo album come to life, giving simple glimpses of everyday goings-on.

At first, the idea of blogging at all was absurd to her ó let alone the ostensibly narcissistic impulse to document the minutiae of her daily life. "When I think of blogging, I think of LiveJournal," Shiflett says. "And I was like, ĎVideo blogging?í That seems so narcissistic and just, like, silly."

But then she starting watching NYC-via-JP vlogger Ryanne Hodson, who maintains one of the first and best sites around, a funny, arty, compendium of videographic self-expression. "The more I watched, the more I was like, this is just great. I realized there was so much more potential." She also thought it would be a complement to her schoolwork, a way to keep her shooting and editing skills sharp. (Heads Off hosts a prototype of her masterís thesis, an interactive Flash presentation called "VideoString" that explores the shift from written language to video communication by allowing the composition of syntactical "sentences" from short video clips.)

Still, "I donít have any big goals," Shiflett says of the vlog. "I have about 20 to 30 people subscribed through RSS, and Iím sure if I could see who they were, Iíd know 75 percent of them." Some of Heads Offís page hits have come from people searching the Web for decapitation videos. One person got there via a Google query for "Davis Square Haircut." Still, many stay and watch clip after clip, she says.

"People always want to be famous. I never wanted that, which is why I hardly ever show up on our blog. But I feel like 80 percent of the population, thatís their dream come true, to be on camera. What surprises me more is that people are so interested in watching."

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Issue Date: December 16 - 22, 2005
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