Slice of Life: Filmed, In Progress

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Last night, my wife and I joined about a dozen other folks in a small film editing space to view an early draft of a documentary film being made by a neighbor and an artistic partner (see their Kickstarter campaign that got them off the ground). Almost a year ago, we went to the same space, and watched a very early promotional trailer. Our friend is a professional filmmaker who has won awards for her work, so it is no surprise that the movie — which is about arming teachers in schools with guns — is a captivating piece of work.

The topic of the film remains rather jarring. Arming teachers with guns? It’s happening, and may spread now that Trump and the NRA are in power, and the movie — now tentatively entitled G is for Gun — focuses on some communities in Ohio. It’s powerful, in that teachers from both side come from the same desire: to find a way to protect their students. How to do that is the dividing line in the narrative, of course. Actually, one of the more disturbing and absurd elements of their research is that schools don’t have to tell parents if teachers are being armed with guns in schools. That information can be kept from the public, and even from the police (who don’t like the idea of arming teachers, by the way, for fear of something going terribly wrong if they arrive at a school for an emergency).

Anyway …

After we watched the 40 minute film, the discussion took place, and it was pretty interesting to be in the midst of a sort of “writers’ circle” as we critiqued and complimented the aspects of filmmaking, talking about point of view, balance, filming techniques, voice, lighting, flow of story, and more. I watched my friend and her partner take in the comment, making notes, asking follow-up questions, pursuing a line of inquiry. They would glance at each other when some comment from us, the audience, hit a nerve, or shake their heads in tandem when we raised a point they had clearly already been raising, or discussing, during the editing process.

The event reminded me of the kinds of discussions about writing we nurture in our classrooms, and how — if you are lucky as an adult — you might find yourselves in the midst of rich conversations about art and writing, and filmmaking, too.

Peace (on film),

Google’s Story Experiments in 360 Degrees

PLANET BREMEN flickr photo by jonasginter shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Google’s shift into transforming video stories with 360 degree perspectives dovetails nicely with the push into virtual reality storytelling, and some of the talk scattered around Networked Narratives (and more likely to come). This release — Pearl — tells the heart-warming story of a father and daughter, all set inside and near a car, and the viewer can move around the setting of this car as time passes on.

What I find fascinating is how this kind of video/story experiment begins to push the agency of the storytelling to the viewer, who can move around the “car” here, or just keep the eyes focused outside the windows. The story unfolds, but where the lens is looking all depends on us. I think that is intriguing.

Watch Pearl (I am embedded it here but I think you might need to go to the video on YouTube). I see they have other stories now published, too. I like Pearl, though, for its emotional connection (see? Story overrides tech, even as tech complements story)

And watch the Behind the Scenes video of the Making of Pearl.

Peace (with stories),

Graphic Novel Review: Dog Man

Well, I could not not read this, right? I mean, Dog Man! I am Dogtrax in social media spaces. And Dav Pilkey! Who doesn’t love the hijinks of Dav Pilkey? (not counting the teachers in his books, who complain about kids making comics all the time).

In a nutshell, Dog Man is a comic story being made by two comic characters (Harold and George) in Pilkey’s comic book. If you know Captain Underpants, then that makes sense. If not, go forth and read Captain Underpants (there are worse things to read, including the daily newspapers with headlines coming out of Washington DC).

Dog Man is a police officer with the head of a dog and the body of a man (and don’t ask how that happened) who always seems to save the day, from either the villian cat (Petey) or animated hot dogs (the edible kind, which sort of gives away the resolution of that particular story … sorry).

Pilkey has great fun with sight gags, and word play, and general mayhem and silliness that makes Dog Man a fun read, mostly for the elementary age (but my middle school son enjoyed it). What more can you ask of a book? (other than some deep underlying theme of the human condition … yeah .. you won’t find that here in Dog Man.)

Peace (it’s ruff),

#NetNarr: Getting Elemental with Poetry

NetNarr Element Poems

Part of the “assignment” this week for the Networked Narratives course is to document the four Elements, as part of a larger discussion about Digital Alchemy. As usual, I decided that the idea of eight images of the elements (four literal, four interpreted) wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I did wonder if I could write four short poems, based on the elements of earth, wind, fire and water.

Using the app Legend, which animates text against a visual background, I got down to work, trying to hint at the elements but trying to write about something larger. I hoped the visual would connect to the element, as well as some key phrases. The constraints were length: Legend only allows a short amount of text, and the resulting animation is only six seconds.

But I was happy with each of the poems, which I think mostly captured what I was trying to accomplish in terms of the elements as inspiration for writing.

I posted each short poem on Twitter, via the #Netnarr hashtag, but then realized I really wanted them to be stitched together, so that all four poems of four elements became one digital composition. I turned to Animoto as the easiest way (I could have done it in iMovie) but also because I knew they had “elements” themes. The “air” theme seemed right, particularly when I found the “rain” song to go with it.

Networked Narratives is a hybrid course – part of a Keane University offering AND an open invitation to anyone. Come join the fun, with Mia Zamora and Alan Levine leading the way.

Peace (braving the elements),

#NetNarr: Worldbuilding in Writing Notebooks

WorldBuilding Collage

In the Networked Narratives adventure just now unfolding, there is some talk down the road about “world building” and as my students were just finishing up an entire unit on video game design (telling a Hero’s Journey story inside of a video game structure), I decided to riff off the idea with some daily writing activities in their notebooks.

Day One’s prompt was to map out an imaginary world, either in the form of maps or an atlas, and to name landforms and water forms within their world.


Day Two’s prompt was to use that Imaginary World as the setting for a short story, sending a character on an adventure through the new world they had conceived the day before.

What struck me was how closely many of the student’s maps and atlases of their new worlds resembled Earth. I expected more of them to take more creative license with the prompt. However, the stories were imaginative, conceptualizing a strange and imaginary place for adventure, and I wonder if their ability to “tell” stories (something we work on all year) gave them more freedom to explore the unknown elements of an unknown world.

BONUS: I made this prompt into a prompt for the Daily Digital Alchemy the other day. Give it a whirl. Create a world.

Peace (somewhere, there’s a world),

Slice of Life: The Rhythm of the Night

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Nature has a beauty all of its own. So, when the sleet is using my house as a drum pad all night, I can both appreciate the music of it as well as wish Mother Nature would give it a break. The drums were a mix of hard staccato beats, the wind providing an energetic pounding, and the soft jazzy brush of light tapping, almost as if somewhere, someone was playing their saxophone underneath the street light.

And still, the music played.

I’m awake now, early morning, and so can appreciate the different tones, of how sleet hitting the window sound different from sleet hitting the slanted roof over the sun room, and now those two are different from the sound of sleet hitting the basement bulkhead door.

I can appreciate it here, in my dry house, with coffee going and school just called closed. But I know the dog is going to get up soon, and I am going to have to head out into this music, feeling the drumsticks on my head and face, and the leftover sounds from the night’s jam session crunching beneath my feet. My appreciation for music might not last.

Peace (sounds like),

Curiosity Conversation: Virtual Reality Storytelling


I have known Bonnie Kaplan for more than a decade now, through our affiliation with the National Writing Project and our common interest in digital storytelling. She is an avid video documentary filmmaker, and we have jumped into more than a few projects over the years (including the Collaborative ABC Project and the launch of the iAnthology writing space for NWP-affiliated teachers).

When I learned she was just back from a course on Virtual Reality Storytelling, out in California, I wanted to chat with her, to pick her brain a bit about the potential and the possibilities of this new technology in terms of where it might lead us into storytelling down the road. (You can read her blog reflections here).

Then I remembered Scott Glass and his Curiosity Conversation ideas from CLMOOC this past summer, in which one teacher reaches out to record a discussion with another on a topic of personal interest, so Bonnie and I chatted via Hangout.

I am grateful for her time and friendship, and her reminder that stories are at the heart of any digital storytelling.

Peace (in the chat),

Bunch of Vines, Collected

Vine Collage

Vine, or the making of new Vines, sort of went kaput the other day, although I guess the 6-sec videos are still being hosted at the site, and there is something called Vine Camera replacing it.

But I am not sure.

All I know is, the other day I received an email from Vine, warning me that the deadline for using its downloader was upon us. So, I grabbed the ZIP file of all my Vines (videos and image shots, it turns out), and then thought .. now what?

I was curious to see the vids all together, and so pulled them into Animoto for this collection. It may only be amusing and entertaining for me, with context.

Peace (in little bursts),