Thoughts on the website VidLit and interview with site creator Liz Dubelman

VidLit

Thoughts on the website VidLit and interview with site creator Liz Dubelman.

To best view VidLit a broadband connection, and the latest version of Flash is recommended.

“Daddy, read me a story.” When I was a little girl, the very best thing that could happen in my life was for my daddy to take me on his lap, open a Little Golden Book, and read a story to me. He was a master at giving voice to the different characters. I could follow the simple pictures in the accompanying book or close my eyes and let the tale, as daddy read it, create the pictures in my own mind’s eye.

The next thrill came when I realized I could read the words myself. A Tree Is Nice by Janet May Udry, (winner of the 1957 Caldecott Medal) was the first book I read all by myself. “I can read!” I told my daddy. Then I read the story to him. I was four-and-a-half years old. My little brain did not realize what consequence this bit of independence would bring; less time in the place of honor of my daddy’s lap. So daddy’s lap made way for my next younger sibling, then the next and the next, because now I could read all by myself.

Last week at work, taking a quick break between invoicing customers and returning phone calls, I clicked on Craziest, (3.5MB Flash) a link I found at one of the sites I check on a daily basis.

As the above page was loading I thought to myself, “Hello, what’s this?” I knew instinctively this was something different, something I’d not seen before on the now almost predictable internet. The notice at the bottom of the screen that was loading said Total Running Time: 8:06. “Ruthie!” I yelled to my office mate across the hall, “I’m going to be busy for the next eight minutes!” I closed my office door and turned up the sound. Liz Dubelman’s voice entered my life and through the magic of the internet and the creativity of a small group of people I’d never met, I felt like it was forty-six years earlier and I had climbed into the comfort of my daddy’s lap again.

The world turned off, the work turned off, and eight minutes stretched into forty-five as I perused the VidLit website before I reluctantly returned to work. I knew I had to tell as many people as I could about this place for several reasons that I couldn’t quite put my finger on right then. I sent the Craziest link to a friend in Salt Lake City who replied after viewing it, “I have a smile on my face now. What a great story… I don’t even care if it’s true or not. (I did half way through when the girl said she had over 1000 notebooks.) Thanks for the link. I needed something un-dull.” Yes, that was it.

I needed something un-dull (and I don’t care if that is not a word. It fits.) I needed something beyond the pale, something that isn’t war or government deception or campaign smear tactics. Something that isn’t games or anime or cartoons. I needed this website, just like I needed to climb into my daddy’s lap so many years ago to have him read me a story.

I sent an email to Liz Dubelman, the inspiration behind the VidLit website. I restrained myself from asking, “Liz, would you read me ANOTHER story?” Instead I acted like the grown-up I wasn’t feeling much like at that particular moment and asked her if she would consent to an email interview about VidLit, explaining that I wanted to write about her site for MyMac.com. Liz graciously replied, “Thank you so much for your email. I would love to answer questions for a column or a blog or just because you want to know.” I thank Liz for taking time from her schedule to answer the following questions.

MyMac: When and how did you come up with the concept for VidLit?
Dubelman: “I had this idea one day while listening to This American Life. I thought that word, sound and music are good but adding pictures could be better. I wanted to have it done in Flash because it’s vector-based (coordinates tell object where to go) rather than video because I needed to be able to distribute it and the Internet seemed perfect.”

MyMac: How long did it take you to get the website going from then?
Dubelman: “It took us 6 weeks to get the site up.”

MyMac: How long has VidLit been up and running as a website?
Dubelman: “We launched 9/13/04 although we put up a direct link to How I Paid For College by Marc Acito on 9/7/04 because the book was going on sale and the publisher, the very savvy Broadway Books, had asked us to do a VidLit for it.”

MyMac: How long does it take to make a VidLit from start to website publication?
Dubelman: “It takes 2 weeks from the time the voice is recorded.”

MyMac: Are you going to solicit stories for VidLit?
Dubelman: “Yes, we would like to take submission for not only from writers but, artists, musicians, sound designers, and Flash programmers. We would love to throw a selected group together (like making a film) and have them collaborate on something. We want to have an Intranet area for that type of collaboration and we can (lightly) oversee it. We’re working on a submissions page. I like the one on OneStory.com so you can check the status of your submission online. I want to copy that format where people can check the status of their submissions online.”

MyMac: I once heard cartoonist Lynda Barry in an interview on our local PBS radio station. She coined the word “autobiofictionography”, or embellished factual stories, for her character Marlys. Your story “Craziest” begs the question. Do you draw on personal experience when you are writing?
Dubelman: “I think I must have that women somewhere in me but I never shot anyone and I’m not a very good scrabble player. I do have a crazy aunt who is a tournament scrabble player. I’ve written a series of short stories about people who have gone a bit too far in their thinking for their own good. The next one of mine we’re doing, I think, is about a kleptomaniac.”

MyMac: Who or what inspires you creatively?
Dubelman: “Everything. I carry a notebook with me everywhere.”

MyMac: Eight minutes was just right for my attention span for the internet. Did you take time into consideration when formulating this concept?
Dubelman: “I thought “Craziest” was going to be 6 minutes but now I know that a double space 12-point type page is a 2-minute VidLit. I also know now 8 minutes is the limit of the attention span of the average Internet users.”

MyMac: This question is for the gear heads in the audience. Can you tell us what software and hardware you use to make the VidLits?
Dubelman: Software Macromedia Flash MX Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Professional Adobe Photoshop CS Apple Final Cut Pro Digidesign ProTools Steinberg Cubase SX Ableton Live Hardware Apple Computers, 17″ PowerBook, G4 and G5 Towers. PMC/Bryston Audio system Universal Audio UAD-1 Plug-ins Waves Plug-ins Virtual instruments from Arturia, G-Force, Korg, Native Instruments, Propellorhead, Spectrasonics, Steinberg

MyMac: What kind of feedback are you getting? Are you ready for fame, fortune and high-bandwidth costs?
Dubelman: “We are so ready for fame and fortune! We’ve had Total Visits: 36953, and about 100 pieces of fan mail. All the email has been great except one that said, “YOU ARE RETARDED!” I deleted that one. I have the use of a free server for the moment. I dear friend of mine, with server space, is getting married and I’m catering his wedding as a thank you for the server space.”

MyMac: How many people are involved in VidLit? Is there anything special that drew you together as a group to make the VidLit stories and website?
Dubelman: “Right now it’s just Paca Thomas and me. He’s an award-winning sound designer. I wanted him to teach me how to record the sound. My brother and sister-in-law had left me all this sound recording equipment when they sold their apartment, bought an RV and went on the road with their band. Paca had a better idea. He got VidLit right away (although at the time I was calling it Apparent Fiction) and fueled with enthusiasm he said he could take my script and bring the whole thing to fruition.”

MyMac: Do you and Paca have ‘real’ jobs? Or is VidLit your primary focus right now?
Dubelman: “VidLit is my primary focus right now (well, that and raising my daughter). Paca has a real job but he would love to just do this fulltime.”

MyMac: What is in the wings for VidLit?
Dubelman: “We’re doing a joint project with WGBH. We’re VidLiting a poem that originally aired on Morning Stories. Also, we produced a radio story for them that will air on NPR but is not a VidLit. We’re doing another VidLIt for Broadway Books for an author, Betrice Berry. And I’m doing another one of my stories called: Missing Ingredient.”

MyMac: What is your long range goal for VidLit?
Dubelman: “We want to have kiosks in bookstores and coffee houses.”

MyMac: Any other comments, something you would like to say about VidLit that I didn’t think to ask?
Dubelman: “We’re also working on KidVidLits. We’re VidLiting the first chapter of kids’ chapter books in an effort to get them interested enough to read the book.”

Thanks to Liz Dubelman and her very creative and inspiring website VidLit. The only downside I see to this website is the broadband requirement, which limits those on dial-up accounts. Over the past five years I’ve ended many a column with the sentence, “Isn’t the ‘net cool?” Liz Dubelman’s vision to bring together individuals of various disciplines from all over the world to create VidLits is one of the most exciting concepts I’ve heard in a long time, and I wish her and future VidLitters much success in their endeavors. Isn’t the ‘net getting cooler?

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