By Jon Fougner | Indiewire April 11, 2013 at 12:26PM
Vine lets you record multi-shot videos up to six seconds (144 frames) long on your iPhone and post them to Twitter and Facebook. The app is dead-simple; there are no editing tools. Having witnessed Facebook acquire Instagram, Twitter bought Vine three months before Vine's January product launch. Its closest competitor is Cinemagram, which displays short, looping videos and allows for limited post-production effects.
But Vine solves the producer's problem by letting you record a video by tapping-and-holding once per shot. It solves the consumer's problem by auto-playing as the user scrolls through a feed. In my experience, uploading takes at least a few minutes, even on a strong Internet connection, and the app drains the battery. Scrolling through a feed on Vine is a seamless experience but watching Vines embedded in a Twitter feed is less elegant: for each video, you must click to view it, click to unmute it, and click to hide it -- before its looping gets inside your head.
Whatever uses for Vine the independent film community dreams up next, one sure pearl of wisdom comes from Ferris Bueller: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." So too with Vines.
Indiewire spoke with film distributors, editors and curators about their innovative uses of the app in its infancy.
On February 19, Oscilloscope announced that it would break new ground by releasing Todd Berger's comedy "It's a Disaster" on Vine. "From the moment it launched just three short weeks ago, it was so clear to us that six-second loops of video, edited in-phone, and posted in real time was and will be the future of film distribution," the company wrote. Funnier still, the distributor followed through -- sort of. O-Scope posted 25 Vine clips -- bootleg-style hand-recordings of a screen playing the film (some enhanced by shadow puppets) -- in rapid-fire succession to its Twitter account.
"Very few people actually went through" all the clips, said O-Scope's Josh Fu. "They're very tedious -- they're unwatchable, frankly," added the distributor's co-president Dan Berger. "Part of it for us was doing it so shittily that people would take note." But several in the comedy, tech and film press took the announcement literally. As Berger explained, "You're a comedy writer and you just read [the equivalent of] an Onion article and somehow you didn't grasp that. That was fascinating to
us." O-Scope's point is not that Vine is inherently mediocre, but rather than Hollywood, in its anxiety over new media, sometimes dives into new technologies thoughtlessly. As Berger put it: "Let's make light of it. Let's treat it really legitimately but every step of the process do it illegitimately, in a terrible way."
The lesson of the O-Scope stunt is not what they did but that they were first to do it, and used the novelty to build buzz. The confusion may have been a headache for the company's publicists, but it helped the film cut through the clutter. "We got exactly what we were hoping to get out of it, which was raising awareness for a film that exists in an indie space where everyone is always fighting to raise awareness for their film," Berger told Indiewire. The tongue-in-cheek approach also helped the studio stay true to the core values of its late founder Adam Yauch, who rose to fame as MCA of the Beastie Boys. "All of our press releases -- even when they have serious content -- have jokes in them," Berger said. "It's a brand that's so inflected by Adam's sense of humor."
Berger promises that the studio has some more tricks up its sleeve.
Next: Vine trailers...for classic films?Vine Trailers
What the unblinking accounts of the O-Scope "release" missed was the real point of the stunt: to drive buzz for the film's paid distribution channels. And what O-Scope itself (deliberately) missed was the real point of Vine: to collapse the message into six seconds. At least as far as feature-length films are concerned, rather than a new kind of screening, Vine offers a new kind of trailer. "The Wolverine," Fox's blockbuster slated for a July 26 release, decided it was up to the challenge. All in six seconds: an angry man with a scruffy beard; a sword fight; bellicose monks; space-age shimmering steel blades; they're claws!; the wolverine hangs above an inferno; a love interest; more hand-to-hand combat, this time apparently in the air; a futuristic suit of armor in a lab; more sword-fighting; and some flying, for good measure. Watch for yourself, and you’ll probably catch shots I missed.
That professional clip inspired interactive marketing agency Glass Eye and editing shop Tokyo to show off Vine's potential for trailers by whipping up 144-frame versions of classic film trailers. Here's one from "Pulp" Fiction":
Some of the results are promising: While the "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" post leaves you thinking it's just about the Ferrarri (an interesting contrast with the theatrical trailer), the "Jaws" post redefines high-concept marketing as telling the story in six seconds (compare with the theatrical trailer), and the hauntingly rhythmic post for "Taxi Driver" improves upon its trailer by following the maxim "Show, don't tell."
Tokyo's Fraser Bensted described how the idea came about: "I got an IM from Dan [Light of Glass Eye] saying, 'If I said to you, "Tweaser," what do you think it would mean?'" (The collaboration's Vines are tweeted from @retweaser.) Bensted -- whose day job includes making film trailers -- jumped at the idea. "If [Vine] had existed 30, 40 years ago, what would [trailers] look like?” he asked himself. He cranked out six in the first day and has settled into a pace of two per week. "I'm used to taking two hours and condensing it into two minutes, so taking two minutes and condensing it into six seconds is the same principle -- you're looking for the essence of it," Bensted told Indiewire. But he isn't sure the six-second format will work for new films with unknown characters. "It works for the older titles because there’s something iconic there. And it made sense for 'Wolverine' because there's a brand."
But just using Vine as a one-way medium would be missing the point of social media. FilmDistrict invited audience members from pre-opening screenings of "Olympus Has Fallen" to create six-second Vine reviews with hastag #OlympusReviews. On March 15, the distributer promised to aggregate the reviews at Olympus6SecReviews.com, but that site is no longer accessible. Some of the fan reviews submitted with the hashtag #OlympusHasFallen are available here.
"Finally, an action movie that doesn't hold back. Killer from beginning to end!" raves one. "What a ride!" sums another, with a couple seconds to spare to laugh at himself. In contrast, the film has a 47% Rotten Tomatoes rating and 7.2/10 average score on IMDb. Tweets about the film offered mixed reviews, and some accused it of an anti-Asian bias. (The story contains an attack on the White House by North Korean terrorists.) According to The Atlantic, in an apparent social media snafu, the film's official Twitter account liked this tweet: "Just watched a free screening of Olympus has fallen...Don’t want to say anything other than it was great and I trust no Asians now!" FilmDistrict was not available for comment.
Adoption by Curators
Using Vine to distribute, promote or review long-form content is typical of early adoption of new technologies by incumbents: squeezing the old message into the new medium. A more native use of the product is self-contained six-second works. So while the SXSW Film pre-roll pooh-poohed Vining during screenings, the Tribeca Film Festival is including Vines in the screenings themselves. On March 20, Tribeca posted a call for its newest competition category. Post Vines with the hashtag #6SECFILMS and an optional category hashtag, such as #GENRE for comedy or horror. Use hashtag #SERIES to cheat the system and submit a trilogy -- but Tribeca stresses that each Vine within the trilogy must have a beginning, middle and end. Here's a submission from the #ANIMATE category of a hand that draws a hand that closes a book. The festival is accepting Vines through April 7.
Genna Terranova, Director of Programming at Tribeca, framed the Vine contest as a way to spark the careers of potential filmmakers. "You’re seeing them trying to navigate the technology, and for some of them, there's an adjustment period," she said. She appreciates the positive feedback creators receive on Vine. "Most of it is entertaining and most of it is really upbeat," she said of the work submitted for the contest. Terranova is excited about the potential of Vine to inspire new storytellers. "There's a lot of young people doing it and they're very good." Animators and comedians -- whether professional or amateur -- have also jumped in quickly.
As for that sticky question of pro vs. amateur, Indiewire asked Terranova about the absence of the word "filmmaker" from Tribeca's announcement of the Vine category. "Anyone can submit a Vine," she said. "Call them what you may after you start following them." And some Viners have indeed started building followings. Adam Goldberg ("Saving Private Ryan," HBO's "Entourage") has emerged as an early auteur of the medium, so Tribeca tapped him for the Vine. Explained Terranova, "Adam Goldberg has figured out a way to create more complex stories with more definition, more surprise" than the average Vine.
Creating Vines with high production quality is "a lot like people with DSLRs [digital single-lens reflex cameras] using Instagram," said Joseph Beyer, Direct of Digital Initiatives at the Sundance Institute. The Tribeca contest "reminded me of when mobile video came about: there was a ton of instant pressure to create a sub-category about it," Beyer added. He recalled when the introduction of Flip Video cameras prompted a conversation at Sundance about whether they deserved their own category. Sundance decided that story is paramount, and that it did not want to risk distracting from that message by singling out a particular medium. Nevertheless, the Institute did commission its alums to produce five made-for-mobile shorts in conjunction with the 2007 GSM World Congress in Barcelona.