Saturday, May 23, 2015

Adam Talks About Camera Obscura - On YouTube of All Places!

Hiya, Adam again.

So, I realized (thanks, Mom) that some people might need a little help getting excited about what we're trying to do here, or possibly understanding some of the key things about this project. So I made these videos. Let me know what else I should explain about.



By the way, these were shot on an older DSLR - a Nikon D90, in fact, which will always be an important camera because it was the first (I'm fairly sure) DSLR to feature HD video recording. Its age shows in the quality, but it was the best camera I had access to at the time. Thanks for understanding!

Quality Pieces

Hiya, Adam here.

As a board game fan, I've always believed that quality game pieces make a game better, and it's worth paying extra for that quality. The added dimension of weight and physical substance dramatically improves the gameplay experience, which in turn increases engagement and my desire to play again later.

Take Dread Pirate, a game my family and I have loved for years:
Photo by Josh Brewster Photography
The point of the game is to sail around the board raiding or trading with other players' home ports, engaging in pirate battles on the high seas, and discovering island treasures. It's a lot of fun, in no small part due to the quality of the game pieces. The game board is a fabric map, beautifully designed, that doesn't feel too smooth, but isn't rough enough to get in the way of gameplay. The players' pieces are cast metal pirate ships, each with a different metallic finish. They're heavy enough to sit flat even over creases or wrinkles in the map. The treasure consists of gold doubloons - also made surprisingly heavy metal - and glass gems which, though commonly found in lower-quality games, are elevated by the pieces that surround them. There are lovely wooden dice that you can see (and appreciate) the grain in, and the box also screams quality, coming as either a wooden book-shaped version or an actual pirate chest. The booty bags are of a higher quality than your average game pouch, and even the cards manage to have a parchment like aesthetic. The whole thing just screams "touch me!" When you do, you're not disappointed.

Our original plan with the web series of Camera Obscura was to shoot the entire run as part of a class, using a student cast and crew supplemented by the few kind professionals who were willing to be involved just for fun and love of the students and/or medium (here's looking at you, Shana Lyris and Gabe White). Russ Whitelock was generous enough to donate his services for the score of our first episode, but we were going to use royalty free music for the rest (Russ is a great guy, but we couldn't bring ourselves to take advantage of him). That production would have been a kind of rough draft that we would use to try to get funding for a higher-quality version than what we could reasonably do with our current resources.

However, the pilot episode got such a positive response from everyone we showed it to, and what with Liz's getting recognized so highly for her work on the project and the School Improvement Network featuring us so amazingly (we were truly humbled), and everything that was happening, we realized there was no need to do the entire thing twice - we should try to make it once and make it right. So we revised our plans. If we're going to make this game, we said to ourselves, we want high-quality pieces. So we launched this:

If you're not familiar with it, Kickstarter is a crowdfunding site, which means it's a kind of social media fundraiser. People can contribute money to back projects, and they get rewards in return. If the project reaches its fundraising goal, it gets the money and has the obligation to follow through on the production and rewards. If the goal isn't reached, the project doesn't get any money at all. You can click on the image above to go to our Kickstarter page and back us. Please, do! 

Our fundraising goal is $95,000. That seems like a lot, I know, but it's just enough to pay the people involved and get the equipment we need to do a first-class job. When you consider that the total run time of the series will approach four hours, then think about what it costs to make a Hollywood film less than half that length, you'll realize we're not asking for much. 

Another good reason to fund us is that we're still involving students as much as possible in the production. Several cast and crew members are students, and all will be paid for their work. Basically, we're offering paid internships to high school kids to work alongside professional filmmakers. Think how awesome that will look on a college application or resume. Think what a cool experience it will be for the kids!

On top of that, the equipment we purchase with the fundraiser money will stay in the classroom once the production is done. Full disclosure: I'm the teacher in that classroom, but the equipment will be used to elevate the ability of my classes to prepare kids for the professional world. Even if they never make a film again, working with this equipment will empower them with a sense of what professional work is like, and their skills will skyrocket. Those who do continue will be able to keep improving the skills they develop because they'll still have access to the kind of gear those skills are suited to. 

I work for an urban Title I school, meaning we have a high percentage of low-income families, and lack the kind of booster programs that supply these things at some other schools. I doubt we'd ever get access to this kind of resources any other way. 

Please, help us raise our production values, give these kids the experience of a lifetime, and supply quality pieces for Camera Obscura and who knows how many great student productions to come. Our biggest hurdle is letting people know, and helping them understand how great a thing we're trying to do here. Please post about us online, tell all your friends, share our content, and of course go to the Kickstarter page and back us today!



Thursday, May 7, 2015

Camera Obscura Featured by School Improvement Network!

Hiya! Adam here.

A few months ago some lovely folks from the School Improvement Network came by our humble little school to see what we were up to. When they found out about Camera Obscura, they wanted to come back and take a closer look. I did not expect them to do a segment just on our pet project, but they did!

On Edivate (formerly PD 360), a website rich with professional development resources for teachers including videos, trainings, communities, and more, you can now find a nearly nine minute video segment with accompanying guidebook that is all about us! How cool is that?

Jeremy Tuttle, the content specialist who came to our site, was already into gamification, and got really excited to see a real-life example being designed and implemented. The screenshot above is from the video, which is titled 7th-12th Grade STEM: Implementing and Alternate Reality Game. For you non-educator types, STEM is teacher shorthand for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and is a hot topic in American education today.

Jeremy, Alex Anderson, and their crew came on the day Liz was giving her senior presentation, and filmed that exciting event, which provides much of the narration and some of the visuals in their video. They also got some footage of my photography classes that are playing the game, my Film II class that is producing the web series, and some of our clue implementation. They talked to me a lot too, so I'm in the video as well, but that's literally the only downside.

Here are a few more screenshots: one of the Film II class, one of our logo sequence, and one of the summary section from the guide book.

The video isn't publicly available; Edivate's videos require a paid subscription (though the first 30 days are free) and the site is specifically for educators. I'm only posting these screenshots because they feature images of Liz, me, or content we created. Still, if you're a teacher or administrator and you want to see the clip, log in to Edivate and search for "Alternate Reality" or "gamification." It should pop right up. The video featuring us is the only one of its kind, though hopefully it won't be that way forever as gamification becomes more and more popular and better understood.

Thanks so much to Jeremy, Alex, and the whole team at School Improvement Network for taking the time to get invested in this project we care so much about.