Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Novacut: The Big Picture

Well, in case you haven't heard, Novacut is back on Kickstarter! It's been a long road since the last time we tried kickstarter, we've communicated with artists and learned a lot, and we're off to a *much* better start than last time. With all the talk about UX Designs, progress on our distributed media library nearing production readiness, Artist Diaries, the excellent branding Ian 'IZO' Cylkowski has provided us, and the glowing endorsement by two independent filmmakers, I thought it would be a good time to talk about why we're doing all of this.

First and foremost, we're here to support the artist. We're here to give artists the tools they need to be more profitable and without giving up creative control, ownership, or compromising their creative vision. Sure, we're making a professional-level video editor, we're bringing great new tools to Linux, we're building a platform for collaboration and sharing between fans and artists alike, and that's an ambitious (and some might say crazy) goal in itself, but all those things are a means to an end. We're doing this for the artists who are already out there trying to tell terrific stories.

I don't think I can put it any better than Jason DeRose in the Editor UX, "The Novacut vision is bold and a bit wild, certainly a lot of work. But we're also rather realistic because we have a laser focus on helping those artists who right now are leveraging HDSLR cameras to tell wonderful stories, with impeccable production quality, and are doing so on shoe string budgets you wouldn't believe." I should know because I think I'm one of the people he was talking about because you probably wouldn't believe the budget for my series if I told you.

The best way for artists to be profitable is the same as any other business: increase revenue and decrease costs. Anything that helps you do either of those is a huge win, but anything else is a distraction or worse, it's hurting you.

The biggest thing an artist, any artist, can do to generate more revenue is to radically increase the size of their audience. You don't do this by hiding your work; You don't do this by demanding payment at every turn; and You don't do this by punishing fans, even casual ones. As an artist, fans are your most treasured asset, and as such, you should do everything you can to forge a better relationship. First they see something of yours (most likely for free), then maybe they'll share it with others, perhaps comment on it, make suggestions. Once there's some sort of connection, many of them will be happy to provide you with money and other things of value.

Novacut is working to help artists make money by providing a distribution platform for free culture films and serials. Jason always talks about the "low hanging fruit" and how it's best to excel in some area your competitors do poorly or are completely blind to. As it turns out, almost nobody is helping artists make money distributing direct-to-fan works, and even fewer are targeting Ubuntu (or any other Linux distro for that matter). So this leaves a huge niche that isn't being filled, with millions of potential fans who are either being ignored or deliberately refused access to many existing platforms and a wide variety of artists whose needs are very poorly met.

The Novacut platform will let artists reach a big audience and provide opportunities and reasons for fans to support them. The wider an audience we can reach and the more of these fans we give a sufficient "reason to buy", the more profitable these artists will be. We don't need DRM or anything else that gets in the way of the artist-fan relationship. We're all about forging strong connections between artists and fans, and giving those fans great reasons to support the artists.

While we'd love to reach every computer, and even TVs and tablets, Ubuntu is a great place to start. It's a pretty big potential market, which is being ignored by the competition, so we can get a leg up here with minimal effort, and since our core technology is already native to Ubuntu, it's even easier for us. This way, we can very quickly build a large fanbase to support great artists, and do it better because of our focus.

The other way to make artists more profitable is to save them time. Time is money as they say. If we can help artists save time, eliminate unnecessary risks, and make it easier and more efficient to collaborate, we'll have helped them tell their stories better, faster, and easier. This frees them up to be even more creative and helps them better connect with fans.

This is what the Novacut editor is all about, helping artists edit video better. Again, there's a lot of low hanging fruit here. The team has put a lot of effort into designing the user experience, focusing the design around saving time, reducing risk, and enabling collaboration. The UI will feature an efficient editing workflow and be designed to tie in with similar components when available, rather than becoming a complicated mega-application of its own. Dmedia, the Distributed Media Library is the critical piece that reduces the risk that artists will lose important files or wasted effort *and* enables real-time collaboration between artists over the Internet. Dmedia automatically ensures that media files are backed up and transferred where needed and keeps track of edits much like distributed version control systems such as git and bzr. Alternative edits can be worked on in parallel on one machine or many and reviewed or merged at any time. This makes it easier to explore a number of alternate edits and experiment with each new cut. If a change doesn't pan out, it's no great loss, all of your previous edits are right there.

We're using peer-to-peer and distributed version control to enable distribution costs and enable greater collaboration. Eventually we hope fans will be able to take advantage of this collaborative editing environment to create remixes beyond anything we're familiar with thanks to the powerful source and metadata artists can make available on top of Novacut.

As ambitious and challenging as this project is, there's a wonderfully narrow focus here. Where many applications are focusing on feature after feature, Novacut seeks to be measurably superior in the few key areas that matter to its target audience: independent narrative filmmakers shooting with Canon HDSLRs. Novacut will likely be suited for many others, but this is where it starts. We shouldn't try to compete feature-for-feature with every pro tool in the industry, but find ways to simplify the process. We're working smarter, not harder.

The Novacut vision is bold and a bit wild, certainly a lot of work, but by innovating where the industry hasn't even tried, paying close attention to what artists need, and keeping a laser focus on helping these artists tell their stories we can create a wonderful tool, with impeccable quality, on a shoe string budget you wouldn't believe.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Novacut Artist Diaries

Jason is putting the finishing touches on Dmedia (the back-end for Novacut's video editor).  So the next step for Novacut's video editor is the design of its UX/UI.  Jason has drafted a document around Novacut's UX/UI design focus.  However, this document isn't the end all, be all for our design process.  It is a living thing that will change and grow with feedback from video editors.

So this is where Novacut needs a hand from artists. We need artists to share their everyday experiences with the tools they are using to make film and TV.  We need screen casts, sketches, notes, blog posts, etc. that are focused on how artists are using their current editing software, and how these tools are slowing down their creative process.   In short, this blog post is a call to artists - a call for their participation in the creation of the first distributed video editor.  It's a call for a record of YOUR experience.     

If you need a few ideas to help jump-start your Novacut Artist Diary, Jason (Novacut's lead developer) is particularly interested in learning about how video editors organize video files as they come in.  How do editors organize files in relation to the storyboard/storyline that the director has laid out?  He's also curious about what editors want to do with their editing software but can't.  So go nuts - transform the pain points that you struggle with everyday in your creative process into a wishlist!

When you're ready to share your literary and/or visual journal, upload your screen-casts to the Novacut Artist Diaries Group on Vimeo, and/or email me a link to a Google doc, blog post, etc.  As information rolls in, I'll consolidate surfacing themes into a public Google doc.  I'll also regularly blog about these themes, as well as information that Jason's looking for in his effort to make a silky smooth user experience for video editors.  Until the next blog post, get crazy with your wishlist and share!