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Dispatch from Austin: Some Cool Things I Picked Up at SXSW

By Erin Essenmacher, WIFV President

A New Champion for Women-Led Creative Work

Pantheon of Women hopes to do for female  media makers in narrative film and television what Chicken and Egg has done for women-lead documentary films by supporting works that “change the way women are perceived by men and the way women perceive themselves.” The group supports works that challenges the way women are seen both behind the camera and on screen. Leaders from the group were on hand at SXSW for the premier of their latest project, I Dream Too Much.  The film was Executive Produced by Richard Linklater.

Virtual Reality / Google Cardboard

A key component in virtual reality, the ability to capture a 360* video shot is completing transforming the way viewers experience video. Google Cardboard is essentially a low tech way to experience VR.  The device is, as the name would suggest, made out of cardboard and unfolds to create a viewer complete with lenses and a Velcro holder for your smartphone. You download the free app, strap your phone into the cardboard viewer, attach your own headphones and you’re ready to experience the magic of virtual reality video I was standing in line for the Google party where I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to try out this technology for myself when my husband and I struck up a conversation with the 20 year old college kid behind us. He had used his spring break money to travel to Austin, giving up the promise of beer pong and mischief on a Florida beach to pound the pavement to try and find a job. That in and of itself made me want to hire him immediately, but then he showed us photos of his senior thesis  – a series of camera lens connected together to capture a 360* perspective – the same kind of visual experience we were waiting in line to get a glimpse of. My point is if a 22 year-old is putting together this technology in his dorm, then it’s pretty much arrived.

Jerry Seinfeld was my partner for this first foray into virtual reality. The Google rep helped me put on the headset, which for the sake of the demo, had a phone pre-loaded with the necessary app. I was given the choice between Saturday Night Live and base jumping. In honor of SNL’s 35th anniversary, I decided go with door #1. The video started and I see Seinfeld doing his opening monologue, then I looked down and saw the orchestra in the pit. I looked left and saw the guys holding cue cards. I looked right and saw the audience.  Behind me, Lorne Michaels was standing near the walkway back to the dressing rooms, arms folded, watching the show.  It’s a lot of wow factor for a little piece of cardboard and poised to completely revolutionize the way we shoot, produce and consume video content.

Meerkat

Like Twitter circa 2007, Meerkat was the hot new app, the “it” thing at this year’s SXSW Interactive. The video app that allows users to webcast any event (or anything really) live from their smartphone direct to Twitter, was the darling of SXSW. Although Meerkat founder Ben Rubin had only been in Austin about 6 hours when Twitter (the platform that Meerkat is essentially built on and around) announced they had acquired a Meerkat competitor, Periscope and would limit Meerkat’s access. What really caught my attention was not the drama, but the technology and the way in which the future of video and content creation are influenced by smartphones, digital technology and the Internet of Things. What happens to the video once the event is over? (Rubin says they’re working on that) and how does it impact the professional and ethical debate around privacy vs. free speech? Stay tuned, as this story is very much still developing. Just this week Meerkat announced it had received a fresh round of venture capital funding to the tune of $14 million, so they’re not going anywhere, anytime soon.

DC: The Next Silicon Valley?

I was pleasantly surprised to see that along with my alma matter (Go Blue!) that the city of DC had a very visible presence in Austin. The WeDC House featured panels, parties, receptions, a DC music MeetUp, live music by some of DC finest musical acts (Rare Essence anyone?) and demos by leading edge DC start-ups.  It was all meant to drive home one central message: DC is an innovation hub.  Tech start-ups from Yapper to xxx were on full display at the Start Up Showcase, many housed in the 1776 incubator. You may remember the 1776 space as home to WIFV’s open house in 2014.   The WeDC House was not without controversy back home, having been there to see it firsthand, I have to say it was a good investment.  DC was in the spotlight like no other city except Austin itself. It really made a statement to the world about DC’s commitment to investing in the next generation of creators, one that I think will put the city on the global map for arts and innovation.