“Urban Isolation:” a 6-Year-Old Skate Film for Today

This hauntingly quiet short film has been all over social media lately, often misleadingly described as “shot in LA during the stay at home order.”

It wasn’t. “Urban Isolation” was shot and edited in 2014 by Russel Houghten. The skateboarding filmmaker created it specifically for an 11-piece video project sponsored by RED and The Berrics. RED makes exceptional professional video cameras and The Berrics is a collaboration by professional skateboarders Steve Berra and Eric Koston dedicated to promoting the sport through web content and their indoor skatepark.

Six years ago, Houghten’s film earned a Vimeo Staff Pick and eventually became one of Vimeo’s ten best films of 2014. Yet its visuals of a lone skateboarder working highway, ramps, and urban architecture of daytime Los Angeles void of other people make it feel incredibly au courant. This is the same kind of eerie prescience found in Bill Gate’s 2015 TED talk on pandemics. But Houghten created his visuals through extensive post effects, not a government shutdown order. You can see a bit of his process in this behind the scenes video, also documented by RED.

I can’t explain why online trolls put such energy into knowingly misrepresenting things online. But in this case, at least it helped promote an interesting creative project. I hope you enjoy the piece.

First the Micks, Now the Gophs

Last week, I was impressed by the impact Colin Keogh and his organization The Rapid Foundation made by open-sourcing low cost, 3D printed ventilators to answer the global shortage during this coronavirus pandemic.

But I’ve just learned about another humanitarian working closer to home.

Using spare parts, Dr. Stephen Richardson and his team at the University of Minnesota has created a $150 solution to the ventilator crisis. Dr. Richardson is a cardiac anesthesiologist whose idea came from a simple concept; “how we could just automate using an Ambu bag…could we make a machine that could squeeze that for us?”

Ambu bags are widely available in ambulances for paramedics to force air into lungs and manually resuscitate patients. Dr. Richardson thought if they could find an automated mechanism to press the bag, and adjust it to control the volume and limit the air pressure being pushed into patients, they could create a low-cost hack to answer the crisis.

Starting with this widely available product, Dr. Richardson’s team cobbled together a working prototype from low cost parts within hours. On Sunday, March 15th, they hooked it up to an anesthesia machine.

And it worked.

“This is not a device that anyone would choose to use if they had a … super high-end alternative,” he said. But that’s not important now. Given the global ventilator shortage, sharing plans for a cheap alternative online so hospitals around the world can build their own is a godsend. And literally, a life saver.

Ugly, but effective like all good hacks.

Having worked directly with the U as a client, this is the kind of science they do regularly. The federal request arrived on March 13, when the university agreed to review and fund rapid response grants. A raft of their scientists started working immediately. That’s what research universities do.

Six days later, Dr. Richardson’s team successfully tested their fourth prototype on pigs, using pieces sourced from biomedical companies across the Twin Cities. And now they are scaling up for global production.

“People have just been working around the clock every day since Sunday morning, and we have a ventilator that I would be comfortable with someone taking care of me (with) in an ICU or in an operating room,” Dr. Richardson said.

Dr. Richardson’s team will share their latest prototype online tomorrow, Monday the 23rd. With any luck, they will be granted emergency use authorization from the FDA to speed their innovation into production. If that happens, the team will also provide their design for free on-line.

As we hear more of these stories about smart people working for the greater good, perhaps our country will return to the understanding that science, not ideology, saves lives.

Good News: Apollo 13 > COVID-19

Ron Howard’s 1995 movie Apollo 13 stands as a stirring reminder of the transcendent power of well-applied engineering. In one critical scene, Ed Harris playing NASA legend Gene Kranz learns of the imminent failure of the onboard CO2 filters. He eyes his engineers and admonishes them “Well I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a round peg into a square hole. Rapidly.”

In real life, a young Irishman named Colin Keogh is playing a similar role right now with the Open Source Ventilator project. The OSV is the latest initiative from The Rapid Foundation, a charitable organization Keogh co-founded at University College Dublin six years ago. The Rapid Foundation distributes 3D printing know-how to developing countries so people can apply low cost technology to solve problems.

In this case, the problem is daunting: the global ventilator shortage.

Low-cost robot designer Gui Calavanti launched the OSV on Facebook on March 11. Since then, more than 300 doctors, engineers, designers, nurses and venture capitalists around the world have contributed to the project. Major corporations like Accenture and Deloitte offered their R&D infrastructure for ideation and production, all in an effort to create a low-cost, rapid build solution using readily available materials and 3D printers.

And they’ve done it.

In one week, they’ve designed and built a working prototype they hope to get validated by Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) next week for use on Covid-19 patients. The 3D printing uses Polylactic Acid (PLA), a non-petroleum-based bioplastic derived from corn starch that can be manufactured anywhere.

Their timing is remarkable. And a godsend in the face of this pandemic.

The independent, U.S.-based Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates the pandemic will create demand for 960,000 ventilators. These machines augment patient respiration in severe cases of Covid-19 where lung inflammation can quickly become viral pneumonia. Ventilators literally make the difference between life and death, but they simply weren’t available. Soon, they can be.

Much like Dr. Jonas Salk declined to patent his polio vaccine in 1952, this open source project continues that laudable approach making their solution available to all.

To Mr. Keogh and all the participants applying science and innovation in the service of humanity, slainte.

Emerging Business Challenges

Amid the unprecedented uncertainty at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic, every business faces new challenges. And no matter the industry or sector, these issues are serious and daunting to everyone responsible for bottom lines, workforces, and ongoing, organizational well-being.

But to one US company, this challenge must feel particularly personal. The nearly four decade old, Tempe-based audio-visual connectivity company Covid is now dealing with a business challenge that was entirely unforeseen when the quarter started …

About now, they must hear the travails of Corona beer and think, “you’re adorable.”

I’m sending them, and everyone else responsible for stoking the mighty engine of our economy, my best wishes for business success over the long term.

And personal health and safety in the short term.

Sister Corita Kent: Uncredited Pop Art Pioneer

Perhaps fittingly for International Women’s Day, during a byzantine web search rabbit hole last night, I stumbled upon an image of an extravagantly-wimpled Catholic nun pulling silkscreens.

And that’s how I found myself introduced to and awestruck by the work of Sister Corita Kent.

That photo accompanied a list titled Some Rules for Students and Teachers. The notion of creative ‘rules’ makes little sense, but these feel oddly insightful. Created during 1967 and infused with the ethos of those times, they encourage embracing uncertainty, emphasize the work ethic, and encourage a mindset of being fully awake to everything.

The list came from an art course Sister Corita taught at the College of the Immaculate Heart in Los Angeles, Ultimately, they became the mantra for her art department.

But Sister Corita’s influence extended far beyond the classroom. She credited a visit to an Andy Warhol exhibit in 1962 for sparking her style of colorful, hand lettered words and phrases that mixed the religious and the secular, scripture and tag lines, corporate logos with social issues like poverty and hunger. Prolific and unabashedly socially conscious, her body of 800 serigraphs and small watercolors include covers for The Saturday Evening Post and Newsweek. True to the tenor of the times, her work bridges the gap between commercial and fine art, appearing on bumper stickers, t-shirts, even a massive natural gas tank outside of Boston. One particularly famous piece — “So far the crocuses have always come up” — even appeared on national billboards for Physicians for Social Responsibility. Her work still grace nearly 40 museums worldwide.

Today, art historians and the occasional retrospective exhibit have begun reassessing Sister Corita’s role as an influential player who propelled the Pop Art Movement by embodying it. She didn’t just comment with her art; she participated with it. She engaged. And she brought others along with her.

But despite all this, her place in art history almost disappeared. Neither male nor the typical expectation of an artist, her impact fell to the wayside, occasionally dismissed as novelty. Her vocation as a Roman Catholic nun only made her reputation doubly hamstrung by male domination. After 32 years of work and service, her run-ins with church hierarchy eventually led her to leave the order in 1968.

Happily, her art and faith endured the transition from Los Angeles to Boston, where she continued her work and activism, churning out messages of optimism, hope, and peace.

Today, if she’s remembered, it’s for these “Love” postage stamps from 1985:

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The United States Postal Service eventually sold over 700 million copies of them. It was a high point for Sister Corita’s recognition as an artist.

Unfortunately, she was taken by cancer not a year later. She was only 67.

As we start a new work week fresh off the inspiration of International Women’s Day, it’s worth bearing in mind at least three of Sister’s rules:

  • RULE #4: Consider everything an experiment.
  • RULE #6: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  • RULE #7: The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something.

Thank you, Sister. Happy Monday.

Rammstein ist so metallisch

How do you sell a concert tour? This seems like a pretty smart approach…

Granted, I don’t listen to Rammstein. East German industrial metal isn’t really my thing. Still, I stumbled across this link and soon found myself watching this cleverly constructed time lapse of the two and a half-day long assembly of the band’s touring stage in Dresden. It’s beautifully produced and absolutely mesmerizing. Even in this non-fan it built a powerful sense of anticipation.

So much so that I hit the old Google machine. And learned that Rammstein has been around for 25 years and is notorious for fiery, explosive live performances.

So simply by clicking this video, I’m now intrigued enough so that tomorrow when I get on the treadmill, I will search the band on Spotify.

It’s not an ad per se, but this clip is as good an example of video brand extension as I’ve seen this week. Ja, lass es rocken.

The Virality of Topicality

If it hasn’t already, this video should soon pop up on your social streams. Posted to Vimeo just three days ago, “Be a Lady, They Said” has already racked up three million views with no signs of slowing…

The powerful, outraged copy came from a two year old blog entry written by Camille Rainville, a then undergrad at the University of Vermont who posted sporadically at writingsofafuriouswoman. Her words struck a chord and were widely shared over the net in January of 2018. Cynthia Nixon’s intensely measured read of that essay only makes them more viral.

This new video purportedly promotes Girls Girls Girls magazine. But the girlsgirlsgirlsmag.com URL simply leads to a web page featuring this clip and nothing else; no nav, no about, no other links.

You won’t find Girls Girls Girls magazine at your local newsstand … if you even have a local newsstand. The publication is a limited run promotional vehicle for New York and London based fashion photographer Claire Rothstein. About two years ago, Rothstein and Girls Girls Girls made waves with an editorial image of Rachel McAdams breast pumping while wearing Versace and Bulgari diamonds. But aside from that, it is largely non-existent as a publication. Its Facebook page hasn’t been updated in a year, although its Instagram feed gets regular updates of Rothstein’s imagery.

Rothstein’s aesthetic is decidedly couture: heavy on high-sheen luxury and fantasy escapism in the vein of Patrick Nagel. Her sensibility pervades this cut, with moving Rothstein style clips from high-fashion director Paul McLean. The edit also features imagery sourced (stolen?) from any number of movies, television shows, and news reports. It’s a trainwreck for rights and permissions but that’s not the point.

The point is self promotion. And riding the zeitgeist. And wow, does this piece do that.

Ryan Reynolds + Dogs = Ratings Gold

The Westminster Dog Show is pretty much the biggest event in the canine world. It began Monday morning and culminates this evening when some Havanese or Whippet or Shetland Sheepdog will be crowned “Best in Show.” You can’t begin to imagine the brushing involved, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Westminster Dog Show airs on FS 1, FS2, and the Fox Sports App. And they’d really like you to watch.

Enter Ryan Reynolds …

Fox paid nothing to have Ryan Reynolds promote their event. That’s because Reynolds bought a stake in his Portland based spirit early in 2018, and ever since, has lent his considerable charm and wit to promoting it.

Reynold’s brilliant approach to video-based brand expansion for Aviation Gin uses clever cross promotions and collaborations with everyone from Samsung to Virgin Atlantic to Peloton … or actually, just the actress from that much maligned Peloton commercial. He doesn’t buy media, he earns it. And more importantly, he earns audiences. So advertisers like Fox Sports eagerly sign up to partner with him.

Fox Sports wins, Aviation wins, and those of us who just like a smart-assed charmer? We win too.

These simple, clever, quickly-produced brand videos, keep both Reynolds and his investment top of mind with his gin-drinking audience.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of these YouTube comments …

Well played you clever Canadian. Well played.

How Do You Sell Mass Media Without A Super Bowl?

It was fun last week, discussing and debating the Super Bowl ads. It felt particularly special since it’s so rare that we all share an experience. The digital/mobile takeover consigned such commonality to the past, now that we build networks conformed to our own perspectives.

When even our media gravitate toward the niches Chris Anderson famously dubbed ‘the long tail,‘ how can you attract people back to mass platforms like network television, the long tailed beast’s metaphorical body?

Like any marketing challenge, successful solutions require a brilliant strategy. Just over three years ago, some clever people promoting Denmark’s TV2 created video content that is as strategically brilliant as it is emotionally powerful …

Celebrating not what divides us but all that we share; this is a resonant insight brought to tone-perfect life through writing, casting, music, and edit. There’s such delightful surprise in the discovery of our collective commonality and the unexpected things we share.

Locked off so much of the time in our own corners, it’s helpful to be reminded of that. Helpful, and reassuring.

Four year old video content for Denmark's TV2 warmly demonstrates a strategy for attracting people back to mass media: the things we share.

Technology in Service of Mankind: The Punishing Signal

Think of all of technology’s broken promises, starting with the last time you updated your operating system. It’s a discipline lousy with hyperbole, half-truths, and lies, lies, lies.

But every now and then, our best and brightest bring technology’s glimmering potential to bear in an effort to improve the collective quality of life.

This time, that group is the Mumbai Police Department …

Last week, the department posted this lovely video explainer to Twitter. It outlines their latest effort at fighting noise pollution, and quickly went viral.

By hooking up decibel meters to red lights, the police assessed honking noise in real time and then, through an admirably perverse algorithm, delayed green lights, resetting the countdown if the honking volume exceeded 85 decibels. In their words, the idea was “honk more, wait more.”

While admirable, this effort feels rather ironic coming from a country that acknowledges the free-for-all nature of their chaotic roadways with the admonition “Good brakes, good horn, good luck.”

Will this clever trial quell India’s addiction to honking?

Hard to tell, but in a country with 11 times the population density of the United States and no subway or mass transit system, the question really is ‘what can it hurt?’

Fingers crossed and holding my ears for you Mumbai…

In Mumbai, traffic is exceptionally loud thanks to the national proclivity for honking.

PS: Hat tip to Greg Popp who steered me to this story in the NYT. Good luck with your shoot in NZ, amigo.