With all the buzz about the iPhone4's video capabilities, I thought it would be appropriate to tell a story from the archive. This is a story of the harsh mistress that is internet fame and of pushing technologies beyond the cutting edge. It is also a story of self-congratulatory exaggeration. It is the true story of the first music video shot entirely on a camera phone:
Set your judgement aside and come with me way back to 2004.
(Ripple dissolve - Chimes sound effect )
Camera phones were first becoming popular in the US, and I had recently picked up a Nokia 3650. This shining piece of technology had a 0.31 megapixel camera that also recorded 176x144 video, though limited to 12 second or 96kb clips (whichever came first). In addition, I was equipped with an unlimited GPRS plan from T-Mobile and an account with the now defunct proto-twitter service Textamerica. I was posting photos and short messages regularly from my phone way back in the early mid-2000s. I was a true member of the avant garde. Little did I know that my penchant for pushing the envelope would catapult me quite nearly to internet celebrity.
The night was February 30th, 2004. I was visiting San Diego for the weekend. It was late, so a group of friends and I were at the only place to go in track-home-laden North County San Diego -- Denny's. As it got later, we all became slightly punchy. My friend Haber (known only by his last name) was punchier than most and I began to film him with my camera phone. I discovered that you could stop and start within a clip, which allowed for basic in-camera effects like making things disappear. At one point in a video clip, my other friend Dave told Haber to get down from something he had climbed on to. That line was born to be a sound sample.
Later that night I returned to Haber's place, where I was couch surfing. I got the idea to throw together some loops in Garage Band and edit the grainy clips into a "music video". Haber, who is one hell of a guitar player, added the pièce de résistance -- a kick ass guitar solo. I inserted an MTV-style music video title and named the "band" XFYA, since everyone at Denny's that night had been in my high-school band, FYA (like ex-FYA, get it?). I hastily uploaded the video to Textamerica (Archive.org Link), giving it the title "the first music video shot entirely on a nokia 3650", and promptly went to sleep. The next morning, Haber Get Down had been seen nearly 10,000 times. It spread like a small brush fire through the nascent Web2.0 and went on to be viewed nearly 200,000 times (which was a lot for back then). It was even written about by several prominent bloggers including BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin who wrote "It's kind of lame, but it's still a first."
To continue riding this wave of internet celebrity, we made an attempt to shoot a planned music video on my camera phone. We recorded a few songs the next night and filmed the second music video shot entirely on a camera phone: Homage to Cornelius Swarthout.
Alas, I was too far ahead of my time. Youtube didn't exist yet and web videos didn't have as much ability to go viral. Some TV shows appeared interested, but the video had too little resolution and television didn't really "get" internet video yet. (I actually sent a a mini-DV of this to a cable channel! Imagine 176x144 badly encoded video blown up to 720x480. Yuck!) Haber Get Down was forgotten. Over a year later, the Presidents of the United States of America claimed that they were the first to film a music video with cell phones on their song Some Postman. XFYA, being essentially a fake band, had no chance at refuting this. I still stand by my acheivement though. Granted, their video may have been better -- but we were first.
Ok, setting this silliness aside, something did strike me during that time. It was something people are only starting to talk about now. When we were filming Homage to Cornelius Swarthout, I thought about how liberating it was to be able to make a film with a pocketable device. I thought to myself that some years in the future we would have HD video camera phones, and the boundries of where and when cinematic stories could be created would be broken down.
We are seeing this now. When the iPhone 3GS came out, I made another music video, which was the first ever to be to be shot on that device -- Technologic Overkill. It was sort of an inside joke to myself about Haber Get Down (Technologic Overkill was the name of my moblog on Textamerica). Other videos came shortly after (1, 2, 3). Now with the iPhone 4, people are creating and even editing HD videos from a device that fits in their pocket. The results are pretty good (1, 2, 3).
Back in 2004 again. I had another thought that day while filming my second camera phone project. More important than where and when videos could be created with a pocketable device was who would do it. In the future, any kid with a camera phone could create the next masterpiece of cinema. I know Haber Get Down is far from a masterpiece, but I think it was an interesting step towards the future -- or it could just be a blurry camera phone video.