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10 Questions with Open Video Guru George Chriss

George Chriss used to film public University Park Undergraduate Association and Daily Collegian meetings when he was at Penn State. He first got involved with open video during his time here. Now he is the founder and heart-and-soul of OpenMeetings.org, a website that hosts films of public meetings from around the country.

The larger concept of open video has become a new phenomenon about making video production and creation more accessible to everyone, essentially bringing video as a medium more into the forefront and having it become a more natural tool we can use to express ourselves. As we can write an essay or speech without thinking twice, we would be able to create a video with this kind of ease. Chriss was kind enough to share his thoughts and experiences with us in our latest 10 Questions piece.

Onward State: How long have you been involved with open video? How/why did you decide to get involved?

George Chriss: “Open video” is a new term with two connotations:

–“Open” in the technical sense, which is to say that video should be disruptively simple to produce, distribute, play, search–through, remix, etc., using free and open–source software and hardware. This isn’t exactly the case now, but there’s a movement afoot to realize the dream of “video for everybody.”
–“Open” in the social sense, which is more nuanced. Imagine well–prepared (video) commentary on complex social issues — I very much look forward to this type of participatory culture.

Video has become a new vernacular in its own right, one that supplements and to some degree supplants traditional text. The King is dead. Long live the King!

I made a soft transition into working with open video: back in 2006, I traveled to Wikimania 2006 bringing along a MiniDV camcorder, a laptop, external hard drive, and headphones. I thought it important to capture everything possible, to communicate what was then a new set of ideas to a broader audience.

For Penn State-centric video, I was looking for a way to have student-government-related discussions not repeat themselves every few years. Penn State has a high turnover rate, which is very punishing for any sort of institutional memory. So, in early 2008 I started filming and publishing UPUA Academic Affairs Committee meetings.

After publishing a few dozen meetings, I needed a way to do text–searchability of video. Everything grew from there.

OS: Your website says OpenMeetings.org is a one–man operation. It also says there’s video from Utah. How much do you rely on submissions and to what extent do you travel yourself, taking video?

GC: First, let me draw a distinction between Open Video Productions, L.⁠L.⁠C., and OpenMeetings.org. The former is a new L.⁠L.⁠C., registered under my name, used to provide for meeting recording, live-streaming, editing, publication, transcription, and related professional services and gear. Most video produced by Open Video Productions is published under a Creative Commons license and thus operates as a separate legal entity from OpenMeetings.org.

OpenMeetings.org accessions freely-licensed, full-length meetings of public interest according to submission guidelines. As of this writing, I have been involved in the production of all meetings in the current collection, but I don’t expect this to be the case for long.

I was fortunate to be flown out to Park City, Utah, with an all-access pass to live-stream the Slamdance Filmmaker Summit, which is part of the Slamdance Film Festival. This was done with assistance from Mozilla, the Open Video Alliance, and Flumotion.
I like to say that Slamdance is the indie version of Sundance; both are held concurrently, and the Slamdance gang has become something of an extended family.

To answer the original question: I travel. A lot.

OS: Do you plan on expanding? How?

GC: Yes.

For Open Video Productions, I’m starting a business from scratch. There are a ton of logistics involved, but the path forward is pretty simple: publish lots of video, do it quickly, don’t suck. I have a huge video backlog now.

My brother, Rob Chriss, will be joining me for an internship this summer. He’s a 20-year-old sophomore at Ohio State University pursuing an Operations Management degree. I’ve had to explain to him, contrary to his coursework, why keeping prices for professional services below what the market can bear is a good thing. Ping me in the comments if you’re interested in why.

From mid-2007 until January 2010, I worked on-campus as an Editorial Assistant for ACS Nano and as a site coordinator for ACS Nanotation. I mention this because I’m carrying forward traditional publishing principles into online video publication (A Conversation with Prof. Mildred Dresselhaus was one of my favorite Conversations to transcribe and prepare).

Growth of OpenMeetings.org is a different challenge altogether. My objective is to create a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, complete with a board of directors and an executive director, to become eligible for major funding and execute a mission statement to be defined by the board. I envision that funding would be applied towards high-bandwidth video delivery in local communities, new features and functionality (the “video wiki” extension is still relatively young), and other projects that serve to “open–up” meetings both locally and internationally.

There’s also a challenge of building a sustainable community around OpenMeetings.org. I think this will come with time, but in the meantime I’m fortunate to have lots of supportive friends. Anyone interested in Open Video Productions or OpenMeetings.org “should contact me ([email protected]);”; donations will be put to good use.

OS: What kind of consent is involved with these meetings? I know these are public meetings, but it seems to me that some people might find filming them to be not quite kosher. Maybe that’s just me. Also, has anyone ever hassled you because you showed up to a meeting with a camera?

GC: No, that’s a fair and important point. I’ve never been hassled, but that’s not to say it hasn’t happened in the past.

The type of consent given depends on the meeting, but it’s always present in some form. Sometimes it’s implicit (e.g., “all meetings are open to the public” stated in the bylaws), most often it’s explicit (see this discussion), occasionally I’m expressly invited to the event, and sometimes it’s permitted by state sunshine laws. All formal bodies have the right to enter into executive session as necessary, and some organizations choose to conduct everything in private. I do entertain requests to not publish specific segments of video.

There is a reduced expectation of privacy whenever you see a recording device in the room. I encourage everyone to carefully consider held positions and articulation of the same, whether on- or off-camera.

OS: What is the most controversial video you’ve shot?

GC: The most controversial video is actually the first one I shot, which is David Horowitz’s April 13, 2006 visit to Penn State. I intentionally omitted the Q&A portion of the lecture because it devolved into a shouting match, and I omitted a few statements from the lecture itself for fear of defamation liability.

I’ll let the video speak for itself in terms of the issues involved. A runner-up is Sen. Specter’s August Town Hall Meeting last summer.

OS: What is the most outrageous thing you’ve shot?

GC: There are a ton of short–lived, hilarious moments. Small things, like members of the Penn State’s women’s volleyball team whispering “I’m too tall” to duck below the camera while passing by, kill me.

But I’d like to push this question in a different direction: “what is the most humbling event you’ve filmed?” The answer would be Jeff Gomez’s talk at DIY Days NYC, in which he recounts how a broken upbringing and associated escapism pushed him to become a leader in trans-media storytelling. I haven’t been able to publish the video as of this writing.

OS: Is the UPUA the most insufferable organization you’ve ever filmed? They’re sure hard to watch.

GC: I own a copy of Robert’s Rules Of Order, so maybe I’m not the best person to answer this question. Robert’s Rules, much to the boredom/irritation of students new to the process, is actually an efficient way to conduct meetings — it’s a business standard that provides order for when things really get heated. Also, keep in mind the system is designed to lock-up unless a working consensus is reached.

I think the meetings will become more engaging when we start throwing around video with transcripts and time-specific commentary.

OS: What do you enjoy most about doing/making open video?

GC: I have a bit of a reputation for pushing for better communication infrastructure at Penn State: in fall 2005, I authored a formal request to University Administration for support of a project known as the Penn State Wiki. Old Main rejected the proposal outright; my thoughts on the matter may be found here. Logically, I think of open video as a parallel project with plenty of room for expansion. Professionally, it’s a challenging but fulfilling line of work.

I enjoy the socialness. I’m guilty of creating excuses to travel in order to see friends (to the extent that I can afford to do so).

OS: How many games will Penn State football win next season?

GC: With apologies to Penn State Athletics, since I started in 2002 I’ve been to a few tailgates but never a Penn State football game. Please don’t tell anyone.

OS: Last question: if you could be any dinosaur, which one would you be and why?

GC: I’m glad you asked! I think I would be a Godzilla–like T. rex; Mozilla is doing a fantastic job of pushing for an open web both now and long–term.

Links updated February 2012.

About the Author

Dan McCool

Dan is a senior and has been writing for Onward State since January 2010. Did you miss him? Nah, neither did we. He's returning after a semester abroad in England and will be serving as Arts Editor. Favorite things in life include references to The Big Lebowski.

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