October 31, 2006

The Internet is for interviews

Author: Tina Gasperson

Phil Shapiro likes PBS talk show host Charlie Rose. He also likes the level playing field of the Internet, and has a passion for giving a voice to the "community." Shapiro has come up with a way to emulate his favorite television interviewer using webcams, voice over IP, and "free as in beer" digital video editing software, and he has big plans for his invention.

Shapiro is a self-proclaimed "public geek" who works in the Takoma Park, Maryland, public library, maintaining its 28 Linux workstations -- a perfect setup for testing the video creations he calls rosetimes. "[They] are a new video form some friends and I invented over the summer," he says. Rosetimes are a method of conducting interviews with interesting subjects -- kind of like those done by Charlie Rose, an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist known for his one-on-one interviews where the subject sits on the other side of a round oak table -- except in rosetimes the participants can be thousands of miles away from each other.

"The main technique is using two or more camcorders to record each of the participants to videotape," Shapiro says. "The interview takes place via free audio services on the Web, such as Gizmo or Skype. The videos are then merged after the interview," and the final product displays both the interviewer and the interviewee at the same time.

Shapiro says he uses Apple's QuickTime Pro to merge the videos, but videographers on a budget can use Avid Free DV to mix the video tracks. Shapiro says he promotes the use of QuickTime because Avid "has a bit of a steep learning curve. With a couple of well-done screencasts, that learning curve could be made less intimidating, though." Free software purists can turn to GPLed Cinelerra, which also provides video track mixing.

Though creating the videos is easy, Shapiro's challenge has come in getting the word out about his new way to record them. "One of the challenges is knowing how and where to announce it. I'm giving the method away for free - yet I don't want this invention to somehow get overlooked." Shapiro is experimenting with using rosetimes as a dramatic tool, "where one person can appear in the same video several times sharing different perspectives or personas."

Shapiro says he is "fascinated" by what he calls the "community voice. The reason I invented rosetimes is that there are so many people in this world with important things to say, but who will never be invited into mainstream media. Their ideas are worth hearing, and the most powerful way for them to express their ideas is in video form, via interviews with each other.

"My highest hope is that the community voice will start drowning out the shoutfests on television. If people start turning off their televisions and listening more to each other, then I know I've done my job. We can only reach understanding when we listen to each other a lot more."

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