CTIN 499 – Portable Video

USC School of Cinema-Television: Interactive Media Division

CTIN 499: Portable Video Production and Internet Distribution


Keywords: Portable Video, Peer to Peer Distribution, VideoBlogging, Intellectual Property and Creative Commons, Citizen Journalism, Podcasting, Video iPod, PSP, Mobile Phone Video Capture and Playback.

Professors: Todd Richmond with Kenyatta Cheese
RA: Justin Hall
Units: 2
Prerequisites: film/video production, basic internet fluency
Schedule: Spring 2006 – class meets on Monday, 12pm to 3pm

Course Concept

The dramatic contemporary shift to internet-based media distribution makes video portable and more social. Devices like mobile phones and portable media players make it possible to have our media follow us wherever we’d like. But as the devices change, does the content change with it? What does it mean to view video outside the home or office, and how do we as content producers prepare for this new medium? The historic USC School of Cinema-Television is an appropriate and logical place to launch a coordinated assessment of this new small screen medium.

During the Spring of 2005, Todd Richmond and Justin Hall will lead a “Portable Video” 499 elective class within the Interactive Media Division. Students will explore the aesthetic and social impacts of small, short videos viewed over pocket players.

The skill-based curriculum is covered through practical work with digital cameras, video editing, compression and online distribution technologies. In addition, our studies will include workshops and modules with small-screen filmmakers and activists, including Kenyatta Cheese and Frank Chindamo. In weekly discussions, we will address portable video in the context of a number of important areas in technology culture research: blogging and video blogging, file sharing and p2p, intellectual property and the digital commons, citizen journalism, collaborative virtual communities and the impact of networks on media forms and social life.

Course Objectives

Participants will learn about new forms of video content, short form and small screen. Also, they will learn practical skills for preparing digital video files, and explore means of online distribution. USC community members can potentially contribute to these rapidly evolving fields through their work with personal videoblogs or more collaborative online video content.


This is a hands-on, production oriented seminar. We will spend roughly 33% of our time discussing the readings and critiquing videos, 33% of our time discussing strategies for portable video making and distribution, and 33% of our time practicing these strategies.

Grading structure

In weekly 1-5 minute assignment video shorts, students will be asked to engage these issues and practice the skills they’re learning in class, and thereby express their own vision for this new medium.

There will be a midterm, a polished short video. This project comes as a culmination of the first half of the semester; students will make their favorite genre of portable video explored to date. This video will be the first assignment students will be required to post publicly online. Accordingly, students will be graded on their application of production skills, as well as their ability to provide online distribution for their work as well.

The final will be a group project, a short video made by small teams, also for online distribution. A number of the portable video forms we explore this semester are collaborative in nature. This final project asks the students to lend their talents to group work in the small screen space. Choosing from a broader range of portable video genres than the midterm, student groups will have a number of weeks to collectively design a portable video experience. Pitches and storyboards will help them focus their ideas, and finally the video itself will be screened during the final class as well as being shared online. The grade for the final project depends on each student’s contribution to the planning, production and distribution of their groups’ short-form video project.

Weekly video making: 30%
Midterm Project: 30%
Final Project: 30%
Class Participation: 10%

Seminar Content

Week 1: Media and Portability

We will explore the confluence of content, devices, bandwidth, sharing technologies, and user behavior that are changing the way that we produce and use media.

Week 2: Video Format Over Time: The Shrinking
Visiting Expert: Kenyatta Cheese, Eyebeam Atelier

We will introduce concepts of the scale of the cinema screen, as it shrunk from movies into television, and then to mobile devices. We will briefly propose the native media for each format; touching on the native media for portable media (to be explored during the rest of the semester). In additional, we’ll introduce the equipment used to shoot and edit footage for each media.

Assignment: Reading, and find a 30 second example of portable video to share and critique.

  • Bruce Block, The Visual Story, Focal Press, 2001
  • Bolter & Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media, chapter on Television

Week 3: Expanding Video Distribution
Visiting Expert: Kenyatta Cheese, Eyebeam Atelier

We will talk about the distribution systems for every scale of moving picture, leading from cinema to TV and finally mobile. Students will be set up with their own accounts on online video distribution web sites. Topics to be introduced this week include: analog vs. digital, streamed vs. cached video, download, PSP, podcasting, RSS, IPTV, iTMS.

Assignment: Find a 30-60 second example of portable video to share and critique

  • Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, section on “Second Orality: Post-Typography Electronics”

Week 4: A New Medium
Visiting Expert: Kenyatta Cheese, Eyebeam Atelier

We begin our exploration of portable video in earnest this week, looking at various examples of internet-distributed videos, webcam videos, iChat performances, and video viewable over mobile phones. By the end of class, students should identify a genre of portable video-making that they would like to experiment with for the first part of the semester.

Assignment: Viewing/Reading, and find a 1-2 minute example of portable video to share and critique

  • Reading/viewing: Rocketboom
  • Parker & Pfeiffer, Video Blogging: Content to the max, Multimedia – IEEE, April-June 2005

Week 5: The Motivated Moviemaker

The class continues to explore video diaries, small frame moving art, animation, citizen journalism – with students showing the works they enjoy most in these areas. We present a few different means for students to capture and prepare portable video.

Assignment: Reading, and sketch out five portable video ideas

Week 6: The Empowered

Now after the first month of the class, the students have a basic understanding of the medium. In addition, they have developed a vocabulary for expression on the small screen. They’ve been introduced to the tools and techniques. This class the students begin applying their knowledge in weekly short videos. This will be a hands-on workshop, where students will have a chance to make a short video during class. After this session, they will begin making a 10 second to 2 minute movie once each week between classes. Classes hereafter will begin with a screening of student films.

Assignment: produce a 10 second to 2 minute portable video for critique. Online distribution optional.

Week 7: Skills Building

How can someone make a short video using a mobile phone? How can an ordinary digital camera shoot useful footage? How can that footage be edited on a PC? This session will help students understand the range of devices that can be used, hacked, adapted to make short video, and the means of getting footage from the devices onto computers.

Assignment: produce a 10 second to 2 minute portable video for critique. Online distribution optional.

Week 8: Playback

If you have portable videos, where might someone watch them? This class will explore video codecs, mobile devices (like iPod and PSP). What kinds of videos suit what kinds of viewing environments? Are your videos meant to be watched individually, or socially?

Assignment: (Midterm) produce a 10 second to 2 minute portable video designed for playback on a specific portable device. Be prepared to explain how the content suits (or doesn’t) that platform. Online distribution optional.

Week 9: The Spread

How do short videos spread, outside of a commercial, mass media system? What are the advantages and disadvantages of distributing video through syndication and social forwarding as opposed to en-masse? Could anyone ever make money from videos distributed online?

Assignment: Reading, and post at least one video on a publicly-accessible free video hosting web site. Be prepared to reflect on that experience, as a viewer and a content creator.

Week 10: Intellectual Property and The Commons
Visiting Expert: Jennifer Urban, USC Law School

Creative Commons is one of the leading examples of copyright alternatives growing in popularity online. What are the benefits and drawbacks to participating in these systems? Intellectual property concepts, DRM, public domain, creative commons

Assignment: Reading, break up into teams and begin brainstorming a group project portable video for the final, and produce a 10 second to 2 minute portable video using Creative Commons material for critique. Online distribution encouraged.

Week 11: P2P Podcasting and You

How can take advantage of peer to peer technologies to spread and also control the distribution of our media works? Podcasting took off for music; what about for videos? How can students set up regular video channels for subscriber downloads, through RSS or podcasting channels?

Assignment: Reading, and produce a 10 second to 2 minute portable video for critique. Online distribution optional.

Week 12: Citizen Journalism and The Participatory Panopticon
Visiting Expert: Kenyatta Cheese, Eyebeam Atelier

Will mobile phone camcorders and instant media sharing services enable a grassroots media distribution revolution? What kind of impact might this have on professional journalism? On the social behavior of individuals?

Assignment: Reading, groups pitch final project concepts and storyboards, and individuals produce a 10 second to 2 minute piece of citizen journalism for critique. Online distribution encouraged.

Week 13: Video Search and Metadata
Visiting Expert: Kenyatta Cheese, Eyebeam Atelier

Microcontent requires easy and efficient ways for computers to search and sort that media. This search is enabled through standardized, machine readable metadata. We’ll take a look at the different efforts technology projects, metadata standards for video, and folksonomy/taxonomy projects that are working towards enabling true computer video search.

Assignment: produce a 10 second to 2 minute prepared with metadata. Online distribution encouraged.

Week 14: Visual Feedback

Now that we’ve been making videos for the last three months, what do our works look like? Do we have a shared vocabulary evolving?

Assignment: pick a favorite film from the semester to re-screen and discuss.

  • Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, section: “What New Media Is Not”

Week 15: The Aesthetics of the (Really) Small Screen

As the devices become mobile, the aesthetics of the content change with it. What are the content types that work best for the small screen? What are the technical concerns that arise out of presenting video on battery-powered, low resolution devices with limited storage capacity?

Screen final project films.

Missing an Assignment, Incompletes

The only acceptable excuses for taking an incomplete in the course are personal illnesses or a family emergency. Students must inform the professor before the exam and present verifiable evidence in order for a make-up to be scheduled. Students who intend to take incompletes must also present documentation of the problem to the instructor before final grades are due.

Students with Disabilities

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure that the letter is delivered to the Professor as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30am – 5:00pm, Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.

Academic Integrity

The School of Cinema-Television expects the highest standards of academic excellence and ethical performance from USC students. It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, submitting a video to more than one instructor, or submitting a video authored by anyone other than yourself without approval. Violations of this policy will result in a failing grade and be reported to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. If you have any doubts or questions about these policies, consult SCAMPUS and/or confer with the Professor or Department Chair.


Todd Richmond

Todd Richmond is a Senior Research Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Caltech, was a postdoctoral fellow in protein engineering at UCSF, and was faculty at The Claremont Colleges before coming to USC in 2000. He applies his diverse background as scientist, musician, and technologist to a broad scope of topics that range from investigating applications and the impact of digital technologies in society, to mapping research and expertise at USC, to building platforms for collaboration. His research at ACC involves numerous social software issues, including the use of weblogs, wikis, and BBSs in the academic space, podcasting, games, and working in various aspects of remix culture.

Kenyatta Cheese

Kenyatta Cheese develops systems and practices for participatory media production and distribution. His projects and ideas have been implemented by a diverse group of content developers including Paper Tiger TV, SonyBMG, ABC News, and the videoblog Rocketboom. Currently he works with the Eyebeam Atelier Center for Art and Technology in New York City and edits the daily blog on decentralized and participatory media, unmediated.org.

Justin Hall

Justin Hall is a graduate student in Interactive Media at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television. Prior to his studies, Hall worked as a freelance journalist, covering video games and mobile phones from Japan and Northern California for a wide variety of print and online publications. His web site, Justin’s Links, started in January 1994, is an early, sustained exploration of the potential for personal publishing on the World Wide Web. In 2004, the New York Times Magazine referred to him as “the founding father of personal blogging.” Hall received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College and has studied extensively under the writer Howard Rheingold.

Portable Video Blog