Case Study: Rumble in the Village: Michael Rosenblum's DV Dojo
Posted Oct 3, 2003

Once upon a time, putting together broadcast-quality television took the work of dozens, from scriptwriters to camera operators to makeup artists, and let's not forget the input of a small group of decision-makers, the studio execs, whose financial wherewithal was essential to setting the project in motion. Television was expensive, time-intensive, and generally watered down—so says Michael Rosenblum, founder of the DV Dojo and acclaimed "father of video journalism." As Rosenblum, who's also the founder and former president of NYT TV (a New York Times Company) and author of such jeremiads as "Carpe Medium" and "TV Sucks" puts it, "TV crushes creativity. Until now, it's been a group activity, and even worse, a corporate activity. Imagine what kinds of paintings we would have if only the employees of Sherwin Williams were allowed to paint."

The advent of relatively inexpensive DV cameras, accessible editing tools, and mainstream processor chips powerful enough to create broadcast quality video on a laptop holds the possibility of changing television as a medium much in the same way the Gutenberg printing press altered the world's perception of the written word, Rosenblum believes. "It wasn't about printing more bibles," he says. "The printing press was a piece of technology that allowed anyone with an idea the opportunity to publish. DV cameras are that printing press."

What's more, in addition to providing the technical foundation for all kinds of video work, the DV format's unprecedented economics offer the television industry something it desperately needs: a radical alteration to its business model. As more and more television stations hit the airwaves, Rosenblum says, spitting out more than four million hours of airtime a year, the market fractionalizes, the ad revenue pie gets sliced into smaller and smaller pieces, and television stations must find a way to decrease their overhead.

What he's trying to do begins with bringing a sense of authorship and individuality to television and ends with stations being able to reduce the number of employees down to one person equipped with a DV camera, a laptop, and a head full of ideas. He's already taken this concept to Sweden, where he helped start a series of television stations founded in the "VJ" (video journalist) ideal. He's also co-developed a 24-hour news network in New York called NY1 with Paul Sagan, he's revamped the way the United States government keeps track of news, and is currently in the process of doing the same for the BBC in London. He will travel to Germany in September to begin a similar project there, and all these efforts are based on the VJ concept.

Rosenblum's partner in the BBC initiative, Nigel Kay, believes his work with Rosenblum is the beginning of a sea change in how TV news is done. Kay, the editorial coordinator for BBC Nations and Regions, explains, "I am one of those people who believes that in five years' time, or even less, the market for TV news will have changed quite considerably. As broadband rolls out, there is the potential for a lot more local news, and we at the BBC have to be clear about what our role will be as the leading provider of news in the UK. We have to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities."

The Village Vanguard
To spearhead his efforts back home and make all the necessary tools available to the general public, Rosenblum founded the DV Dojo at 1st and Bowery in New York City's East Village, a downtown loft complete with blonde wood, exposed brick, and a bar. Think of it as a video-specific, members-only Internet café, a VJ training camp, or a health club for DV ingenues and professionals, scions of the VJ revolution, and first-time independent filmmakers. As Rosenblum writes in a marketing piece at www.dvdojo.com, "The DV Dojo is a place to learn how to make films, documentaries, or television on your own. Think of this as a kind of karate school for video, filmmaking and television and also a place for experienced filmmakers to have access to cameras and edits at low prices."

Members pay a monthly fee and then gain access to the DV Dojo's facilities. These include a series of available cameras ranging from Praktica PD-100 and 150s to Canon GL1 and 2s to Panasonic DVX100s; Mac G4 editing stations with built-in DVD-burning SuperDrives and FireWire connectivity; Sennheiser shotgun mikes; and Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and DVD Studio Pro. For post-production, DV Dojo is all Mac, all the time. "We prefer Macintosh for their reliability and ease of use. In particular, from a teaching point of view, no professional non-linear editing system is as easy to learn as Final Cut Pro, so it's perfect for beginners and professionals alike."

But that doesn't mean DV Dojo isn't the sort of protean environment that encourages individual expression. Cameras, workstations, performance space, screening room, café, bar—"It's all spread out," Rosenblum says. "I like the idea of organized chaos."

Still, what good is all this technology and creative space without the know-how? True to its name, the Dojo's other key element is instruction: the DV Dojo employs an expert staff of trainers to get novices started and help them along the way. A variety of one-day, weekend, and week-long classes along with a wide array of free seminars give members the opportunity to learn the entire production and post-production process, from shooting to editing. The training also addresses the business end of being a VJ and selling material to networks. The weekend class gives a general overview of what can be accomplished with practice; students develop, shoot, and edit one short piece over the class schedule. A week-long class gives students enough of an understanding of digital non-linear editing and camera technique that they should be able to shoot and cut a "CNN-quality" short piece. The four-week intensive session alternates days between teaching, shooting, and editing. The last two weeks focus on a final project; prior students have been able to get their final projects broadcast immediately after completion.

Course fees can be applied to cover the initial $250 membership fee; after that, it's $29 a month. This monthly fee entitles members to one-day-per-month access to a turnkey DV kit (a camera, mike, wireless, batteries, plus time on an editing station). Members can also rent the camera, mike, wireless, and batteries for $50 a day—Rosenblum says a comparable set of equipment would cost $150/day elsewhere in New York—while editing stations can be rented for $19.95/hour, compared to at least $200/hour on an Avid system at other facilities in the city. If you aren't into renting, the DV Dojo also acts as a retail outlet for any equipment that you'd want to buy.

And once you've finished your project, you can head on over to the poetry bar and café located in the adjacent space. Enjoy a cold one and finger-snap along as you listen to performances given on the same stage where Rosenblum says Slam poetry was invented. Or head on over to the digital theater and screen projects developed on DV Dojo facilities and know-how.

No Dojo-to-Go
While membership in the DV Dojo is open to anyone, at least half of the members use the facilities to become VJs themselves, Rosenblum says. Also, members are welcome to bring in their own DV from home and utilize the editing stations, but Rosenblum has a strong aversion to the idea of the DV Dojo as a post-production house-for-hire. If that's what you're looking for, Rosenblum says, "go somewhere else. We are more into teaching and experimentation."

At the Dojo, Rosenblum wants to focus on the entire process of storytelling through television, film, and documentaries. "Some folks just come to edit," he says, "but frankly, once we look at their shooting, we strongly recommend a course in shooting and handling a camera. We are very big fans of discipline in shooting and shooting for the edit." The great thing about the current state of video production technology, he says, is that you can do it all yourself, given the right tools and the knowledge to use them effectively and creatively. But it's hard to be a one-man show, he argues, if you're out of focus from the get-go.