And let this be a lesson to you all: index your damn drives.)
The Vid Feedback Project was triggered by a number of posts, but most directly sdwolfpup's Vid Feedback 101. Read the essay - it's a good one - but the message I took away from it was:
- Vidders want feedback.
- They want this feedback even from non-vidding viewers.
- Any feedback that isn't overtly flame-filled or insane is welcome, including, "I liked this vid."
- Further comments, such as emotional reactions, are also welcome.
But, you know, vidders give me a lot of pleasure. They've taught me about canons I could never imagine watching. They've hand-fed me fandoms in three-minutes pieces. They've made me laugh. They've made me get snuffly and blinky-eyed. (And, yes, they've also confused the shit out of me, on occasions too humiliatingly numerous to document here.) And I know vidding is a lot of work; all you have to do is read the LJ of someone who is currently Great with Vid, and you'll realize that. So, here are these people, doing this time-consuming, challenging, creative thing, and then sharing the results with me free of charge. Clearly, I owe something to vidders. But what? I can rec vids, and I have, but - I'm not terribly confident about my ability to judge vids objectively, so most of my recs sets are grouped around themes like "Approximately Three Thousand Vids Set to 'Holding out for a Hero'" and "Lots of Things Go Boom." And, anyway, vid recs are pretty much exclusively for the vid-watcher, as you'll know if you've ever tried to get someone's permission to rec her vid.
So, according to the posts I mentioned way, way up there, what vidders would like is feedback. My assumption prior to reading those posts was that vidders wanted intelligent feedback. (The first reaction I ever got to a vid comment contributed to that impression. The Guide to Giving Opinions at AMV, about which more later on, contributed much, much more.) But here were live action vidders claiming they'd be happy with even uninformed feedback.
The obvious question was: were they right? And I had it within my power to answer that question. I can write uninformed feedback. I so totally can. And if they truly don't care what kind of feedback they get, well, how hard is it to write "I liked it!" and click send? (As it turned out, pretty damn hard. But I anticipate.)
Procedure (Or, Here's What I Did)
My initial plan was to send feedback for every vid I watched for one month.
That proved to be insanely over-ambitious. Total crazy talk, because it took me anywhere from a half-hour to an hour to send feedback about one vid. But, hey, as every old lab rat knows, if you can't finish the experiment in the given time, reduce the scope.
So my next plan was to send feedback for every vid I kept (as opposed to deleting it from my hard drive) for one month.
I had to scale that one back, too.
What I actually did was, for approximately six weeks, send feedback for some vids I kept, and these were mostly (but not entirely) selected based on things like how much time I had the night I watched the vid. I say "but not entirely" because there were a few people who produced new vids during that time period that I felt I really owed feedback to, because of how much I love their vids overall. (In other words, if a new vid was posted by someone who also made three of my all-time favorite vids - and that did happen during the study period - I made a strenuous, albeit still not 100% successful, effort to send feedback to that person. Which was good, because otherwise I would never have encountered the Scary Vidders, but again, I anticipate.)
I excused myself from sending feedback to anime vidders. The Guide to Opinions (opinions are the anime music video version of feedback) is just flat terrifying. Also, it makes it clear that what sdwolfpup, et al, said about feedback - all welcome, "I liked it" fine, etc. - does not hold true for anime vids. Basically, you need a graduate degree from a reputable film school to give good feedback on AMVs. Which does not describe me. So, actually, I think the vidders themselves sort of excused me from giving feedback on the anime vids, which was lucky for me, because about half of the vids I truly love are AMVs. Cut the scope of the Project way down.
I also only sent one piece of feedback per vidder; if I watched more than one during the study period, I tried to pick the vid I liked best or that I had the most to say about.
Results (Or, What the Vidders Did in Response)
I observed three main categories of vidder response:
- Nonexistent. This was the biggest category, actually - about 40% of my emails never got any response. Which is totally fine, but remember these were all sent via email, so I have no way of knowing for sure that those vidders ever got the feedback at all. Helpful hint for people who want more feedback: reply to it, especially if you get it via email. And, yes, I know this isn't easy; I struggle to do it myself with the feedback I get on various writing projects, because there's a massive difference between adoring feedback and being able to think of something substantive to say in return. I'm just saying - if you're wondering what you can do to increase your feedback, here's something. All you have to say is that you got it, so that people know they aren't sending bytes into a void.
I got the "nobody home" non-response most often when I was giving feedback on vids that had been out for more than a month or two, and that held true no matter where I found them, website or LJ.
- Bewildered or taken aback. About 35% of vidders fell into this category. Some of them seemed astonished to get any feedback at all, or at any rate feedback from a stranger - this was especially true of people who are not on LJ (as far as I know) and whose vids are available only through their own website. This made me wonder exactly how much email feedback vidders normally get, but of course I couldn't ask any of them. Logically, it seems like vids should get more feedback than fic, and yet I really do not get the impression that this is the case.
Some vidders also seemed, well, slightly alarmed by my feedback, although I could just be over-interpreting. This tended to be the case again mostly with non-LJ vidders; also, the less time someone had been vidding, as judged by the dates on the vids they offered, or, if no dates, the length of the list of vids, the more likely they were to have the "Whaaaa?" response.
But, and this is a key point, no matter how confused the vidders were, only one person who responded to me was mean. (We'll get to the mean one in more detail in a second.) In many cases, respondents clearly had no idea what to say, but still felt they should say something, and that something almost always included the words "thank you for the feedback," so clearly vidders know their fandom manners.
Also, I should mention that there was a problem I totally did not anticipate, because I've been biased by my experiences in fan fiction. In a few cases, there turned out to be an insurmountable language barrier between the vidder and me. Both sides relying heavily on babelfish does not make for a deep, thoughtful discussion. (But those vidders still said thank you - and realize that in this case they were thanking me for sending them gibberish. Nice people, these foreign-language-speaking vidders.)
- Effusively happy. And this was the other 25%, excluding the one outlier. A lot of these vidders seemed stunned to hear from someone outside the vidding community or outside their immediate fannish circle, which I expected; what I did not expect was that they'd be so thrilled about it. Again, I got the sense that vidders do not exactly get more feedback than they know what to do with.
Even though this was the smallest major category of response type, those responses totally made the project worthwhile, because, well, these were people who made me happy via the application of a lot of time and talent and effort. And apparently all I had to do to make them happy in return was to tell them that I'd seen the vid and liked it. (Well, plus a lot of other commentary. Getting to that, too.)
The vidders in this category tended to be involved in the community side of fandom, and to have been vidding (or in fandom) longer. They were also more likely to be writers of some kind (fan fiction, essays, LJ posts of significant length and depth, etc.) than the vidders in the other two categories.
Also, the "effusively happy" vidders were often the most threatening people I sent feedback to. I mean, of course, threatening in my own mind; they were people who had been vidding a long time, with great skill, in multiple fandoms. They attended cons and even hosted panels at them. In short, they were people who had every right to believe themselves above the random blathering of a non-vidding random cog in the fannish machine. And yet, and I think this is important, every single truly scary vidder replied to me; in other words, the big name vidders were most likely, of all the subgroups in the sample, to reply to emailed feedback. And they weren't mean or confused. They knew what to do with feedback, and they did it. Apparently fannish good breeding counts for way more than fannish social class in determining response to feedback. (I know, weak analogy. But I'm guessing you mostly know what I mean.)
Now, maybe this whole thing would've been different if I'd done it, say, immediately after Vividcon, instead of two months before it; maybe the ready availability of high-level criticism, comments, and discussion would've made the scary vidders less receptive to my feedback. It's entirely possible, and I'd re-do the Vid Feedback Project after the next Vividcon, except that the first time through nearly killed me. I encourage other people to expand on my experimental model, though.
She was very in touch with her feelings, though, that vidder. I will say that.
Moral of the Angry Vidder Story for Viewer/Reviewers: there may be some kind of unspoken fannish etiquette that says, in essence, hands off older work. To be safe, pick a newer vid; to be safest, pick a newly-offered vid.
Moral of the Angry Vidder Story for Vidders: put dates on your vids. And I mean, put the dates on the site and the vid itself, so new visitors will know which ones are the most recent, and which are still within the Optimal Feedback Zone, when they start downloading.
Conclusions (Or, What I Learned About Giving Vid Feedback)
- I need to watch. A lot. Because, see, the first time through, I spend half the vid just trying to get a hold of the basics. What song is this? Do I like the fandom? Do I even know the fandom? And, wait - I thought I knew the fandom, but then who the hell is that? (Vidders, you could spare people a metric ton of confusion by clearly labeling all vids with fandom, music, and vidder information, both on the site and on the vid. I am not even remotely kidding here. And you might get more feedback, too, especially if you put your feedback email address at the end of the vid.) And, wait, now, wait - is this from his perspective? Or hers? And what's up with the horse?
In other words, I engage on a very low level the first time through the vid. The second time, the music and the scenes start matching up in my mind. The third time, actual vid-related cognition begins to take place.
So I need to watch vids several times running if I'm going to send feedback about them, or if I want to engage with them on anything like a reasonable level, and that's the first thing I learned.
- Forewarned is fore-armed. If I watch the vid knowing I'm going to send feedback, I will definitely have something to say at the end of three viewings. This is not true if I just watch it three times and then start thinking about feedback. Apparently if I give the assignment to myself ahead of time, my brain is prepared to put forth more work effort.
- I can't shut up. Which, no, is not news to anyone, but, see, my plan was to send "I liked it! A lot! On account of the scene with the dog made me smile! So thanks!" type feedback. But apparently some deeply vested part of my brain sees "I liked it!" as inherently incomplete. It wants me to add at least four paragraphs to that sentence. And it will get its way, oh how it will, and after a while I learned to stop fighting that. I accepted that if I mentioned the scene with the dog, I was going to have to talk about how it tied into the lyrics, and why I thought it was a great and unusual clip choice, and also my emotional reaction to it. And how I loved that the dog reappeared every time the guitars went twang.
Probably I would've had better responses from vidders if I hadn't been so over-the-top with my feedback, but, well, I write what I am. I can't help it.
- If you feedback it, the words will come. By which I mean that - well, okay. When I started this, I had no vocabulary to discuss vids with people, and I also had no idea about the way vidders talk to each other. And guess what? I still don't have any clue about either one, but here's the thing - if I said to a vidder, "I loved how the camera movement followed the music when it went all swirly," the vidder knew what I was talking about, even if neither the camera or the song ever actually swirled. Sometimes I included time stamps - "You know, right around 1:15, when there's the noise like a bunch of metal dropping and you see that look on the one guy's face" - but generally I didn't, and vidders got it anyway.
In short: you don't need to speak vidder like a native in order to communicate with the natives.
- You don't have to apologize for having an opinion. Seriously. So you don't need to preface all your remarks with "Lo! I am unworthy" and "Forgive me, my liege, for my shrewish tongue." But if you feel the need to, try to segregate your disclaimers; keep one paragraph just for them. In other places, ruthlessly excise all apologies and disparaging remarks about your own acumen or ability.
And, hey, if you actually manage to do that? Go you. I mean that. Because I never entirely got the hang of it; right up to the end, I was hedging my bets and couching my words and just generally being deeply apologetic for sending feedback. But I still encourage you to try. For one thing, the effort is very educational.
- Talk about the vid, not the vid you wish the vidder had made. Talk about the choices the vidder made, and whether you think they worked, but try to avoid veering off into things like, "Well, X would've been a way better song" or "I was really hoping you'd make a vid in this other fandom this time." This is not real feedback; it's using the concept of feedback as an excuse to complain. I imagine your stronger vidders will still grit their teeth and thank you for this type of response, but, really, we're not out to cause dental problems, here.
- Praise what you mean to praise and damn what you mean to damn. I'm talking here about statements like, "I totally hate this [song/song genre/fandom/vid genre/etc.], but..." This is damning with faint praise, and for many people it's worse than actual criticism, let alone an actual compliment, for it is the hideous chimera that smiles while twisting the knife.
So, you don't like country? Or hip-hop? Or emo moaner semi-pop? Or fifty-five minute instrumental pieces for washtub and two-string guitar? Fine. But the vidder has already chosen her music, and - think about this - she probably likes this song. (Exceptions, of course, do apply, especially in comedy vids.) I mean, she chose to vid to it, which, as I understand it, means she will listen to the song a billion times and never get it out of her head again. So you're not just criticizing musical choice if you say, "I totally hate this song and also this song style," you're also criticizing the vidder's taste. There are many vidders who choose songs I wish they would not. I'm tired of Evanescence, too, and I'm none too fond of big '70s power love ballads. But I'm not going to tell the vidder that in the feedback, which is not about changing other people's tastes, and especially not about attempting to change the way someone does something she loves. Likewise, I'm not going to say that I hate her pairing of choice or her fandom of choice. There's a place for that. Feedback isn't it.
- Vid feedback is hard to give. There's the whole don't-know-what-I'm-talking-about factor, and there's the sending-email-to-strangers thing, and then there's minor stuff like the Elitist Vidder icons, which are hysterical all the time except for the split second when you're about to send feedback to someone who has one. And it does get easier after the first two or three, but it never gets easy, exactly. I came up with a lot of reasons not to hit that old devil we call the send button. Those excuses, in fact, may have been my greatest fannish creative output since I got into fandom.
- It takes a Project. When I wrapped up the Project, I intended to continue sending feedback. And I did. Sort of. But, well, remember how I said it's scary? Turns out the key to overcoming the scary send button aspect of this was having made a commitment to do just that (with myself, of course). Since the Project ended, I have sent a truly measly amount of feedback, and then only to vidders I originally sent feedback to during the Project, and am therefore much less afraid of. (And usually not even to them.) I've started to write feedback to others, but every attempt just crouched uneasily in my web mail client until my browser crashed, often days or weeks after I started the email.
- A little encouragement goes a long way. This was evident in every part of the Project, from the feedback I sent right on. This is why it's important for vidders who want feedback to reply to whatever they get. It also applies to the download site itself. Yousendit users can't do much with that, but people with LJs and websites can. Because, see, I noticed that it was about 30% easier to hit the send button if the vidder had a statement somewhere that said something like this:
If you watch one of my vids, please tell me about it. Any and all feedback welcome!
But, conversely, any qualifiers on that statement made it virtually impossible to hit send. So, vidders, I think that kind of statement is a good thing to have on your site, provided you actually mean it, and also provided you don't follow any part of it up with ", but..."; if you need to add a "but," well, know that to me that all those statements read like this:
I'd love to get feedback from you. Except, no, I lied; I totally wouldn't.
Now, that's probably not what the vidder meant. But it's still what I heard.
- Vidders are nice people. I was, in almost every case, offering criticism as well as praise, although I was much heavier on the praise. Try sending that kind of feedback to writers (FF or original or pro; really, makes no difference) and see what you get. I bet you'll get a higher (though still relatively small, let me emphasize) percentage of mean responses. See? Really, they aren't as scary as they seem. They have Mystical Vidding Abilities we wot not, but otherwise, they've got souls and hearts and everything.
- The safest vidders are the ones who scare you the most. (I don't mean "scare" in the chainsaw-wielding mime sense, just the shock and awe sense. Avoid the chainsaw-wielding vidders, is my advice. Also the mime ones.) Going by the extremely unreliable statistics yielded by the Project, the safest possible vidder:
- Is on LJ
- Is probably also on your friends list
- Even though you may not be on hers
- Has made vids in multiple fandoms
- And I mean vids that have won prizes and have premiered at a con
- And also she went to those cons, and has probably been going to cons since the days when you thought fan fiction was a seriously humorous joke, or possibly the days when you were learning to talk
- Has been making vids since the old two VCRs, a wing, and a prayer days
- And may even have those VCR vids available for download
- Is willing to send you a DVD of her vids
- Has a lot of scary vidding friends
- Writes fan fiction or essays or reviews or long LJ posts as well as vidding
- Or otherwise participates in the fannish world - I mean, of course, in addition to vidding
- Is not famously psychotic or mean or whatever (not that I know of any vidders that are; basically, this is just the "don't go looking for trouble unless that's what you want to find" caveat)
Now, I'm not suggesting you use that as a checklist, because you'll end up never sending feedback to anyone, but if you notice three or four things on that list apply to a given vidder? She's a safer feedback candidate, is all.
And there's a hidden bonus to feedbacking the scary vidders. See, I learned things. Seriously, I learned more about vids from people responding to my feedback than I have in all the rest of my time in fandom. I learned shocking secrets, even. Well, maybe not shocking, but they were certainly news to me.
- Is on LJ
If you watch vids - and you know what I mean; don't say, "I don't watch a lot of vids," or, "I'm just a consumer, not really a, you know, thinker," here - try your own Project. Set small goals for the first one: send feedback for four vids this month, say. Or the next four vids you keep. Eventually, if you want, you can expand into bigger and better Projects, with different experimental designs, and more rigorous record-keeping, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is: send the damn feedback already. I can't promise you that any given vidder wants to hear your, "I liked this vid!" But I do promise you that vidders, as a whole, want to hear that. Even, yes, if you aren't a vidder. Even if, yes again, you aren't really sure what you're talking about. You'll get better at it, and the vidders will likely be gracious about your learning process, and, seriously, it'll all work out.
You'll start watching vids differently - more intelligently, for one thing - and enjoying them more. You will make contacts in parts of fandom you'd otherwise never set foot in. You will learn about the people behind the vids.
You will give them something back for the enjoyment they gave you.
And, seriously, you will influence more than just someone's pride and joy in her vid. You will encourage vidders, reward them for their efforts, and eventually there will be more vids of the kinds you like. This is power, people. Use it for good.
sdwolfpup's post that inspired the Project, Vid Feedback 101, is the definitive vid-feedback-for-non-vidders how-to.
permetaform has a nice index of LJ-based vid discussions and essays; much of it is directed towards vidders, but the ones on feedback are very educational no matter where you are on the vidding spectrum.
gwyn_r has an extensive post about Visual Vocabularies. Take note, particularly, of what she says about the importance of feedback to vidders.