A fiendishly clever startup knows what we are Googling— then churns out thousands of cheap videos and articles to meet our every whim and wish.
November 2009 (17.11) issue
By Daniel Roth
If Christian Muñoz-Donoso is going to make this job pay, he’s got to move quickly. He has a list of 10 videos to shoot on this warm June morning, for which he’ll earn just $200. To get anything close to his usual rate, he’ll have to do it all in two hours. As he sets up his three video cameras on the rocky shore of a man-made lake in Huntington, Massachusetts, he thinks about the way things used to be. He once spent two weeks in a bird blind in his native Chile to capture striking footage of a rarely seen Andean condor. But those jobs are almost as endangered as that bird. Now he trades finesse for speed.
Today’s topic is kayaking. Muñoz-Donoso has enlisted a local instructor to meet him and to bring along four of his boats. Every five minutes, Muñoz-Donoso’s assistant shouts a new subject — “Kayak basics!” “Paddling tips!” — and the expert, sitting in one of his rigs in the bourbon-colored water, riffs off the top of his head. Muñoz-Donoso gets most of his shots in one take. But conditions are working against him. Shifting winds and changing light require him to adjust his setup. The instructor keeps switching kayaks and gear. Finally, the entire shoot has to be put on hold as three bearded fishermen loudly and slowly drag their boats into the lake, directly into the frame. Muñoz-Donoso hoped to finish his shoot by 11, but it’s already 12:45 when he crams his equipment into the back of his SUV and speeds back to his office, 20 mile away.
He climbs a flight of stairs to his studio above a strip mall, unloads his gear, and keeps up his breakneck pace. As he opens his files in Final Cut Pro, he winces. “Normally I’d eliminate the wind or the kid screaming in the background,” he says. “But in this case we don’t do any of that.” He points out that the focus is off: The rippling water is sharp while the kayaking instructor is slightly blurred. But the company he’s working for won’t care, he says, so why should he — especially for $20 a clip? Within a few hours, he has uploaded his work to Demand Media, his employer for the day. It isn’t Scorsese, but it’s fast, cheap, and good enough.