When it launched last January, Vine proved that mobile video wasn’t dead — that people wanted to shoot videos on their phones and share them with friends. Each Vine clip is six seconds of hyper-consumable action, a burst of energy that tells a story with a minimal footprint and cognitive cost. But now that the battle for "the Instagram of video" has boiled down to two apps, Instagram and Vine, is there a battle left for long-form video apps? The iPhone’s camera is plenty good for amateur movie-making of all shapes and sizes, but you don’t see the average person doing much with all the videos in their camera roll. Cameo, a new filmmaking app for iPhone, hopes to change that.
Is there a battle left for long-form video apps?
"Instagram and Vine introduced people to video, but nobody has cracked long form video on mobile yet," says founder Matthew Rosenberg. He’s betting that part of the reason apps like Viddy, Ptch, Qwiki, and Directr didn’t catch on is because they were asking too much from their users, and asking too early. The apps had too many settings, storyboards, and ways to add content like titles, music, photos, videos, transitions, and even pictures from Instagram. At the same time, these apps gave their users too little control, and sometimes even prescribed formulas for movies to ostensibly help users get started. Other apps like Keek aimed solely for the "video update" space, and signed up celebrities like Kim Kardashian to promote them.
Cameo, on the other hand, recalls a more raw filmmaking experience — an iMovie for the year 2013 that lets you quickly shoot and edit HD video. In Cameo, your movies can be two minutes long, but no shot can last for longer than six seconds. The principle is inspired by Vine, and the lessons it learned early on: that the attention span of the average person is pretty short. But, that means Vines are pretty short. It’s tough to tell the story of your day or of a trip to the beach in six-second chunks, and that’s where Cameo hopes to come in. "A Cameo is much more memorable than a sequence of photos of a trip, or a couple Instagram videos cropped square," says Rosenberg, "yet it’s instantly more accessible because the clips are short."
Before Vine, mobile video seemed like an uncrackable egg. Videos you could make with apps like Ptch weren’t fun, or addictive, or viral, according to Rosenberg. These movies felt more like slideshows, he says, since they let you stop the action by adding photos. "We were originally going to have photos and videos, but photos ruined the story," he says. "Ken Burns took you out of the moment." Cameo does implement certain constraints, like its six-second clip rule, and the inability to add transitions of your own, but Rosenberg and company chose these constraints carefully. "We wanted to be restrictive enough to make you be creative, but open enough that you can create something different every time," he says.
Vine’s simple interface proved that lowering the barrier to entry could get people shooting video, and Cameo wastes no time with menus and settings. You can shoot video in 720p, re-arrange your clips, add music (from your iPhone, or from the app’s featured music section) and, like Vyclone and Mixbit, shoot with friends by inviting them to join your team. Then, clips from friends appear in real time inside the app as you shoot, where you can easily add them to your movie or trim them. Once you’ve amassed some clips, you can add one of several hand-crafted themes like VHS, which Rosenberg insists are "desktop-grade." Whereas some apps simply layer a filter over your video or image, Cameo themes are much more complicated, involving a series of color grades, tweaks, and effects that transform your movie instead of just "filtering" it.
Cameo still must prove that people want to both make and edit movies on a regular basis
There’s not even a "Build" button like you might find in iMovie or Final Cut to render your video once you’re finished. All that works happens on the server, a feature that makes Cameo lightning-fast to use. Any time you shoot a clip, the app uploads it to the cloud, where it’s processed and rendered so you can instantly manipulate it on your phone. You don’t have to wait for your video to render as you do in other apps or in desktop movie-editing software. Once you’ve pieced a bunch of clips together, the final result is something like a montage — quick cuts mixed with music and stylish visuals. By leaving out photos and adding music, Cameo in essence lets you make music videos and movie trailers — a far more interesting medium than "home videos." The company might run into some trouble when record labels realize it’s letting users post nearly full-length tracks to the web for free, but Rosenberg says he’s already in talks with labels about licensing.
Despite an array of handsome themes and cloud-powered tricks, Cameo still must prove that people want to both make and edit movies on a regular basis. Even when you’ve made shooting simple and rendering nearly invisible, it still takes courage to pick up a camera and consciously make a movie. It seems like we’re ready for six seconds, but what about two minutes?