John Popper Up Close and Personal: Behind our Series with the Harmonica Legend

My admiration for John Popper started back in the 1990s during my freshman year of college, when Blues Traveler represented the quintessential college band. Friends and I would sit on my dorm room floor, playing cards and listening to their album Travelers and Thieves on an endless loop. I can distinctly remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could meet John Popper and hang with him and the band?” At the time, I never could have dreamed I’d actually get that chance.

Seven years ago, my roommate spotted John Popper one night in New York. Of course, he’s pretty easy to recognize with his signature Stetson hat festooned with Hohner harmonicas and turquoise. He and my roommate became friends, and I was soon introduced to him too. I came to discover that John is cooler, funnier, wittier, and more charming than I could have imagined.

Ever since we opened our doors here at Howcast, I’ve wanted to work with John. So a few months ago, I finally picked up the phone and asked him to star in some videos about how to play the harmonica. The tough part, though, wasn’t getting him to say yes — it was getting him in one place long enough that we could shoot the series, since he’s always on the road.

In May, John was playing in Connecticut with his band the Duskray Troubadours, so we got our Howcast crew together and headed up there to shoot before the show. We had a ton of fun topics for John to tackle: how to play blues harmonica, survive a tour bus, record a solo album, and more — even how John got started himself! In true showman fashion, John was incredibly entertaining and informative, and we came away with some amazing videos. We hope you enjoy watching them as much as we did making them!

– Darlene L., Cofounder, Executive Producer, and President of John Popper’s Howcast Fan Club

The Green Mileage: YouTuber Shaycarl’s Eco-Odyssey with GE’s Tag Your Green Road Trip

When we began planning the GE Tag Your Green Road Trip, there was one person everyone agreed would be our #1 “get”: YouTube sensation Shaycarl. Luckily, he was crazy enough to sign up to host the web series, which took him around the country in search of cool green technology, from the innovative California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and an engine in Wisconsin that converts cow poop to energy (heh, we said “poop”), to lightbulbs in Cleveland that last 22.8 years (yep, years). Shay’s suave charm even convinced megasuperduperstar James Blunt to join the madness in Episode 6 (coming July 13!), which also features the Shaytards, the 4 cutie-pie kids lucky enough to call the YouTube celeb “Dad.” Check out Shay’s insights below, and go to facebook.com/ecomagination for more Tag Your Green fun.

Howcast: Did you learn anything from working on this series?

Shaycarl: Definitely. Green technology is here and now, not some distant future thing. And you don’t have to be a hippie that lives on top of a compost pile to make a difference. The little things make a difference.

Howcast: Did the series inspire you to make any changes at home?

Shaycarl: We went and changed to energy-efficient GE LED lightbulbs. I have 12 bulbs in my garage, and I put my wife on my shoulders because we didn’t have a ladder, and we went through and changed all the bulbs in the garage. Then we did the whole house. I get sick of changing lightbulbs — and these last so long!

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Howcast: What was the coolest thing you learned about green technology?

Shaycarl: I was really impressed with the Jenbacher. It sounded almost too good to be true, to turn cow poop into electricity, but they’re actually doing it. And it’s really so simple. As far as the technology goes, that is the coolest thing that makes me excited for the future.

Howcast: You’ve got almost 1 million YouTube subscribers. What’s been their reaction?

Shaycarl: People have been excited. Thinking about stuff like this, people can expect it to be sort of boring, but my fans have said that this series is fun to watch. I’m like the next Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs.

Howcast: The Shaytards appear in the series too. Are they more aware of the environment now?

Shaycarl: Oh yeah, especially now that we moved to LA. In Idaho, we just recycled cans and milk jugs, stuff like that. Now we have 3 different bins in the kitchen. They’re definitely more aware of recycling for sure.

Howcast: James Blunt appears in Episode 6. What was it like meeting a famous singer?

Shaycarl: Actually, I wasn’t that familiar with his music beforehand. But now after seeing him in concert twice, I love it. There’s a moment [in the episode] where he’s pedaling all my family in a rickshaw through Central Park. That was hilarious!

Howcast: Did your kids know how famous he was?

Shaycarl: I’m not really sure. I mean, my daughter was speechless. James was doing an interview later, and he was like [imitates James’s English accent], “I met Babytard and she literally didn’t say one word. Not one word!”

– Bene C., Editorial Director

From Poop to Power: My Journey with Shaycarl on the GE Tag Your Green Road Trip

Sometimes my job is a giant, steaming pile of crap. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Let me explain. A few weeks ago, I was in Dane County, Wisc., helping YouTube celeb Shaycarl into a protective suit and gas mask as he prepared to climb a pile of freshly collected cow manure. As part of our latest project with GE, we were checking out the Dane County biogas plant, where natural methane gas produced by cow excrement is collected and used as fuel for a GE Jenbacher engine, which feeds energy to the county’s electrical grid and provides power to about 2500 homes in the community.

Yes, you read that right. They turn poop turn into energy.

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People sometimes think of green technology as a far-off, futuristic idea; but in reality, environmental innovation is happening today. That’s the idea behind the Tag Your Green Road Trip and Map. Howcast teamed with GE and Shaycarl to visit people and places around the country that are making the world a greener and better place right now.

We went to some awesome spots: a cutting-edge science museum in San Francisco that uses denim from old jeans as insulation, among other eco-friendly innovations; a merry-go-round at SXSW in Austin, Texas, powered by the sun; and a facility in Durham, NC, that assembles more efficient jet engines with lower emissions (Top Gun episode coming next week!). Plus, Shaycarl got tons of his YouTube buddies to join the fun.

But my favorite stop was the Jenbacher site. Sure, we spent the first 10 minutes giggling at how much we were all saying the word “poop.” Once we got past that, however, we realized how inspiring the technology is: The gases from the manure create energy for the farms and the surrounding community. The odorless material left after the gas gets transformed into animal bedding and fertilizer. Everything is used; nothing is wasted.

Check out the Tag Your Green Map for all the locations we visited with Shay, along with thousands of other examples of green technology at work — some that we discovered, and many more added by people like you. If you haven’t added a map point yet, get to it! Tell us what you’re doing to be green in an innovative way, or share a cool green spot in your neighborhood. The more we all integrate green ideas into our lives, the better the world will be. And that’s not just a bunch of crap.

-Jeff K., VP of Strategic Programming and Poop Power Promoter

Crocheting for Fun, Relaxation, and…Anger Management! Q&A with Andrea Lemire, Education Coordinator of Lion Brand Yard Studio in New York City

When my mother tried to teach me to crochet as a kid, the lesson ended with my hurling a crochet hook against the wall. If only I’d had Andrea Lemire as my teacher! Howcast asked the patient and gifted crochet expert what it was like to lead lessons for our how-to video series on crochet for beginners.

Howcast: You teach people how to crochet every day as part of your job at Lion Brand Yard Studio. What was it like to do it in front of a camera?

Andrea Lemire:  I was more nervous than I expected to be. I decided to start off with “What is Crochet?” and quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be easy to explain in 3 minutes what I usually teach in a 2- to 4-hour class!  Patty (Lyons, studio director) gave me a hug and told me to just be myself, and then it got easier.

Howcast:  When did you start crocheting?

AL: I was 4 years old when a great aunt taught me. Of course, I only knew how to start, not how to finish, so for several years I just made never-ending scarves. My mom is a professional seamstress and she taught me how to sew, but crocheting interested me more. What I love about crocheting — and knitting, which I also do — is that you are actually creating the fabric.

Howcast: What’s it like teaching people how to crochet?

AL: It’s a little daunting for adults to learn; in a beginner class, they spend the entire first hour just learning how to hold the yarn and get their hands comfortable with the crochet hook. It takes 2 weeks for hands to learn new finite motions; I tell my students that if they can stick with it that long, they’ll be rewarded.

Howcast: I’ve read that both knitting and crocheting reduce stress by lowering heart rate and pressure. Do you find it relaxing?

AL: Yes! It’s incredibly meditative and soothing, and I think a lot of people are taking it up for that very reason. In fact, someone once told me that her therapist suggested she take up crocheting to get her anger management issues in check!

Howcast: Any funny moments on the shoot?

AL:  The Howcast producer, Ben, walked in wearing a crocheted hat and told me he’d made it himself. Later, when I was explaining how to work your first row in the turning video, he said, “I’ve been doing that wrong the whole time!” And I said, “Uh, yeah. I know. I could tell by your hat. I didn’t want to say anything because you were so proud of it.”

-Rosemarie L., Senior Writer

Bend it Like Deejae: Q&A with Soccer Expert Deejae Johnson

Can someone actually sound athletic? If anyone can, it’s soccer coach, former pro player, and Howcast star Deejae Johnson. Just listening to him talk about soccer is enough to convince you he could kick your butt on the field (oops, “pitch”) — and watching his expert how-to’s only confirms it. Luckily he didn’t challenge us to a game when we spoke to him recently about shooting with Howcast, his passion for soccer, and his exciting work with Project Green Laces

Howcast: What was it like shooting the soccer series for Howcast?

Deejae Johnson: It was fun but tiring! I didn’t realize I had to get in shape shooting all those moves, but we had a really good time. 

Howcast: Do you have a favorite trick?

DJ: I think the scissors move was the most fun because it’s so out there as one of the moves that all the best players use. And I love the joke in the video that Brazilians can do a lot of them

Howcast: We remember laughing about that!

DJ: We did all these “off the cuffs,” and I was surprised how much of it ended up in the final product. A lot of the [soccer tutorials] I had seen were very serious, and [director Christian Amundson] definitely had a vision for being playful.

Howcast: Have you ever invented your own trick? Do you have a “Deejae?”

DJ: You know it’s funny, not really. I’m a pretty team-oriented player. As a player, and even as a coach, it’s more about teamwork versus these individual moves. I also understand that the ability to do these things is the difference in a lot of these matches, and what separates the best players, like Messi and Ronaldo, is their ability to take on players and do tricks and get around the defender. It’s such a difficult skill — and it requires explosiveness and athleticism, and just being courageous to attack players. That’s really hard to teach — people either have that or they don’t.

Howcast: Speaking of “having it,” you looked like such a natural out there giving tips and pointers. Has coaching always come easily to you?

DJ: My dad was a coach and most of his friends were coaches, so my upbringing was always around coaches, whether it was soccer or other sports. Even today a lot of my friends are coaches. When you’re around soccer a lot, the dialogue becomes natural.

Howcast: You’ve had experience coaching boys and girls. Are there any differences in the ways you coach different genders?

DJ: There definitely are differences. I think girls are a little bit more collaborative. Boys are a little more aggressive with their talking. Girls are more supportive, while boys can be…oh, I don’t even know how to describe it…they can be a little bit more abusive [laughs]. But in terms of my coaching them, the game is still soccer even though the approach is different. So I try to adapt to the way that girls respond and the way that boys respond. It’s the challenge of coaching: How to reach each person in a team concept.

Howcast: Are you into any other sports?

DJ: I love to ski! Or should I say, I love to go down a mountain. So, I’ll snowboard or Telemark. Other than that, I go surfing when the water is warm. But now that I’m a dad, I also like to ride bikes with my son.

Howcast: You’re currently the Director of Product Management for Project Green Laces, which encourages people to wear green shoelaces as a sign of their support for the planet. Can you talk about that movement and your role in it?

DJ: One of my former athletes and good friends, Natalie Spilger, started the company and she asked me to be on the board as an advisor. The green laces as a product help to remind people of their pledge to help the environment. So green laces help remind me to put my coffee and tea in a mug as opposed to paper. It reminds me to bring shopping bags to the store and not use paper or plastic. There’s also an educational initiative to help kids get a feel for how they can help the environment and how they can live a sustainable life.

-Betsy Bloom, Editorial Intern and Center Midfielder (6th Grade Intramural League)

Making a Breakup Video with Your Real-Life Love: Q&A with filmmakers Craig Matthew Staggs and Jessica Gardner

When Craig Staggs took on How to Get Over a Breakup and Maintain Your Online Dignity, the only “casting couch” he used was the one he shares with his girlfriend of 4 years, Jessica Gardner. Howcast asked the couple what it was like working together on this project.

Howcast:  After making 71 animated videos for us, what made you decide to go with live action for the breakup video?

Craig Staggs: Well, my day job is animation, but I’ve always made sketch comedy videos and short films. A lot of the videos I’ve made for Howcast up until now didn’t lend themselves to live action, like How to Fight Pirates. I would have had to use some tiny, tiny boats for that. The breakup video had elements of both in it, and that’s the real sweet spot for me.

Howcast: What made you decide to star in this video with your real-life girlfriend?

CS:  Well, I’m cheap and she came cheap. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s adorable. She’s a filmmaker and videographer in her own right, but she started out as an actor, so she’s also comfortable in front of the camera.

Howcast: Jess, what was it like being directed by your boyfriend?

Jessica Gardner:  We’re both really opinionated when it comes to our work, so we’ve had to learn how to not make each other mad. Mostly we realized that we can’t work on a film and both be in charge, or we’ll fight to the death over things like camera angles.

Howcast: Did making this video bring up any awkward relationship issues between the two of you?

CS: No, but we had this strange phenomenon of friends seeing the video and thinking we had actually broken up. They were posting on our Facebook accounts, “OMG, I thought this was your breakup video.” Um, no. I will not make a breakup video.

Howcast: Do you think you’ll collaborate on more Howcast videos?

JG:  Definitely. We’ve had a number of friends breaking up, people moving around, people changing their life directions in dramatic ways. I think seeing videos with a couple like me and Craig could be kind of pleasing — sort of like, how bad could it be? Like, everybody breaks up, says dumb things to their partner, gets mad and storms around. It’s kind of calming to look at relationship problems that can seem like the end of the world and see an interpretation that feels goofy and solvable.

-Rosemarie L., Senior Writer

250K Milestone

These days, the number of friends, likes, and followers you have across Facebook and Twitter pretty much serves as the ultimate status symbol in social media. On YouTube, the reigning champ of online video, subscribers are the major indication of your influence throughout the interwebs. Which is why it’s HUGE news that Howcast just surpassed the 250,000 subscriber mark, more than Jimmy Kimmel Live, ESPN, or Sesame Street (sorry, Bert and Ernie!). If you’re not one of those lucky 250K who get alerts every time we upload a great new how-to video to our channel, we’ll excuse you for a few seconds while you go and subscribe here.
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And while you’re at it, make sure to check out — and subscribe to — our new category channels: Sports & Fitness, Food & Drink, Technology, Arts & Recreation, and Gaming.

We’re thrilled to have all of you on board as subscribers! It’s thanks to you that this virtual social butterfly can continue to flap its wings.

-Indy S., Community and Operations Associate and YouTube Aficionado

From Toilet Paper Rolls to Hollywood

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve known I wanted to tell stories visually. Before I had a camera, I used empty toilet paper rolls as makeshift loupes, and created epic movies with my G.I. Joe figurines in my head. Nowadays, I do know how to operate a camera, but otherwise, my method hasn’t changed much: I start with a story. Without a great story, a beautiful shot is nothing more than a well-framed picture.

That’s why working with the Howcast Filmmaker Program is so satisfying. The super rad people who work there really get the importance of story. The other great thing about the program is that it’s actually preparing me for Hollywood, because the process works pretty much the same. I give Howcast my Kubrick-length cut, and they say, “Love the story! But let’s shorten a bit.” If you can produce a Howcast video that’s high in production value, meets tight deadlines, and sticks to a shoestring budget, then your future in this business is promising.

Let me take you through production on my latest spot, “How to Be a Supervillain.” After I secured the participation of 2 talented working actor friends to play the leads, I turned to my artist friend Karin and her assistant Evan to oversee the look of the film. Karin read the treatment I’d worked up, we met briefly about the style and feel of what I wanted, and she went to work. I didn’t even see any of what she worked on until the day of the shoot, so I had to totally rely on her. With minutes of arriving on set, which was a bare basement, I was delightfully surprised to see the supervillain’s “lair” taking shape. I really wanted it to seem like our character “BadKarma” was working out of his parent’s basement, so we used props that anyone might find in their own house: bell jars, funny foam hands, etc. As a director, it can be difficult to place elements of your vision into the hands of others, but if you do it all on your own, you often don’t achieve the look you initially envisioned. Plus, it’s been my experience that people really enjoy getting together and helping out with movies.

One fun little tidbit that fellow filmmakers out there might get a kick out of: the original concept of the costume for “American Justice” (our superhero character) was more military-like, but on set, we realized it didn’t have the right zing. So Mike, the actor who played “BadKarma” and who also worked as the costume designer, looked into his tub of possibilities and found a small wet suit. Initially, we all had a good laugh about how comical it would be if we tried to squeeze Philip, who played “American Justice,” into it. Philip’s laughter turned to sobering silence when he realized that we were, in fact, going to do just that. And in the end, the tight-fitting, multicolored wet suit proved to be the perfect costume for “American Justice.”

Shot in just 10 hours over 2 days, “How to be a Supervillain” is the closest I’ve gotten in my work so far to replicating those films I created in my head as a child — you know, the epic ones starring G.I. Joe. I think that if that 7-year-old were around today, with his toilet paper roll loupe dangling from his neck, he’d be pleased with how the video turned out. Tell me what you think of it in the comments!

- Bill R., Howcast Filmmaker

Dr. Pole Dancer or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Almost) Love Film Sets

I have a confession to make: I don’t like film sets. The inevitable standing around plus the over-consumption of caffeine to power through all that standing around…it just isn’t my thing. And then you have the cardinal rules of every film set on the planet: Things will go wrong. You will be late. Your actor will get a cold. The fuses will blow. What’s not to love, right? Of course, disliking sets is kind of a career killer for a filmmaker — making my role as the director of Howcast’s Filmmaker Program so perfect, since I’m rarely needed on set. 

But because for every rule there exist at least a few exceptions, I found myself on a recent cold, rainy morning loading heavy equipment into a cab and heading to our pole-dancing shoot. En route, I explained to filmmaker Trina Rodriguez and intern/PA Kelley H. my film set philosophy and declared that I’d be leaving early. When we arrived at the S Factor studio 25 minutes late (see cardinal rules above), however, we were met with a happy surprise: Our expert Mai Yee was totally relaxed and had cleared the studio for the whole day. All fine and good, I thought, but I still checked my BlackBerry obsessively and tried to calculate what time I’d be able to head back to the office.

After we set up our lights and camera, Mai asked if we could start by shooting some of her pole routines so she could warm up. “Oh great,” I muttered to myself, “another time suck.” And then: Wow. Lit by one light in a dim room with Adele blasting, Mai started doing her thing. By the first chorus, Trina, Kelley, and I were gaping at Mai — and at each other. Mai kept dancing as the second song came on and then the third. Trina took the camera off the tripod and got up close. I put down my BlackBerry and started to take pictures to fire off back to the office along with messages exclaiming, “Won’t be back till later! Staying for the whole shoot!”

I can’t say I learned to love sets that day. But I did get to experience the unusual magic of an all-female film shoot. I also got to witness first-hand how learning from someone who loves what they do is a truly engaging and dynamic way to pick up new skills. Before that shoot, pole dancing was a novelty, but by the end (and yes, per the cardinal rules, we did wrap 3 hours past our original stop time), I discovered a beautiful art that I may even try one day. And that day may come sooner rather than later: S Factor offered Trina, Kelley, and me complimentary beginner classes!

- Heather M., Director, Filmmaker Program and Confirmed Pole Dancing Fan

Dial H for Howcast: Cracking the Case of L.A. Noire

It was almost midnight on a cold Monday night, and there was a big storm headed for the big city. The orange glow of the streetlamps bounced off the dirty wet pavement that had already seen the receiving end of an afternoon shower. I donned my fedora just in case the skies decided to open up as I made my way to a local shop on the main avenue.

Rob

At this time of night, the metal shutters guarding the storefronts told people passing by that the time for shopping was over. Yet standing out among the wall of metal was the bright white glow of a lone shop that was still open for business. And lined up alongside was a mass of faceless fellas and dames huddling up against the wall and each other trying to keep warm. I didn’t need my seasoned P.I. intuition to realize that something was about to go down at this shop, and soon.

It didn’t take long before I knew what was up. L.A. Noire. That’s right: L.A. Noire. 7 years of waiting for this here game felt like a lifetime, but finally the hard work that Team Bondi and Rockstar Games put in was about to pay off like triple 7s at a slot machine.

They promised a 20-hour game full of 1940s hard-boiled detective cases that gave normal folks a look into the gritty job that the fine folks at the LAPD do every day. Sure, some fellas like me got to experience it first hand, but not everyone could be so lucky.

Suddenly some big shot with a GameStop polo stepped out of the shop into the warm pool of the streetlamp, letting us poor saps in from the cold. I reached into my trench and pulled out all the evidence I needed to land me a copy of L.A. Noire: a pre-order receipt. As I lit a cigar and made my way back home, the game safely tucked into my trench coat, I suddenly froze up in fear. What if I couldn’t solve the cases? What if I didn’t have what it took to bring justice to those digital criminals giving those digital detectives the runaround?

That’s when I remembered Howcast. Those fine people have been working tirelessly to create the best video game walkthroughs on the web. Can’t find a clue that’s key to cracking the big case? Howcast. Don’t know whether to believe a witness or to push them for a confession? Howcast. Thanks to Howcast, there’s no reason not to put those no good criminals behind bars and earn that commendation the chief’s been dangling in front of me ever since I walked through those precinct doors.

I let out a sigh of relief. I had to face a lot of tough cases and questions, but luckily where to find a walkthrough wasn’t one of them.

- Rob P., Post Production Coordinator and Aspiring Gumshoe