Jan 14, 2011, 17:11

We provide music comps to Tongal members who submit videos to contests. Tongal contests are normally sponsored by companies that pay out prize money for the best submissions (for details, visit www.tongal.com).

It’s also important, for the sake of understanding this article, to know what the term User Generated Content means. People who view internet trends from a 10,000 foot view and discuss them eloquently at trade shows use that term to describe stuff on websites contributed by outsiders – usually for free. This includes everything from eBay to Facebook to YouTube to our own www.musicrevolution.com. The lifeblood of these websites is the words, videos, pictures, contributed by outsiders. Business models back in the 20th century didn’t account for anything like this because business owners generally prefer to tightly control their products.

The very modern idea behind User Generated Content is that products, and by extension the market as a whole, are actually made better by these outside contributions. In many cases, even defined by them. If you ask someone who owns a UGC business exactly where their product comes from, the truthful answer should be……very special people just doing what they do….and thank God for it.

One of the video contests in which we were recently involved was sponsored by www.donorschoose.org, a charity website which Oprah recently announced as one of her “Favorites Things in 2010”. Donors Choose allows it’s visitors to handpick a specific school project in a specific US public school classroom and donate money to that project. Donors then receive a personal thanks from the teacher and students once the project is completely funded. It’s way cool.

This terrific stop-animation video created by SJ Lee, featuring MusicRevolution track “Accomplished” won 1st prize and $4,000.00:

I had the pleasure of interviewing SJ, also known as Julia, to learn more about how the video was produced. As I read her answers, I couldn’t help but thinking that her story embodies everything User Generated Content is about: Technically savvy creative people who have a much bigger stake in the game than just money:

The Interview:

1) Do you produce videos professionally? Was the DonorsChoose a side project or part of your regular day-job?

I’ve been dreaming of writing and filmmaking all my life, but being raised in a strict Korean family, my career choices had been limited to doctor, lawyer or computer engineer. My dad finally allowed me to get a MFA in Creative Writing, just as long as I promised to win a Nobel Prize in Literature someday. I currently work at VolunteerMatch.org, a nonprofit that connects good people with good causes. I write and filmmake in my free time.

2) Are you the person who folded the dollars?

Yes, I folded the dollars myself. The only one I had some difficulty with was the camera. There were about 50 steps, and I got stuck mid-way, so I enlisted the help of my friend, Maura Koehler-Hanlon who enjoyed folding paper origami. She was more familiar with origami terms and folds.

3) It’s no surprise this video took 1st place. It’s based around a simple, direct, easy-to-understand concept with flawless execution. Do you remember the circumstances when the idea of “what a dollar can do” came to you? Do you remember the circumstances when the idea for folding dollars occurred?

Thank you very much! I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going show donations actually transforming into classroom projects. Then I remembered a book I had on dollar origami. As I went through the pages and scoured the web for various dollar origami instructions, I chose three objects that would translate best into classroom learning. I originally planned on filming my own hands folding each dollar in a time-lapse film, but I soon realized how tedious that was going to be and this was not an instructional video on folding dollar origami. After I had the guitar, fish and camera folded, I went one step further by adding the colorful paper children and classroom settings to give the dollar objects a stronger visual context. I must admit that even after I had all the objects, film clips, voiceover, and music, I still wasn’t sure how the video was going to turn out. When I viewed the final product, I must have replayed it twenty times because I was so thrilled and proud of the finished video.

4) Had you worked with stop-motion before?

It’s kind of funny. I taught myself the stop-motion style last year because I didn’t have enough resources to pay for a proper crew, actors and locations. During the year, I had produced several stop-motion videos for various Tongal projects, fine-tuning my skills through trial and error. So it felt like I had finally graduated with top honors to win with my DonorsChoose video!

5) Did you have a pre-existing idea of what the music should sound like or did you just know the right one when you heard it?

I knew the tone had to be uplifting, but I had no idea what music I was going to use until I heard it. I downloaded the various songs that were provided by MusicRevolution. Then I placed the song I had chosen into the video, and it was pure magic!

6) Confession: I’ve really become a fan of DonorsChoose since I learned about the site through Tongal. Is there any kind of personal or emotional connection you have with this cause?

I work at a nonprofit myself, so this particular Tongal project really spoke to me. It’s been fun making commercials selling various products, but when it’s for an amazing cause, especially helping children, the stakes became higher for me. I put an extraordinary amount of care and effort into this video, so winning first place truly meant the world to me.

7) Were there any other folks that worked on this project you’d like to acknowledge?

I’d like to acknowledge Maura Koehler-Hanlon for her origami expertise and MusicRevolution for the perfect music for my video.
I have some other examples of my artwork here: http://imaginathink.wordpress.com/

8) Who did the voice over?

That was me (in the best acoustic room in my apartment, my bathroom). 🙂


I have no idea if DonorsChoose was aware that Julia created this video in her spare time and recorded the voice over in her bathroom. I have no idea if Tongal knew that Julia dreamed her entire life of working in the creative arts and finally got a break. I have no idea if the song “Accomplished” was originally created by Michael Kakhiani in hopes helping school kids get the materials they need. But I’m sure glad those folks did what they did to make all that possible.

Here’s to gifted people that make the world a little better. Cheers.


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of http://www.musicrevolution.com, a production music marketplace where media producers and business owners can license high-quality, affordable music from a online community of musicians.

Leave a Reply