Success is viral for SMC alumnus
Falling from the sky in an aircraft is not exactly the stuff of everyone’s dreams. But it was for Kurt Sensenig, SMC ’05, ’09, who flew with a fighter pilot crash-landing a helicopter from 2,000 feet up. From the passenger seat, Sensenig filmed it all.
“All I could think about as we were plummeting toward Earth was, ‘This is going to be an awesome video!’” said Sensenig, who runs his own video-production company, Kurtis Films, based in Philadelphia. That segment was part of Outdoor Philadelphia, an adventure series Sensenig produced as an intern for Philly.com. He was nominated for a Mid-Atlantic Emmy in 2009 for his work on that series.
Sensenig also has created web videos for other high-profile media outlets, such as The New York Times. He produced his most-viewed work, Robot Quadrotors Perform ‘James Bond Theme,’ for the University of Pennsylvania. In it, quadrotors—tiny, autonomous aerial robots—perform a rendition of the famous opening song from the 007 films. The video premiered at a TED Talk in February 2012 and has garnered more than 3 million views on YouTube since its debut. In addition, it was featured on the websites of CNN and MSNBC, among several others.
The video’s popularity surprised Sensenig. “A few days after it was released, I had just arrived in California,” he said. “I got into an airport shuttle van, and I heard people in the back talking about it. I thought, ‘Hey! I made that video! That's crazy.’”
Sensenig worked on that video with two former University of Pennsylvania students, whom he met while employed as the school’s senior video producer. The group recently worked on another project, Flying Robot Dance (above), that premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. For that work, Sensenig choreographed a group of quadrotors to electronic dance music. The video has accumulated more than 87,000 views since its unveiling.
“The internet is a weird place,” Sensenig said. “You can never predict when something will go viral, and you don’t know why it will.”
That uncertainty aside, Sensenig strives to identify content that makes a video most appealing. To do so, he relies on Aristotle’s three-act structure: A good story must have a protasis (beginning), an epitasis (middle) and an end (catastrophe or climax).
“It’s the classic formula for telling stories,” Sensenig said. “Movies, novels, television—even sports games follow it. And it is possible to use it—or elements of it—to tell a compelling story in a short, two- or three-minute video.”
Now, Sensenig is working with the city of Philadelphia to create a series of videos that help explain the legislative process to its citizens. He also plans to document the lives of young people living in a refugee camp in Thailand.
“Video connects with people in a way that text can’t,” he said. “You can tell an interesting and compelling story and it spreads to people all over the world within hours. I’m trying to position my company to create something that’s going to be really beneficial to society.”