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STATUS: DISCS ARE PRINTING.
April 25, 2005
It's all good news. Here's where we are.
Last week, I approved the art for the discs. It looks like this:
So that's what's going on the three discs. Now that I've approved them, two of the three discs are currently being duplicated, labelled, and readied to put into the boxes.
There is one disc remaining for approval. It came initially and didn't work. That cost me roughly $1800 and I would like to thank Ulead Software for a buggy product and being the cause of that particular issue. This disc will be approved in the next 48 hours, assuming nothing else goes wrong; this is the last piece of all this.
At that point, the following happens:
When does this last part happen? I really can't guess. I know as soon as I give the approval of this final disc, the machine kicks into full speed ahead. And then I will be so overrun with documentary discs that I will consider them a roommate. Or an annex. We're now talking a matter of days, I believe.
For those of you watching the calendar carefully, you then know that I am going to end up with a technical win, but not a real win. The documentary will be printing before the end of the month, but the time of the printed DVDs getting to me and then sending them out to all of you, it will likely leak over past May 1st.
I am therefore making the following offer.
If you pre-ordered a copy, and by that, I mean ordered copies any time before now, you can choose to be notified by a personal phone call from me.
E-mail your mailing address (so I can match it up to your order) your phone number, and a good time to reach you (include time zone) and I will personally call you to tell you your DVD set has gone out the door.
April 12, 2005
The first of three check discs arrived. Actually, the first SET of check discs arrived, of what
will be three sets. This is disc #2. Am I being confusing?
Let's start again. The way that it works with DVDs is that you submit the raw data to the printer, then they make a "glass master", and then do a limited (very limited) run of 5 discs from that master. They send it to you, and you play with it on your DVD players, make sure it runs, and then say "Yes, I approve." Then it goes down the line and they make thousands of copies from it. If you don't like it (because they did it wrong) then you tell them and they redo it. If you don't like it because YOU did something wrong, then you send them NEW raw data, and pay some money, in my case about $1500.
I have three DVDs in my set. What I chose to do was to have them do just one of the three discs, so if the fundamental problem was "they just don't work", I would only have to see the problem and fix it with ONE disc, not THREE. So I'd be out $1500, not $4500. This adds a few days to the process, but you see where I'm coming from, I hope.
So now that I like this one (I've been playing the disc in my players all day), I will be approving the creation of the two other check discs. I will also be sending out another check to the printer that will be the equivalent of buying a Chevy Aveo and pushing it off a cliff. Although, I suppose, I do get the DVD sets for my trouble.
It's kind of surreal to hold the DVDs. No weird DVD-R trickery, no purple side, no other stuff. It's an actual fully-made DVD. The name of the production company I run that made this documentary is called Bovine Ignition Systems. This is Disc #2. So on the inside of the discs, it says BOVINEIS1B. Moo. I didn't have any say in that, otherwise I'd have made some neat BBS reference.
One other nice feature is that since the DVD players aren't dealing with a whacky burned DVD-R and have an actual machine with pits and angles built in, it loads a ton faster and works better. The Layer Break is there, in ARTSCENE, during a specific shot, but on half my players it's not there (they do the right thing) and the rest pause to various amounts. I had no choice on this disc, because it has 3 full episodes and a ton of bonus materials... in fact, Disc #2 uses 7.9 gigabytes of a total 8. That's pushing it. But that's what I do!
April 2, 2005
Done done done done done.
Feels good to say that, and mean it, and know it's over. The production is now basically out of my hands, and it is technical formality. I have everything going to the printer, the box was finished months ago, and the artwork for the discs, the check to do the printing, and the remaining data are all ready to go out the door to Fedex on Monday.
I had a strange but neat experience late Friday. I am no longer "on the clock". My not doing anything productive in life for an evening does not affect the documentary. I have been doing the documentary for nearly 4 years. You would think I would jump at this. I popped in a DVD I'd been saving for a few months and started watching.
But you know, I popped it out and put in Disc #3, and started watching it instead. Even all this time later, I like watching these.
It's because, I suppose, that I made a documentary that I would want to see, to have looked online and found (I'll be getting this on Amazon as soon as I can.) and I would have bought and taken home and enjoyed like one enjoys a good book or a new set of friends. So the fact it's here... I get a kick out of watching it myself, just as a person watching a DVD.
The site is now undergoing further changes, optimizing itself to sell a product and give information and overview, and not have any "promises" left. It is what it is.
April 1, 2005
Documentary Disc #2 went to the printers tonight.
Not an April Fool's, by the way. It really did go out to them. Of course, the natural question is "Why only #2? Why not all of them?". Well, there's two reasons, one financial and one technical.
The financial one requires you to know how DVD production works. You send the information that will go to the production house, on two DLT tapes (one for each layer of the DVD-9 that I'm using) and from that, the production house makes a "glass master", which is the original they make all the duplicates out of. This Glass Master is then used to blow out a small handful of "check disks", which are then sent to me to inspect. They are exactly what would go into the box, except they lack a label. I am then to look over these discs, play them on a bunch of machines, verify that everything I thought was good was good, and then sign off. On my signoff, they go into production.
All well and good. But what if I don't like what comes out and the problem is on my end? (Like, I missed something or it's otherwise my fault?) Well, DING DING DING, it costs about $1200 to have another glass master made. If the problem is one across all three, then I'm out nearly $4000 with nothing to show for it.
So, with the trouble we've been having with Ulead DVD Workshop 2 (which, I again state for the record, is crap), the DVD house and I decided to add a few days to the process and run through largest disc (#2 has 7.9 of 8 available gigabytes used), and make sure it works. If it does work, the other two sets of DLT tapes will be waiting there, and I'll say "Yes, go ahead with #2 and start #1 and #3 as well."
So basically, we're being careful not to make a costly mistake. The typical delays of doing something this big.
The other thing is that Ulead DVD Workshop sucks. It is able to create a DVD image of the third Disc, but because the third disc has 3,000 files on it, it's basically doing some sort of "analysis" on it before it goes to DLT, and that "analysis" is crashing. I want those files there, so we're going to go about this the new-fashioned way of sending a master DVD DL to the plant and working from it. So those are going out tomorrow.
Then, assuming the check discs that come back work, I give the word to go ahead with the other two discs that I've sent in, and they start the fun process of making the discs, putting them into the boxes, and putting the whole shebang into a freight drop at my house. You know.... DVDs.
March 29, 2005
Well, it has been quite an interesting few days. I knew that when I was heading
down into the abyss of this production that I'd probably get hit across the face
a few times with the Bat of Unexpected Tidings. I've been hit with said bat as
expected, and picked myself when it came crashing down at the inevitable late
hour or difficult event.
I have been hit with another such bat, and it has caused a few days delay. And a small but signficant bit of money. And a lot of frustration and browsing to see if in fact it's not me, and realization it is not, and then more frustration that the situation existed in the first place. You know.... life.
First of all, let me get this news out of the way. The project is done. Done done done done done. I have generated all the content, put in all the subtitles, slid in all the easter eggs, added all the commentary tracks, and put in all the DVD-ROM material as the whole thing is going to get. It's all in there. I can pop a DVD+R DL disc I have burned using this nice dual-layer DVD-R drive I got, and put it into my DVD player, and watch it, as you will watch it. I can do this for all 3 DVDs.
It's great. I'm really proud of the whole look of it, the sound, the stories, and a number of style choices I've made throughout the episodes and bonus footage. This is a solid, COMPLETED, three DVD set with seven hours of footage on it (6 hours and 52 minutes, actually) and another two hours of commentary, along with thousands of photographs and other BBS artifacts. It's a big thing, and it's taken me a long time to get it all where I'm happy with it. (Like most perfectionists, I'll never be 100% happy with it, but I definitely can watch and enjoy this a lot.)
So great, just burn out those final discs and send them to the printer and get that long cool glass of root beer and sit by the beach, right? Well, not so fast.
Warning: This gets really involved and technical, but then again, that's what I had to do to understand what was going on, so I wanted to pass along what I went through, in the hope someone will find this information going down the same path.
My project consists of three DVD-9 DVDs. This means there's roughly 8.5 gigabytes of information capacity on a one-sided DVD. The other DVD formats are DVD-5 and DVD-10. DVD-5 actually holds a little over 4 gigabytes of information on one side, and a DVD-10 is actually a DVD-5 that uses both sides (so it has no label, since it uses both sides). I was assuming I would have roughly 7 to 9 hours of content, and so I thought about it and went for DVD-9. This actually turned out to be rather good, considering the addition of the DVD-ROM content/photos and my ample use of bonus footage and edited-out sequences. I think that I'll be using something like 80 percent of the capacity of the three discs combined.
The way DVD-9 works, is that there are two layers on the DVD, one on top of the other. The laser that reads the disc can focus on one layer or the other. And here we get into the problem.
Half the data (roughly 4 gigabytes) on a DVD-9 disc is stored in the first layer, and then the rest second half (also roughly 4 gigabytes). At some point, if you're using a lot of the data, you encounter a place where data is coming in, but the laser has to switch over to the other layer. This is called, in DVD mastering parlance, the "Layer Break Point".
Now, normally, this sort of techno-wonk information about how one of my appliances works would be of little interest to me, at least within the context of the project, in the same way I don't really concern myself with how a CD burner works by shining an intense light on sensitive material inside plastic, or how my car works by turning gasoline into a flammable mist to cause tiny explosions in chambers that hold pistons.
But, see, DVD players don't handle the Layer Break very well. As time has gone on, the most recent of DVD players, and most of the players that come in computers, all know how to deal with this Layer Break fairly well, having a sufficiently large buffer, quick-focusing laser, and all that, so they can bang from one layer to another. But most people do not have the most recent of DVD players.
So how do "Hollywood" DVD-9s deal with this problem? Apparently they jog around the Layer Break so that it happens in the middle of a fade-out. Or they reduce the quality of the encoding for 10 seconds before the Layer Break so the buffer has gotten enough so that it won't be empty before the switch is done. Or they simply leave it in and that's that.
In other words, a bunch of lame crappy hacks to deal with a problem that shouldn't have existed in the first place.
So on my DVDs, I have found the layer breaks. Of course, I didn't KNOW they were; I was positive I'd screwed up somewhere. I could see the machine hanging on that part as I went back and forth over the point, and I simply assumed I'd broken the encoding somewhere, or otherwise had a damaged disc. Until I burnt another, and it did the exact same thing. And if I ran it on my laptop's DVD drive, it worked fine. And so on.
Apparently, I have to grit my teeth and eat this fact of life, but I am now working with Ulead DVD Workshop 2, which, I must again state, blows, and make it shift around the files on the DVD so that these "Layer Breaks" happen somewhere other than the main episodes on the drive. It is taking me considerable time to do so, and each move is taking a lot of time to experiment with.
So basically, what's keeping me from sending these to the Printer is my own perfectionism, my refusal to let people who buy this thing deal with a sudden hiccup in the middle of an Episode (at least with bonus footage, it'll be an annoying thing and not a major problem) and then feel its their problem.
I hope to have this resolved very, very shortly. Like, in the next day.
March 24, 2005
Hi. I was originally going to fill this with a big rant, but it can wait until
the DVDs are in the Fedex envelope heading to the printer. I'll therefore keep it
short. I have been able to burn Dual-Layer DVD discs and make them work in my
customer-level DVD player, so that definitely is possible. I am finishing up
spell-checking subtitles. All content is now in, I'm just making sure subtitles
don't leak off the side of the screen.
Ulead DVD Workshop is, basically, in the grand scheme of things, a piece of crap. It is helping me finish my project, much like a five-year-old who keeps tipping over the brownie mix bowl onto the floor "helps". I have lost over 20 hours of work at various times because of it.
I've kind of stopped sleeping. I've been eating a lot of ice cream sandwiches, and I think I nap for 2-3 hours and then go back to work. It's not a very healthy lifestyle, so I'm glad it's ending soon (the lifestyle, not the life).
After I'm done, I'll be sure to write a lot while the DVDs make their way through the printing process, which might take weeks.
March 19, 2005
The rendering machine crashed today. It's happened before. Basically, I don't lose
data, but I have to re-render an episode (in this case FIDONET), so that adds about 15
hours of work. It delays the DVDs going to the printer, but only by about a day.
So that's where we are now: delays measured in hours instead of weeks or months. So
Normally, the way that DVD-9 projects are submitted to printers is through a DLT tape drive, and that's a dependable but weird thing to do. There's a lot I can get wrong. But it turns out that you can now submit a dual-layer DVD disk to them and they can use that instead. So I went out and got one, and will be using those instead. The advantage there is that I can now completely test the disc in my DVD player before sending it along. The only "downside" is that you can't use CSS or Macrovision or other copy protection. Or Region Encoding.
This is not a downside. I have several personal points I wanted to keep through the whole production, and I have stuck to them with my DVD mastering: NO copy protection of any sort, NO region encoding of any sort, NO "forced watch" portions (menus or logos you can't get out of), and subtitling everywhere. Some people are impressed, but they shouldn't be; they should be mad that they purchase DVDs out there and the DVDs they buy have insane limitations on what they can do with the DVD.
I have a whole bunch of ideas along that line, some of which are in step and some completely out of step with the world at large. I'll probably go into further detail, but it can be summarized that I think that a lot of copy protection does nothing to thwart copying and just ends up making the product less usable for people who pay for or acquire it. I think people will buy or not buy this documentary based on whether they want it or not, not how quickly they can download 7 hours (plus commentary) of footage off a peer-to-peer network. And if I can't present a compelling reason why people should buy this as opposed to copy it, well, then, that's kind of my problem, not yours; why should I punish you with a DVD that can't play everywhere because of my problem?
I'm now watching each of the episodes a LOT; during commentary, syncing subtitles, checking timing, and so on. And let me say.... I like it. I like this whole thing. I can live with being in the room with it while it's being played. I can get into some of the scenes and the jokes anew when I see them, even though it's the hundredth time. Sure, there's a thousand things I would cahnge, but it's me that's changing, not the material.
People are wondering how long before this work arrives. I am having a set of the DVDs dropshipped during production so the pre-orders get their stuff as soon as possible. Then the rest arrive and start going out the door as fast as people buy. Here's hoping they sell a lot, but really, the important part is done: I've made a BBS documentary.
March 13, 2005
Things are looking good for things to be finished this week. Read the caveats, though.
There's still a lot of things that could take extra time that I'm not accounting for, so I wouldn't consider that much beyond an "official guess". With so much stuff on these DVDs, I might notice something that forces a re-render of an episode, a fix to a menu, or other such bothers. As an example, the ARTSCENE episode takes 26 hours to render! So that's 26 hours I'll have to do twice if any problems show up inspecting the final work. (The others don't take anywhere near as long; more like 4-8 hours.)
A lot of what's left is the tedium; making sure the timing of the subtitles is correct, getting all the slides in properly in various DVDs, and testing, testing, testing. I'll be recording commentary shortly for the un-commented episodes (you can decide the value of hearing me talk for over 5.5 hours about this production) and finishing up the remaining written overview of some of the photos in the photo gallery.
There's a lot in here! Besides the 8 episodes are another hour and a half of bonus footage (roughly), ranging from single shots that I thought were neat but wouldn't fit in any episode, to entire sequences that, at the end of the editing, I decided were too distracting to keep in. In the case of the sequences, they were either redundant (we'd heard it earlier in the episode and this was stretching the point) or they were just too much of a side trip (a large sequence describing in detail the ways that Fidonet affected world events, for example).
Once it goes to the printers, I do not know how long it'll take to get stuff back. It might leak into April a bit, depending. I'm asking for a split shipping, where enough to get copies to all the pre-orders comes out quickly, while the rest of the shipment comes later. I want people who pre-ordered to get their stuff as soon as possible.
The website will shift further in the coming weeks, with new trailers, more details on the DVDs themselves, and any other important stuff people would need for making a purchasing decision. The informative library stuff will NOT go away, and be kept in perpetuity, as part of the important results of this project.
March 7, 2005
MAKE IT PAY is basically done.
I need a few more shots of the inside of ONE BBSCON to make what people are saying about it more illustrative, but otherwise, the thing is pretty much nailed. This is the last of the episodes, and brings to a close "new" content, that is, episodes or footage not already rendered out and being analyzed by The Eye and myself.
What's left is mostly mundanity: shoring up the subtitles (it'll be in either 2 or 3 languages, depending on the footage, and depending on who was available to translate), testing the menus, adding chapters (I have chapters work, but I don't do those silly "one hundred billion little video windows you scroll through" menus), and then testing, testing, testing.
I refuse to make predictions of any major amount, but if this thing isn't out the door to the printers in the next week or two, someone should come by and hit me with a sack of potatoes. I hope to have everything out by end of month, but I had hoped it would be done by the end of November 2004, too. I am not good at predicting the full weight of the rock I am carrying.
MAKE IT PAY, as an episode, is somewhat taxing on the editing side, because what we have are two sides to the story, which are simply at odds with each other. On one side, you have people who built BBSes for the fun of it, as one might tinker with a car or collect comic books, or host parties for your friends. On the other side, there were a small army of folks who saw personal or general financial gain in this amazing new technology, where they could create software for sale, or charge to use their BBS, or otherwise eke a living out of this unchartered territory. As you might imagine, these two outlooks didn't co-exist entirely well.
Subsequently, we have these multiple great figures, and I mean "great" in the larger-than-life sense, who were well on their way to sculpting out an online industry from the foundations of the BBS, and then we also have a chorus of voices saying "what are they DOING? Why are they going to RUIN IT?" I was, as a person, very pleased to have gotten all these great interviews with people who were figures from my memory, people who ran the companies that made software I used daily. But I also had to include the voices that felt trampled or used by these same figures (or at least, the industry they represent). So it goes back and forth.
I suspect that to some people I will have barely scratched the surface of the story, but a part of that is because it's one hell of a story, and needs a book, just like the Fidonet story (and for that matter, many other stories I do not tell in the scope of this episode set). I may only scratch the surface, but it was a very unscratched surface.
I will update with some general technical and wrap-up information next, after this, talking about what's on the DVD set. Which is a ton.
February 24, 2005
The FIDONET episode is ready for the Eye of Doom.
Folks, we're getting close. What's basically remaining, aside from some basic refining and icing, is the last part of the MAKE IT PAY episode. I'll talk about that episode when I finish it, which I hope is very, very soon.
FIDONET was a bear of an episode to edit, and represents months of work all on its own. There are several factors that caused this amount of effort to be expended, but the primary one is simply the subject.
The Fidonet was an ad-hoc network composed completely of volunteers that connected bulletin board systems all over the world, via a very complicated routing setup. It continues to this day, although the gravity well of activity has moved away from the United States where it was created. At the center of this was a figure, Tom Jennings, who achieved a mythic personality simply by the size of the whole project (at one point there were tens of thousands of BBSes connected) and his own unique character.
Along with Tom Jennings are many other giants, all of them with names that ring true for the people who were associated with Fidonet directly or indirectly: Ken Kaplan, Ben Baker, Thom Henderson, Bob Hartman.... and dozens of others.
It's a nightmare for a person trying to tell "The story". The Fidonet story is FRACTAL. The more you research, the MORE YOU FIND, until eventually you realize the whole thing is nearly untellable. It's like trying to tell the story of "Computers". It goes down in so many ways and so many levels. I wasn't paralyzed, but I was certainly intimidated.
Luckily, the efforts of a number of good people, notably Bob Hartman and Tim Pozar, got me in touch with a nice percentage of the "big names", or at least, enough names that would allow me to broach the Fidonet story with some level of authority. There are some people who I was unable to interview and a small amount who didn't want to be on camera, but nearly all of them helped me with information and pointers to research.
I consider all of my episodes to be "foundations" in telling the BBS story. You have a rapidly downswinging trend when doing a technical story, where you have to balance the technical discussion with the number of people who will be able to understand and parse the information you're pouring at them. You have to be careful to summarize without corrupting, and you have to be cognizant of not taking things to such an accurate level that only the people who the subject is about could understand them. I feel I struck a good balance with this episode, but I know already that there's a 1,000 page book beyond it in things that happened that I am NOT covering. I hope that I can facilitate further research and work on this subject, with my documentary inspiring folks to dig even deeper than I have. I hope so, anyway.
I can also say that this episode gave me one of my most harrowing situations of the entire production: last year, I showed a beta version of the episode at the Vintage Computer Festival (vintage.org), along with a good number of the rest. And knowing that I was showing this episode, Sellam, the organizer of the festival, arranged for Tom Jennings to come see it.
It is a singularly stressful situation to be showing a film in which a person figures majorly into the story, and to have that person seated one row behind you watching it. On several occasions, Tom let out a "WHAT?" when people said things that were speculation but not actually true, or laughed loudly when people recounted their thoughts on Fidonet from a perspective he himself didn't have on it. I talked with him several times at the festival, and he was OK with the episode, a major deal to me.
Realize that for every event I show in the Fidonet episode, there will be a number of people who go "that's not how it was". This is, as far as I can tell, endemic to Fidonet. NOBODY agrees on ANYTHING most of the time. It was called "Fight-o-Net" for a reason. I am fine with this, and will host rebuttals or clarifications if there's major contentions (I'm doing this for all the episodes, in fact). But I think, at the end, I captured a real sense of what this Fidonet thing was.
I want to take this time to thank everyone who bought this DVD set back in October, who are still waiting for their DVDs to arrive. Please be aware that the delay is for the best of reasons: quality. This fidonet episode is a joy for me to watch, to see this magical subject I couldn't explain to anyone who wasn't there, now readily packaged and able to show to my family or friends or everyone else and have them go "Oh! I get it now."
It's all coming together.
February 13, 2005
One of my disks is acting flaky. All through the production, I've had to deal with the
inherent lack of quality of IDE disks. I've had fifteen (15) die in the past few years.
With over 2.5 terabytes of disks in use at any time with the video footage, I've just
been playing the odds. I keep three copies of the video footage (one of them offline)
as insurance, so it's not bitten me yet. But it's a bit of a pain when one drive dies
to begin to move hundreds of gigabytes around to safer, higher ground. It takes a
while, to say the least.
I can therefore focus on writing this news entry to tell you how things are. I am now getting mails on a very regular basis wondering what's up. People who bought the documentary back in October of 2004 are of course worried about the long delay and the the lack of DVDs arriving in their mail. I feel horrible about this, but at the very least I can console myself that it's about quality, about getting all the pieces in place into a package worth buying.
I have played various episodes for a number of people, as a final test for some of them; they are very well recieved, and I'm very happy about that. They definitely tell a story and definitely give people a sense of the BBS history that has happened. Now I just want to get them to the world.
My day job heated up, which has caused some unwanted delays, but on the other hand without that job, it wouldn't have been possible to do the documentary, so it's kind of get unhappy about it. I'm likely going to have to take some days off of work to nail the rest of the work.
So what's left? Subtitles, some minor edits on FIDONET and MAKE IT PAY before they're considered done, and finishing up any other descriptions for the photo album which is included on the DVD-ROM. Over a gigeabyte of photos are in the album; pretty big and intimidating numbers. But they're all intimidating numbers, I guess.
I also just finished (finally) the formatting hundreds of paragraphs from the pre-orders. For folks coming late, everyone up to about November of 2004 could order the DVD set and give me a paragraph that would go on the DVD. I've now taken these writings and put them into a readable format. There will be a plaintext version, and an HTML version to choose from. The stories and paragraphs people wrote are very, very touching.
The Eye of Doom had flu this week and that tripped him up badly. He should be coming back with audiovisual changes for the episodes in his hands. He'll be getting these other two very soon.
February 1, 2005
ARTSCENE is done.
ARTSCENE is the episode dealing with the ANSI Art Scene that rose up in the early 1990's, which had roots in the 1980's and decades before that. I mostly tell the story of ACiD (ANSI Creators in Demand) and iCE (Insane Creators Enterprises), who were two of dozens (perhaps hundreds) of Art groups who competed heavily to create artwork for BBSes and beyond for a good number of years.
On a pure technical level, the episode is hellish. It has 14 tracks of audio and video, and takes 21 hours to render on my system. I'd upgrade the system, but that seems like really taking a stupid gamble way too far into the production. There's a lot of "B-Roll", which is where the extra tracks are... shots of the artwork, of the writings, and all the rest from the ANSI art scene's history.
The ANSI art scene, per se, is not in any way "dead", although the ANSI Art Scene for dial-up BBSes mostly is, which is what the documentary's about. There are still a good number of ANSI groups creating artwork in that medium and others, and there's a wide swath of opinion about the documentary from them. This shouldn't be a surprise; when someone comes along and makes a product, be it film, book or radio show, in which they describe some sort of "scene" or "subculture", at least two things happen. One set goes "Finally, we are vindicated.". Another goes "Damn, we are being exploited." There's a third set going "Finally, we are being vindicated as we are being exploited." but these are the folks who are less bothered by it all than inspired to use it to further their subculture. 'Yeah, like the movie. Now give me server space."
The Eye of Doom awaits this episode especially. The Eye of Doom's name, by the way, is Jim Leonard, and he is known to a lot of people as Trixter of Hornet. He was one of the creators of the Mindcandy DVD, which is a collection of computer "demos" from the past 10 years on the PC platform. Believe me, if there is a guy you want on your side when it comes to refining a visual work, it's Jim. He's gone over my stuff and pointed out things that a fanatical Kubrick fan wouldn't notice on the 5th try. He leaves jewelers from Faberge and watchmakers from TAG Heuer gasping for breath from attention to detail. He has already warned me how much attention the Art Scene episode gets, because he feels so close to the material. Keep in mind, of course, that I have final say, so don't go after Trixter if you don't like the resulting work.
I would say, however, that the ARTSCENE episode is the most "Accessible", by which I mean that you could play it for people by itself and they would come away with some knowledge of a neat little subculture and the forces and thoughts within it. So that's at least something.
There's no winning, by the way, with a subject like this. People will either think it too short or too long. That's the nature of going after something that's pretty darn obscure, even by documentary standards. For myself, I am very pleased to have an episode on it, and I am especially pleased that I got an interview with Ebony Eyes.
Ebony Eyes was everywhere in the BBS world for a while; her artwork was on many, many BBSes and she was really good at what she did. And she could throw out ANSI drawings at a speed that is still breathtaking. It took a lot of effort to convince her that I wasn't a maniac, and I think I have to give the credit to Rad Man of ACiD, who had been interviewed twice for this episode and who talked to her a lot about it. The interview went very well, and a good part of it shows up in the episode.
There are now two episodes left to finish: FIDONET and MAKE IT PAY. There's a reason they're the last ones; they're quite complicated. I hope to be done with them shortly. Then it's just a matter of final cleanups before going off to the printer. I'm on schedule... just not the schedule I'd thought it'd be.
January 29, 2005
Another episode is finished! SYSOPS AND USERS, one of the more involved of the episodes and a personal favorite
finally got the treatment of the sound and video mix that I was looking for, and will be leaving for the Eye of
Doom along with HPAC. I wonder if I can do three in one weekend?
SYSOPS AND USERS covers what it says: the people who ran BBSes and the people who used them. It's basically a mass of anecdotes, memories and reactions of being on a BBS. It absolutely makes no attempt to explain what BBSes are and what their context is: that's what the other episodes are for, especially BAUD. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to make the documentary into a multi-episode collection: this documentary episode does not easily stand on its own if you have no idea what a BBS is, or have much knowledge about them beyond that. It's lifted up and supported by the episodes around it, and that's just the way I like it.
It's actually strange in several ways: it has no background music (too distracting), and no names under who's speaking. I made these two choices because the cutting is so intense and constant that you end up with this confusing blur of names that are NOT relevant to the episode. I will be using the unique technology of the DVD format to allow people who want to know who's who to see that; one of the subtitle tracks will be the name of whoever is speaking! So you just click over to that, and then you know. Everyone's credited at the end, of course.
If I'm called upon to describe it in a more artistic/filmmaker sense, the idea of the SYSOPS AND USERS episode is to have the same general feel of a BBS message base; people posting one after another, commenting, threads popping up, back and forth discussions and disagreements and the rest. On a more realistic sense, it's basically a lot of interviews cascading down with cool stories about the BBSes.
So that's two in one day! That's what I'm talking about.
January 28, 2005
Another episode is basically finished, HPAC. It goes to the Eye of Doom on Monday, along with whatever else I finish.
I haven't been working exclusively on HPAC this last 5 days; it just happens to be the final pieces clicked into
shape with it first. I hope for a couple more to follow over the weekend so I can send the EoD three episodes
again. Eye of Doom wants Eye Candy.
I'm very proud of HPAC. I knew I would have to have some amount of coverage of "Underground" BBSes and the whole hacker situation, but I didn't want it to be another rotten swipe at the subculture. We have quite enough of those as it is.
Basically, I try to cover Hacking, Phreaking, Anarchy and Cracking in a general manner as applies to bulletin boards. (There's also a big sequence about Handles). In terms of cracking, I mean removing software protection from computer games. It's quite a piece; very interesting to watch for me, even though I've been basically staring at it for months.
I have no idea what to make of it in a larger context of what people will think about it, so that will be interesting as well. Well, onward.
January 23, 2005
The Eye of Doom has signed off on three of the episodes.
Who or what is the Eye of Doom? A friend of mine going a ways back who has an amazing talent for picking out all the slightest imperfections and oversights that crop up when you're working on a large-scale project like this documentary. Maybe a boom mike gets into a shot, or a filter is applied poorly, or the framing could be much improved. It takes an intense, detached, involved eye to do so, and he has it, so I call him the Eye of Doom. It's Doom because of course any major errors he finds means lots of work for me, but better now than after the DVDs are pressed and I can do nothing about them.
Every time the Eye asks me about a specific setup, like "Why is this shot like this?" or "Why do you cut from here to here?", I can often reply with a paragraph or two, specifically about this choice. This is a sign, perhaps, that I've spent a whole heck of a lot of time editing.
I kind of wish I could have done some little project before this one, some easy subject with a tiny but clear cast of characters that would have been a few months of work before this insane monolith of a project, but there you go. Every task in this project is really darned huge, and very time consuming. Just subtitles have been a big deal, not to mention the commentary tracks, or really, even the selection of music for the soundtracks. Big, I tell you.
Mostly, I am fixing up sound. Sound has turned out to be the big deal with this project; with interviews conducted in hallways, computer rooms, conventions, outside, and even an in-use band rehearsal space, we have a lot of background noise on some of these tapes. I've been able to remove a lot of it, but it takes time. There's also some wide variances in how various people spoke, so I'm working with that as well. This is a case where I made a specific choice and trade-off a few years ago; I chose to do the travelling alone, instead of with a crew, because I knew that I would kill a crew or lose some good friends to take the trips I took. So with just me alone, there's only myself to look through the lens, consider the shot, set up the sound and take readings, and then conduct the interview. During the interview, I check the tape, check the lights, make sure the camera is still running, verify the framing, and, oh yeah, ask a series of questions both from my own notes and based on the anwsers the person was giving at the time. To be honest, I should be happy the whole production isn't shot upside and backwards in black and white.
At some point I will discuss my thoughts on the copying and peer-to-peering that will happen with this project, but not today. After my stuff is out, I'll likely write up a few thoughts about it.
The Eye of Doom is now viewing the bonus footage. I can't wait.
January 19, 2005
It's getting towards the end of the month, isn't it? Oh dear. Well, it's not for lack of my
working on this project; I am currently clocking something in the range of 10-14 hours a day
on it, while keeping a day job. You can imagine what I look like right now.
BAUD got my final once-over and is being rendered to go away for final inspection. Basically, I went through it twice, once for sound, and once for visuals. Nothing was allowed to pass for "next time" because there is no "next time". It is what it is, and I'm happy with it.
BAUD is the first in the series, so it was very important to me to have it cover its bases well. It goes into the forces that predate the BBS, the story of its beginning, and the story of the people who came after the pioneers and turned BBSes from a cool experiment into an event to be reckoned with. It is where Ward and Randy come forward and get the bow they richly deserve, and where a lot of people who were around for the two beginnings get to give a sense of what it was like.
I say "two beginnings" because the way I frame it, and the way that it felt in researching the story, is that there were two separate but very important sets of "first-timers": the people who were building kits and making modems work with these kits and who started the BBS, and the kids who begin their childhoods with the purchase of an 8-bit home computer and who turned the BBS into a place to be at, not just a thing to test. So they're both in this episode. Along the way, we cover a lot of ground, and stop pretty soon in "the big story". That's what the other episodes are for, after all.
Each of these episodes has to get this vicious once-over before I consider them done. Some are in much better shape than others. For the record, ARTSCENE has 12 tracks of audio and 8 tracks of video. You can imagine what editing something like that is when trying to tweak sound quality or get scrolling just right. My eyes cross just thinking about it. Most of the episodes are just a small round away from being done.
The subtitle people have been just absolutely astounding. Christian Wirth has jumped in and has transcribed over 4 hours of footage and counting. And the Spanish translation team is working at full bore; every day they send me a translated copy of one or more of the bonus footage clips, with the episodes coming shortly. It's great to get help there.
This is probably the last time I'll mention this for a while, but it really is going quickly and well.... just on a shift of a month and a half from where I was expecting it all to be. Otherwise, this is a smooth time. I've decided that everyone who pre-orders will get some sort of gift, some trinket to distinguish that they believed in me and bought ahead of time, before everyone knew what the project was. I haven't decided what that will be yet; I'll take suggestions.
January 14, 2005
A few more days of editing and collating information for the Spanish
Subtitle team, and now I know, very roughly, how much stuff is on
the final DVD set (besides the photo gallery and other items that
go on the DVD-ROM section of the third DVD).
In total, the episodes will work out to about 5 and a half hours of footage, split 9 ways. The length of the episodes are wildly variable, subject to what made a good solid telling of the subject more than anything else. They range from 20 minutes to an hour. Most of them are 40 minutes long or longer.
Beyond the episodes, there's another roughly hour and a half (at least 90 minutes) of bonus footage. In total, there's something in the range of 36 episodes and bonus clips on the DVDs.
If you want to play marketing games, I have a lot of commentary as well, but that's kind of weak. But there's definitely commentary too, even if it doesn't add to the "footage" count.
All elements are now arranged and decided on. A month and a half later than I thought they would be, but this is my first time ever doing any of this.
January 10, 2005
Things are definitely progressing. I've cleaned up a lot of sound, and I've started laying out how the
DVDs will be filled with content. As part of my approach of letting people see what I'm up to, here
are the in-progress (and in-program, hence the weird control panel) menu
and bonus features of the first DVD. The dotted line is part of the
program too; it indicates the "safe area" on the video image, that is, where the curvature of the
tube is not going to obscure your image. Of course, I'm of the opinion that any TV made after 1992
doesn't have this problem (on my big-screen TV the whole image comes out just like I expect) but that's
what it's there for, to be "safe". Very safe.
There was a lot of room for bonus footage, so I have just finished compiling the collection of all the bonus footage that will go on all the DVDs; roughly 25 clips ranging in length from 1 minute to about 12. This is on top of the 8 episodes.
Eight! It ended up being eight: BAUD, SYSOPS AND USERS, ARTSCENE, HPAC, FIDONET, MAKE IT PAY, ARC-ZIP, and NO CARRIER. These episodes range in length from 20 minutes to an hour. The last time I checked, it came out to about somewhere in the five to six hour range for the main episodes all combined. This is less than the seven hours I kept bandying about as a rough guess, so I did my best to increase it up past that with the bonus footage, which is in most cases stuff that would have gone in an episode except for either flow or time constraints. Sometimes the person's story, while fascinating, was too long to make sense for an episode. Other times, the subject is relatively obscure and doesn't fit into a theme either.
People are still ordering copies at a regular rate, which I appreciate very much. As mentioned before, I am not actively promoting this project anymore until it is "done" done and someone ordering one gets one shipped out that day. So people lining up for a copy is very appreciated.
I have a day job, and then I come home and work on this project until 4 in the morning. It's quite a routine I have right now. I haven't snapped yet, which is good.
More details as I go. If you ordered, or even if you didn't order, and you want to communicate with me, feel free to; I owe everyone at least that much while this past-deadline work gets done.
January 1, 2005
So, where is this Documentary?
A pretty valid question, one especially important to the hundreds of folks who have been grand enough to pre-order the documentary, going back to October.
When I first opened the pre-ordering, I indicated that it would be going out for the end of December. In the beginning of December, I realized this was not the case, informed all the orders with valid e-mails, and then shifted to "sometime in January". As I'm working here, I want to increase the openness of the process so everyone understands what's going on.
Basically, the project is very nearly complete. The episodes are basically done. I've laid out all three DVDs. Even the boxes have come back. Here's one of the thousands of boxes printed:
There are several reasons why it's not out to the printers yet. The first is subtitles. I've intended to subtitle most of the project, so that people who cannot hear can read everything being said. There's also a lot of different voices from the hundreds of interviewees, and it makes it much easier to follow. But it also means that I and friends are transcribing episodes, pacing them in a subtitling program, and doing best to make sure they work. This is a ton of work.
Next is refining all the sound and video. There's quite a few hours of footage, with a lot of variance of sounds, since this was all one guy making the movie. I've got it pretty much under control, but there's still a few spots where people sound too loud or soft, and I have to go through all the footage to fix that.
There's some issues with having a lawyer looking at some of the footage, mostly based around trademarks appearing on shirts and in backgrounds; most of those are handled.
And finally, there's rendering in MPEG-2, which takes my machines quite some time (since there's so many hours).
I'm working very hard on all this, but it really isn't a marketing trick or other subterfuge; I really am just one guy, and each time I'm doing something, that's all I'm doing; there's no team following me up, just a few family members looking for any classic errors or omissions.
The printing company has told me it takes an average of 3 weeks for turnaround on a printing project like mine, which includes a "check disk" phase, where I look at my DVDs back from the shop and run them on a DVD player, to make sure they work well before we make thousands of them. So there's a big lump of time.
One of the reasons I've stopped trying to get this project talked about in other circles is because I want it out and available for people to get in the mail immediately after they order it, and until these things are in my house and ready to be shipped, that's simply not "ready". People are still pre-ordering and I appreciate that very, very much, but I am just not doing anything on the promotion side until it's ready to go.
I'm going as fast as I can, I really, really am. I will likely never do another project like this again, and I want this out the door as right and as good as I can make it. I'll keep everyone updated in coming days.
December 12, 2004
It's nice to think of stuff in theory, speak as if you're an expert, and then,
in practice, have it shown to you why you were dead wrong.
Such as it has been in this, the most top-heavy portion of the documentary, the last 10 percent or so of work. I had thought I was going to update all the time, since that drove me nuts with other documentary sites. Yet, I have not! The reasons for this are not unlike the reasons I've given in the last number of updates, which are, all told, "steady as she goes", with work progressing but no particular amazing events or breakthroughs that really warrant a new news entry.
But honestly, things are coming to a head so I should really talk about stuff in a more concrete manner, for people who are waiting for this to become "real".
First of all, about 300 people have pre-ordered copies. This means two things: they have stories that will go on the DVD-ROM section of one of the three DVDs in the set, and there are 300 people who believe in my project enough to have dropped money for something not out for a few months. I am still floored and delighted at this, and all those people know, I hope, how appreciative I am about that. Various parties and people in my life were a little concerned that I'd just invested in the most bright and biggest of white elephants with this project, and they are now understanding that there are going to be real, actual people who will want to watch this.
The box art, that is, the slipcover and the 3-DVD box that will house my work, is coming in from the DVD duplication place tomorrow. We already had a round of revisions to it, to make sure the colors and a few other details were right. Here's a small preview of the art. The top is the slipcover (exploded) and the bottom is the 8-panel DVD case (also exploded). Obviously, the art is not to final scale.
The "Beta Premiere" went well; I was rather nervous about the whole thing, but on the whole people liked the episodes. It was especially worrisome because as it turned out, nearly 20 people who I'd interviewed were there, and got to see themselves. Nobody punched me, which was an excellent sign. And in fact most seemed to be really happy about how the whole thing came out.
A common comment from the daughters, spouses and girlfriends of people who were in it was "finally, I understand what they've been talking about". So I guess it's a tool to help explain people's pasts, as well as everything else. It's also a meditation on being online, an album of concepts long forgotten, and a jumping-off point for months of deeper research. It's got a lot of uses.
One thing that IS obvious is that I was right to focus this project on DVD; it is a lot of information and only a complete maniac would handle it all in one sitting. It is a massive collection of information and history, and is not a singular epic. Perhaps the project is epic, but it should not be all watched in one setting. Maybe I should make a warning label.
The episodes were originally planned to be seven 1-hour episodes. It looks like, after editing, it will be 8 episodes of sizes ranging from 40-50 minutes, as well as a bunch of bonus footage that is really neat but doesn't fit into any of the episodes by themselves. (Mostly because the stories take a number of minutes to tell.) So it's still a metric ton of footage in action, just spread a different way than I expected. I'm really happy with the whole thing.
A team of translators are adding a spanish translation to the subtitles, and pretty much everything in the episodes are being subtitled. So that's apparently unusual, but I wanted this done right. 'Doing it Right' has been the theme, and the reason I'm now rather older than when the project started.
Now, as it is turning out, this will not be ready for Christmas. I mailed everyone who pre-ordered this documentary, and only had one refund, so that's not so bad. It is 100% a question of quality. I am going over all these episodes and bonus features, shot by shot, making sure everything works, everything's accurate, everything flows. It's quite a task.
The goal is to give the finalized DVDs to the plant by Christmas, and then get everything going out in January. I'm going to stick with that and will let everyone know in a timely fashion if this is not the case. But I expect it will be; everything is pretty much together.
What a project! I'm looking forward to never doing anything like this again!
October 29. 2004
It's nice, for all those other times in my life when I've said I was
"busy" when I really meant "I want to lie on the couch", to actually, truly be
busy. So busy, in fact, that a whole bunch of deadlines and information has
snuck up for me to tell everyone about, and I wasn't able to find the time to
put it all down in one place.
The BBS Documentary is wrapping up! With all the footage shot, all the tales told (that will go into the film, anyway) and all the hard stuff done, now it's just a matter of a few more details, assembled properly, and putting it into the world. Very exciting!
Assembling is a big deal. I've been going over the footage, shot by shot, trying to make it tell the best balance of information, insight, and clarity. My rule has been for it to be watchable even without the layers of "stuff" (like photographs, music and the line) that always accompany a documentary. I want it first and foremost to stand on its own in telling the story of the BBS, and then after that, for it to be visually and otherwise appealing. A lot of people do it the other way around.
Now, there are several things I need to tell you about.
In just a little more than a week, my in-progress episodes, yes, the very ones that will end up on the DVD, will be shown at the Vintage Computer Festival in Mountain View, CA. I'm calling this a "beta premiere", where the episodes are presented for audience feedback and for folks to see what it was all about.
They won't be 100% polished and completed, but I think you'll come away knowing pretty much how I'm going about it. I expect people will discuss and talk and chat and that way there'll be some feedback to me before I go in for the final works. I've already caught a couple "gotchas" working with people and there's no sense in stopping now.
This Vintage Computer Festival will be held at the Computer History Museum, which I thought a great place to have such an event. It's not at all required to be there, but if you live in that area, it'd be great to meet you. I'll have a loud shirt on.
Not that this should affect anyone's decisions, but it would help me a lot if people pre-ordered. The DVD pressing is going to be a few tens of thousands of dollars (so it's done right) and that's a lot of money. That's also not counting the thousands of dollars spent on travel, equipment, tape, and so on. So I'm actually quite in the hole for a lot of cash. By pre-ordering, you're making my life a lot easier. And it really is one guy's life; there's no big company or media organization behind this, just me and my close friends who all lent a hand.
I tried to think of a way to make it worthwhile to pre-order, and I came up with a somewhat interesting approach. Since this whole project has been about opening up the process to folks and giving a lot of people a voice where in most productions they wouldn't, I'm letting people who order before November 10th get the chance to put a paragraph on the DVD!
Essentially, you enter a big paragraph about your time with BBSes (or other messages, I suppose) and it'll be on the DVD-ROM section of the set for people to see. So it's kind of like getting your own permanent piece of the project, without the 16-hour days. Everyone wins.
So, if you want to be a part of this, go ahead and pre-order. I've made arrangements with paypal and kagi.com (for people who hate paypal, which turns out to be quite a few folks). Otherwise, we're looking at a December release of this 3-DVD set. And it'll really be something, this I guarantee.
September 10, 2004
I'm happy to finally give some firm information about the release of the documentary and a chance for people to see it before it's released on DVD. This has been years in the making, so I'm pretty excited about the whole thing.
First of all, I have basically committed to finish the BBS documentary this year. Since it's September, that's not very long from now. I hope to be able to have the DVDs out before Christmas, although to do a DVD "right" means possible delays or other unexpected turns. Regardless, I intend to have these works "in the can" before the end of the year.
And while the entire project will be a 3 DVD set, you really can't have a film without some sort of "premiere"... so one has been arranged.
The BBS Documentary will have a "beta premiere" at the Vintage Computer Festival 7.0, held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. This event goes on from the 6th to the 7th of November, 2004. At this show, all the episodes of the BBS documentary will be played, with breaks in between, across the two days.
The reason I am calling this a "beta premiere" is because these will not be the final versions of the episodes! In fact, I expect to have a month of editing after the event to clean things up and go through everything a few more times. The spirit of this documentary through all of the work has been to keep as much research and process as open as possible, and it made sense to do it one more time.
One should never say never, but this should be the only public showing of the episodes before they become DVDs.
As an extra bonus, a good set of people interviewed in the documentary are apparently going to show up. Let's make a party of it!
August 15, 2004
It is a surreal feeling, having pushed a rock up a hill for a very long time, to find the load suddenly lighter. In fact, as you consider it, the rock is not just getting lighter, but is possibly moving on its own. At that point, it will dawn on you that you have in fact pushed the rock over the summit of the hill and you are following it on the way down the other side. This is a excellent time to hold on tightly.
Such is the case currently, where three years of production are now flying together at a head, combining the research and information I've been sent from hundreds of people with the 200 interviews I conducted throughout the continent. Where before I was quietly mulling through footage and considering the next moves, it's now a case of finishing up the last few hours of culling, assembling the sequences, and putting the whole thing together before it becomes a DVD set.
People ask me when it'll be ready. I tell them I intend it to be ready for the end of the year. I still think that's the case. This is much later than I intended and originally announced, but that's because I am, after all, a single person. The constant motto is "Quality Trumps Deadlines", since I'm not working on the same goals and pressures that most people are in these sorts of projects. I think the extra time it took me to assemble many of the interviews worked out in favor of a better creation.
What got me really fueled was committing to show "footage" at DEFCON XII, a convention in Las Vegas. I promised people would be seeing some preview footage, and as the day grew closer this promise was somewhat challenged by the complete lack of any actual footage to show.
With a week before the show, I stopped culling footage and instead turned towards creating something that would show what the episodes were like, using actual clips from interviews. It took nearly the whole week (one of the sequences was finished hours before the flight to Las Vegas) but in the end I produced a 16 minute run-through of six of the seven episodes, along with a new trailer and some other related material. While it was close, I didn't end up in my hotel room furiously piecing things together on a laptop, so there are small victories involved.
The actual talk I gave bookending this footage is already archived on archive.org, sans the audio of the 16-minute clip (you miss too much stuff with it in there). The audience seemed to recieve it well, and reacted to it positively, so I know I'm onto something.
There have been some consistently asked questions in recent months, and so an actual and real "Frequently Asked Questions" list is building up. Let me answer some of them here, so they're in one place.
This will definitely be a three-DVD set sold via myself and a number of partnering organizations in the style of amazon.com or perhaps fusecon.com. It will retail somewhere in the range of fifty dollars. I am not splitting up the DVDs, I am not selling it on VHS. The production will be released under a Creative Commons license. It is multiple separate episodes, not one long movie. It will be subtitled as an option. There will be easter eggs. There are people who are really cool and who you really admire who will be on the DVD, but there will be people who are cool and who you admire who will not. This does not make them any less cool and admirable, or mean I don't think they are. Perhaps there will be a short version that plays for an hour and goes on TV, but it's not overly important to me that there be one. It's also not important to me that it be on cable TV or regular TV; with a beautiful digital format that gives you full on-demand navigation and many hours of footage, why would it be?
I can promise you that there's definitely a "there" there, that is, the final works are definitely something substantial and interesting, especially if you know about BBSes in some fashion. If you don't know about BBSes but can operate a computer with comfort, then you will likely find it interesting and substantial as well. It will have ways to "ramp up" on the subject enough to then watch the episodes. I will be very proud of the final product and will look forward to the positive and negative comments I'll be recieving for months after it arrives.
I am not pleased with myself that I let things go on so long between updates; but I kept falling into not wanting to sound boring and uneventful. The editing process itself is not boring to me, but describing the victories, I find them very quiet: a particularly good line, an item in the background falling off a way, or an amazing counterpoint to a statement made thousands of miles away and months ago. I interviewed some smart people indeed.
Onward. Expect that in September you will be able to pre-order this documentary.
JUNE 17, 2004
Like a lot of filmmakers, I have fallen into that "no new news" hole that
leaves the waiting public in the dark while no progress or information
comes leaking out. Unlike a lot of them, I will try to explain why that
For the last 3 months, I have basically been doing the clip culling that I mentioned in my previous news entry, wherein I take an hour of footage and turn it into a small pile of smaller clips, somewhat sorted for their possible final resting place in various episodes. This work is tedious, uneventful, and hard to keep updating folks on ("yes, I am STILL culling!") and so I simply let the previous entries speak for themselves, because they were still quite applicable. I have gone through about 100 hours of footage, knocking it down to something like 10 to 15 hours. Obviously these hours will be knocked down even further in the final editing, but I need some flexibility depending on which sequences I think fit the different episodes. There are, roughly, 60-70 hours of footage left to cull, which are going very fast because I am an old hand at this by now.
If you are completely addicted to knowing every little thing being done, I started a little worklog that has no-frills day-by-day blows of what is going on. I will not explain what I write there, but stuff gets added nearly every day to it, so you can see motion if you want.
This is the required groundwork of any production; many places have interns or other folks working on it 8 to 12 hours a day, going through footage, getting out good examples of takes or shots, and then presenting them to the director or the editor to make choices. Since I'm the director, editor, AND the intern, I get to do everything at once, so it's me with the 8 to 12 hours a day.
I should hasten to add that this work is not ALWAYS tedious, since I am in fact watching the full play-out of interviews I conducted months or years ago. In many cases, people are absolutely brilliant with their responses, considering I gave them little hint on what I would be asking, and for the fact that I often would switch questioning quite dramatically to make sure all relevant subjects were covered. While listening to the answers, I was often thinking about the next question I was going to ask, so even though I heard the answers, I didn't HEAR them, if that makes sense. In many cases, this is the first time I've really, honestly heard the interview I'm editing.
The website has undergone a redesign to reflect its move into promotion and information. There is now a library which will hopefully reflect the more involved information that won't make it on the screen, but which I ended up doing a lot of research on. The photos page will hopefully flower out now that the interviews are done, and folks can browse them.
Not a day passes by that I don't get one or two letters with the same general question: "When is it coming out?". I am not in a good position at this point to indicate when that time will come, although I am working quite hard to ensure it is 2004. Quality trumps deadlines; this is an all-in-one shot, and I want to be sure what goes on the DVD set is as good as I can make it. I've made sure to set up a notification page so that folks can be told when it's ready for their order, so hopefully no-one feels left out.
I have forced some hard dates on myself to a small extent; I am giving a talk about the documentary at this year's DEFCON convention in Las Vegas at the end of July/beginning of August. I will accompany it with some sequences from the documentary, and so now there HAVE to be sequences. I don't expect this to be a problem, since it'll be a number of weeks with all the footage in place to pull from.
All in all, the whole thing is coming along nicely. A lot of work, but well worth it.
March 26, 2004
With great happiness, the interview phase of the documentary is finished. There are
actually a couple more interviews to happen, but they're all planned now and will
happen piecemeal, while editing and other production work is done. While it would be
nice to have them, the documentary does not rest on them, so basically, the load is
off my shoulders.
The final number of people interviewed for the documentary is about 200. This is almost beyond reckoning. There are few productions of any size that interview that number of people on camera, about a single subject. This translates to over 250 hours of footage, also a little out of control by most standards. My reasoning at the beginning of the production was that to really tell the story, you would want to get as many opinions of people as possible, not just "famous figures" and a few pundits. This theory (and it really was just a theory) has worked out to be accurate. While many people might only get a line or two in the final episodes, they're really good lines and represent the cream of an hour or two of interview time. That's pretty valuable, and makes the whole production better. There's also an interesting situation where people in different parts of the continent, with different ages, and different platforms, say entirely complimentary things. There'll be a lot of that in the final work.
Editing began in earnest months ago, mostly consisting of "clip culling", where I take each hour of footage, and from that pull multiple minutes of clips usable for the final film. They might be a description of a favorite board, a thought or statement on a subject, or a reaction to a question posed by someone else that I've brought up. I then have all these clips sorted into general folders and sub-folders, where I.....
You know what? Not everyone wants to hear about this process, while others want even more detail than a few paragraphs could give them. So, I've started work on the first of several explanatory pages. How I Did It: Editing explains in quite heavy detail about how I've gone about setting up an editing station, and the hardware and software concerns, as well as how much space this works out to. I think you'll like it if you came to this documentary site to get tips for your own project or are just amazingly voyeuristic. There will be a bunch of pages, ultimately, linked from the front page when they're done, which people can take inspiration and knowledge from, and go on their way. When people with professional pedigrees called or wrote in offering help, I asked a lot of them the same question: What are the 10 biggest mistakes you've made? From that simple question I can't imagine how many pitfalls I've avoided. I hope my informative pages will do the same. See, it's not just about BBSes, it's about learning.
To celebrate the ending of the interview phase, I have edited together the first teaser trailer for the documentary. Entitled "Heroes", it shows a collection of some of the more "famous" names in my interview list (though not all of them) and invites you to come hear from them. It's worth checking out if you're interested in the documentary, if for no other reason than to see exactly what my style is. (In trailers, anyway, which is an entirely different art than moviemaking or documentary-ing...)
People who would like more information about what I'm up to and who want the bonus of my rants and thoughts on long-gone historical subjects will want to look at a weblog I am currently using, called ASCII.TEXTFILES.COM. This weblog includes an RSS Feed, which a number of people have asked for with the documentary site. With my crossposting of new documentary news in both the weblog and the documentary site, this will probably be the closest I can get to it. So download your news aggregator software and go grab the RSS feed off the weblog. If it sounds like I'm just blowing out a bunch of buzzwords, I'm sorry for that, it's just a new thing people like. It used to be hard to explain BBSes as well. To help you get a leg up, here's a webpage about RSS. It turns dozens of websites into feeds on your desktop. It's nice.
Whole-scale digitization of artifacts, articles, magazines, photos, and even audio and video-tape is now at full bore. These will show up in the documentary to balance off the "head shots", which a lot of industry folks think are inherently boring (hence you have such odd sets and backgrounds in a lot of "professional" documentaries, with flowers and a streak of light or some such). Personally, I find the wide variance of folks in these many shots to be fascinating in itself; the way people live, the way their environments are set up, the whole deal is still of great interest to me. But along with these thoughts, you'll see a lot of information go by visually, too. Might as well cover all the bases...
Additionally, some of the artifacts I've been digitizing are rare or one of a kind, and I intend to make them generally available. So the documentary will have that secondary effect as well. As one person who lent me stuff said, "Finally, someone cares."
The site is slowly shifting over to "Here's what's in the documentary" from "Here's what I hope will be in the documentary". Promotional and Informational instead of speculative... and it feels great. Was it worth three years? It's worth twice that.
February 15, 2004
I have recently wrapped up a great trip through the midwest, the last major trip
I'll be taking for interviews. I got another 25 hours of incredible footage as a
result, garnered over 9 days and 3,400 miles of driving. I interviewed creators
of RBBS, Opus, and Fidonet. Apple II Pirates. Sysops of really early BBSes
(including the first and fourth BBSes). And so many more....
It reminds me why I got into the whole project in the first place: to travel to places I'd never been, meet people I'd always known of or admired, and ask them the questions that I and others wanted to know. Even as I round out to 200 interviews (the number will likely end up just north of 190), I still enjoy the process, still love coming up with the questions and getting the answers, and most of all getting the story. There were some concerns I might lose my energy after such a massive time for such a project; I think we can put those fears to rest.
There are maybe a half-dozen people left I have to interview, just to finish some long-held promises and plug up a few gaps in the narrative. I expect these will be done within a month. It's not going to slow any of the other work down.
Now begins the endless sprint of culling clips, putting together sequences and recording "second unit" shots of objects and photographs. How long this will take, I couldn't honestly say. Perfectly intelligent and happy documentary filmmakers have disappeared for years into the editing vortex, although I suspect my work will take a greatly shorter time than that.
I've been making arrangements with a DVD Pressing company, talking to musicians and artists about getting pieces for use in the documentary, and generally doing all that groundwork that goes into a production. So that's going on in the background, as well.
The buzz from people wondering about the project is starting to grow; notes and letters are coming in asking for more details, wanting to buy a copy, wanting to know when it comes out. I promise this thing will arrive in 2004; I am uncomfortable promising anything beyond that.
More shortly. Be sure to check some of the new parts of the site, including the expanded photo gallery and the sign-up list.
December 30, 2003
As the remainder of 2003 runs out in a few days, I wanted to take
a few minutes to give an update on production. It would be natural
for people who've been following the work since the beginning
(August of 2001!) to wonder, quietly, "When is this thing ever going
to come out?" I hope I can answer those questions.
In terms of where I am with interviews, there's about 20 or so left to do. There are still 200 names in the queue, being notified that they will not be interviewed. This will lead to some disappointment, but I'm only one guy, it's only one documentary (set) and at some point, you have to admit you have everything that will fit in one project. While I personally think the names that appear onscreen will delight and amaze, and others you've never heard of will do same, I am aware of the thousands of other stories this documentary will not tell, at least directly. I hope that people who are not ultimately interviewed will consider writing down their thoughts and either sending them to me to put on the BBSDOCUMENTARY.COM site or will put sites of their own. I know of at least two documentaries that are being considered to cover very specific pieces of BBS history that I simply won't be able to, and I hope the final film inspires more. The whole reason I started the project was because I thought this rich and wonderful history was in danger of being lost; the more the merrier!
I had hoped that I would have something done for April of 2004; that is not going to happen, and now I have it in my heart to aim for July of 2004. Any reasonable person should expect that date to slip as well. As it stands, it is looking like a two DVD set, but there is an outside chance it will be three. There will be a way to order a copy a couple months before release, which I know a small group of folks have been inquiring about since last year. Rest assured, if you've mailed me about the documentary, I'll notify you when a product is ready to be gotten.
Once the last official interview is finished (there might be a pick-up interview or two), the entire site will stop being a promotion for a documentary being filmed and will become a promotion for a documentary to be released. This will include production information, interview summaries, photos, the whole deal. As soon as I'm positive whether the documentary will be two or three DVDs, then the order page will come up, and you can get in line for your copy. Also, I hope to have trailers and more previews.
Finally, before I wish you happiness in the new year and a thank you for being so patient, here's some statistics for you. There are over 200 hours of interview footage. My interviewees are as young as 17 and as old as 83. I have driven roughly 20,000 miles. Along the way, I have lost a lens cap, tungsten light, cell phone, dust screen, and a rental car. The longest I have driven for an interview (so far) is 1,050 miles in less than 24 hours (round trip). I have had my camera bag searched by security officials 15 times. My longest interviews (2 of them) were five hours long and my shortest was 3 minutes. This site is the #5 hit on google for the term "documentary". The length of this production will be equal to the amount of time I ran my own BBS (3 years).
See you all soon!
November 26, 2003
Wow! In the last week or so, I've had about two dozen "what's up with the lack
of news" messages, and people offering up a few donations to help the documentary
along (I don't really need any money at this point, just corrections to the
research and timeline stuff, which is time-consuming). I guess that's my hint that
I've fallen into the same stupid hole that many major projects do: going into the
deep stuff and leaving all the fans/onlookers in the cold. I'm sorry about that!
In fact, it appears that we actually got to the point that rumors started to spread; that I'd finished episodes, that I'd disappeared, you name it. Well, let this news entry make things a little clearer. This is the straight source, folks.
Let's go over the architectural stuff first. I have done about 170 interviews, and it looks like I will do about 30 more. I have 400 people signed up who offered to be interviewed; do the math. You can imagine how painful it has been for me to have to tell people who have been waiting for (in some cases) years that an interview will not happen, but at the end of the day, I am only one guy, and as it is this documentary is going to be unbelievably long, and split into episodes. I've been sending out notification of this situation as fast as I can, and I hope to have just the people being interviewed set up within the next few weeks.
I should take a moment and explain how this sort of project would normally have been done by "professionals", that is, a (usually) disinterested production team who would be assigned this subject with a 6-8 month turnaround. Besides having a crew of 3-5, they would spend a month on the "story" they wanted to tell in the half-hour to hour of time the show would be slated for. From this, they would construct a "list" of maybe 5-10 people who they would seek and interview with a forced list of 20 questions intended to slot into various portions of the story. They'd have some interns or extremely low-paid employees dredge up whatever vaguely relevant photos or images they could find (for example, shots of huge mainframes and maybe 1970s images of telephones) and then, from all this, some hardened professional editors (and they would kick ass at it) would put together a smooth, slick presentation covering BBSes.
Also, it would have about as much to do with the BBS History as most of us experienced it, as a car commercial has to do with your favorite road trip with your buddies in college.
This is really nobody's fault; the nature of television/video production demands things be done in a small amount of time with a structured budget, and going for bite-sized explanations of what is likely a complicated history. That's how you can tell a story in an hour but have a book about the same subject be 500 pages. The thought is that the people who would want a deep history will read it and the people who flip the channel will see something vaguely interesting to make them sit through the commercials for hair gel and massage chairs. It's also partially why there hasn't really been a documentary directly about BBSes; there's no obvious "there" there that fits in a paragraph summary sheet on a proposal.
So I consciously and deliberately set out to add into the mix of interviews not just the "names" of BBS history, but a good solid sampling of "regular folks". I think most of us know that doesn't mean "boring" or "irrelevant" folks, just people who were there, people who used BBSes or ran them or otherwise had their life affected by them, who have something to say, even if it isn't "I was there first" or "I have a plaque on the wall that says you need to talk to me." Also, I made sure not to just grab people who were the easiest to get to or whose resumes made them interesting in some surface way; I cast the dice and took some risks to see what would come of it. Great things came of it.
This means that for every time you see some of the incredible pioneers associated with BBSes, you will see folks like yourself, who saw things the way you did (or would, if you weren't there) and can couch things in terms and descriptions that will ring true. Not everyone's pretty, not everyone has a voice like a radio DJ, and people live in all sorts of ways. It's real. It's what BBSes were: an incredible technology that everybody could use.
The remainder of the 30 interviews are pretty much all "names", just filling holes in history where folks would go "how could you miss _____" (they're going to do that anyway, but that's a story for another time.) There are a few folks who happen to be nearby the "names" who I am interviewing because 90 percent of the work (travel, proximity, equipment) are already done and it's not difficult to just stop in for a couple hours and talk on camera.
As for the finalized product, it will be a multi-DVD set (likely 2, that makes the most sense) and will have multiple episodes, each focused on some aspect of BBSes, such as Fidonet or ANSI. I promise it'll be worth the trouble to purchase. Like all such projects, I suspect it will be ripped and put onto the Internet via peer-to-peer within a short time of becoming available; that's the nature of things, and I will not cripple the DVD with weird anti-priacy messages you can't click out of or other such useless methods that punish legitimate users while allowing others to go and copy it anyway. People who copy it and get it that way reflect the times they are from; I'm doing this for reasons other than trying to squeeze every last dime out of the populace.
These days, the process of the documentary is to take an hour tape of an interview and clip out between 2-15 minutes of that hour into bite-sized statements and stories, which will be interwoven into the final episodes. This is the most time consuming process, and while I've done 40-50 hours so far, I have a lot to go. This is something I'm doing while also doing my day job, so I spend about 4-5 hours a day, going through footage, clipping things down, arranging them, and backing them up. This is why there hasn't been much in the way of news; this is the annoying, involved, deep part of the production, where it's just a guy and his machine, making the best work he can.
Additionally, and this is very important to know, the footage shot for the documentary will not just go on the cutting room floor or the demagnetizer if it doesn't make it on the DVD; I intend to digitize a lot of it and provide it for download as raw interview footage, on a location to be determined later. Just because something isn't part of an edited flow doesn't mean the information should be lost. Expect that to start happening after the documentary is done.
Across the next couple of months, I expect that the website will flourish more and more with the thousand plus photographs I've taken, further thickening of the BBS software listing, and a ton of other research information I've got.
August 23, 2003
A part of me feels like nothing has happened since the last update, but in fact a lot has.
For one thing, editing has now gone into what I call "third level", which is a pretty big
deal. The levels, in case anyone wonders what I'm talking about, are FILM, CULL, FILTER,
SEQUENCE, and FINAL. This listing doesn't exist anywhere else, but the concepts are pretty
clear. You film people, you cull the tapes of people into smaller chunks, you take those
chunks and separate them by what's being talked about, you create sequences of those
subjects (like, a sequence on what it was like to be a fidonet region coordinator or
what it means to run a multi-line BBS) and finally, you piece together those sequences
into the final film.
So what I'm saying here is that I've gotten to the point with a percentage of the interviews that I've split edits of people speaking on specific subjects and begun grouping them all on that subject. This is nicely along, but there's a lot more to do.
I have gone back and forth on different days with whether I have any useful footage at all to whether I have entirely too much footage. Neither situation is completely wanted but the "too much" prospect is a lot better than the "too little". And that's what I've got, entirely too much footage for it to be easily whipped into shape. This is why I've been taking months to edit it, and why it'll be months more to edit it.
Now, some people might read that to mean that I'm not doing more interviews. The fact is, I am, but they're going to be more focused, in this case on "figures" from specific points in the story that I think need to be weighed in. Other people will get in, but because they're near these figures. Money, time, budget... those are crunching me from continuing free-form trips around the country, but I think there's some incredible stuff already on tape, and just a bit more is needed.
But the obvious situation is that there are something like 220 interviews scheduled or roughly planned, of which only a percentage will happen. I'm going to begin informing people that interviews won't happen with them and why, and I hope that people will not turn away from the project but be inspired to really collect their history as we would have touched in an interview, and put it up or give it to me to put up.
Every day, every single day I look at footage from interviews and am amazed at the things people remember and the words they have to say on BBSes. I think this thing is coming out great.... and huge!
July 10, 2003
A number of e-mails and concerned communications have inspired/pushed me to give a little better
information as to what's going on around here. So, here we go.
The fact that I have a (tentative) release date means that some people think that I'm done with interviews. This isn't true; I'm just trying to frame things properly. If it takes longer to do the right job, I will do it. I'm all about quality. For the moment, I am culling down the 200 hours of footage (!!) I've already shot to get a handle on what I have, so that I can go for the right people and get the additional interviews for the documentary. Some very important people and some long-scheduled interviews are in the future.
I work for a company that is in the process of closing one building and moving to another across the month of July. Since I am primarily paying for this documentary out of pocket, that is another reason not to travel (that is, I am needed to do my job). I work during the day and edit at night; it's a good life.
I expect to resume interviewing at the end of July/middle of August, combining what I shoot with what I have now. Relax, folks! I won't let you down!
June 21, 2003
With this update comes a bit of a site redesign. With the third year of production
underway, it made sense that it would be less about "here's what I'm hoping to do" and
more about "here's what I've done". Idealistic thoughts about how it would go are settling
into realistic shapes of how it actually turned out, and the painful process of cutting or
summarizing is really underway.
First of all, there's a lot of footage. I mean, a LOT. Over 200 hours of interviews are now on tape, with over 160 people taped anywhere from five minutes to five hours. I'm not done with that, but it was obvious I needed a breather from adding more footage to actually cull through what I had. If I had this to do over again, I would have known what video editing software I had right from the beginning and gotten started on the culling aspect earlier. But what I have is what I have, and about 30 of the 200 hours are properly knocked down, and that video window is always open on my machine, turning hours into half hours and half hours into minutes. I have two major trips ahead of me, and they will likely pile on another few dozen hours, although I expect I will be much more conservative in terms of time.
One of my major goals in this documentary was just to get people on tape, all these wonderful pioneers and personalities, who were in danger of being footnoted and forgotten in the Internet age we're now in. Regardless of the documentary that comes out of it, that goal has been nicely achieved; I've got many hours of folks that are saved in digital format and talking about what I hope would be the questions people have for them. And unlike documentaries where a tiny, tiny amount of the interviews ever gets into the public, I intend to be mining these interviews into standalone projects, so that there's some sort of record of folks talking about these subjects. When I tell people on the phone that my primary goal is just to record them, I can sense the skepticism, but it was never about making a bushel of money with some slap-dash proto-narrative I could sell to PBS. It was about the fact that I have on tape Ward Christensen's only video interview. Same with a lot of these figures that meant so much to my childhood (and others' adulthood); now, at least, there's some record from them, looking back over the years, and their thoughts.
I'm now trying to do just a few more "supertrips", in which I travel to a number of general locations, some quite expansive and large, and get a whole ton of interviews in a short time. The most recent one was "West Coast of the United States". In two weeks, I interviewed 26 people, driving 3,870 miles to do so. In the process, I went to California, Oregon and Washington, had one rental car towed away, cracked two windshields, and visited a federal prison. No arrests, though! I came off this trip weary and roughed up, but not broken. Plans are for a "middle of America" super trip and one down the East Coast.
My hope had been to drop a product in people's laps at the end of this year, but I have also decided that it would be very bad for me to put some "get it out before an arbitrary deadline" piece of rushed effort out, after all this. So it's now looking like first quarter of 2004, and in that work there will be the sum total of all the output, a multi-episode documentary focusing on different aspects of BBS history. As we draw closer to the release, there will be trailers, excerpts, information, news... everything you expect. Some of these are already up, but at some point this website will be a showcase of information and left to allow people to do a little more digging into the whole story being shown in the DVDs.
I get a lot of letters from people just discovering this project is underway, and often asking similar questions. One of the most common is asking if I am going to cover the deep story of their local BBS scene. The answer, as I hope you might expect, is "not exactly". Nearly every area code had its own collection of popular and infamous BBSes, some of them nationally known and some only known to a relative handful of folks. Even with the current running time of up to 7 hours (across all the episodes), there's simply no way to cover every BBS in detail. My hope, instead, is that this work will inspire folks who were touched by a certain BBS to create their own works (even a webpage or an essay) about their time on that BBS. Maybe they thought no one would care, but I can say quite definitely, that people care. But the documentary is a one-man operaton (with help from all quarters) so I can't be expected to single-handedly bring the whole story to light.
Another common theme in letters is that I've entirely missed some aspect of BBSes, based on the research shown on this site, which to be honest often lags what I've actually researched. The fact is, some concepts simply won't transfer to a video documentary, and the amount of time given to them in actual footage will likely be a short shrift, but that doesn't mean I can't put up writings or events up in the research/informative aspects of this project. So keep those coming, but it would be good if you had any artifacts or articles about the subject you're talking about.
So steady as she goes, endless editing sessions, constant worries that this will be something worth watching, concerns that I will so totally mis-state something in the footage that it will forever be known as the "Completely inaccurate documentary with the lies", and all the other wonderful aspects of doing a non-fiction production. Huzzah!
Oh, and in the process of doing the site design, many of the documents and pages that you might remember being there since the beginning have been moved to the archive page (or away completely) but nothing has been deleted. If you remember a URL, it still works. If you wanted access to that information again for some reason, let me know and I'll track it down for you.
March 20, 2003
Editing and filming are both heading along at a steady clip now. I am very excited at
how well they're both going, in fact.
On the editing side, I'm still in the process of culling the hours of footage into more manageable "chunks" with a person expressing an idea or set of ideas along a theme. After I get along farther with that, I can start grouping them by general subject manner, than think about placing them along a timeline. The ANSI sequences are coming along particularly well. What excellent interviews these have been!
Part of this process involved getting my hands on enough disk space to store the footage. I can report that the main editing system has 900 gigabytes (yes, gigabytes) of disk space ready to go and will get another terabyte in the coming months. This may sound like overkill, but a typical hour of footage can eat between 6 and 10 gigabytes, and there's 130 interviews so far, so you do the math!
The interviewing slowed a little while snow and my day job ate my time, and as I prepared for several major trips coming up. But I made a major trip to three states just a couple weeks ago, visiting folks in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Among these interviews have been some of the biggest movers and shakers in BBS history, as well as some amazing folks in smaller parts of that history. A very special thank you to Faustus, who let me stay at his home with my own key and the freedom to come and go as I pleased. I really appreciated that.
Also, I have assembled a team of folks who have been interviewed or consulted before in relation to this documentary, and they are now deeply involved in the research and brainstorming of some of the aspects. I made the choice to put together this group to ensure I wouldn't get to the end of filming with major facts or folks missing. A lot of work is being done behind the scenes, in this fashion, to make the project as good as it can be. I'm sure that'll show in the final project.
In fact, now that there's a pretty massive body of work behind the documentary, expect some major renovations across the site as time progresses.
January 25, 2003
The Editing Begins! While that sounds like something that happens after the
shooting is over, the fact is there's so many aspects to this project, that
I have to start going through the interviews and pulling out clips during
the week (and doing new interviews on the weekends) if I have a hope of
finishing the documentary any time soon.
What took me so long? Well, mostly it was a case of wanting to find just the right editing software to use with my project... something simple, powerful, and which let me imagine what I wanted to appear on the screen and realize it without spending the next hour fiddling with it and hoping I got it right. Naturally, this meant going through a lot of different testing, and visiting stores and discussing things with people. And ultimately, I've chosen Video Vegas by Sonic Foundry.
I don't want to turn this news entry into one big advertisement for Video Vegas, and I'll be the first to say that the name is one of the most misleading and poorly chosen names I've seen on a software product, but the thing just works. If you want to see something I did in three hours and with 19 still photographs, I have a movie you can watch (be aware it's 25 megabytes and it's in MPEG-2 format). The upshot, though, is that it does what it does just like I like it.
Now that I'm pulling in digital video from the tapes I've been recording, I've also started to nibble at the edges of my next major problem: DISK SPACE. A typical hour of video, straight from the tape to my hard drive, is 17 gigabytes. Yes, gigabytes. Now multiply that by the 166 hours of footage I have now... and you start to see the problem. How am I handling this? Well, first of all, that's why I'm running tapes every night and seizing out only the clips that have a chance to get into the final product. Idle chit-chat, arranging the chairs, long questions from me describing what I'm asking about... all gone. It's made me really disciplined as to what is going to be lying around to pull from. And that had to happen sometime, it's just happening quicker than it originally was going to. With this approach, I'm often knocking interviews down to between 2-6 gigabytes, which is still a lot, but at least I can work with that by using backup tapes, network connections, and the rest.
All I can say is, thank goodness for TiVo. While my system chugs away importing hours of video, I watch some shows and study other documentaries to get some ideas of what has worked and what hasn't. I come back to the system and cull things down. And then back again.
There are roughly 200 interviews scheduled for the coming year. Some of those will not happen because they cancel, I cancel, or I have to make a hard choice to visit one city over another. That's part of the process, but I can tell you that already this documentary has been a huge success; so many people have written to me with stories and information, and the research bases on this site are now so huge, that it's quickly become a way to get all that information you thought was lost about BBSes, about many subjects. That's a good feeling.
"So when will this documentary come out?" I hear you cry. Well, I'm starting to think we'll start seeing the first parts early next year. First parts? Well, it's a multi-part documentary, of course. Didn't I mention?
December 14, 2002
There's been enough news written about this documentary in this section
that I had to put all the old entries into their own archived area. That's
available via a link at the top and bottom of this page, and man, is it a
huge amount of stuff... hundreds of lines, with plans, dreams, ideas and
happenings. Some have worked out, some haven't, some have greatly
disappointed and others have soared beyond expectations. A lot of experience
I'm not getting a Macintosh, I decided; I can use the computer system I have and buy another one dedicated to editing, cheap. I'll be using Adobe Premiere and not Final Cut Pro, as a result. This hasn't stopped me from attending the Boston Final Cut User's Meetings, of course; to be honest, editing is mostly editing, and I'm enjoying seeing what they have to say about things.
The vaguest beginnings have begun on the editing front, as a result. I've bought a firewire card and run a few grabs of some of my test tapes, then experimented both with editing and with making streaming versions of the videos. One side effect of these experiments and processes is that I'm watching the tapes again.
What delightful people I've interviewed! I've got what seems like every type of personality captured on tape; folks who didn't trust me and people who made me make silent promises to them as I asked them questions. The jokes, the smiles, the insights, it's all there. Sometimes I don't like the sound, and sometimes I wonder why I chose the lighting or the angle, but there's so many great things said about the subject in these 160 hours of tape that it's going to be a joy hearing them again, without wondering what my next question was going to be.
Now begins the process, interview-wise, of focusing myself for specific folks and groups of folks. The interviews aren't over by a long shot, by the way; entire swaths of this country aren't covered yet, and there's some very important folks who have waited way too long for me to come to their part of town. As I start to collect and cull statements from the tapes I have, I will know what to ask of the people still to be interviewed.
Some interviews, by the way, have gotten entirely out of hand. But it'll be fun getting those in as well.
This is a good time, by the way, to send in your demands for what needs to be covered in the documentary. I still like getting those, very much so. I'd hate to miss something because I never knew about it happening. Also, if you have ANY photos, or videotape related to BBSes, I'd really like to hear from you; I'm collecting what I can but there's an awful lot to go to break up the interviews I've got with these images.
Next up: Canada, Colorado, Florida, and.... Whitehorse?
NEWS ARCHIVE (04/2005-06/2005)
NEWS ARCHIVE (08/2001-10/2002)
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