ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Driving Yourself Crazy the Visual Way —

When I finished work on the BBS Documentary and said I was going to make a couple more, one of my pithy remarks was that I liked pretty much everything about the BBS Documentary except the video and the sound.

What I meant was that I’d shot everything on the run with a Canon XL-1 which was now long in the tooth, and it had issues with recording sound via the type of microphone I’d used, so if I was going to go through the production of another documentary, I wanted to upgrade. And upgrade I did! Thousands and thousands of dollars later, I had myself a very kick-ass piece of optical kit, ready to capture the new subjects in stunning lifelike quality.

Because I did this, I naturally expected a quantum leap in image and sound quality. And I got it. But then I started wondering if it was what I thought it was.

This self-doubt enters the mind of anyone slaving away at a perfectionist idea lodged in their brain. Is what I have before me as good as the way I dreamed it’d be? Did I achieve, with this new craftsmanship, a component that will compliment and improve the whole? Am I doing the subject justice? Does it sound good?

I found that I go through periods where I look at what I’ve shot and think it’s horrible, beyond saving, ruinous. Other times I look at the same footage and delight at how wonderful it looks, how amazing the sound is. Naturally, this makes me come to a natural conclusion: I must have some sort of chemical imbalance.

But now that I’ve mulled over my intense mulling over things, I’ve come to a different conclusion: I contracted Connoisseurs’ Disease. You know it’s terminal because it’s really hard to spell.

Connoisseurs’ Disease blows because you might not notice you have it for a while and the symptoms simply appear that everything around you sucks. You wonder why the HD TV you’re watching isn’t all that impressive, or why the sound system isn’t all that amazing, or why your car doesn’t seem to have that much power, or why your friends aren’t as enjoyable as they should be. It’s not these outside things, it’s you. You’ve now convinced yourself or been convinced that reality isn’t good enough, and that just around the bend is another reality, a hyper-reality, that you’re being cheated out of. Or that you’re cheating yourself out of.

Last year, I had a steak. This wouldn’t be big news except it was very expensive steak. It was, in fact, a Kobe Fillet Mignon flown in from Japan and prepared by a Japanese Chef who I also assume was from Japan. It was expensive. Let’s not go into how expensive it was, but if you say it “must have been around $100” I will tell you you’re shooting low. Now, why the heck did I spend that much? Two reasons. Number one, I’m rather cognizant of my own mortality, but number two, the menu actually said, underneath, that it was “One of the finest human experiences on Earth”. I mean, come on, that at least gets a couple chews.

So there I am, eating my extremely expensive steak that’s essentially like chowing down a Nintendo Wii, and along comes some waiter, who then launches into a story about these truffles he has, which, and I am not being exaggerative here, he claims are picked on a special mountain which only lets these grow a few weeks a year and which go for $4,000 an ounce and which I could have on my stupidly expensive steak for a sum which was also stupidly expensive. That is, the dealer was offering to double down on my extravagance. Amazingly, I said no. I was quite content with overspending, not double-plus overspending.

As for the steak itself, could I have noticed the difference between this steak and one 1/10 the cost? Probably not. I could, after much study and comparison, have decided the cheaper steak was harder to chew, or slightly less fatty or any of a bunch of different made-up parameters I could consider vital along the Meat Continuum. But I’d be getting past the vital point: Did I enjoy eating the steak?

And as we were all taught in school, Video is Like Meat. OK, maybe you weren’t taught that. But what a lesson that’d be!

If you walk into one of the huge consumer electronics stores and walk back to that candy-like Massive TV section, and then walk right up to the screens, you can find flaws in all of them. Even the ones that cost as much as a Pontiac Aztek. You can see the rendering seem odd, or the colors unusual, or artifacting, or anything along the Video Continuum. Of course, this can also depend on the source being fed in, the wires going to them, and how your eyes are doing that day.

The functional question, though, is Am I enjoying watching this?. All the pixels-per-inch and contrast ratios don’t mean much if you’re having a good time seeing what you’re seeing.

I’m not saying self-criticism is bad. It’s just that it’s too easy to go from self-criticism to self-defeatism, where you start to assume you must be screwing up because you’re doing it and not somebody else who you don’t know but they must be experts and better than you. That’s when the disease has set in.

The shots are good. They don’t look like they were shot with a million dollar camera, but this is coincidentally the actual situation. I didn’t shoot with a million dollar camera, but I did a good job with what I had. I think I’ll focus on other things, and hope the disease wears off.

P.S. This is what the steak looked like. Yes, I took a picture. It lasted longer.

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  1. Froggy says:

    A hundred bucks for *that*?

    Seriously, good thoughts and overall I agree.. The picture could have been lit a little better, though. We’re missing a lot of the texture in the shadows… Oh… wait… 😉

  2. Rick Almeida says:

    I’ve never tried Kobe beef, but I’ve heard some say that it has a “mushy” texture, because Kobe beef cattle are actually massaged by hand by humans to tenderize the meat whilst it’s on the hoof.

    Did you find it mushy?

  3. Flack says:

    I had Kobe Beef at a Japanese steak house here in OKC last year. When I ordered it there was a collective gasp at the table. Had this been a movie, the staff would have broken into song. “The beef? The beef! He’s going to eat the beef!” Personally I didn’t find the beef itself that exciting, especially considering I could’ve had a dozen steaks from Outback for the same price. Then again, I’ve done a lot of things simply “for the story,” and being able to tell people that you’ve tried Kobe Beef is somehow worth more to me than the beef itself.

    As for the rest of your post, there’s an underlying irony about wondering if your recording equipment is “state of the art” enough to document “really old retro stuff.” 😉

  4. Lazlo Nibble says:

    Dude, someone killed a bug and pinned it to your steak.

    Thought you might want to know.

  5. Flack says:

    It’s not a bug, it’s an ant, and it’s been cooked to a crisp. (That makes it a Kobe Dryant.)

  6. cassiel says:

    I guess the cattle was fondled to death ;->

  7. Herr Doktor Deth Vegetable says:

    Man. Thats not even a steak. It is a steaklet. For that price, it should at least be a full size steak. However, It is kind of them to have pinned a shrimp to it in order to provide scale, so that their customers could be aware of to just what degree they were being overcharged.

    Service with a smile.

  8. Flack says:

    You know, now that you said that, I kind of assumed that said pictures was simply one piece of the steak. If that was it, wow … I hope it came with a geisha handjob for that price. In Oklahoma, the going rate is a little under a hundred bucks for an 8 ounce serving.

  9. ac4000 says:

    Something I find helpful is to adjust your equipment “beyond the limits of your perception.” For example, if you focus a projector near the screen, using a magnifying glass, you know that once you step back it cannot look better to you. Whether someone else can tell is a non-issue. The concept is, of course, easier to implement in certain cases than in others–focus being easier than artifacting, for example–but it provides a concrete goal. It’s a bit like the difference between “I want to be rich,” and, “I want to have x dollars in my bank account.” The latter you can work with.