ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Linkages —

It is a week before I show some footage at Shmoocon.

It is entirely arbitrary that I am showing footage at Shmoocon; this limitation is self-imposed. But one thing I’ve learned of myself over the many years is that I work better with some sort of structure, even if I’m a complete slack layabout regarding that structure. I think I’ll always have a day job, some thing that forces me to get up and go to sleep, because when I have, say, a week off for vacation or holidays, I don’t really make the most of those days. Maybe I’m just recharging batteries, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like I’m utterly adrift.

So by giving myself the structure of having to have something to show at the event, I get myself into the mood of doing the most tedious, non-rewarding part of the editing process: finding linkages.

Like a lot of weblogs, movies mostly consist of a lot of links. Writing in general is a matter of what we call narrative structure, or acts, or a bunch of other names, but even then it’s mostly going to link between the words and ideas; films link across sound, vision and what (if anything) is being said.

It’s easier to do with a fictionalized film, of course, where the shots are all pre-planned (usually) and you know you what you want on the other end and you have a bunch of crew to help you achieve that idea. Your guy is going to get out of that car, grab the girl, and then shoot up the club; now it’s just a matter of getting shots demonstrating that to your satisfaction. Shot of guy getting out of car, shot of guy grabbing girl, shots of guy shooting up clubs. Your actors and set and everything else is there specifically to achieve that end. And how you are as a filmmaker determines how good the resulting product will be, beyond the skeleton description I gave. But at the outset, you know what’s coming out the other end. What I’m saying is that the links were all there first.

In the way I’m doing my documentaries, there are no links at the outset.

Well, I know I will likely talk about text adventures in the current one, but I didn’t even follow that all the time; sometimes people would go off on interesting tangents that were still within the context of what I was aiming for, so off we went, sometimes staying there for some time. As a result, this is not an industrial or cable-TV like “documentary” where we get to see a series of meaningless shots combined with people of all sorts of random strips along with a constant stream of narrative ballsack telling you what to think. Oh look, an arm’s-reach example. I hate that stuff.

But the side effect of the more relaxed shooting I do is that I end up with a lot of footage. Think of it; I’ve got something like 105 hours of people talking. 105 hours. From this, there’s probably going to be maybe 4-5 hours of content I end up using. (Between the bonus features and so on.) So already we know that for every minute you see something in my DVDs, there’s 25 minutes of other “stuff” not being used.

Now, before you get all bezoomny and creech on me, be aware that of, say, a one hour interview, 10-15 minutes of that is asking questions. So already, that 25 minutes of “stuff” is dropped down by a couple. There’s also camera re-adjustments, bloopers, and the person going “I have absolutely no answer for that question.” So it’s reduced right there. Some of the answers are completely out of the scope of the documentary, for example talking about a show they just saw, or commenting on a new piece of technology they like as an example of something that excites them. A few people work at new companies now and they might mention what they’re up to but it’s not really part of what I’d need. So a lot goes out the window from that.

What I end up with, then, is a pile of answers; answers of all sorts, to questions of all stripe, and sometimes answered inconsistently. I have two people saying diametrically opposed opinions on something. I have people claiming things happened one way and someone refuting them, although they often couch it with “I may not recall properly…” and then it’s up to me to do additional research.

Having done all this, I start looking for general headings. People discussing Infocom are not discussing making puzzles. People discussing playing games are not people discussing making them. All of these are separate folders. In those folders, then, are the links I’m looking for. But they’re everywhere, and nowhere. Here’s where the pain begins.

It’s up to me, browsing through statements made in haste or with no warning months or years ago, to pull them all into a cohesive set of ideas. People do not, generally, speak in a manner of “this is the way that things are or the way I am” unless they’re reading prepared statements (or giving canned answers). So there’s always a lot of play in terms of what they’re saying and how it might be usable.

This is, as I said, tedious: I push together different people saying the same thing, compare quality of the shot, intercut phrases, and all the rest of the work of seeing if there’s any flow there. This ends up with a floating “creature” in the time log, a pile of pushed together clips that go… somewhere. But before and after that somewhere, there’s nothing. Nothing obvious to branch two lines of thought, possibly no footage to back it up. But I have to find a way to make the creatures line up, a parade of thoughts, providing a narrative of some sort.

If I’m lucky, I’ll remember a line, something spoken in the dozens of hours, that fits in here perfectly. If I’m not, it’s a fade to black and on to the next idea with little to compose them together. People’s brains are good at finding links where there are none, but that’s not something to rely on; that’s being lazy. These connections will lie, dormant, until I find something to put there, and that could take a long time indeed. It is, to me, the core of this endeavor.

And now, because I like you, here’s a youtube video showing the sort of hybrid documentary/fiction filmmaking that Robert Rodriguez used in his infamously cheap but amazingly well-done film “The Mariachi” In this clip, he shows you his technique for shooting, which basically involves abusing everyone around him to the absolute maximum he possibly can, which actually was one of the reasons Hollywood unions gained traction so quickly a century ago… but I digress. Watch and be amazed, or appalled.

For what it’s worth, he claims in there that he only shot 25 rolls of film for his movie. That means he shot 69 minutes of footage for a 81 minute film.

I’m not that lucky.

Anyway, back to the links.

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