ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The BBS Documentary Interview Collection —

Well, Waxy showed his usual talent for sniffing out dropped hints and figured out that I referenced the BBS Documentary raw footage going onto over time. Since that little kitty’s out of the box, let me give clarifications.

I’m actually more concerned about releasing raw footage while the documentary is in “sales cycle” than I was releasing it under Creative Commons. Like I said in my rant-y essay about that license, I don’t see Creative Commons really impacting sales any direction but upward. A part of me, however, sees releasing the footage as impacting sales, since people might go “he’s releasing the documentary free!”.

Obviously, this is not the case; the thing you’re paying for is the editing, the packaging, the work I did, the convenience and ease of the DVD and so on. But still, I am concerned about perceptions.

There’s a lot of footage. A ton. I don’t know if people know how much. At least 250 hours. It actually might be more, but that’s the number I’m able to dash off. That’s TEN AND A HALF SOLID DAYS OF PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT BBSES.

The interviews are all over the place in terms of quality and subject matter. One of the most common criticisms for my documentary is along the lines of “you didn’t include incredibly specific subject in your film”. That’s usually because either one interview mentioned it as an aside, or maybe nobody mentioned it at all. If so, then it was very hard to fit things into the documentary on a cinematic basis. The documentary is just that, a film, a narrative movie about a subject. And that medium lends itself to certain aspects of story (human emotions, sounds, images) while not doing a good job of others (completist lists, endless talking, complicated issues that you almost have to have been part of to understand, etc.) and you have to take that into account. People compliment me on how well the editing flows… and then ask why I didn’t include a rather complicated subject.

So about these interviews….

Some interviews are basically monologues, with me in the room while someone talks with pretty much no prompting for a full tape. Others are “memory surgery”, with the subject and I working together to dredge out individual facts from hazy fogged reminiscences. The second type is somewhat hard to sit through.

These interviews will in fact be “edited for content”, but I think the term means different things to different people.

There’s a whole set of interview tools I use to get people to talk. In the case of people who just simply couldn’t know where to go next, I would tell them stories. In fact, I often told the same stories. I might tell the same story to a dozen people. But somewhere in there, they’d go “Oh, yeah! That reminds me!” and off we’d go again. I’m likely going to cut out my stories. I’m also going to cut out where, for example, I talk about how I got a flat fixed with AAA before the interview, or where we both marvel about the coffee. Trust me.

However, if we talked about BBSes, it’ll be in there, I’m not cutting out anything related to them, in any way. Some tapes will be 20 minutes while others are 50. It really ranged a lot.

Lighting and sound wise, things are all over the place as well. This is because, in some cases, I would have 10 minutes of “setup time” with someone who HAD to be out the door in 60 minutes. So I’d rush. Or I’d have 4 interviews that day, and the next interview was 150 miles away (this happened a lot). So I set things up, and they were pretty good, and there we went. In a few cases, I had people near windows and the light changed across a day. This is the price of a one-man crew.

I’m going to focus first on putting up the interviews with the people who didn’t ultimately make it into the documentary. This is about five people. In the background, right now, my laptop is digitizing my interview with Mark Nasstrom, from Seal Rock, Oregon, who used his BBS as a way to report election results for the town days before the town newspaper, which only came out once a week. We discuss Boardwatch extensively. We discuss what it means to have a BBS in a town where the phone lines rot from the salt in the nearby ocean (Seal Rock is a coastal town). We talk about a lot of interesting things, very useful historical information about BBSes, across the hour. So it’s fun to listen to.

I’d like the eventual entries for each interview to be as complete as possible. I will write out explanations of the interview, it’s context, the person. I will fill out all the forms it provides for me. But I wouldn’t mind it going further.

I would hope (but hope is all it is) that someone will consider transcribing the interviews. I hope someone considers indexing them. Maybe someone will even find ways to make something be able to search the video.

And more than that, my REAL dream is that someone will take my footage and use it in their OWN documentaries. Remember, it’s Attribute-ShareAlike licensed. You can use it. You can sell what you make from it. You have to release it under a CC license the same as mine, but hey, I’m doing OK financially, you can too, if it’s good enough. I would hope that all the people who complained about my focus on North American BBSes would consider using my footage as a foundation to record their own documentaries, interview their own country’s people, add their own voices to the record. That’d be sizzling hot. I’d be really proud.

Until then, however, we have this library of video interviews I’m building. It’s going to take me many months to get all of them up; I suspect I’ll be doing this well into 2006, on the side, slowly building this massive repository of BBS history, this huge juggernaut of interviews and footage with thousands, literally thousands of BBS subjects covered.

Before this project came along there was no real video footage of Ward talking about the first BBS. Now there is five hours. Before this project, you had to rely on heavily-edited interviews with Tom Jennings to see his take on his software. In the two hours of footage I have, there’s no question about his emotion and energy around Fidonet. Phil Becker, creator of TBBS? 5 hours. Jack Rickard? Two. And so on, and so forth. Voices raised, resurrected from the rich years of BBS history, speaking clearly, telling us these stories, for the generations to come.

How could I put a price on that?

Speaking of which, buy the documentary. My producer thanks you.

Update: It’s now up at

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  1. Mark says:

    Cool, I can’t wait to get my hands on some of this footage.

  2. phil says:

    …and available in DVD form? No?

    Ok, so we need a new format that is easy to build/copy/distribute AND hold all of this in one reuseable container…

  3. Jason Scott says:

    Phil: Would you honestly pay for that much footage? Assuming we get the usual out of a DVD (roughly 4 hours if you’re feeling frisky and plan carefully), then we’re talking a 25 DVD set.

  4. phil says:

    I don’t know about the whole shooting match, but there would be a number of interviews I would be interested in seeing in their own right.

    A couple of months ago we got an industrial strength DVD/CD duplicator at work for in-house “on demand” duplication of our films. Realistically, glass mastering would be out for the raw footage, but most duplication houses probably have one of these duplicators for “low volume” work.