ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Bummer! —

Internet Archive notifies me when someone posts a review of something I uploaded to the archive. You get told someone reviewed it and a link to the entry. Someone decided to review one of the raw interviews I uploaded, an ANSI artist named Tracer, at the end of the BBS Documentary run (I believe he’s basically the last one I did).

The entry and review is at but I’ll just post it down here. It’s from someone named “Pole”:

Reviewer: Pole – 1 out of 5 stars – April 4, 2006
Subject: Improvements

I have now wathced a couple of the bbs interviews, but i’m becomming increasingly frustrated… although the topic matter interrests me i cant help but get really annoyed.
some tips:

1.Prepare questions,

2.Show examples of the art or whatever is talked about.

3. Edit the interview! not everything the guy says is interesting, and what the interviewer is saying is just horrible

4. Dont call Errol Morris a “nut”… he is after all one of the greatest docu directors on the planet… i’m surprised that the interviewer had actually read anything about Morris but then dismissing him as a “nut” thats just ignorant…

5.Find people that you actually want to listen to speak…

1 Star for the topic matter.

sorry for the outburst but i got really frustrated by this one, especially because i thought the topic was interesting..

I posted a response, but no idea if it’ll show up properly or what the deal is with reviews on Internet Archive. On this weblog, at least, I can stretch out a response, and I think this situation brings up some important points of discussion.

I knew I was taking a slight risk uploading the full interviews of people onto The most obvious is that some people would misunderstand the point of doing this, what I was aiming for, and so on. And then to go through and just start ripping on me, well…. like I said, bummer. Not “and I refuse to upload any more” bummer, but just a big “aw, man” while I’m trying to get work done.

Each of the interviews I did (over 200) were conducted under wildly different circumstances, different reasons, and different motivations. In the beginning, of course, I didn’t know what sort of documentary I was going to end up with, so people are asked all sorts of wild questions and all sorts of subjects way outside of their “specialty”, simply because I didn’t know how much footage I’d have at the end. By the end, I have basically all the footage I need, and we’re down to me experimenting with the subject to discuss various already-established themes in the documentary to see what they could add to it.

In the case of Tracer (the interview in question), there are several factors that are perhaps not so obvious, or even possibly obvious.

  • He was not all for doing this interview; he was basically asked to by RaD Man.
  • He hadn’t been involved in ANSI for basically a decade, and had done a lot of other stuff since then with both running businesses and a full professional life.
  • He honestly didn’t remember a lot.
  • He had things he needed to do later in the day.

All of these factors add up to a bunch of motivations and situations that I, as someone who was a hardened veteran of many interview setups, had to deal with. And here’s what was involved in that.

Some interviewees who wanted to be in this documentary (or my more recent project) have a “story” they want me to get or capture. Maybe it was how they met their wife, or how they had a great success, or how important the subject was to their life, and so on. Sometimes, they know there’s a classic “perception” of the subject that they want to dispel. In other words, they wish to be interviewed because they want to give a speech.

Others have been contacted by me or arranged to be contacted by me. I am saying “I have something that I want to talk about with you on camera, and I would appreciate some of your time talking about it. I’ll stop by.” This is, obviously, an entirely different situation for them.

If the person is ‘famous’ or a figure of some known import, the dynamic is changed; they have nothing to prove, they know they’re “known” for the subject, and they’ve probably been interviewed about it a number of different ways and have distinct opinions or pre-set micro-speeches.

If the person is not famous and not known for a subject (many of the people who I interviewed, this was their first and only video interview for anything), and I’ve contacted them to be interviewed, then we have an unusual situation indeed. Tracer was one of those, and there were probably 10 or more of those.

Turned around this way, my style in this interview maybe makes a little more sense. I ask questions of the person, questions they’ve never had asked of them, and I listen to the answer. I do not have pre-set questions that I click down on, bang bang bang. I instead have a conversation with them on camera, knowing I can clip things down. I had a number of anecdotes/stories that I had at the ready to talk about, and I would tell them, waiting for the person to go “hey, that reminds me!” Some of the best stories you hear in the documentary are from the person going “hey, that reminds me!” and just blowing me away.

But I could see where the unedited interview is boring as dirt to some. Because it is. It’s the rough sketch, the subtle dance, the blocking of movements trying to see where things go. Maybe the story in Tracer wasn’t ANSI, it was about being online. Maybe it was about knowing himself a little better because he could express his skills in ANSI art. Too many times in this world we think of a person as a “thing” and don’t realize they have a life and story outside of the “thing”.

If it sounds weird and artistic… it kind of is. I’m thinking of giving a talk on this at a conference at some point.

But back to the misunderstanding.

It’s heartbreaking to think someone is pulling these down and expecting them to be completed productions, with editing, subtitles, clips, and all the little slow parts removed. That so wasn’t the intention.

The intention was to make available, in basically full form, an interview with someone. Warts and all. Their warts (except where they slandered or otherwise exposed themselves legally without knowing it) and my warts, including my long questions, or my changing the subject matter, or otherwise being who I am.

Imagine watching the filming of a situation comedy, a production that normally runs an hour, but also including the script reading session, the rehearsals, the pre-taping discussions, the bloopers, and the full final shots. That’d be a lot of footage. A lot of it would be boring. Some of it would be pointless. You’d watch some and go “aaa, you’re doing it wrong” and then later they’d fix it but you had to sit through all those mistakes.

If you were watching that footage expecting to see a situation comedy, then you are going to be miserable. You are not getting what you expected and even if the footage is useful in a hundred ways (here’s how a joke changes, how actors prepare a scene, how a production company sets up shots, how a show is made), it was useless for the way you wanted it.

So it breaks my heart to see these sorts of reviews. I spent 8 months turning the 250 hours into 5 and a half. And they think I didn’t spend any.

And I knew there was a risk showing my mistakes or my long monologues or the interviewee forgetting things or mis-stating facts or all the other little irritations and inevitable human aspects of these tapes. I knew the risk was, in a world where everything is pre-baked for you and you just have to press the button and set for three minutes, that I was going to make someone think I couldn’t be bothered enough to “fix” the stuff.

But that wasn’t the point at all.

When I took an interview of someone that went on for two hours and used 2 minutes of it, I cut out a ton of stuff. Sometimes it was cheddar, of course: us discussing where to put the lights, the person asking me for prompting of remembering an obscure software product, me telling them what I intended to do with the documentary. But other times it was sublime, a person would tell a two minute story (which therefore became not usable for the films) that was intense, informative, endearing and real. And in a regular production, you’d never hear it.

A lot of times, we’d touch on subjects outside the area of bulletin board systems entirely; how some companies were engaged in questionable business practices, specific area of politics and conflict that arose from owning a computer that work paid for, taxes, what movies were playing that week… you know stuff. The inevitable result of doing this across 4 years. There is a lot of anthropological information buried in there, stuff that has a meaning greater than the BBS Documentary itself.

And sometimes, there’s historical information that I had no use for, but which I’m sure someone else might. They could take the footage which I licensed Creative Commons and re-use it for their own purposes. When I was in film school and taking classes in audio production, we were given audio tape (this was some time ago) of an announcer doing the schedule of a night of television shows for a local station. He said things wrong, he asked questions, he mis-stated things, he coughed… and we were given a razor blade (this was some time ago) and we had to re-cut his takes into 30 second, 60 second and 2 minute versions. It was a great lesson. And we did it using someone else’s raw footage.

Same with my stuff. I could imagine a teacher downloading the MPEG of an interview of someone from the collection on Internet Archive and saying “So, take this 1 hour interview and make it into a 2 minute feature like you might see on a news show.” Since the stuff is all out there and licensed so students can do it, they can use it for resumes or portfolios and feel no limitations about this. It’s my way of giving back to that group, since it helped form me.

Similarly, I didn’t cut out my questions because I wanted people to know what the interviewee was responding to. If I said “what is your fondest memory of a BBS” and they talked about someone they met, you would have trouble knowing what the context was, if you didn’t hear my question first. My sometimes poorly-worded, spur-of-the-moment, improvised question.

With a speech deficiency.

Anyway, just wanted to mention this. Be assured, the interviews will continue to come as I can get time to upload them. I’ll let you know when the next batch is up.

Oh, and yes, Errol Morris is most definitely a nut.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The angry reviewer is in the minority. Most of us really appreciate you uploading footage to

    I preordered a copy of the documentary from you and was glad I did. Keep up the good work.

  2. l.m.orchard says:

    Again, thanks for showing us how the sausage was made. In this particular case, I enjoy the process.

  3. IC says:

    Hehe, yes. One should not judge the sausage factory having not tasted the sausage.