ASCII by Jason Scott

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Bucks —

I spent a lot of money this week.

Don’t cry for me, of course. I don’t overextend myself when I spend money in droves and I don’t bet the farm on long shots. Even if the BBS documentary never made a dime, it would have set me back about the same amount as if I’d been building a kit car in my garage. That said, it was nice things have turned out as they did, since that enabled me the funds to start working on another one.

Anyway.

When I started work on GET LAMP, I had a number of ideas. I have learned something from projects I work on: if an idea scares me, it’s an idea worth investigating. Ideas that make you comfortably sit back and be pleased with yourself are probably firm, solid, predictable ideas, but it’s the ones that make you shiver and feel like the floor is shifting that have a great chance of amazing success. Some of the scary ideas I had in the past were putting the BBS documentary on 3 DVDs and making it 9 hours (it ended up being five and a half), and making such an overelaborate packaging. I like scary ideas.

I’ve had a number of scary ideas for this documentary, and one of them was to shoot in high definition.

In the beginning, I was going to go after HDV, the quasi-hi-definition format that has caused a little burst of improvement in video quality. You can get amazing shots out of HDV cameras. I was specifically looking at a little number made by Sony called the HDR-FX1. It’s about three grand and shoots a high definition format, and can store that format on DV Tapes. Money saved, money saved. It’s totally compatible with the video editing software I use (Vegas) and it had a bunch of example shots and footage that looked good. So even though going high definition was a scary choice, here was a firm, solid, predictable idea.

But then I heard about the Panasonic HVX-200.

I’d already seen what the DVX-100, the standard-definition ancestor to the HVX-200 could do, how it make things look. I really wanted that look, which is very cinematic and subtle, but wanted it in high definition. So the announcement of the HVX-200 was great. It was to be released on December, 2005. So, that would work out for my scheduling.

Unfortunately, the thing was retailing for $5,995. That’s a ton of cash.

As a result, I proposed the Adventurers’ Club, a way that people who liked the work I did on the BBS documentary could throw some money my way, and get a few bonus items when the movie came out: 3 copies of the final project, the first copies that were distributed, and their names in the credits. Oh, and of course a copy of the BBS documentary immediately, so they got something for the movie.

Doing this raised me $5000 in two months. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet. I really appreciate all those folks stepping up and saying they believed in me.

So, in January, it became obvious that:

  • The camera wasn’t really coming out in December. It was more like February.
  • The camera was going to be in random places with random waiting lists.
  • The camera was going to cost more than $5995 when you put in the other stuff it needed.

Now, in February, I had an incredible opportunity come up, to interview the author of Suspended and Infidel, Infocom Implementor, and 25-year game veteran Mike Berlyn. Mr. Berlyn was going to be leaving the US and travelling, with no set schedule to come back. He had sold his stuff and was going native elsewhere, and so if I wanted to interview him, it was now or never.

So I got the camera by hitting a half-dozen stores every day (it arrived about a week and a half before the shoot) and I went to a local great rental place called Rule Broadcast to rent all the rest of the equipment I would need for the shoot. I estimated that to get to the equipment I needed for the shoot would be another $3,600. I didn’t want to spend that extra money.

So I went down, did the shoot, got the footage. Some of it’s a little messed, but there’s tons to use for the film. It was, ultimately, a success. I got back from Florida and returned the equipment, and waited for the price on stuff to go down. I waited for further equipment to become available.

February became March became April. Now I was 6 months away from where I’d first annouced GET LAMP and only had about 4 hours of footage to show it. Not good. Not right.

So, this week, I bit the bullet. I bought the stuff I needed.

Here’s the secret about the Panasonic HVX-200 that Panasonic is not making clear. It is not a $6,000 camera. It is a $10,000 camera. You can’t use the camera properly without expensive “P2″ cards, and it’s not a good idea to shoot without the “P2″ store, a very helpful little bit of equipment that’s used to store the content of the P2 cards so that you can store the data away immediately while still shooting. There are external hard drives coming, but they are going to run into over a thousand dollars as well, more in the range of two.

So between everything you need, seriously, we’re talking about ten grand. I don’t mind this, but I would have preferred that Panasonic make this clear. They do not.

So, this week, I am buying the additional equipment I need:

  • 4gb P2 Cards, which store 12 minutes of footage: $650 apiece, had to buy two.
  • P2 Store, device for saving off data on P2 cards, $1500.
  • Battery for P2, because I got it and surprise, no goddamned battery: $120

WHAP. $3000 down. One week. On top of the camera and other stuff I got.

Now, ideally, this camera will last me through a couple documentaries, so that’s one cost down in the future. Also, most of the main people I want to interview for GET LAMP are in New England, so travel costs are shrunk. And this should all be the lion’s share of the money I spend on it, outside of the eventual distribution.

But where the BBS Documentary was amortized over 4 years, this documentary is taking a massive money hit right in the beginning.

But you know, I look at some of the footage I shot, the stuff back in February, with this camera, this Scary Idea I pulled onto. And you know what?

I was right.

That is not a photo. That is a screenshot.

That is what GET LAMP will look like.

So that’s it. Filming begins in earnest next week.


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7 Comments

  1. Wow. That looks fantastic. Good choice, and if you need more money in the beginning open up the GET LAMP program again. :-)

  2. Ryan Russell says:

    So… you have to swap cards every 10 minutes or so? I assume that you can hot swap cards, so that you don’t actually have to stop the interviewee every 12 minutes while you pull the cards and put it in the reader? Isn’t that horribly distracting?

    Or are you doing 24 minutes at a time, and then taking a 5 minute break?

    Sounds like a pain in the ass. They will eventually have the equivalent of a 500GB external firewire drive?

  3. Jason Scott says:

    Patrick:

    At this point, I have 50 people in the adventurers’ club. That’s pretty nuts. You all took the edge off the purchase, and that’s what matters. I’ll get by, I’m more annoyed than hurt or damaged from this. I have a high page rank and I wanted to make sure that when people search for HVX-200, they see this fact (the ‘real’ price) and a screenshot showing it looks pretty good.

    Ryan:

    In a nutshell: you have two slots on the camera, for two P2 cards. As you go from one to the other, there’s LEDs showing you what’s filling up and what’s ready to go out. You rip out the card and shove it into the P2 store, which “does the right thing” and then you pull it out and put it back in. Repeat. It sounds bothersome, and it is, but not killer bothersome and I came from a film background where we had three minutes on each “reel”. Or 12, but you had to be comfortable with using a bag to unpack the film in darkness (I actually did this!).

    There are pros and cons to different drives coming out for this, but they aren’t really going to be here until late summer. After they’re out a while, I’ll likely switch to them.

  4. Shii says:

    WOAH! Now that’s a production-quality shot. This is gonna be great.

  5. Ryan Russell says:

    Heh, yes the film bag. I don’t do it myself, but I hung about a bit with Jacob Applebaum this last weekend at the Makers Faire. He’s been shooting with infrared color film, beautiful colors. Anyway, he says he lost his film-changing bag in some random country not long ago. So I had the rather amusing experience of watching him change film in his and other people’s clothing.

    So, having to remember to swap cards every 12 minutes sounds supremely annoying. It’s just you usually, right? No assistant or anything? So you’re filming, asking questions, paying attention to sound, and now swapping cards, etc..? What a pain.

  6. Jason Scott says:

    All things told, it’s not a major thing, which is why I got the P2 store. All together, along with signals the camera sends, it’s not too bad.

  7. David says:

    Actually, you’d be better off skipping the P2 thing entirely for the moment, and recording onto external hard drives.

    There are currently two options, the Firestore FS-100 http://www.focusinfo.com/solutions/catalog.asp?id=150 which is currently available, uses firewire, and is a 100GB hard drive. The minus is that because it doesn’t use P2, it doesn’t do the pre-record, and it doesn’t save 24P natively, but as 60i with an added 3:2 pulldown, so that 24P (which is the rate film is shot) takes up more space.

    If you’re willing to wait a little bit, the CinePorter http://www.spec-comm.com/cineporter.php is coming out this Fall. It uses P2 as its interface, so it saves the files in their native format, using less space for 24P, and also does the pre-roll function (where the camera is just ALWAYS saving to disk, so that you have footage from BEFORE you hit record). The largest size is 320GB, and will be $3500. It is also hotswappable.

    These are a much better investment than using the actual P2 cards, which currently max out at 8GB.

    Good luck!