Has Never Filmed, Will Never Film, Might Film —
I’m stacking documentary-related post after doc-related post, mostly to get these all out of my head for a little while. I wanted to address some documentaries I’m not doing, along with examples of them being done, or whether I think they should be done at all.
While being interviewed by Off The Hook during the months before GET LAMP came out (and here’s an MP3 of that) there’s a moment when I’m asked about the production quality and features, and the co-host basically says something along the lines of “as we expect from a Jason Scott Production…” which almost knocked me off my chair. The idea that I had a reputation among some folks of making elaborate, involved packaged collections of documentary work, with only one under my belt at the time… well, that was just a big surprise. Of course, with a gold/silver coin and custom painted mural, I guess they were kind of right.
So if there’s an actual idea of a “Jason Scott Treatment” that a subject can receive, well, then you know I’d only be doing it for something that I thought desperately needed saving, or really deep inspection, or any of the other attributes that come with spending years on a project. And for some folks, they see someone who makes films like I do, and they really want me to make a film about their pet subject. Well, after more than half a decade of suggestions, I figured I’d give a list of the ones I am very unlikely to ever get to, in the hope others will step in. I reserve the right to change my mind, but that’s unlikely too, unless people come along with the explosive mixture of a lot of money and a total trust of my ability to come up with a film on the other side without meddling. Yeah, that’s what I thought as well.
Here we go.
I get this a lot. Do one about pirates, they say. Usually the request is something about previous pirate scenes, current pirate scenes, specific pirate scenes, etc. Maybe something about torrenting, or the “real” history of pirating, or, honestly, don’t know what. I think part of this comes from how folks got really stoked when I did that “You’re Stealing it Wrong” talk at DEFCON. That spread out in a lot of directions and I think inspired some folks to think that someone could actually do some sort of piracy overview that was entertaining, colorful, and maybe somewhat accurate. And maybe I was that guy!
First of all, I already did a piracy documentary. It’s the HPAC episode of BBS Documentary, and it centers around Apple II pirates active in the 1980-1985 period. Why? Because pirates don’t come on camera. Not if they think they have a chance of getting a bad rap from it, or in trouble, or hauled off to jail. They really, really don’t. I focused on guys for whom 20 years of good behavior/new life/safe distance enabled them to talk about it. Anyone either active or recently active does not want any part of any documentary, unless it’s to berate or warn whoever’s making a film they should get it “right”.
I’ve got people telling me to do a Commdore Pirates documentary, from the same era as the Apple II guys, but I personally believe it would have nothing new to say than what I got from the Apple guys in HPAC – only the screenshots would be different and more colorful. That’s not enough.
The closest we have to such a piracy documentary as people want me to make is probably either Steal This Film or Steal This Film II. Spoiler alert: Steal This Film II is miles better than Steal This Film I, but go ahead and watch both if you don’t believe me; they’re available for free. Or watch Good Copy Bad Copy, also for free, which is also goddamned fantastic. Or even On Piracy, my buddy Julien McArdle’s documentary on piracy, which while mostly Canadian-themed and containing one re-enacted interview (of a pirate), is what I think most people would expect from a Piracy Documentary. Sometime this year we can expect the release of Away from Keyboard, a documentary on The Pirate Bay and the legal case around it – I can’t attest to it, but in combination with all these other films, you can probably feel a lot of the “stuff” around software piracy is pretty well covered. I don’t need to get in there; it’s totally redundant.
No, I am never, ever, ever going to do a documentary on the Demoscene. I don’t even want to do a documentary on a single Demoparty. First of all, I’m American (Panamerican, North American, whatever it’s called in the scene) and that’s already a blow, but beyond that I don’t even get along with a lot of the people in it, which would of course be an interesting challenge but not a way I want to spend years of my life. Swimming upstream through a flurry of punches to get the opportunity to let demosceners tell people the demoscene is interesting and great is something I might have attempted in my 30s, but I used that time on the previous two. So no.
But damn, everyone is in luck, because last year a group called Yle New Media Development released a series of episodes about the Finnish Demoscene. Called The Demoscene Documentary, it has some wonderful heavy hitters, awesome never-before-seen footage, real insight into the process, and best of all, people are interviewed in their native language and subtitled, something I just simply could not do in any easy fashion.
Now, I say this and I must point out they still got punched in the gut for all sorts of perceived transgressions and missing data and too much focus on the past versus focus on the present, etc. And yes, I probably could go after aspects of this others aren’t. But no. Not happening. Never happening.
This was suggested to me by OpenFly a while back, and he’s right. If there were two of me, I’d be doing this documentary. It has everything BBS had – a long history, a hugely variant knowledge base, tons of documentation, ready-for-the-camera people and locations, and tons of stuff I could delve into on the human side.
Ham radio is both amazing and critical even to the modern era. There is no question this documentary has to be made.
It’s all there! But I just don’t want to work on this subject over the ones I want to work on. To do two “mega-docs” would be just too much for me – I’m still a one-man band. But this mega-doc needs to be done! Someone, get in here! I’ll happily be a consultant or producer. I just can’t hit the pavement.
ATARI, COMMODORE, SIERRA, A BILLION OTHER COMPANIES
“What about XXX, which made XXX, which is part of computer history?” No. I’ll do a documentary in service of another, larger theme for something, but I am not really interested in tracking down another company. Infocom was hard enough and I was very lucky to be given access to Steve Meretzky’s archives before they were donated elsewhere. While I agree a Sierra documentary would probably be interesting, that’s just not an area I want to spend the time on and there are some real fantastic people who’ve collected stories out there and could do it better. On the other hand, there are actually quite a few company documentaries out there. Howard Scott Warshaw did a series called Once Upon Atari (which IGN apparently got the rights to show online a few years back) which was one of the inspirations for BBS, actually, and not only is Viva Amiga deep into production, I’m in it! It’s going to be great!
So no, not happening.
DUKE NUKEM FOREVER
I just had to drop this one at the end because while I am not going to make this, SOMEONE REALLY NEEDS TO MAKE THIS. But you have almost no time. The game is supposed to come out in May, and yes har har but it went to a third party and they really did finish it… but while the game is still a mystery and a legend in people’s minds, this is the time to go with a camera and find as many of the parties and the game people and everyone else and get the feeling for this. Find all the people you can, developers, creators, pundits, plain ol’ players…. oh my god, it’d be the most fantastic thing. I’d totally do this if I didn’t think it wasn’t my responsibility. I’ll happily consult and produce. Just get fired up. Do it!
THERE ARE PROBABLY MORE
…but these are the ones I get asked about all the time. I hope I’ve given some decent reasons, and hope that you enjoy the films that others have made in the same subjects. But I am not your guy.
Categorised as: documentary | jason his own self
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you’re my guy.
What you probably should do is an instructional website for people wanting to do documentaries on a low budget. I mean, just a compilation of your posts on the topic will probably be a good starting point for beginners. And I’m sure, there’s a lot you’ve learned in the process that didn’t make it to the blog.
And maybe a documentary about making that website. And one about making the documentary on making the website, because you can never be too sure. Also, where’s the documentary on Sockington?
Jan: A documentary on making a website about making documentaries? Have you seen his presentation on how to give a presentation? Check out http://www.archive.org/details/2009-04-jscott-presentationpresentation
I would so volunteer to be in a piracy documentary.
About demoscene documentary, You’re right. As I’m from Poland, I can say that there is’nt much to talk about, at least Polish, demoscene. Yes, there were a few years of good times, but today… First thing: the closest PC group is in Germany, only a few 8-bit groups survived in Poland. And no zines of course, because who reads this as there are a few sceners?. The last Internet zine connected to scene fallen apart in a very… peculiar way. To make a long story short the man responsible for this now sells condoms over Internet and pretends that he doesn’t know what the scene is. Another thing is that when they started their demoparties, they spreaded, shown demos, made compos and after the meeting they drank a little. Today they drink much, and after they “load more demos” (with 40% of alco… er.. assembly) until “system crash” (drinking too much).
P.S. As I finally became an engineer, I’ll start uploading again in days. And I got about 100 more CDs (about 50 new).
Well, I totally think the demoscene deserves documentaries. I’m just not the guy for it.
A Ham Radio documentary would be awesome. Here is a hobby that now spans over 100 years of technical innovation, from spark-gap to satellites, from CW (morse code) to television and packet, with a rich and colorful history. Yuri Gagarin (first man in space), Barry Goldwater, King Hussein of Jordan, Owen Garriot (NASA Skylab and shuttle astronaut) and many other notables were also licensed Hams.
My only wish would be that any documentary on the subject would be given the same care and attention that Jason would have given to it.
Oh, and Once Upon Atari was great, too. It was amazing to hear all those great stories from the actual creators of all those iconic games for the 2600.
And I’ll mention it again, Cringely’s Triumph of the Nerds, which covers the history of the personal computer from 1975 to 1995 is a must-see. I believe that it is still available for rental from Netflix, and well worth the time.
“What you probably should do is an instructional website for people wanting to do documentaries on a low budget. I mean, just a compilation of your posts on the topic will probably be a good starting point for beginners.”
THIS. OMG a thousand times this. I love the posts like “how to pack an amazingly useful array of interview stuff into two luggage items” and any of the ones in which you discuss your workflow/process. This kind of content would make an excellent minisite or (non-DRM) eBook or something.
Dude, the Commodore and Ham Radio ones would be the best IMO.
I’m part of BOTH of those hobbies/addictions.
This is n2dvm saying 73’s for now…
I would be the lead role in a movie about piracy, talent scouts, come find me!