ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Machine is Humming —

Here we are, wading into the deep waters of the selling phase of the documentary, and I’m doing my best to put the same work into this part as I did in making it in the first place.

Hundreds of DVD boxes have gone out; I’d put pictures up but they’d look about the same as the pictures from previous entries; big stacks of DVDs packaged into white boxes with labels on top. A few people have ordered 2 or more, and they get larger white boxes. One person ordered 20! He gets a very large box indeed.

The faces of the workers at the Fort Point South Station post office location now visibly sink when I come in with my death pile of the night. Sometimes, I’ve been able to get things together enough to have pre-printed internet postage on them (you have to drop off all your pre-paid boxes the same day you buy the postage, so everything has to be in perfect sync to do this). But often, I just come in with a stack of 50, maybe for the second or third time that day, and I take my number, smiling. And they call the numbers one by one, glancing at each other, wondering who’s going to get Jason this time. If I’m feeling frisky, I start to pretend to get up after each number just to watch them shrink back in horror. But usually I’m called pretty quickly and then I’m drafted in doing some of the process with them, like stamping everything “Air Mail” or the like. Yes, even at the post office, I’m working.

Throughout the past week, I’ve been getting reports from people getting copies. Some are in other countries, so the whole customs thing is working out for me. Some are down the street or a couple towns over.

Cross your fingers for me, but so far, I haven’t gotten a response along the line of “holy crap, it’s crap, no I mean really crap, this is crap”. Instead, people are telling me that it was just what they were hoping it would be. Never trust excerpts from letters by a guy selling the item being talked about, but here’s some excerpts:

“My buddy Mark and I sat with a few cocktails and watched the entire set over the last couple of days. Nice work! That was awesome stuff. I think you got just the right tone; appreciative but not overly-reverent, and interested (and interesting) without being gushy.”

“The BBS documentary is FANTASTIC! I spent all weekend watching every vid while coding and I’m still coding and watching it again! The production and package quality is Amazing. I am very very very impressed.”

“Solid for sure. I never thought a documentary episode about compression, of all things, could bring tears to my eyes.”

“Doing video production work for many years, I also thought you did a real good job with the technical aspects of the video. You can tell it’s well done when the technical construction of the video doesn’t distract from the content of the piece. I’ve watched many videos that had a great topic and storyline, but the technical execution is so poor that you spend your time distracted by the jump cuts, poor transitions, etc. This one, however sounded good, interviews looked good, the video was clear, there was just enough cutaways of historic clips/screenshots/etc to keep the flow nice and keep the interest of the viewer.”

“What good memories! I loved the documentary! I watched all three DVD’s in three evenings. Kept me glued to the TV like I haven’t been in a long time. Good work, bravo!!”

“Well you’ve done a terrific job with what you’ve put together. To ask for a sequel at this time does seem to be a bit much to ask, especially with all the work and effort you’ve gone through to put together this set. What can I say though, I’m tremendously excited that somebody’s finally done this and I’m already screaming “MORE, MORE!!!” :-)”

There’s a few dozen more like that. You can imagine how good it feels for me to know that people are coming home or getting into work, finding a nice package with “BIS Productions” on the label, opening it, and finding a glittering DVD box with a big logo on it, inside of which is a massive set of films about bulletin boards. It is what I would have wanted to find myself on the internet and ordered without a moment’s thought.

Watching the first episode of Motorcycle Mania (the documentary that started the shooting star of Jesse James of Monster Garage) got me re-interested in the documentary form, but it was another project which got me thinking that I could do it myself.

That was a project called Mindcandy, which is a top-quality work by the members of the demo group Hornet. It contains full-quality versions of old PC “demos”, which are basically homegrown pieces of software that do incredible tricks with graphics and sound in real-time. Be rest assured, the way that some people heard about my project and went “MUST HAVE NOW”, I did the same with this project.

I started interacting with the creators, and helped get them mentioned on Slashdot, which helped sell a few. After talking with them, I got inspired to think I could maybe do a DVD project myself.

In fact, I used the same DVD production house they did, Bullseye Disc. Curtis, Shelby and Dawn of Bullseye have been dealing with me for over a year as I put this project together, talking wildly about doing a three DVD-9 set with 8-panel digipak, which, trust me, is like walking into a car dealership and going “yeah, give me the Saturn V Rocket”. They informed me, helped me make decisions, took my money and in return let me take literally business days of their time with a thousand insane details. They took it all in stride and in fact the final product is even better than what my initial plans were. That’s good work, right there.

Jim “Trixter” Leonard of Hornet helped with the DVD itself by answering all of my nail-biting questions on formats and interlace and region encoding (or lack of). He also went over the episodes with a fine tooth comb and helped me clear out a ton of weirdness and errors; for this he earned the nickname “The Eye of Doom” and has a credit in the production notes as a result. He wasn’t the only one helping me on all these levels, either, let me be clear.

So you see how one project inspires another and then inspires another. I hope, down the line, that someone will see this documentary and go “Wow, I bet I could do that, and better.” and some subject, some narrative story out there will come into being where before it might not have. They’ll contact me, I’ll tell them everything I know, and they’ll go to the next level. That’s how it works in the world. Inspiration, improvement, innovation.

Would I like to sell a million of these? You bet. Is that the overriding reason I did this? No. I did this because I saw a dearth of information, a lack of story being told of the human side of the bulletin board system and the unique social aspects of it, and I thought I could put together a film or set of films that would tell that story and fill an incredibly huge void. That void is now filled. People can, at least, go “yeah, it was like in the BBS documentary, but there was this part and this story as well.” This way, people can tell more of what’s going on without getting trapped up in trying to explain what a BBS was in the first place.

Similarly, I do not think it should stop with my film being the end-all be-all of this story: I hope there are BBS documentaries to come, told by others with other points of view (you can’t make a documentary and not edit in a point of view) and which will take the body of knowledge even further. There’s a lot of material in this story, far beyond anything I could have done with my five and a half hours.

If you bought this documentary already, and you think it’s good, please spread the word about it. What I see out there in many cases is skepticism that this thing could be at all worth watching, and as people are finding out, it is worth watching. The more people who know, the better to getting this project out to the folks who didn’t know it was done and who will be floored and delighted such a DVD set exists.

More soon.

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  1. Andrew Smith says:

    Mine arrived today! Am yet to watch it, as i’m still deciding whether to watch it in parts or dedicate a small portion of my life to it, but the packaging looks fantastic! Also, i’m suprised to see a lack of torrents up for this thing (I mention how there probably would be on my `blog` and have had about 30-40 people googling for “BBS Documentary Torrent”.

    Anyway, thanks alot it looks marvelous!

  2. Eternity says:

    just got my copy in london,uk yesterday and I got up early before work just to watch it. Really enjoying it, is there enuff life left in your for another movie ?

  3. Andrew Smith says:

    Baud, Siceops and users, make it pay, art scene down 🙂
    Great stuff! I had nothing to do with the BBS scene but always had an interest in it, i’d found out and understood most of it but never had a clue what the art scene was all about, now I do!

    Yes, another movie would be brilliant. In UK here also, btw.

  4. Jason Scott says:

    There are plans to use the additional material to provide publically available interviews; but if I do another film, it won’t be about BBSes.

  5. Tom Smith says:

    just to let you know, got my copy over here in the uk today, and I’m planning on watching (some of) it tonight…

  6. Kizzle says:

    There are 12 googles for “BBS Documentary Torrent” on my site.

  7. just to let you know, got my copy over here in the uk today, and I’m planning on watching (some of) it tonight…

  8. just got my copy in london,uk yesterday and I got up early before work just to watch it. Really enjoying it, is there enuff life left in your for another movie ?