What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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Sound Opinion's Jim DeRogatis and The Daily Show's Ben Karlin
review literary experiences at Field-Tested Books.
This is our new weblog about making a film. If everything works out
it should be an interesting ride, but we do understand that the
anticipation of a fiery crash is part of the attraction too. Scroll down
to the very first entry for an explanantion and please consider joining
us as an Executive Producer.
Well, the summer came and went, there were a million client projects to get out the door and a whole slew more of those miscellaneous fun things we tend to get ourselves wrapped up in, just to keep things interesting around here. So while it might have been a little slow on the 72° front for the past couple of months, like with anything to do, just because it's been on hiatus, never means its been left and forgotten. And there's nothing like a short documentary to kindle the flames, huh?
For a little behind the scenes look at Laboratory Conditions, you can scroll down and read some of the updates from the road we sent while we were out in Los Alamos wandering around. Truth be told about the mini-doc we've premiered in five pieces this week, we'd actually cut together a fairly finished draft within a month or two of getting back from the trip, but we weren't exactly sure what to do with it. We sent a top secret link with it out to all our Executive Producers, asking what they thought of it and made a few tweaks here and there based on their suggestions. Everyone we'd shown it to really liked it a lot, but it was still around twenty minutes long and not exactly one action-packed sequence after another, so we were concerned about it getting lost in the shuffle online, where the rule of thumb always seems to be "if it's over a couple of minutes, you're going to lose people."
A few months later, following A List Apart here in Chicago, we were all out to dinner with Jason Santa Maria, Liz Danzico and John Tolva, who had gone with us to Los Alamos and was likely sick of seeing the hundred, slightly different drafts of Laboratory Conditions we'd sent him by that point. We got to talking about the documentary, saying, "We've got this finished thing and it's great, but we don't know what exactly to do with it," when Jason said, "Well, you could always just cut it up into more easily digestible pieces." Lo and behold, the solution we were looking for was just that simple. We got back into the office, cut it up, showed it to John and Jason who thought it made the transition into chapters really successfully, and, well, here we are.
For anyone whose interested in seeing the original, uncut version, as well as short segments about Los Alamos itself, putting to use some of the more than twenty hours of footage we shot and dozen or so people we interviewed about an incredibly interesting town, along with footage from a top secret VHS tape Ed Grothus gave us as we were leaving The Black Hole (no kidding, it actually has printed, "Top Secret," all over it), we're in the process of putting together DVDs and selling them here. Of course, our Executive Producers get the first copies we make, shipped out to them right away, along with the package they received when they first signed up, and whatever else we can think to send them. If you're interested in getting a share of the glory, if there ever is any, here's the place to join their hallowed ranks.
Updated by SD on November 29, 2007 at 12:06pm
Over the past few weeks, in between the millions of other projects we always have going on, we've been putting the finishing touches on the film we made on the way to make a film, a short documentary about the eccentric owner of the Black Hole, a surplus store in Los Alamos, New Mexico. If you remember, I headed out there with Laura Gilligan and Executive Producer John Tolva (who originally recommended the place) in order to secure the needed set pieces for 72°. We wanted to check out what they had and see if we could talk them into lending us some of the equipment for a couple of days when it comes time to shoot the film. We're pleased to announce that they gave us the okay and now we're in the process of hunting down a location somewhere out there to move all of this stuff into and finally start making 72°.
Late yesterday, we sent out a rough cut of the documentary to all of our Executive Producers, including the newest member of their esteemed ranks, Witold Riedel. While we're going to launch the final product in a few days after finishing off the titles, clearing all the music and making some tweaks here and there, we wanted to get all of their opinions on what they thought of where it's at now, if they thought it could be better by making changes and even asked them if they could come up with a better title for the thing than the one we've got comped in there now. So if you're interested in such perks, maybe now is the time to hop on board.
Updated by SD on June 29, 2007 at 1:46pm
A snippet from the road. Lots more soon.
Updated by SD on April 20, 2007 at 06:05pm
If you ever find yourself in a town for a few days with no specific, detailed plans at all, I highly recommend getting yourself a camera and going out an making a documentary about the place. We've been here just two full days, but we keep having to remind ourselves "Wow. We've been here just two days." I don't think we've begun to even scratch the surface of Los Alamos, but we've gotten to know the town so well, beyond anything that could come from any museum, any book, any description of the place -- it's just overwhelming.
In the past couple of days, we've had the chance to interview current Lab employees, former Lab employees, high school teachers, store owners, and so many others. Some agreed to appear on camera, while others, who either were camera shy or said things like "if this goes up on the web, people would know where I am," we spent hours with and learned so much from. And it's as exactly as promised: "If you go there, it'll seem really normal until you start noticing things and talking to people. Then it'll be completely weird." It's a town that has seen hardly any population growth since the 1950s. It's a place where nearly everyone who goes to school here leaves. It's a place where few people are allowed to talk about what they do for a living. It's a place that has the largest average income of any town in the country, yet the retail sector is a shambles and few businesses survive. We have been here two days and while we feel like we've really gotten to know the town extremely well, you'd need months here, years maybe, before you maybe started to figure it all out. We're hoping that we've shot enough footage to help illustrate, in at least some small part, the strange, wonderful place that is Los Alamos.
In 72° production news, which was really the point of this whole trip to begin with, we've made some big progress. Ed at the Black Hole Museum said he'd be more than happy to let us use whatever equipment he has that we'd need to make the film -- and equipment he has by the warehouse-full. There are card readers, tape machines, mainframes, desks -- everything. We also got a chance to talk to the community director for Los Alamos, who gave us layouts of all the buildings in town that might work as places to shoot in (because, while Ed has the equipment, each piece weighs about a ton, so shipping just one machine might be twice as expensive as just shooting the whole thing in Los Alamos). So we're on the right track, I think. Once we get back to Chicago, the serious discussions of how to proceed will begin right away.
Until then, we spend our last night here in Los Alamos and I speak for the three of us, myself, John Tolva (our Executive Producer), and Laura Gilligan (our amazing guide), in saying that we'll miss this place maybe more than any sandy beach vacation we've ever been on. It's been an unforgettable experience.
Updated by SD on April 20, 2007 at 12:14am
Just a bit of the fun we had today. More soon.
Updated by SD on April 18, 2007 at 09:23pm
I met our guide for the trip, a woman who grew up in Los Alamos, Laura Gilligan, at the airport bar half an hour before our flight boarded. We got to know each other over her glass of water and my three extra strong cranberry and vodkas (I'm not a great flyer and those sounded appropriately breakfast-y). The flight was a breeze and after picking up the rental car, we had four hours to kill in Albuquerque before John's flight would arrive, so we hit up the fantastic Owl Cafe. With still hours to spare, we went to Old Town Albuquerque, which is really not much more than a tourist trap, save for the American International Rattlesnake Museum, which we decided was worth paying the $3.50 admission to get into. And for that $3.50? Two rooms full of glass cages with rattlesnakes in them and a Certificate of Bravery, signed by the owner, which included a coupon stating, "$1.00 Off Any Museum Logo Shirt. $2 Off When You Change Into the Shirt and Wear It Out of the Museum Store." Seeing as the place was on the end of the tourist-y strip, it was a great piece of marketing.
John arrived and we headed to Los Alamos, only stopping quickly in Sante Fe for the first in what I hope will be many New Mexican Mexican food meals. By the time we arrived, it was dark and getting late. We re-grouped after a half hour break from one another and headed down to the hotel bar to use the wooden tokens we were each given upon check-in for one free beer. As we sat, we developed some plans on what exactly our focus should be and our interviewing techniques. Because Laura is from here originally, she provided countless great ideas of where to go to get the goods.
We next decided to take a walk down the strip, the main drag (if you could call it that) -- just get the lay of the land and continue talking. The most shocking thing is how absolutely normal Los Alamos is. It looks like any other tiny town in America (it has a population of just around 18,000). You want to see signs for stores in reference to the Lab, like Atomic Dry Cleaners or Neutron Dentistry, but there's nothing like that. That's really the most fascinating thing about Los Alamos. You have this place where everything seems quiet and unspectacular, yet you're just a mile down the road from one of the most important locations in both the current and past histories of this country. The people who are driving by you as you walk down the street might be some of the most brilliant minds in the world. It's really difficult to fathom, being here. And beside our hunt for locations and props, we think this might be the perfect angle for whatever documentary we wind up making out of all of this.
So tomorrow we're up early, first off to hit up the Black Hole Museum, and then, well, we've just decided to try and talk to and film anyone who lives here and get to know how this town ticks.
Updated by SD on April 17, 2007 at 11:57pm
It's always the sign of a good meeting when you decide to go grab a quick drink right after work and you wind up leaving the neighborhood bar at around 8:00. Such was the case last night when JC and I met up with John Tolva, a longtime friend of CP, as well as an Executive Producer on the film. We wanted to get together to talk shop about building a set for this whole thing. John and I had talked at length by e-mail about that surplus place out in Los Alamos, the Black Hole Museum, but in person, just talking it over, we collectively thought, "Why just keep talking about it? Let's just go out there and see the place. See what they have." John also knows some people out there and said, "If there's anywhere that you could find a good, large space that looked like it's from 1973, Los Alamos is probably it."
So that's the plan at the moment. John and I are going to head out there soon, see what they've got at the Black Hole Museum, and explore the town. We plan on bringing a camera, because, why not make a little documentary while we're out there? Who knows what we'll get. And that's sort of the CP motto, right?
Updated by SD on March 20, 2007 at 1:07pm
Contrary to any sort of logic, you wouldn't think that we'd be so incredibly busy with production work in the middle of winter. Who wants to go outside to either shoot something, or travel to go shoot something, when you're in your third week of below-zero conditions? Strangely, that's been the case here and it doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon.
But we've always got 72° in our collective heads and any second the load lightens some, we try to work on it. Really, now that the script is set and we've got all the tech details on how to shoot figured out, all we have to do is figure out how to dress a set. We're pretty sure we've got a lead on a soundstage, but you have to fill it with something to make it work. One of our Executive Producers, John Tolva, has been an incredible help. He's gotten us the scoop from archivists at IBM about where certain machines are located, passed us along to the Computer History Museum in California, and perhaps most promising, sent us over to the The Black Hole of Los Alamos, a former grocery store turned museum/store selling odd tech stuff for next to nothing (maybe a round trip out there in a big truck, buying everything we can fit in it, is an idea -- it's only 2,500 miles round trip). The other option we're thinking of, because a lot of this stuff is just big metal boxes, is to try and build a few pieces ourselves. We've also got a couple of friends on the ground, headed to some university surplus stores, taking photos of what they've got.
It's been a long time, working on this, and slow going at that, but we're hoping the coming spring will push us to have a lot done, set-wise, by no later than the end of March. Thanks to everyone for their patience in keeping this thing alive, and to our newest Executive Producers, Gridiron Software and Loyd Boldman, for having that extra batch of encouragement (or, alternately, they needed something to help pad a resume).
Updated by SD on February 27, 2007 at 3:17pm
Well, depending on how you look at it, we've either finished the hard part or the easy part. The script has been written and sent out to our Executive Producers and now we've got to start thinking about casting, shooting schedules, etc. But the biggest challenge: where in the world do we find an authentic computer room from 1973? Or, at least one that can pass as authentic? When we ordered a huge supply of punch cards from Cardamation, they told us they'd be happy to rent us all the machines we'd need, but, needless to say, shipping several hunks of metal that weigh nearly a ton each isn't so cheap. But we've got some other ideas cooking and some contacts here and there. As always, we'll keep you up to date on what goes down. In the interim, if you've got any ideas, please feel free to drop us a line. Or, if say your brother is a set designer, sign up as an Executive Producer and demand that we use him or you'll pull the plug on the whole operation.
Special thanks to S.J. Barlament, Stephen Vance, Sam Potts, John Tolva, Cameron Moll, J. Thomas Lowell, and Hillman Curtis for coming on board. They've received their scripts and we're anxiously awaiting their notes. We're just hoping they don't go too far and decide to re-set the film in Florida during Spring Break, add a wacky sidekick, or pass it along to Bruce Vilanche for a punch-up.
Updated by SD on January 10, 2007 at 1:07pm
EMILY: Nothing exciting will happen, I suppose. There aren't any bells or whistles or fireworks. It'll just happen and... there aren't bells and whistles or fireworks, are there?
To our Executive Producers, watch your real-world mailbox for the first of many packages, coming in the next week or so. Steve's beautiful first draft of the shooting script and some other goodies are on the way. We'll mail to the address you provided when you signed up, unless you tell us differently. We figured we could send a PDF or Word document in an email but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun.
We'll be interested to hear what you think of the concept. We're trying to get to at least one-hundred Executive Producers and a couple primary sponsors too, but we're moving forward now, whatever happens. Thanks so much to Charles Adler, Paul Joyce, Debbie Millman and David Demaree for coming aboard over the weekend. Join us, won't you?
And to Evan, of course you can give your girlfriend the Executive Producer position as a gift. Just let us know where you'd like the packages sent and how you'd like her listing to read and we'll send out a letter announcing your gift.
Updated by JC on December 6, 2006 at 6:46pm
We've struggled mightily with the script for this. All along we have had some basics in mind. We have have always wanted the film to be a set piece, taking place in a single room with just two isolated characters. Our thinking is that by placing these arbitrary constraints on ourselves we could come up with something better and more focused, not to mention more manageable. By concentrating on a relatively small number of variables we figured could make every single one of them perfect. While we don't have anything near our cinematic hero's brain power or vision we do think we can at least attempt to match his obsession with detail. We'll see. All this is still true today, even now when we finally have a script in hand.
Originally 72° was to be a comedy of manners, then for a long time we saw it as a sort of sexually-charged pas de deux, with everything important being left unsaid and communicated only by gesture and inference. We abandoned that, at least as the primary concept, in favor of a sort of caper film, where the two characters would be working towards different ends with the bulk of the "action" taking place off-screen. In the end, 72° has become a more serious excercise, a short, enigmatic period-drama for lack of a better term. We covered a lot of ground getting here and we think the end result is better for it. God forbid this whole thing comes off as pretentious or stuffy. We're on guard against that for sure, but we have found that we have something to say with the film. And that's more than a little satisfying.
We'll see what our Executive Producers have to say when we send the first draft to them next week. Thanks to our most recent partners, Chet Yeary II, Greg Storey, Matt Lee, Jeremy Quinn and Grant Unrau for signing on. There's a chair for you on the set if you'd like to join this evolving adventure but no, we won't cast your girlfriend or boyfriend as the lead. Probably.
Posted by JC on November 21, 2006 at 7:20am
As a writer, or creative person in general, I don't usually like to work with music playing in the background. It must be something about getting distracted easily, because the concentration level just drops completely and you find yourself thinking not about what you're working on, but instead, "Are they playing a lute? That's a weird choice." But there are exceptions, with the most notable, and relevant, occasion being after our new pal, Trevor Maynard, dropped us a line telling us to check out the new album by Johann Johannsson, IBM 1401, Users Manual. "Read this review," he said, "and play the samples. You might find it interesting as a possible soundtrack to some of 72°." And right he was.
The album is based on an audio tape Johannsson found in his father's attic, giving instructions on how to operate and maintain a bulky computer somewhat aesthetically similar to the ones being used in the original picture we found that inspired this whole project. And the music is just breathtaking and incredible. When we started listening to the samples, I immediately set aside everything I was working on at the moment and started jotting down ideas. After a less-than-stellar vacation a couple of weeks back, wherein one disaster after another destroyed any chance of it being the "writing retreat" I hoped it would have been, the music was just the kick in the pants I needed. So that said, I'll make this promise, right this minute, all thanks to Trevor and his passing along word of this album, that the script will be finished up in the next week or two, and sent out to all our executive producers for review.
Posted by SD on October 26, 2006 at 3:20pm
Whew. How time flies when you're swamped. We wound up shooting around thirty spots in just under three weeks for a client of ours. And only after did the really time consuming part begin. Those spots weren't going to edit themselves, so it was a lot of weekends and long hours finishing the first batch (the "All For One" links). Sure, we still have 21 more to get out, but we've figured out a system, of sorts, by this point, so while we're still facing the next few months being nonstop with these, on top of everything else that's always going on, we're more settled now and it's time to get back into 72°.
The plan right now is that I'm headed out of town for a week tomorrow, to housesit in the perfect vacation spot that is rural Iowa, and plan to take that time to get the script finalized so we can move forward with the production. In the past few months, I'd written a really strong opening and middle for it, tweaking things here and there to make them work, but, in another series of roadblocks, like being so busy, the hard drive on my Mac decided to go belly up one morning, so the script was lost forever. Though that's likely a good thing, as it can only get stronger in the revisions and I'll likely only remember the strong parts and not those that weren't working quite so well.
Posted by SD on October 11, 2006 at 3:35pm
Thanks to Grey Storey of the unstoppable Airbag Industries for having the faith to jump in as an Executive Producer, even though we haven't updated this weblog in almost a month. We're wrapping a big film project for a client during the next two weeks and then jumping back into 72° right after that. We're still aiming for a pre-holiday release.
Posted by JC on September 24, 2006 at 1:05pm
Production work isn't for everyone. At all times, it's simultaneously maddening while you think all the while, "This is so much fun. I could do this every day." There are a million hurdles to jump through, from the equipment rental house forgetting gear to that one illusive lighting setup that you just can't, for the life of you, get to work. But then, for some reason, it all clicks and you're shooting and it's all coming out just as you planned. That was the case with us all last week, as we were shooting a couple of spots for a client's campaign, and it was great, really putting us in the mood to shoot 72°.
We shot the spots on the Panasonic HVX200, which we'd talked about testing in prior posts. It worked out fantastically. We were all amazed at the pictures this thing was capable of taking. Didn't have any trouble with shooting HD to a batch of those P2 solid state cards, which we'd heard the workflow on-set had been troublesome. A little scary though, working completely tapeless, so we made copies on one hard drive, took them home and transfered the files to another hard drive, and then, just to be on the safe side, made low-res dubs to tape, so even if, for some reason, both of these hard drives fail, we'd at least have something usable. Overall, we were beyond impressed and think we've found our go-to camera.
For the progress of the film, we've still got a batch more spots to shoot, but now that we've got an idea of what we're facing with them and how to best plan, thus becoming the well-oiled machine we'll have to be, more time should be available to us to get back in gear on 72°. Because while it's a blast to shoot client work, it's even more fun to shoot your own.
Posted by SD on August 28, 2006 at 4:34pm
So yesterday, to prep for this upcoming client shoot, we rented a big grip kit and that new little Panasonic, the HVX. We'd shot on the big cousins of the camera before, so we had experience with HD in the past, but it didn't really prepare us for how good the footage would look coming out of this little, inexpensive machine. It was a little hard to believe how fantastic an image it took and how many features they were able to pack into it. Like a kid in a candy store, I was giddy pretty much all day finding new things to play with. And after being severely disappointed a month or so ago when we rented a couple of Sony HDV cams, this reaffirmed my faith in being able to capture a solid, really professional image with a camera this small. I think this might be the one to shoot the film on. We'll see what we think after we get done shooting with it for the next couple of weeks and getting into the process of an HD workflow.
Posted by SD on August 15, 2006 at 1:56pm
Work, eh? Always getting in the way of the fun stuff. It happened last year with our last film, Copy Goes Here, all the time (read the production blog if you don't believe us). We'd be set to get another scene in the can and then someone would call right before we could yell "Action!" and then someone else would call, and then we'd find out we had to do a last minute project, etc. etc. etc.
That's what's happening now. But luckily, this time around, it's to the benefit of 72°. We're prepping for this massive shoot for a client; a couple of days in the next week or so, and then a whole week early in September. We've decided that this couldn't be a better opportunity to check out that new little HD Panasonic, so we're going to shoot the whole big project on it, learn the heck out of the camera, and see if it might make the grade for our next film. It's really caught on among all our friends in production, from spots we've seen that they've been shooting with it, to one friend who just picked one up for a two-month museum project in the jungles of Peru. If they've been sold, we figure it's about time we get there too. We've also never claimed to be Directors of Photography, but with this shoot, we're learning our brains off, trying to make a lighting concept we had no right in trying to pull off, actually work. And what doesn't kill us, only makes us make better stuff.
In other updates, the writing is coming along well, and we're going through revisions to make it work better. Unlike Copy Goes Here, 72° isn't a comedy, and thus can't rely upon the crutches of sight gags and the quick funny line, so there's a lot more dialogue to be written and plans to be drawn at how to successfully extract some genuine emotion. We're hoping that we're all finished up it soon, likely after another trip to the local pub.
Posted by SD on August 10, 2006 at 4:52pm
Still thinking about how to shoot, or, rather, what to shoot with. A friend who just graduated from UCLA's graduate film program sent me his thesis film over the weekend, which had been shot in Super 16, and geez, did it ever look like film. It's a strange phenomenon that, since video has become so wildly affordable, I've gradually gotten used to seeing everything made with tiny budgets on things that have never once touched anything not-digital. But this was just gorgeous. Is 16mm an option? The processing and film costs would be high, but we're likely not going to be screening the end result via prints, so once it's gone through a telecine, it'd pretty much stay digital all the way to a DVD, and thus, semi-affordable. The other option is that I picked up a fun toy earlier this year, a mini35 adapter from Redrock Micro, that allows you to use prime lenses on a digital camera. So it breaks that last hurdle of "why video looks like video." I own a Panasonic DVX and have used the adapter to occasionally-great success, but the footage, in the end, is still being captured by a fairly low-end camera, and unless you have the thing dialed in perfectly (you're dealing with two lenses, one on top of one another), distortion and light blurs can foul up a shot. This weekend, still flirting with using one of these new HD pro-sumer cameras, I hope to try out the adapter on a friend's new HVX, Panasonic's new, much coveted camera, to see how that looks. From the examples on Redrock's site, it could be something really promising.
Posted by SD on July 18, 2006 at 2:02pm
No matter where you read a story about a writer, more often than not, you'll get a quote from them saying something to the effect of "Writing is awful. It's just impossibly difficult." And it is. There's the frustration of running out of steam, or hitting walls, or looking back over the last things you've just written and realizing that it's a big mess and you've worked your way further into a hole. After getting things potentially in order, plot-wise, I was hoping to avoid running into those familiar perils by mapping everything out first, developing an outline. But that, on its own, led to the same results, with being frustrated by how to progress. Not a page yet written and there were those hurdles. So what happens then? I decided to just start writing, even if the characters were going on and on about nothing, or the story wasn't going anyway. Just to start -- that's the important part. And lo and behold, it worked. No idea how, but suddenly these people in this script were not only saying things to help explain who they were, but the intricacies of the plot were revealing themselves. It's so horribly cliche for a writer to say "the characters were doing all the work, I was just there to write it all down" but there really is some truth to that. And who knows? Maybe none of any of this that's been written will be in any way useable, or how much will exist in the fifteenth draft. At least we've got some idea of how to jump over those walls.
Posted by SD on July 18, 2006 at 12:21pm
In between short bits in inspiration yesterday, writing a few pages of dialogue, I kept referencing the photo for more ideas, and got into the lighting, wondering how you'd manage it. Of course the photo was taken using the available light, just rows of bright, likely 4000k, fluorescent bulbs. That's not hard to recreate on a soundstage with a lighting grid above. But it's those little dark patches on the walls that are really lovely, as well as the gradual decrease in light near where the photographer was standing; those things are a little more tricky. Granted, it could all be just lens distortion, or from the aged magazine print, but that makes little difference -- however it came to be, we like the look of it and now we want it. It's perfectly even, yet not completely perfect. A few bulbs on their last legs here and there, a darker section of the room directly behind the photographer, making our two characters seem all the brighter. That's what makes a Director of Photography's work so fun, creating those little mood cues.
With all that in mind, I began talking to Bill O'Neil, a friend and terrifically talented director and animator (trivia: he was the last stop-motion director for the Pillsbury Doughboy before it went CGI and he directed many of the brilliant claymation refrigerator segments on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse") about all of this and he recommended, if we didn't end up using a fluorescent setup, to just diffuse the heck out of everything, more so to get those little pockets of dark. Maybe even diffuse a lot of the fluorescent too. Might be worth a try, if just to soften the whole thing up a bit, give it a slightly more aged look. Thinking about all of this then led to this message board for DPs about different things you could use to diffuse your lights. But, of course, all this thinking now makes us want to rush out, buy a bunch of junk, and stick it in front of the little light kit we've got here in the studio, just for kicks. Who knows? Maybe after lunch.
Posted by SD on July 13, 2006 at 11:17am
In between reading about complicated computer systems that we don't understand, and getting thoroughly wrapped up in reading about early 70's hacking and accounting scams, and attempting to write a script that makes sense, we've been running into nice pieces of video here and there that should serve as interesting points of reference for some art direction. Here's a couple:
On Guard! The Story of SAGE, an industrial film from 1956 put out by IBM. Not only are there some great shots in there of all-things-military that we might need to keep in mind for our next Crash Ballet contest, but starting at around 2:38, there's fantastic footage of some of the computers IBM was using at the time. Gorgeous, square, and bulky: just the way we like 'em.
Happened upon this music vid for Floris, directed by Sandder, which features a terrificly melancholy song, a batch of fine lighting ideas, and boatloads of 70's-computer-looking technology. Set anything in a dark factory on a grey day and you've already got a nice supply of moody atmosphere.
Last is an all-time favorite music vid, Jan Brzeczkowski's A Bomb for Etienne Charry. Static shots created all in 3D, it hits the "look ideas" mark for 72° spot on. Maybe a bit bright for our purposes, but certainly the machines are worth studying, especially if we end up having to build some ourselves.
Posted by SD on July 12, 2006 at 1:27pm
There's nothing like moving a script meeting to a local tavern to get some results. We have had a basic structure for the film in place for a while but have been missing an outside force to focus the narrative and to bring some tension to the scene that plays out in the computer lab. We played around with a lot of elements, many of them involving things that were happening in 1969, and some of that contemporary color will undoubtedly make it into the final draft.
Last night however we came upon an idea that has some real potential and so we're setting out on another round of research. This time we're looking into financial and corporate scandals and scams. In particular, early uses of computing in such nefarious behavior. We've found this site a good place to start but if anyone has links or information about late '60s or early '70s criminal behaviour that involved hacking mainframe computers we'd love to hear about it. Use the 'contact' link below. And thanks Karen, Andrew and Mark for joining us as Executive Producers.
Posted by JC on July 11, 2006 at 11:12am
Here's a rough idea for a promotional tee-shirt for our 72° project. Not sure about it just yet, any thoughts? We're working on producing some nice swag for our Executive Producers to go along with the sneak peeks, The Party and, of course, the prestige. Join the list and we'll have our people call your people and then we'll take a meeeting.
Posted by JC on July 10, 2006 at 9:23am
Once again we returned to Brian W. Spoor, our go-to answer man in the UK who has definitely secured his spot in the credits as the consultant for the film. He'd supplied us with tons of valuable information about the technical side of that original image, but we wanted to follow up with him about the more human aspects of what would have been going on in one of those mainframe rooms in 1969. And once more, he gave us a plentiful supply of extremely useful material. Here's what he had to say:
The DP department, with this type of machine, would have been quite small, possibly no more than half a dozen people (possibly less) in total. The DP manager might well also be the Senior Programmer and the Senior Operator might also write programs!
Although the machine was small, due to its cost, it would have been worked quite hard -- idle time is wasting money.
As the DP department was likely to be small, and most likely belonging to 'accounts,' job functions could well have been flexible and a bit interchangable. As the staff were youngish, a friendly atmosphere most likely prevailed, depending on human nature. It is difficult to describe the likely atmosphere, computers were new, business systems had only been around for maybe 10 years, I started about 8 years after this brouchure and things were still 'new.'
Where I started, Friday lunch-time most programers went for a drink together and at my next job most programmers met at the Social Club on Tuesday evenings for a drink and badminton.
Staff were possibly trained by the company, having transferred from other departments - in those days there wasn't an excess of trained staff available. Programmers usually had a university degree (I started as a trainee programmer with a Life Assurance company after 'A' levels, having elected not to go to university -- a few older colleagues who had come from other departments in the company possibly weren't so highly educated, on paper, but knew the company's business). Operators were not required to be so highly skilled, but might progress to programmers (and possibly earn less money without shift allowances).
The machine would normally have an operator in attendance, only trained staff using it, too expensive to let just anybody near it. Anybody couldn't just wander into the machine room -- still can't. The machine area would be kept neat and tidy to show off to important visitors.
The DP offices might be near the machine room for convenience as it was a small department, or maybe not depending on space availability. The 'punch room' (like a typing pool, but punching cards from data input forms) may have been in another part of the building.
Where I started, the machine room (1904A system) and Data Control was in the basement, the main Programmers office on the ground floor, Systems Programmers 4th floor (management country with nice rest rooms - I was assigned to this team when I first started), old machine room (2 x ICT 1301s, now preserved) and Punch Room on the 1st floor. Systems Analysts 2nd floor.
The machines would have been used for a variety of purposes, depending on the company's business. Most likely accounts (accounts generally owned the DP department) as a starting point. This particular machine was a bit small for Government/University use, but a Town Council might have used it (Rates - local Tax). When I worked in a hospital we had a similar machine that was used for 'Patients' Money' -- long stay (mainly elderly) patients to keep track of their 'pocket' money, among other things.
Where I started, the Payroll was kept on Tabulators as being too 'complex for the computer' -- Weekly (paid Thursday), Weekly (paid Friday), Two-Weekly, Four-Weekly and Monthly depending on the job.
Posted by SD on July 10, 2006 at 8:23am
Apparently we're not the only ones involved in a project at least partially inspired by early mainframe computing systems. Ian Mitchell writes, "I was interested to see the inspiration for your latest film project. I have been working on a short film/animation for the last year inspired by a record of music made by an IBM mainframe computer from the 1960s. My response has been generally more abstract due to the music on the record however my research led me down similar paths as yourselves. It's fascinating to see the stuff you have uncovered."
"You can get an idea of my project from visiting my work-in-progress site." The initial test edits are fabulous.
Posted by JC on July 7, 2006 at 9:23am
We've made quite a bit of progress on the script for the movie. I wouldn't say we're happy with it yet but we feel like we have the basis for something pretty strong. We've also reconsidered publishing it. If you're following along you'll get plenty of bits and pieces and lots of the details will become known along the way but we've decided that laying out the whole thing is likely to spoil the experience of watching the final product. Of course it goes without saying that our Executive Producers will see all the drafts. That's just one of the perks of being a big Hollywood muckety-muck. Join us will you?
Like with many of our projects, we find that getting a detail right can be a real inspiration to getting the whole thing right. To that end we've named the company where our protaganists work. It's called Eden Computer Services and we've also developed a (hopefully) historically accurate logo which we blatantly based on an old identity system from the Burroughs Corporation. We used Clarendon as the typeface for the initial. The face is an old one but was reissued in 1953 by Hoffmann and Eidenbenz and would have been a fairly modern choice for ECS, a company we see as having started up in the mid '60s. Here it is in context.
We're learning a lot about these old computer systems and came across Douglas W. Jones' Punch Card Collection while doing research. It's a great resource and is sure to end up in our Museum of Online Museums.
Posted by JC on July 6, 2006 at 9:52am
Over a long-weekend trip to Iowa City, Iowa, we were driving through town and passed by an old, familiar destination from my days there: The University of Iowa Surplus warehouse. Open just one day a week, for limited hours, the place was filled to the brim with mostly old, dusty desks, lamps, and hundreds upon hundreds of computer monitors. But the thing we would always go there for were the strange pieces of scientific equipment. Some as small as a tiny box that checked the levels of something else, but others surely weighing more than a ton and would took up about the same square footage as my first apartment in Chicago. I'd thought of the Surplus immediately as soon as we'd started talking about doing something with the initial found photo, and now, driving past it again, it reaffirmed that, if we can't find a set and need to build one, this is the kind of place we need to go to. And surely every university in town must have one. So when we get closer to shooting, I think we'll be able to assemble something really great. Plus, then we'd always have an extra X47 Thermoplasma Spectrometorizor laying around if we'd ever need one right away.
Posted by SD on July 5, 2006 at 3:04pm
Wow. In doing research from the original article, I'd been jotting down all the machines and people they'd mentioned, and searching in that direction helped me run across Brian W. Spoor, a former user of the computers very similar to those in the photo, who now runs a terrific site with loads of information on International Computers Ltd. systems. We sent him over some questions, really hoping he'd get back to us. We were floored when, within an hour, he'd written up an amazing response that answered all kinds of questions. Here's what he had to say:
The machine appears to be a small 1900 system, probably a 1901 (the 'baby' of the range) - single processing (could only run one program at a time) with limited memory (core store 16KWords/24KWords?).
Left to right in the picture:
Cluster of 2 magnetic tape decks, 7-track 1/2" tape, 2400ft reels
Operators desk with console typewriter (teletype)
Central processor (probably 1901) with integrated printer behind)
TEDS unit - Twin Exchange Disc Store (First disc platter mounts front,
Second at the rear on a common drive shaft - 2+2 MChar.)
Card or Paper Tape Reader partly showing on right of picture
The woman is probably a tape librian/computer operator, loading tape required for the current job.
The man, a (senior?) computer operator reading the 'run instructions' for the current job.
The typewriter is used to control the program running on the system. Commands to load and run the programs were typed on the console and the program (and Executive - basic operating system) output responses to the console.
Main data input would have been on 80-column punch cards (or 8-track paper tape). Main files held, probably, on magnetic tape. Workfiles, small data files, program libraries on disc.
The unsuffixed 1900s were before my time, I worked on the 'A' and 'S' series machines. I did see (and use a couple of times) a 1901A (updated version of 1901) of similar configuration to your picture, but worked on large systems 1904A/1904S.
Posted by SD on June 28, 2006 at 10:32am
Series of screen grabs from The Ipcress File. Possible compositional approach. Much use of severe, out-of-focus, foreground elements to hide and reveal. Perhaps too "tricky," but beautiful when used in service of advancing the story. Cinematographer: Otto Heller.
Posted by JC on June 28, 2006 at 10:13am
Yesterday, Jake and I were on a shoot with a couple of HVR-Z1s, Sony's prosumer-grade HD cameras and because the rental house didn't have them out for the weekend and we were shooting first-thing on Monday, we got to play around with them for a couple of extra days. Overall, we weren't very impressed. We'd never really liked HDV since the get go and this confirmed that. The footage looked nice, but you can see off the bat how heavily compressed the images are (so it will fit onto miniDV tapes) and the fake-y "film look" looked like video shot behind an oscillating fan.
It wasn't ever in the cards to shoot 72°, whatever it happens to be, on this specific camera, but we did want to test the process of working with some level of HD in an edit, to see if we could shoot something high-end and keep it in-house (in the past, we've always had to go elsewhere to work in film or anything in the upper echelons of video). So that was a benefit. And everything held up pretty well. We shot ten or so minutes of miscellaneous footage, captured it all without flaw, and then downconverted it, again with no problems. Played around with an edit, upconverted, and then played it back, all without flaw. Just took up very large amounts of space (about 6gigs per 5 minutes, out of the camera, and 22gigs for that same file downconverted). Granted, it's still lower-end HD, and we're definitely not shooting in HDV, but because our systems held up and due to a work on a recent personal project that dealt with hours upon hours of DVCPRO50 footage (twice the data rate as these HDV cams) coming off of a batch of Panasonic SDXs, we're feeling more confident that, with maybe adding a hi-def card or two, we could go from start to finish with this thing and never have to leave the studio. That's always a good feeling.
In other news, we've been doing a bunch of research on the photo and the original article in which it appeared (and the thing that prompted all of this to begin with). We'll report on that later, as we get some more info.
Posted by SD on June 27, 2006 at 3:16pm
Thanks for all the email over our first weekend on project72 and especially to Claire Zulkey,
Howard Mann, Carlos Parrilla and Damien Newman for signing on as Executive Producers right out of the gate. We're working on a little something to send to those of you who decide to come along for the ride. You could call it
a bribe a token of our appreciation.
Last time, for Copy Goes Here, we produced authentic coffee-stained scripts and Polaroid test exposures, and routed them to our producers as in-studio memos. We may do that again (when we HAVE a script) but no matter what, if you're on the team you can expect some surprises in your mailbox along the way.
Steve has done some initial investigations and has come up with some good leads about background for "the photo" and he'll post whatever he digs up. He and Jake are out on a shoot today for another project and we're using that to test out some new HD cameras to start to figure out how we want to handle the technical aspects of this shoot.
I've drafted a list of ideas and swatches of dialogue, all the while avoiding the bigger questions that loom about the script. Like for example, what the hell is it all about? We'll need a longish session in a local pub to unearth those properly. And we just started the discussion about casting and wardrobe. We had fun acting in CGH but we're going to bring in some real talent this time.
Required reading list for project72: The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
Posted by JC on June 26, 2006 at 12:31pm
Maybe you'll find this interesting. Maybe not. We're going to make a new film. We're starting today. So far we have virtually nothing. No idea, no money, no nothing.
We've been messing around with a bunch of things. Some we may even attempt someday. For a while we were fixated on the idea of shooting the first couple pages of Stanley Kubrick's unmade script for Napoleon. Really. But ultimately it was too intimidating (and probably illegal) to attempt, even on a lark. Then we thought we'd do something along the lines of Copy Goes Here. We even have a roughed-out story and title for that. It was to be called Tight But Not Touching.
But we just couldn't work up the steam to move it forward. It seemed sequel-ly. CGH has been very popular and we couldn't be happier with how it came out and all the nice words and attention it has received. Plus, it was a blast to make the film and we couldn't have done it without the support of our Executive Producers and especially Veer, and of course the musicians who helped out, The Coctails and Dianogah.
But this time we want to make something different. Something for its own sake.
At CP we have sometimes been accused of doing nothing but following our whims to their logical or illogical conclusions. And that seems about right. Early this morning I stumbled on this photograph from a 1969 Design Magazine article and it stopped me dead. I'm not sure why or how but the first thing I thought was that the photgraph was the movie I wanted us to make. For it's innocence, its style, its mystery, for the two characters, the era, the hair, the clothes, for the way her shoulder is ever so slightly turned towards him, for the floor, the chair, the whole thing. I stared at it for a while and then showed it to Steve and then to everyone else here. We all agreed there was something important or at very least least intriguing in the vibe of the photo. That maybe it might lead somewhere. And that's enough for today.
I have a feeling that if we start digging into what the photo is all about we will probably uncover the movie that it wants to be.
So for now, we need to track down a hard copy of the magazine and see what we can find out about the photo and we need to start talking about who these people are and about 1969. Every project needs a working title and we're calling this 72°. I'm not sure why on that either, except that it seems like a good temperature for a mainframe computer room and it's a nice number and looks good set in Avant Garde Medium. And that's enough for today too.
So we'll write up the whole process this time. From the beginning, not just from the start of production. I'll get an RSS newsfeed set up on this blog over the weekend. I expect us to be updating regularly with text, video and pix. We're asking for Executive Producers again (see the right hand column) and for good luck, asked Claire to be #1, and she agreed. We'll probably see if we can find a title sponsor too but that might be a bit more difficult at least until we have an script. But whatever happens, we'll learn a lot along the way, and that's what it's all about, isn't it?
Posted by JC on June 23, 2006 at 2:44pm
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