Thank you for reading this post mortem on my documentary.
A note of context - I published the final trailer for Pixel Poetry on August 11th, 2014, 3 hours before learning of the news that one of my all time favorite comedians and actors Robin Williams had taken his own life. Learning the circumstances behind his death, I recalled my own battle with depression throughout my life, and even some of the attempts I almost made to end it all. My biggest bouts with depression most recently came with my last documentary film Pixels and Polygons. Unfortunately some of them followed through with me to Pixel Poetry throughout its production.
This has inspired me to write what will not be your normal post mortem read on how the film was made. There will indeed be those elements, but I want to take you through my story during the films production, and before it even became a production. I will be diving into everything from production details to emotional turmoil. Nothing will be left unturned here, and it is all for a reason. It will not be a short read, so please keep this in mind as you begin, that full disclosure of my life is being made here to help you. I will reveal things that went on that no one usually would in these. I do this because I want to help you or whoever else needs help and a kind word. We are in this together. All of us.
For your convenience and considering the long length of the article, I will be providing an audio read through of each section very soon in future iterations of this article. These players will be placed before each one, as well as breaks between where graphics show up in the article. For the moment, keep in mind that this is a pretty long read and may require a bit of a time investment. With that said, thank you again for understanding.
Part 1: Before the beginning, post "Pixels and Polygons"
On June 29th, 2013, I uploaded the final cut of my first documentary film "Pixels and Polygons: An Indie Game Developer Story" to YouTube. At the time, I can safely say I had no idea what I was doing, but was purely fascinated by storytelling in film. However, because I knew the film lacked both in quality and editing(I filmed the entire thing on a Samsung Galaxy S3).. I felt I owed it to the community to put up the film for free, since I didn't feel like the film was worth paying money for. In addition however, I included a paid version of the film that included extras like full interviews and such. I placed a bet on honesty within the community.
At the time it went up, all I had hoped for was that it might pull me out of the hole I was in. After failing in Kickstarting the film and being back from spending necessary funds at PAX East, my bank account was empty, my lease was up in 1 month and I had nowhere to go because I had no money. All that was mine in the refrigerator was a loaf of bread, a package of cheese, and a tub of butter. Shamefully, I would often steal little things like fruit and snacks from my roommates, simply because I had nothing to spend on food. I carried on because I was used to it. But every day, I would have to check my bank account before I purchased coffee or a donut. My rent was days and sometimes weeks late. I was literally counting pennies or nothing at all.
Hoping for a last chance to come out of this, I set my sights on the Florida Supercon, a comics and videogames culture festival that happens annually in Miami, Florida. It was July when I arrived in Miami. I would be showing my companies game demo as well as my film in a public screening at the event. While in Miami, I was gracious enough to receive some small funds from the company(we were indies, so there wasn't much there), in order to get a hotel room for 2 nights. Problem was, Florida Supercon was 4 nights. The latter 2 nights, I slept in my car. Doesn't sound so bad on paper, but when you factor in uncomfortable bucket seats, 96 degree humid weather, constant noise from the convention, and mosquitoes galore(after needing to roll down my window from the heat), it became a nightmare quickly.
There were a total of 4 developers, including myself at the event exhibiting in a very dark room that was really only filled with passers by. You could barely see anything as the lights were so dim. The demo wasn't going well, and even though people came by the play, it was a seldom occurance. On top of it, I was losing sleep and barely able to stay awake, my money was dwindling, and hope was running out. I headed to the panel room for my film screening on Saturday.
The screening was met with more problems than I could count. The laptop ran out of battery power halfway through the screening, their were random people walking in the room during it(who had come from the costume contest line outside) who would sit in the back of the room snickering and checking their phones. There were people walking out whispering "I'm leaving, this is too boring". I was already in a hole, so I took it to heart. I had made a whole $50 from the film, barely enough for gas back home and a little food for the next week.
Trying to sleep in my car that night, I was in tears knowing that when I got back, I might be out on the streets, hungry and homeless. I told someone I had talked to that night that I would kill myself when I got back, that I had failed. I simply couldn't handle this anymore, and if I had to give up, it wouldn't be worth it to stay around.
In light of it, I cancelled my next days showing of the film. I packed all of our demo tables and signs into the car and I started driving back home to Orlando in tears, tired and not able to stay awake long, and completely distraught at 4 in the morning. Even only being 3 hours away, I had to pull over to nap. I had gotten no sleep the night before and I was exhausted from the depression.
After arriving back home, I quit. I literally said to my team/company that I was done. I stopped talking to everyone. I locked myself in my room, barely ate anything, and slept as much as I could. Every night was tears. Every night I felt drained. I forced myself to sleep up to 14 hours or more each day, staying in bed so I could dream... so I could escape reality. I didn't want to be awake, and I didn't want to be alive. In a weekend, my dreams fell apart, my love fell apart, my future fell apart.. I had no money left, and I had no time left.
Eventually, the circumstances forced me to move back to my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. After living for 4 years in Florida, this place was foreign to me. It was a place I had spent so much time trying to get out of. I felt like my future was back in Florida, and I was forced to leave that behind. This was a sad chapter of things, as it made me watch everything crumble to dust. I would spend the next 2 months talking to no one, hiding away, trying to figure out why I was such a screw up and where things went so wrong. After my life fell apart in Florida, I was picking up the pieces here. It was difficult to grasp, but I moved forward, albeit numb. I moved forward.
Part 2: The Facebook Post and the start of Production on Pixel Poetry
I was sure after I had to move back to Wichita, that it would mean me giving up on everything. After a short time back, I picked back up production on my teams game. It ultimately fizzled, resulting in me leaving the project completely and driving me further downward. Toward the end though, I had become inspired by my filmmaking experience once again. Fifty percent of that was that it was a more accessible option for me. I knew that if I failed, I would only have myself to blame. But what could I make? "Indie Game: The Movie" had been out almost 2 years now. Videogame centric films were arriving in large numbers, from big productions to small titles. Would I even have a chance?
The process started from a spark of motivation. I had been reading an article earlier that day about why videogames could not be art(not the famous Ebert article). I thought to myself "is this still a thing? This is so stupid, and I'm tired of seeing this argument over and over again". Shortly thereafter, I went and posted my reaction on Facebook -
I had found the subject I needed for my film. I started building from the ground up. Website? Check. First personality in mind to appear? Check. Camera? Check.. well sort of. I had a friend with small, but semi-pro/semi-consumer camera.. a Samsung NX1000. Default kit lens. No audio out. Damn. I guess I'm going to have to spend some money here to take proper audio... oh wait.. money. I don't have that. What next?
Well, I had to keep moving. So I met up with him one late morning in October and said we would go to the local University(Wichita State) to film at their "Ulrich" art gallery. It wouldn't cost me anything, and I could get some decent inspiration to start with. We shot a little, found some decent things, most of which wouldn't make it into the film(I think only one shot did). But it was a start. Alright, lets try to go a little bigger.
Around this time, I had caught wind of a growing personality within the game and entertainment space named Patrick Scott Patterson. He seemed like a cool guy and lo and behold, he only lived 6 hours away in Denton, Texas - a division of Dallas. I had family in Dallas I could stay with. More money saved.
Now, a lot of people have asked me how I got in touch with big industry names like Adam Sessler and Kellee Santiago. The same way I got in touch with the smaller ones. I wrote them an email. Of course, you have to remember that these are very busy people and that a lot of who I wrote did not even reply. But you lose nothing by writing them, so just go for it I say. Don't be afraid. The community is tighter than most could ever know.
So after I got in touch with Scott and he accepted my offer to interview him, he did something unexpected to me. "I know some other guys you can interview to, one is Chris Wiseman/Captain Redbeard from GameStop TV, and the other is David Eddings from Gearbox. You should get a hold of them! Let me forward you". Well alright then. That was awesome, and it was organic. I didn't have to ask. He was friendly enough to grant me a chance to ask these people he had made friends with during his time coming up. It was a great thing.
Part 3: The First Filming Roadtrip
Well, through some scrounging up of money I had earned from a part time job here, I managed to gather up about $300. Mind you, at this point I hadn't considered the audio equipment I would need. After research online, I found out I would need a LAV mic, and a preamp, along with something to run the recording through. That would end up being my friends laptop(the same who was lending me his camera). The mic set me back $75, which was a lot of money to me at the time. But this needed done, and we borrowed a musician friend of ours preamp. After all was gathered, we hightailed it to Dallas in October 2013.
Arriving there, we ran through what we thought were the typical processes of filmmaking, though having only one amateur film under me, it was all guess work still. We accounted for all our equipment and got rested up for the next days filming. It was at this point, I learned the unfortunate circumstance of David Eddings being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, causing him to be unable to not just do the interview, but also not being able to function normally regardless. It was sad to hear and I wished him well, but of course we had to keep going with who we had left, which was Scott and Chris(Redbeard).
The next day came, and we filmed. Arriving to Scotts residence, I didn't know what to expect. I think a lot of people starting out might have that. You don't know, because regardless of who they are in the public eye, until you meet them, it's always a guess. Fortunately, Scott turned out to be one of the nicest people I'd met up to that point. He was very accommodating and inviting. When we got going to downtown Denton, I had realized something else.. we didn't have a place to shoot! I guess you could say that there was nil planning here. So we improvised. We needed a place to plug in the laptop to run sound, as well as spacious enough to allow all 3 of us and the sound and camera equipment. Scott piped up, "what about this place? They have an Atari setup in the back that would make a cool setting". The place he pointed to was a little vintage record shop called Mad World Records. We set up and shot there.
The interview went well, even through my nervousness in asking the questions. This was just a product of being a first timer. You can't be afraid though. You just have to jump right in. Anyway, afterward we went with Scott to a local BBQ joint called Roosters. It was great food and great company. We exchanged wrestling stories, gaming stories, and everything in between. It was really cool to see this other side, a side not easily interpreted through Twitter and Facebook. Scott was a genuine dude.
After dinner, we said our "see ya later"s and headed back to the house to prepare for next days filming.
Day 2 came. Originally, we were supposed to be there for 3 with Eddings involved, but with him recovering, we decided on heading back early to save a little cash. But we had time left. We drove over to a little establishment in Plano called Vickery Park to meet up with Chris Wiseman a.k.a Captain Redbeard. Here was another guy that was in the public eye. Hell, he was on several thousand closed circuit televisions in Gamestop stores around the world, hosting segments and attending events to interview some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Sort of intimidating to know.
To my surprise, I walk up to him in the bar/eatery hanging out with another interviewee who appears in the film, Jimmy Barnett. Jimmy, a 3D artist for Gearbox, was another guy hooked up with through the grapevine, that being Chris. Both were having a good time with a few brews, hanging out and the like. He was very inviting as we walked up though. We all had a great lunch and exchanged stories. Then we did the interviews in the back of the place, which had a very cool setting of cornered seating and bookshelves with trinkets and more on them.
I remember when setting up the audio for it, that Chris had a very projecting voice in testing the mic. He had to though. He was a TV host who had to project his personality, and he has a great one. But this taught me the lesson of knowing that like every answer will be different between interviewee's, every setting will be different in filming and recording, something I hadn't payed much attention to before. This left us adjusting while the guys waited, and it took time and patience. I felt like an a-hole because it looked like I didn't know what I was doing. Lesson learned.
The interviews went smoothly though, and after some more chatting, we said our goodbyes here and packed up, headed home to Kansas. The trip was in the books, and I had a lot of work to do in putting these interviews together.
Part 4: This might not get made
A few weeks after we got back from that trip and having that footage together, I started to think about what meaning the film would ultimately address. I also started to think about money. Like any other project, it needed it to happen. Somehow, I'd managed to make enough for that trip, but how in the hell am I going to get out to all the places that needed filmed for this otherwise? Well, I needed to first find out where those places where and who else I wanted to interview. This started the tedious process of reaching out.
I gathered up a list of about 40 people I thought would be a great fit for the film. This ranged from major names in the industry, to smaller indies, to a couple of major celebrities I knew were very active in the gaming space. It was called a "wish list" for a reason. Anyway, I started to write emails.
Weeks went by, and by mid December about, I had a better idea of who I could interview. Some had agreed, some had told me to get back to them, but showed interest. Some had simply not answered inquiries, and some declined outright. Those who didn't answer, I made a point to follow up with. It is always good to follow up once, in case it slipped through or didn't catch their attention immediately in their flooded inbox. More than one follow up, you're probably pushing it. Just accept it and move on. Don't hold a grudge and don't fly off the handle. You don't know the reason why they didn't answer, and so you have no right to judge why they didn't.
Anyway, by this time I had scored some major names, well.. that's a bit of a misnomer. These were not just people I contacted to "draw" an audience to the film. They were people I had personally either followed or watched growing up, or looked up to from a professional standpoint. Some of those people were the aforementioned Adam Sessler, Kellee Santiago, and others whose progress is followed well by others, like Rami Ismail of the Dutch game developers Vlambeer. They all agreed to be in the film, but even some exceeded my expectations. Kellee, humble as ever, said she was "honored" that I picked her to be in it. I didn't even know how to respond to that. After seeing her TED Talks and knowing about how big of an effect her companies games had on the industry, hearing she was honored to be in my little experimental documentary was humbling to me as well. I was noone. I hadn't made anything worthwhile. It gave me a fuzzy feeling to hear that. It reinforced how good we can be to each other in this community, regardless of status.
I managed to get together a list of other prolific people, like Chris Kohler from Wired Magazine, James Portnow from the game development web series "Extra Credits", and many others who operate behind the scenes, like Feargus Urqhart, the CEO of Obsidian Entertainment. I had figured out that with GDC happening in March, I might have a chance to get all these interviews at once, since the developers would all be in the same place for this conference. This was coming along pretty well, and I was excited beyond everything, despite only having a list and hopes.
Next thing.. how to fund this? GDC was a pricey ticket, and on top of that, was in San Francisco.. a far cry from my home of Wichita, Kansas. Not good.
Well.. how about crowdfunding? I had previously failed miserably with Pixels and Polygons in doing this. But this time I could do it better. I could plan it better. I could execute it better. I had names. I had a narrative. I had a teaser trailer that I had put together from the previous interview footage in Dallas. This was a case of "I can do everything right this time, and it will come out right". I couldn't be more wrong.
See, the thing is.. we never know what is the right way. We can only do what we do instinctually. I prepared for that campaign like it was my last resort. Because in a lot of ways it was. Again, no one knew who I was, no one cared really about the things I was putting out. This ultimately meant I had no bargaining power at any table. I couldn't just "ask" someone for the funds because of that. So I put all of my energy into the campaign. I spent 2 months constructing the articles, graphics, videos, website, and more. I thought for sure it was a done deal.
After the campaign went live, I hit it hard. I contacted every press outlet who would hear me. Again, my lack of bargaining power left me with a lot of no-replies, and a lot of "we don't cover crowdfunding campaigns, sorry". Well, how could I ever spread the word if they wouldn't cover it in any way? A few smaller blogs and the like covered it, as well as guys like Scott and Chris on Twitter, but conversions are hard. People are hard to convince without a finished product or something compellingly visceral and driving to make them open their wallets. I was losing steam having only been on the campaign for a few days.
Seeking advice and after watching a gazillion YouTube videos about crowdfunding, I reached out to a friend named Ajay Chadha. I had met Ajay a year prior through LinkedIn, and he had been helping us with a possible publishing deal for our ultimately failed game. I had known his connections in publishing and hoped they might help the film. Instead, he connected me with another Californian by the name of Steve Tom Sawyer. Steve, having just come off a successful Kickstarter for "RETRO" Magazine offered his advice and connections. He managed to eventually get me connected with people at Destructoid.com(who I had known Jonathan Holmes from, as he was in my first film), and also connected me with an operations guy from newer publisher/distributor Devolver Digital. The former agreed to write a blurb about the film and campaign on their website. The latter loved the trailer and wanted to talk about possibly signing the film.
"Wow", I thought. That's amazing. Things might actually turn around yet.
Now, remember.. When I started this film, it was purely about the argument of whether or not games could be considered art. When the Destructoid article eventually ran, I was in the middle of my campaign and hoping desperately for a turnaround. It ran, and people commented. "Oh god, not this again", and "We're still talking about this? Seriously? Games are games, not art!". I managed to get into a conversation with the people. I questioned them, I asked what they would like to see and more. The collective opinion was that the games as art debate was old and tired. It was beaten to death, and it was something everyone thought we would never be able to fully agree on.
That changed my thinking of the film drastically. I frantically updated the campaign based on that feedback, and overhauled all of my documents pertaining to the films narrative. Once again, I reached out to everyone I could regarding the changes and hoping that they would be able to help expose it. Unfortunately, this time, it fell on deaf ears. Other things were on their plates.. of course I couldn't blame them. But being only $236 up on the campaign with a goal of $10,000 and less than 3 weeks left, I saw the writing on the wall. So I reached out again to Devolver, whom I had spoken with earlier about signing the film for distribution. It was only after I'd found out that they only picked up completed films that communications broke down a bit. After all, Devolvers film distribution wing was only a year old, and they were not in a place to fund anything. Of course, I understood the implications taking a risk like that would create. I would have done the same thing honestly.
So I fell back, my mind in a haze... a million thoughts running through my head about what I could possibly do to save this film. The campaign was in deep.. past the point of no return it seemed. I couldn't save it, I had no help.. once again I felt like I was all alone. My family, my friends.. most of them gave me a snark comment about getting a real job(even though I had a part time one), making a paycheck, abandoning this after all the failures..conforming and settling for last place. The armor I had built back up from my time back in my hometown, after everything fell apart in Florida.. it had begun to show it's cracks and fall off piece by piece.. and I took it out on everyone around me. Once more, I didn't want anyone near. How would they ever possibly understand what I was going through.
Part 5: Relapse
After the campaign ended unsuccessfully at $243 donated, I fell into a deep depression again. This, after all.. this was my life. All these years.. all these skills and trades I've learned since starting in 2003 as a 3D artist.. all of what I learned in audio production, game design, filmmaking.. everything would cease to mean anything if I had to give it all up. No one seemed to understand that. To them, it was just the path that I was meant to take. I was losing everything I fought for, and I was losing people I cared greatly about to my outbursts and things I couldn't control in this depression. I was being threatened with being kicked out of the residence where I was sleeping on the floor at. I had taken up smoking again after so long to ease the nerves. I was again trying to sleep as much as I could to forget it all. I felt alone and worthless, and worse.. I felt like no one cared that I was in this state.
I recalled that shortly after the campaign began, expecting a dire outcome and in my helplessness, I reached out to a fellow game developer in Rami Ismail, one half of Dutch developers Vlambeer. I did not know Rami prior to this, only briefly having confirmed his appearing on interview in my film(which actually ended up not happening due to a scheduling conflict). But from what I knew of Rami and all of his success as an indie game developer, I knew he struggled leading up to that. Having no one else to relate to, I wrote him an email, broken down and baring every detail, including my personal life that I seldom talked of -
And Rami's response:
Talking to Rami had some effect. I guess I just needed someone to tell me that they've been through it all to, to hear their story next to mine. It is sometimes impossibly difficult to perceive that someone else has struggled like you when you're right in the middle of it. Again, feeling alone is the worst part of depression. Because you either feel alone thinking no one cares, or because you feel like no one understands. Seldom you are alone physically. But even then, the people of the community are there. Even not knowing Rami personally, he had spoken up at just the right time and helped me. You are not alone, no matter how much you may think it.
I continued onward. I refined all the details of the film, re-wrote documents, continued "shooting", even though it was more or less finding spots locally that I could get some filler footage from. Why I continued, I don't know. It was my passion to finish this. To learn from it. At this point, I still had no idea if it would even be made.
In a last ditch effort to save everything, I contacted one of the founders of Devolver through mutual correspondence with their ops guy, who I had talked with earlier. I broke down and said that I had tried everything. I told him that if there was any way to give any funds to this film, I would make the film on that amount no matter what it was. I told him that if I had any other way of doing this, I would have done it, but that this was it and what stood between the film getting made or not.
I shamefully asked for funds. I've never been one to feel comfortable asking for money. I've always felt it to be an off putting proposition to the person being asked, and that the responsibilities are with you. But from everyone I've ever asked to borrow money from, it was always a product of my helplessness, whether it was money to keep food in my stomach, or money to help me take one more step in my career. I've never enjoyed being in that position. I've always been the one wanting to give what I could to the community, just like I had with my tutorials on YouTube.
I was told by Devolver that they'd assess it and get back with me. That was all I could ever ask for. What came next was an unexpected miracle.
I was sitting at a local restaurant/brewery, eating pizza and having a drink by myself. Still, as much as I was hoping for something to turn around, to this point I had only experienced failure when hoping for success. Like a quote in my first documentary film, "you wait so long sometimes for something good to happen, that you end up convincing yourself sometimes that nothing good will".. that resonated with me during this and before. Then an email came.
"We're going to advance you $2,500 for the film in addition to our standard distribution deal and we'll recoup that amount plus 10% if we decide to release the film, or if we don't we'll broker a deal with another distributor.
Go make a good film, eh? :)"
I was slack jawed. I felt like the 60 year old who had been buying lottery tickets all his life, just to finally win one. Even knowing it wasn't a sure thing yet, this one email removed so many bricks from what was on my back.
I took a deep breath, finished my meal, and went back home. I knew now that this was on, I would be able to make a trip I had planned for the film that would put production back into full swing. That trip was San Francisco, and the event was the annual Game Developers Conference.
Part 6: Back in the game and GDC San Francisco
Perhaps it was the world sized weight that I felt just got lifted from my back. Maybe it was that I woke up with energy and worry free. Whatever it was, I was 2 things that time after.. determined, and ignorant. Sorely, sorely ignorant.
After all, up to this point I thought the film wouldn't get made. So, an advance of money, a new mindset on things.. you'd think I would be free range and good to go to make this thing happen! Well, sort of..
What I didn't understand was that this was just the beginning of the hardest part of the production. After I booked my tickets for GDC, I basically had a month to do several things that don't easily get done in a month. First, I had to get my equipment together. Then I had to get documents together(passes, questions for interviews, and the like).
Up to this point, I had been filming with my friends NX1000. Though it proved difficult to do sound for, and it didn't put out the greatest quality due to a weak sensor(didn't handle low light well at all), it had gotten the job done up to this point. But having dealt with low quality solutions from my last film, I wanted to have something quality this time around.
I chose the BlackMagic Cinema Camera after hearing reviews about it being an affordable solution with a quality output. Plus, it had an audio in - so I wouldn't have to sync it in post. That was important to me, as I did post entirely on my own. Got my standard Sennheiser LAV mic, and managed to call in a favor from a friend for some lights. I struggled for awhile with what lens to get, but settled in on a 24-70mm L2 Canon. I could only afford one lens for this, so I needed something with flexibility.
I tallied everything up and quickly saw that this would not be an easy budget to work on. But I had to do what I could. In the end, the equipment cost me around $600 for the week I would be renting it out. Accessories were mostly responsible for this. I also bought a laptop to store all the footage on while on site. $400 for that. $300 for a hotel there. $300 for gas. $100, give or take for hotel stays on the drive there and back.
Budget dwindled fast. It's hard to judge where the budget will go when you're on the road. Between drinks and food and everything else, you lose track easily. But this would be the most quintessential trip needed for the success of the film, so it had to be done. Since it was GDC, I had managed to gather up 26 amazing interviewees who would all be in town for the conference. Resourcefulness.
Well, little did I know I would be at this alone again. And that this time I wasn't just carrying a tripod and little dslr camera around. Instead, the total equipment weight, in 4 bags slung around me was about 70 lbs(those lights were heavy!) Doesn't sound like much, but it becomes a literal pain in the neck when you're walking around with it for hours on end, never really having time to rest. And that's what it was..
After a long drive, I arrived in San Francisco. I spent a couple nights before the conference organizing everything. Location is always difficult. I knew the conference would be loud, noisy, and hard to record in - so I had to find some practical locales to make that easier on me. That never really materialized though, due to my unfamiliarity with San Francisco, and so that left the location decision up to the interviewee, which took me all over the downtown and the Moscone Center, where the conference was being held.
Fortunately, Devolver had set up a pretty interesting art gallery a couple blocks from the Moscone, and since I was partnered with them, I was welcome to record there. On top of that, the location they chose for the gallery had roof access, and that added a couple new spots. I really was all over too. A lot of the interviewee's didn't have much of an idea where we could shoot. I had guys like Sessler, who fortunately had their workplaces conveniently located in the bay area, making it much easier to set up. But others were strictly there for the conference, and so we were bouncing back and forth between shooting on the floor of the conference, hotel rooms, hotel lobbies, courtyards, etc.
There were even times that made it more difficult. More than once I was kicked off the premises for recording without proper credentials. First, out of the Moscone Center itself for not having a press badge or union film crew(who would have thought?), secondly in the courtyard next to it for not having a filming permit. All kinds of issues ensued. I missed roughly 10 interviews there due to time running short, difficulties in scheduling, and many other factors. It seems easy until you're in the moment doing it. The small things matter.
The week just flew too. Here, I had only been to San Francisco once when I was 10. I don't remember anything from that trip. I had hoped to make amends with this trip, and get to see some of the touristy stuff, but being a one man film crew demanded a lot. I literally only saw downtown San Francisco for the entire trip.
Nonetheless, as the conference ended and the people dispersed, I made my long drive home. It almost seemed like a blur. Of course, returning home a few days later, I realized that with the time, also went my funds for the film. Personally, I've never been good at keeping track of money. I almost never spend outside my means, but I have trouble keeping track of small expenses. That effect was definitely felt here.
When all was done, I arrived back in my hometown with about $200 and roughly 300GB worth of footage. It was no where near enough. But it would have to work.
Just when I thought that the hardest part of the production was over, I was given a reality check. Having missed several interviews in San Francisco, I had 16 worth of footage and almost no filler. Having experienced the difficulties of post production with no filler from my previous documentary, I quickly realized the next 3 months would be the most difficult. But I also needed more interviews.
I managed to scrape together about $300 extra, and make another trip to Texas. This time, it would be Austin, where I would get the chance to interview industry veteran Warren Spector, thanks to the resources that Mike Wilson from Devolver Digital provided me with.
Warren, like every other developer or personality I met, was incredibly humble. He invited me to his personal library for the interview, and we had a great talk about both videogames and board games alike(of which the interview was set against his collection of). Afterward, he learned of my game development experience and suggested I apply to his new program at the University of Texas. I was humbled myself by a personal invitation from the man himself. Little did I know, it would later become an interaction that would change my life.
After the interviews with Warren and others, I called production a wrap and headed home to start the arduous editing process.
Now, don't get me wrong.. I love editing. It's an expressive thing just like any other form of art. You tell stories.. and you have control over those stories through dynamic shifts from one perspective to the other. I love making someone feel a transition with the help of a different camera angle or a montage of visceral fare. But make no mistake.. that process is trying.
Most of the time when I edit, getting 2-3 minutes of satisfying footage in a night is a successful night, because the rest of the time I'm sitting there thinking about the shot. Being patient is a very big part of it. Sometimes you will think something will look great because of how it plays in your head. Then you see it, and realize it's not. Sometimes you'll have one of those "good nights" where it all comes together. Then you wake up the next day and watch it and realize it's horrible. You have to be your own worst critic, and completely pull yourself out of the project to see it objectively. You also have to realize that you're learning. You are always learning. My last documentary "Pixels and Polygons: An Indie Game Developer Story" was a pure experiment, and pure learning. Somehow I managed to amass 35,000 views on it. I don't know how. I knew it sucked. But I knew my next film would be better. And Pixel Poetry is. Just like my next one will be.
But it's worth it. When a shot comes together, or when you feel the message.. it makes everything worth it.
As it came down to it, 3 months of editing was simply not enough for one person. Here I had wrote, shot, directed, and edited everything. Some help with camera operation came gratefully from my friends., but I was responsible for this film being made. I had my deal with Devolver, and I couldn't let them down for a chance like this.
3 months was up and I was 1 month away from releasing the film. Half of it was done. I would need a miracle, and it's always the small things that get in the way. Slow internet speeds when needing a stock clip to fill in a gap, my own financial situation putting me at odds with time management, being kicked out and forced to move to a temporary location to finish, and even some of my family doubting me every step of the way. Somehow I felt I would lose it all again and be stuck. I became my own worst enemy towards the end. I had reached that inevitable point where I was not satisfied at all with what I had made simply because I felt I could do better. That brought back a depression I was avoiding slipping back into the entire production, and one I hadn't felt since the failed IndieGoGo campaign for the film. How I got past it, I can't even recount.
I pushed and pushed. My deadline for delivery had passed. The gog.com deal was coming fast and they needed delivery of the film, or I would miss my window. 2 weeks after my initial deadline, I finished.. only days before I would have missed my opportunity. I finished... I delivered, with more complications to follow(formats are a nightmare). But.. I finished. The first internal reviews poured in, and all of them were fair. "This is a great little film", "It gets a little monotonous in the middle, but you did a great job with it". It's all I could ever ask for. I knew it could have been better, I knew my next project would be better and I would make it a step above, but with a budget of approximately only $3,200, I think I did pretty well. Imagine what I could do with more, as they say. Pixel Poetry would be released on August 27th, 2014, and I would have created my first professionally distributed documentary film.
There comes a point where you just have to realize that nothing is as bad as it seems. You can, and will lose everything. You will have to endure so many unexpected things during your time. This is life, and life is a challenge. It can be harsher than you could ever comprehend, and more rewarding than you ever expect at the most incomprehensibly random times.
There is something to be said about the nature of success and failure. It's emotionally crushing to be a failure... I was never a particularly social person, but the very few friends I made along the way made my failures easier to grasp. From simple words of encouragement, to a drink on the patio at night.. every moment I consider a part of my strength to finish what I set out to do.
I've been to the depths of depression and failure.. hell.. my experiences with them are documented. I've experienced the craziness of life and conflict with people I swear were there to support me in my life, only to find most of them didn't. I've put on the facade countless times, and joined in laughter when I was dying inside. It's ok to hurt. It's ok to feel that, for you are simply human. But you are not alone no matter how much you think you may be, or how much you tune others out. There are people.. people you've met, people you haven't met... there are those who care about you. They care you are following your passion and dreams. They care you are here.
Love the journey. Love every small success. Love every friend you make in the process.
Most of all, love your failures. You can be proud in knowing you survived them, and your stories with them will help inspire others to withstand theirs... and that can do so much.. it could even save a life.
Thank you all for your support on my continuing journey.
- Richard James Cook
Part 7: Start of Post Production, Additional Shooting, and Release
A film by Richard Cook
Copyright 2014 © Gamestar Arts