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The Lair Of Gary James

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Technically This Means I Have Nowhere to Sleep…

Posted by BigWords on March 15, 2020

Wow, things went sideways really quickly. So the whole of Europe is, basically, in hibernation until the virus blows over – which would be awesome if I wasn’t desperate to get out in the sand and start work. Getting people to follow me to Spain was a big ask, even without everything else that is going on, and it now seems that I’ll be without a full crew or, more worryingly, my cast.

Which is a pain.

I’m thinking that things escalating thanks to the Corona virus might have something to do with me – every time I try and do something the universe goes all out in trying to fuck me over, so when I attempt my most ambitious project to date…

Yes, the ego. Insufferable, isn’t it?

There are so many reasons that I shouldn’t be happy.

Firstly, there now looks to be very little in the way of cast or crew from Italy, France, or Spain available for the foreseeable future, which is an enormous pressure on an already tight schedule. I have neither the time nor the inclination to rush around securing alternative people, given that so much of the planning was built around three people who are no longer in the running at all. I’m not sure if this is a minor or massive delay as yet, and holding out hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible is my current strategy.

And if I haven’t mentioned it before I really, really dislike lugging a giant bloody camera around. I need a camera operator.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t have access to a vehicle, which was a setback I didn’t see coming. This is one of those problems which, if I could stop freaking out (which had led to my right eye flaring up in protest), would likely be a fixable issue, but at the moment there’s no way around it.

And the amount of money I’m dropping on getting everything together is, quite frankly, obscene. This is the biggie – the single most terrifying, insurmountable, overwhelming aspect of the entire plan. Once the money is gone I’m going to have to bust my ass or figure out what else I’m willing to sell. At present I am of the mindset that it is preferable to sell a kidney rather than any of the comics or books.

I can’t rely on selling more stuff to fund things, and I’m not sure that I can sell more – the British comics are not going to go (they are earmarked for many, many things which require their presence in future), and I can’t imagine getting rid of any of my vintage SF books. They took a ridiculous amount of hunting down, and so few of them regularly come up for sale that I would never be able to rebuild the collection.

Without the footage in hand by the end of the year I’m not sure how things will go.


I. Can’t. Stop. Smiling.

There are moments I catch myself in a reflection and am reminded of Gwynplaine, yet I can’t help myself – there is currently a mountain of stuff I need to sort through properly and pack neater for transportation – I ordered most of this a while back and had put it all to the back of my mind. A significant portion of the costumes are here, a few trinkets and ornamentation, and a lot of equipment – it was all waiting for me at the post office, which explains the pile of “sorry we missed you” cards.

I still haven’t got a bone flute, the bullroarers, or all the fake furs which are going to be needed, but the amount of items to have already been shipped is slightly staggering.

I’m not used to such efficiency.

That bone flute, which needs to be present by the start of shooting no matter what, is giving me problems. Porcelain replicas look awful in comparison to actual bone, and the thought of having to sculpt and paint a prop is giving me the shivers – that, right there, would be at least two or three weeks work, if not more, to get it looking completely right. Then there’s the larger instruments (including a particularly difficult-to-describe horn I want made to look like an antler), which are going to take a lot of money throwing to get right.

Finding people to create things not in general use for thousands of years is a pain.

I’ve been hunting through various strange and obscure corners of the internet looking for people who have non-standard fabrics in an attempt to get some of the costumes rounded out, but that’s proving to be as frustrating as everything else. Mammoth-fur wraps, for example, aren’t a thing. Not even close to being a thing. I’m fairly certain that someone, at some point, has attempted to recreate what they would look like, but all of the photographs, and the ones mocked up for museums, aren’t doing it for me.

Costumes are incredibly important to get right, and nothing can appear on-screen which remotely looks modern. I’m keeping as far from the look of 1981’s Caveman as possible.

Already acquired in preparation is:

  • A monitor that was on offer, and so beautiful I couldn’t help myself. One of the most expensive items, but which can be calibrated to reproduce exactly the footage fed into it. As I’m not completely sold on using digital after the last week’s fiasco, and as the temptation to shoot on film is so strong, this input might be from a small secondary camera, or for use shooting inserts.
  • Old glass lenses, some still having yellowing stickers attached from when they were originally bought / last used. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to use as much traditional things as possible – looking specifically at the way some all-time classics were shot – and I’ve noticed the lenses in behind-the-scenes footage. Even if I only get to use them with some incidental footage they will be worth it.
  • Awesome headphones which, I’m sad to say, cost about the same as my laptop.
  • A clapperboard – and seriously, when did these get so damn expensive? It was one of the items I wanted to get quickly, so I wouldn’t overlook it in the rush, and goddamn, is it ever the most expensive thing per square inch. For its size it is remarkably loud, and the LED letters are certainly attractive, but I’ve questioned how much it is really worth since dropping coin on it.
  • A light meter. Actually there are two, as I decided the first was good enough when I saw it, and it didn’t cost too much money (a concern that isn’t going to disappear), but then saw an amazing one that I couldn’t pass up. It looks like it belongs in a SF film, and it feels more comfortable in my hand – the slight expense incurred here is worth it.
  • A tripod. I’m not completely convinced it’s suitable – I nevertheless picked it up because it was old extending tripod with really neat little feet, probably from the fifties or sixties. It looks slightly underwhelming, and there’s serious doubt in my mind as to its ability to take the weight of a full camera rig, but it was so adorable (and somehow sad looking) that I had to buy it. I’ll find a use for it.
  • A bounce board I was gifted from a lovely chap who shot a bunch of fan films back in the day, and who has since upgraded much of his equipment. Free stuff is better than nothing, and I’m not going to pass up anything at the moment.
  • Three cases in which all the equipment needs to be crammed. These were sized according to space aboard the yacht I had expected to be available, although at present the cases are holding a disturbing number of books. The shipping cost was a lot more than anticipated though, which makes them decidedly not a bargain.

There is also a weird wooden handle in the box that the filters arrived in, and I’m not completely certain what it is for, but it is with the rest of the equipment at the moment. Actually, there are a few things which are a slight mystery to me, though I’m trusting that all of the things I’ve decided might be important will come in handy, so I’m not going to start culling them from the equipment list as yet. I’m certain that once things get rolling they will find their role.

There’s also a small stack of folders so I can organize everything obsessively up until the last moment. And stationary. Lots and lots of stationary, because. C’mon, who doesn’t love reams of paper, shiny new pencils, gel pens, and note paper?

I don’t know, for sure, how much that little stack came to, but it seemed like I needed it given how much planning and information dissemination was on the cards.

Although there’s no need to splash out as yet, I’ve also been looking at top-of-the-range computers on which to edit everything, and which I can utilize in the FX process – it will be a few months before I need to make a decision on how I’ll approach this, but I desperately need to upgrade this computer already. Having only had it for the blink of the eye it is already starting to show signs of not being up to the task of coping with me. The bottom corner of the track pad is slightly warped, and there is a slight depression on a few keys.

But… the stuff – the amassed “things needed for the film.”

That’s taking up a lot of room.

The stuff is taking up a lot of room, and even adding italics to that sentence doesn’t do justice to how much space it is consuming. I only realized this when I took everything out of their boxes and had a look-see at what I actually had. There would be more room if I had been able to keep my curiosity at bay and left them as they were packed, but this is me – I had to check out everything to see if the deliveries were right. It is all good, as far as an initial inspection goes, though there was no room to move once it was all spread out.

Until I hit on an ingenious solution.

The bedroom – or, at any rate, the room which had a bed in it – is now the equipment store and clothes department for the film. It is scary crazy how many things I need for this, and there are two outstanding items that are going to require careful consideration on storage, or else I’ll run out of space completely. I’m not sure how to proceed from here, but there are a couple of solutions which aren’t horrendously expensive: either I get another storage space to keep everything in, or I get a little office space somewhere. There’s bound to be a few units available.

I am holding back on the traditional storage unit option given how much everything has cost me so far. There’s insurance to consider as well, and I haven’t got back in touch to clarify any conditions which might be in the small print. I may not be allowed to let some of this out of sight…

For the foreseeable future I’m sleeping on the floor.

Don’t ask me how I’m going to shoot a film without a complete cast and crew – I haven’t planned this out again, minus all those absent due to various restrictions which might or might not be in place – but I’m damned if I’m going to let things fall apart completely. I can always use the equipment for other (smaller) shoots.

I’ll likely get hell for suggesting this, and it is admittedly a very dark notion, but…

This is the perfect time to grab a camera and get stock footage of deserted streets and businesses. There are precious few times when these shots can be accomplished sans a large crew asking people to stay back for a moment when the footage is being captured, and as long as there are abandoned areas already present I can see no problem making good of what is available.

Yes, I’m probably slipping towards the dark side there…

Simultaneously with other plans, I’ve begun putting together the basis for sound design with a ridiculous list of do’s and dont’s. Building off all my complaints with what others are doing, or have done (I contend that 13 Eerie was ruined by poor music choices), I’m taking control of as much of this as I can without spending a fortune. At some point I’m going to need to get in a studio, but for now I’m content to do things in a decidedly low-fi manner. It merely needs to be “good enough” until I have footage.

The other extreme from 13 Eerie is what Nolan has been playing around with, mixing down sounds and speech to an impenetrable level – subtlety is better than bombast, and having every utterance audible (and each sound distinct yet not overbearing) is the only approach which would appeal to my perfectionist tendencies. It is a tad harsh to state this but the movement away from proper music to digitally generated tracks is one of the worst things to happen to music in the history of music.

Digitally created soundtracks are bloody awful. There, I said it. Where are the sweeping melodies, the softly rising and falling themes, and the heart?

A great deal of what I am doing has never been done before, which is the most exciting aspect of the entire process. I’m getting to break new ground. One specific problem I’ve noticed with music described as being Paleolithic is that there are sounds which would never have been achievable with the tools at hand forty-something thousand years ago. I can completely understand the need for people to use digital tools in creating (not recreating) sounds from prehistory, but synth has a distinct feel which interrupts my enjoyment of these tracks. By using only sounds that can be justified, a different nature to the soundtrack will evolve naturally.

And I’m completely ignoring all modern music theory – there is a beautiful Japanese logic, wherein music should conform to breath rather than beats, which feels better. There are other things I’m adopting as I work through this, mostly listening to various old recordings of peoples whose contact with the modern world were limited. I’ve noticed that most mainstream tracks seem to promote a more meditative, relaxing nature, but this gives me a whole world of problems – that calming sound isn’t what would spontaneously occur.

There’s a crazy-old CD of Native American tracks (probably manufactured in the late eighties or early 90s) which I picked up on my wanderings. A plain jewel case, with the CD only containing the name of tracks, as simplistic a packaging as I have ever seen. Despite looking like a cheap knock-off, it always sounded far fresher, more vibrant, and really alive when compared to the beautifully packaged, high-value releases such as Sacred Spirit. There are numerous shouts, overlapping chants, random noises, and laughter mixed in, and that makes it far, far more realistic than the smoothed out, clean, and ultimately rather disappointing, studio-bound material.

Chaos, and unpredictability, must be built into the sound of a world before civilization took root. It only popped into mind in the last couple of weeks, but any music needs to include the sound of wildlife in the background. It’ll likely need the crackling and popping of a fire in the sound mix as well.

I have started painting the poster (which is massively presumptuous, but which is a relatively free step on this journey) although the specific tone is hard to judge. Too funny and it looks like a knockabout comedy (which it isn’t), too dramatic and it looks like Quest for Fire (which is so isn’t), too scary and it looks like another fantasy knock-off of Conan (which… okay I’ll allow that to stand). I can’t paint any facial features in, as that’s still a question mark, but I can at least try to figure out the layering of costumes with this.

And I’m writing the novelization (technically an adaptation of the script at this point), which is another leap of faith.

Because budget isn’t a concern I’m going to reinstate a couple of things omitted from other versions, streamlining it in places where the visual-led story elements don’t make sense, and generally making it slightly deeper – things which can’t be done on film, like really getting into the characters’ heads, is the main requirement. While it is tempting to include a massive lecture on the reams and reams of research done in preparing the script I’m doing my best to restrain myself.

Maybe a ‘Making Of’ book would be another way to make some money out of this… At least it would be cheap therapy.

When I decided I wanted to do this I concluded that the film should be released before my 45th birthday as a statement. Mostly “I’m still alive,” which is an awful statement. I need a better one, but lack of sleep and all the stress is making me slightly (okay, massively) useless at the… brain use. Uh… Cognitivation. No, ratiocination.

Thinking – “thinking” was the word I was thinking of.

It makes sense that this would be a later release, rather than falling in the first quarter, so September or October 2022 would be about right – as the nights are still warm enough, when a stoner comedy with hints of dark fantasy would be most appreciated.

That hopefully gives me enough time to get everything up and running in the allotted time. It isn’t a brilliant strategy to work back from an unknown date two years hence, but as long as that is at the back of my mind I have the momentum to keep pushing through all of the delays, external forces, and obviously the mistakes I’ll inevitably make.

Once the novel is done and dusted I’m going to start penciling the comic. No need to tackle everything at once …then I can work out the script for an audio adaptation, plan out a fun little game based on the characters, and see if there is anything else I can knock out in anticipation of this being moderately successful.

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So after all that…

Posted by BigWords on March 12, 2020

I’m calling it a day… after nearly two weeks of hanging around outside seemingly abandoned industrial parks, warehouses, and business centers, I’ve finally had enough. Everyone has apparently decided to bugger off at the same time, so there’s little point in torturing myself any further.

I was meant to have quickly tested out a whole bunch of cameras. I was meant to have simple video shots to compare. All this running around, and all I have accomplished is burning through money I need later in the year, getting more frustrated than imaginable, and wasting a lot of time.

The whole point of scheduling meetings was to keep disruption as low-impact as possible, and it was never in the planning to face so many problems – things have a way of going sideways, and this fiasco should have been worked into the schedule.

A few hours somehow ballooned into more than a week without me keeping a tab on the time. The last-ditch attempt to get my hands on an URSA Mini Pro for a couple of hours ate up my weekend, without me so much as setting eyes on the camera, and so it occurs to me that renting all of the cameras, one after another, for a few days each might be a better way to go.

This is going to mean another downwards adjustment to my already shrinking capital, but I can’t go out and start buying everything without at least a little insight into what I am getting for my money.

Ah, but the cameras…

The top tier has been tempting, but possibly too far out of my current budget to seriously consider (unless I can pick them up second-hand). Everyone seems to rave about the ARRI cameras, but I’ve already had the long, long speech about how I would need a horrific amount of add-ons to the body to get it up and running (lenses, a monitor, battery, remote focus grip, and all the bells and whistles), so that’s a serious question mark hanging over the cameras.


The next bunch, with varying degrees of technical limitation, aren’t exactly enticing, and I’m loathe to purchase any before getting a solid idea of their capabilities. I can’t use anything which gives blown out skies, as the desert setting means I’ll need all the variation I can muster, and clouds are going to be desperately needed to keep the image interesting during quiet sequences where characters are walking.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera; Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro; Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6K; Canon C300 Mark II Cinema EOS 4K camcorder EF; Canon C700; Canon EOS C300 Mark II Camcorder PL; Canon EOS C500 4K EF; Canon EOS-5D Mark II Camera; Nikon D800 Camera; Olympus E-P5 Camera; Panasonic VariCam 35; Panasonic VariCam LT; Panasonic AU-EVA1; various Red models; Sony PMW-F55

A rather varied bunch, each with recommendations from various people. Some nice folks have warned me about stumping up for an ARRI if there is going to be a minimal crew – and as I’m stripping everything to the bone in order to maximize my (minuscule) budget (by any kind of standards) there isn’t room for a large crew.

Hell, there’s barely room in the budget for any crew, which is why I’m desperately calling in everyone and anyone who fits the bill, and who isn’t going to be focusing on the financial side of things. I’m going to see to it that everyone who contributes to the film is well taken care of, but more than that I’m not willing to speak of just yet. My idea of keeping everyone on board is likely going to bring down a kill order from various unions for upsetting the order of things.

So given that there’s a need to have as much bang for my buck, while I’m looking at some very expensive things, hands-on experience of each is a must. The cameras I end up choosing have to pull their weight, especially given that I’m going to be so far outside of anything resembling easy access. I’m not sure if anyone has actually taken each of the above out into the wilderness and exposed it to the elements, so there may be problems when I get out into the middle of nowhere – it would be awesome if things went entirely to plan, but, as this week has perfectly demonstrated, that’s asking far too much.

The abuse they would need to take – extremes of heat, potential sandstorms, rain, and more – is the scary part. Any of the cameras I choose (and I’ll likely need 3) has to be able to handle whatever it gets thrown at it.

I’m not fussed about the size of the captured image – warmth and color are more important than the number of pixels, and there’s more important things than how it conforms to some arbitrary format. Mostly I’ve been watching Milius’ Conan, Iron Warrior (Ator il guerriero di ferro), and Red Sonja, noting the look as much as anything, but seeing what I want any camera I choose to be capable of reproducing.

But there’s that nagging feeling that there’s something… wrong with the technology at present. Not wrong, perhaps, but certainly not in the spirit of the films this project is hearkening back to. Amando de Ossorio shot everything on film, as did Lucio Fulci, and George Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead, and Jean Rollin, Larry Cohen, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Sam Peckinpah, and pretty much every director who I’m ever-so-slightly obsessed by, all used film. Film is right for something that looks and sounds as if it should have been made in the late seventies or early eighties.

Actually, I won’t swear to de Ossorio or Fulci – they might have used video at some point in the eighties, and I don’t have their complete filmography to hand in order to check that. Fulci always struck me as one of those cats who would work with whatever was to hand, like comics publishers during WWII who would print on whatever paper they could get their hands on – didn’t matter if the ink couldn’t adhere to the paper or not, they would blast out as much as they could with what was available. I’m sure he would have used video at some point.

Film cameras are, without a doubt, better than digital.

There’s no question, given that so much time and money has been thrown at making digital cameras output footage which is closer to film, so why should I settle for digital when I can shoot on the real thing? It isn’t an easy choice to make at this juncture, especially as the overwhelming focus seems to be on getting people to fall in love with digital shooting. I’m not in love with digital film. It should have been obvious to me, considering what I would prefer to watch, and as much as I want to get on board with where everyone else is at it feels inessential at the moment – digital simply isn’t where it needs to be as yet.

But there’s good reasons to work with digital, and I can already imagine the points which will be raised by my self-admission that I prefer film to digital.

Finding suitable film stock is going to be a pain in the ass.

A thousand feet of 35mm Kodak stock is going to set me back about four hundred quid, and I’m guessing that I’m going to need between fifteen to twenty thousand feet given the complexity of some of the things I want to try. Remember that this is my baby, and I’m going to do it right, so… Yeah, that’s going to be a serious outlay.

Actually, because I’m a geek, the idea of “pulling an Oliver Stone” is appealing. Super 16, digital, and 35mm thrown into the mix, depending on the scene and the context. And yes, I’m well aware that this is needlessly complicating matters, but it makes me smile a stupid amount when I consider what I could get away with if I chose this option. The only thing I’m absolutely certain of at this precise moment is that the finished film is going to be 1.85:1, because that’s the most pleasing to the eye.

Getting the film processed is going to be a pain in the ass.

This is a reasonable thing for people to think, but (surprisingly) no, there is still enough need for processing that it isn’t exceedingly difficult. There is going to be the issue that the film will be out of my hands – and therefore at the mercy of others – for a while during this, which is worrying, but that’s to be expected.

Shooting on film will likely end up costing more.

About that… I’m not so sure. Things are going to be “holy fuck, you want how much money” either way. It sure isn’t helping my nerves any to see how much money everything is costing right now, and the big ticket items still need to be acquired.

No matter the negatives to its use, I can’t stop the thought that keeps coming back to me: why not use 35mm?

I’m not going to make a sudden choice on this matter, but it is a serious consideration.

Planning a shoot is hard at the best of times, but planning one in the middle of an international medical crisis, and especially because I’m planning a non-English shoot, is way more complex. Attempting to make sure everyone I contact is aware of the language issue explicitly, so that nobody is caught out at a later point, is the main gripe with flurries of emails – these essential little details can get lost in the glut of other information, and I have been mentioning it endlessly when conferring with potential cast and crew.

If anyone is getting sick of hearing that detail, it is only so I can be reassured that nobody will be surprised later.

La sorpresa será cuando aparezca con un disfraz de payaso a las tres de la mañana.

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I Want to Flee the Sinking Ship Britannia

Posted by BigWords on March 8, 2020

I haven’t made headway on anything this week, and I’m stuck away from everything important for at least another day or two. I am a hamster on a treadmill, forever rushing yet getting nowhere fast. The universe has a completely perverted sense of humor, and these reminders that anything I attempt will be met with equal and opposite resistance are starting to be extremely irritating.

Not only am I minus transport which I was counting on, nearly everyone I need to talk to is MIA – which, under any other circumstances, wouldn’t be an issue, but when I’m throwing every penny I have at attempting to get things done… Frustrating as mass disappearances are, and being yachtless is, of slightly more concern is how much money each setback costs me. I’m terrified of having to use my card all the time (and, y’know, thanks to whoever emptied out all the cash machines – great thinking there) as it doesn’t feel like real money. I use the card without thinking, and as I barely look at statements I have no idea how much I’ve spent this month already.

The reason that I prefer cash, as in physical money, is that I can work out – from what remains – how much I’m allowed to spend in the remainder of the month without feeling guilty. At this rate I have zero knowledge of where I stand on that front. And no, don’t even bother saying “you can check your balance online,” as the banks have seen to it that their websites are so horribly broken that doing anything on them is absolute torture. Having to input security codes every three minutes might be fun and exciting for some, but its a bloody chore, and that’s with the “remember me” button selected.

One of the major problems with me being left to my own devices, with all meetings seemingly canceled on me, is that I have time to browse. This is dangerous. Today (Saturday) alone I have seen three modern firsts crying out for someone to care for them, and there’s a fairly substantial number of weird paranormal books from the seventies and eighties calling out to me. Under other circumstances I would already have buckled, but keeping at least some semblance of a budget has to come first. A couple of old magazines were all I dared purchase (only eight quid apiece), and even that has given me the guilts.

Whenever things get this annoying, and hoo-boy things are so annoying right now, I get to wondering how Britain must look to the rest of the world. When we broke away from Europe did we officially change the country’s slogan to “ambitious but rubbish?” Everywhere seems to be closed up, even when I’ve specifically booked an appointment… I’m getting to the point where I’m ready to bloody well swim to mainland Europe. Maybe that’s the reason for my compulsive exercising – I’ve already subconsciously decided on a plan of action, or something.

There’s so much melodrama around at the moment that actual, proper drama is far preferable. While I appreciate that people have a natural instinct to panic, emptying out shelves from shops, nabbing all the money from cash machines, and generally going full Prepper on the world, there really isn’t a massive chance of any individual catching Captain Trips. You are more likely to get hit by a bus, or fall down a flight of stairs, or be poisoned by your underpants, or… IDK, be murdered by an Elvis impersonator or something.

Focusing on some hypothetical danger isn’t the best use of anyone’s energy, and only by continuing to follow routine can we get through this madness with as little interruption as possible.

But no. People want to flail and moan, and act as if the sky is falling.

I was going to list everything I still needed to pick up, but as I made my way through endless requirements it became more depressing than anything else. On my travels I discovered a little art shop, one of those independent ones the kind of which used to be everywhere, and it had an absolutely gorgeous little wooden box full of sable brushes on sale. I very nearly splashed out three hundred quid on it, my card tantalizingly close to hand, before I remembered that the plan was to get a camera before anything else. If it is still there the next time I pass through this way I’m going to treat myself.

The specific camera is still an unknown. I want a Red, but dropping twenty grand on an unknown quantity is fucking scary. It many not be much to some, but this is a lot to spend for me at the moment. It isn’t so much money which is playing on my mind, but rather image quality – the first thing I want to do when everything I need is in the can is to find a small cinema somewhere to see all my raw footage on a large screen, then proceed from there. Not knowing exactly what to expect from various makes and models is a massive leap into the unknown, but I can’t go back to using video. Seriously, anything but video… I’ll use one of those Fisher-Price toy cameras before resorting to video.

While I could live with something that looked okay, I want footage slightly better than a run-of-the-mill budget flick. Knowing how to shoot in the desert is going to be the biggest challenge. I’m comfortable with cameras, I’m sorta, kinda, mostly comfortable with designing the look of everything, and… Well, lighting and sound are pretty much black arts. Those that know such things are wizards, and must be given the proper respect. I’ll get hexed otherwise.

Mentioning this, some lighting technician is probably fingering their gris gris bag, staring at the screen, going “say what, motherfucker?”

My head is totes going to end up looking like Beetlejuice at the end of that film. I promise to not mock subtle and dangerous majiks.

I’ve seen another dozen or so films which were released when I was in my little funk, hiding from the world. Goddamn, cinema has gone to shit. I’ve found a total of six great films released over the last few years, where I expected to (maybe) be able to list off a few dozen. There’s an overwhelming sense of familiarity to most of the acclaimed films, with a few being so irredeemably bad that it is almost beyond belief that they managed to garner enough popularity to break even, never mind turn a profit. This makes me fearful that there isn’t room for intelligent, artful films in the current marketplace, but I’m hoping that there is still a space for things which are artfully constructed.

Are didactic speeches becoming a thing? There’s nothing wrong with films imparting lessons, but to drag everything to a halt so that someone can pontificate is ridiculous. Scriptwriting (across multiple genres) has fallen so low in my estimation that I soon expect to see Tellytubbies revived for the big screen by Guy Ritchie – I thought things couldn’t get any worse than Hobbs & Shaw, but I was overly optimistic. This is extremely depressing. You do know that there are lessons hidden in Peckinpah films, right? The narrative doesn’t come to a screeching stop so that you can be told them – you have to work a little harder for the take-away – and they serve to inform character, location, and their place in history.

The single worst atrocity against cinema has to be the opening scene to the Charlie’s Angels reboot, in which Kristen Stewart delivers a speech which goes on… and on… and on… And by the time it is over I’ve already given up the will to live. Yes, the clever little line about threat assessment is well-placed, but everything before it is so speechy that it doesn’t sound like sentences any human would say. Ever. The individual words aren’t bad, and the sentiment is great, but it sets up nothing, goes nowhere, and exists merely to exist.

Maybe there’s hope for Tommy Wiseau after all, if this is the quality of the competition…

And I’m going to have to reassess my criticism of Uwe Boll. Isn’t that a scary thought?

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Skipping Merrily Through a Minefield

Posted by BigWords on March 4, 2020

The goddess is obviously in a playful mood. Just when I think everything is rolling along smoothly, whoomph – the hand of the divine reaches down and starts plucking at carefully woven threads. This isn’t something that comes as a great surprise, given the last few years, but I was sorta hoping for a little more time (and to be permitted some degree of preparation) before being hurled into yet another mess.

There’s Big Ticket Items which are, at present, still-outstanding purchases – it isn’t that I haven’t tried to tick them off the list, but the prices are nowhere near stable enough to guarantee that I will be able to get things at a price which doesn’t cripple me. So when I was told that one of the desperately needed items was on sale extremely cheaply I dragged myself off to see for myself. In the meantime, however, one of the hard drives was slowly dying (unbeknownst to me), and the report on a yacht I had planned on using came back with disappointing news.

It is so reassuring to have bad news waiting on you, isn’t it? Like there’s a sentience to the universe, and every action results in three repercussions entirely unrelated to the action itself. “Cosmic snakes and ladders” was my initial though, “and some bastard’s playing with a loaded die.” And before you say anything, I know that doesn’t make complete sense, but I can’t help immediate reactions to yet more obstacles being set.

If anyone compares life to a marathon, remind them (from me) that the course isn’t changed throughout the event, nor are obstacles rolled into everyone’s path. And there are no trenches for people to leap over. And nobody is firing a sub-machine gun over the runners’ heads. In fact, the more I consider marathons as a sport, the more I am convinced that these are all going to be implemented at some point – we’re fast reaching a point where The Long Walk and The Running Man would sit happily between abuse-as-entertainment from Jeremy ‘Killer’ Kyle and psychological warfare as seen on Love Island and its ilk.

When I heard Killer Kyle was returning to ITV, I may have said “fifty quid on a suicide within three months of it returning.” I immediately felt guilty, of course, about making light of such a horrible outcome, yet somehow it seems about right. As the death toll from reality television mounts up it becomes, somehow, more easy to see where the faults with these shows lie, as well as the damning contribution that the writer’s strike made back in 1988. These things have a way of bringing unintended consequences.

Things from the past affecting the present. How novel a concept…

I really shouldn’t be this sarcastic, but I can’t help it.

The hard drive had been moved around so much that it is a wonder it survived this long, and a fair percentage of its time tucked inelegantly into a cardboard box overfilled with tech which should have had better treatment. Still, better for it to have given up the ghost when it was being used as a back-up rather than having irreplaceable items on it. I’ve been planning on getting a few hard drives in preparation for later – guessing as to how much I need, there was 50TB scheduled to be bought at some point anyway, and this hiccup merely pushes that purchase forwards in my schedule. Given that the last time I shot anything was probably on S-VHS, I have no idea how much memory I’m actually going to need.

The big problem, and one I have no answer to at the moment, is losing my means of transport. I was going to stow everything in a friends yacht and sail over to Spain when the time came, but it isn’t going to be ready in time. In fact, I don’t know if the damn thing will ever be able to hit the open water again given the extensive list of repairs needed, so that’s a whole list of transport and schedule issues thrown in front of me. I don’t want to use an HGV or something, as that merely escalates costs ridiculously, and there’s the minor long-standing issue of proper paperwork to deal with.

To add insult to injury, the server I traveled so far to see had been gutted. There’s no way I could get it cleaned up, restored, modernized, and fully working, unless I devoted a significant amount of time to that process – and if there is one thing I am desperately short of it is free time.

It wasn’t a completely wasted trip. I got a half-hour horror/thriller script written during my down time, specifically designed to feature a single actor in one location, which is sufficiently amusing a notion that it may very well skip ahead of the feature in plans. Depending on the way things go with transport I may be forced to shoot material here, then work out a way to get my ass out to Spain.

Although I wont be able to film, edit, score, and package this short in time for FrightFest at the end of August, I still want to have something to pass around.

Now… About the hard drives:

There are a staggering number of models on this computer. I hadn’t planned on spending more money this month, nor having to find any extra space, but I don’t want to delete any of my planning and development stage before I’m certain that everything which will be required at a later date is safely tucked away somewhere. This is a rather worrying development given that I haven’t got to the stage where the large files were to be expected.

It was always the video files I was prepared for, especially as I want any footage to look as good as possible before getting tweaked (color correction and the like) in post – Blender was never given consideration as to how much space it would take up. While 19 GB isn’t, by any standard, a massive amount of space for models, coupled with reference images and all of my art accompanying the models it soon adds up.

When I get myself a decent HD camera there will probably be a shortage of hard drives soon after1.

Despite them not working at the moment I’m keeping test blends which do things that I can’t see attempted anywhere. I figure that I’ll pick up enough knowledge of the software to come back to them, and the prospect of recreating immense set-ups is something to be avoided. Really, going back and recreating anything ought to be avoided unless absolutely necessary2 – only by looking forward, and folding in new techniques and skills, can creations be the best versions possible.

They really aren’t working, in case you are thinking that they merely need a little tweaking. Whilst some steps are relatively simple – modeling and animating – others are proving slightly more obscure3. I don’t want to get too much into that here, as there’s a whole bunch of things which require thoughts on, and having a dedicated space for ruminations was meant to free this blog for the other notions which were bouncing around in my brain.

Looking back isn’t a bad thing. I find myself, when events aren’t going to plan, considering many things which would be far better if attempted now. One of the lists I slapped together a few years back now appears… well, thin. And given that so much has been released after that was compiled, in various media, it might require a more comprehensive study. The question of what to write in order to keep the money flowing in isn’t the big question: the questions are how and where.

Here’s where I very likely dig a hole for myself…

Most things I’ve sold have been one-off payments4. This isn’t a bad deal, whatever you may think. I’ve been more than happy with the earnings, and the fact that people I’ve sold things to are really cool individuals doesn’t hurt – but I’m going to be having a few months blocked out where blasting out short stories or non-fiction articles isn’t going to be possible, and during those periods it would be nice to get some money coming in. There’s also been a growing feeling that I should maintain some control over the work I create, so this means going it alone.

Now, given that I’ve previously – and extensively – noted all the problems which pen names brings up, you might expect that there will be an onslaught of material appearing under my name, but this would produce two insurmountable problems for me:

<strong>One</strong>. There are short story collections, novellas, novels, and non-fiction of an extremely wide variety. Having everything appear under my own name would confuse people who are looking for more of the same – and even limiting myself to only issuing novels under my name wouldn’t solve this, due to my (previously noted) penchant for mimicry. There’s so much difference from one novel to the next that a casual reader would be forgiven for thinking that they emerged from completely different authors.
<strong>Two</strong>. It is a Very Bad Idea to skip willfully across genres with little regard for any audience those works would garner. While it is possible to dual-path readers (King manages to mix his horror and crime output magnificently), by the time one gets to four or five genres it can be confusing for people arriving late to the party. The notion of restricting myself is tedious, and I would only end up subverting, undermining, and twisting genre works anyways (no change there), so having these separated out makes complete sense.

This means, in case you are wondering, that I am seriously considering a clutch of pen names to fund things to come.

The how, therefore, in getting through the next few years is clear.

As for the where… Okay, so Smashwords is the obvious choice. It is, alas, a choice which is presently overflowing with great novels5. But this train of thought wouldn’t be half as entertaining if I merely went ahead and started uploading – there needs to be something contained within the process of using pen names which elevates their use somehow. If I’m going to use this long-standing tradition6, then it needs to contain an added component which others have omitted until now. It needs to make sense in the greater scheme of things.

Most importantly, it needs to be fun. What’s the point otherwise?

A few of the quick ideas generated to push this on felt a little too forced. Gimmick naming, wherein the list of pen names would consist entirely of, say, obscure 16th to 18th century playwrights, or French philosophers, or the names of tertiary characters from Victorian literature, is something I am really trying to keep myself from using. It would be interesting to see how quickly they would be identified, but might be a touch too eccentric. It would also be fairly easy for people to see where the story within drew possible inspirations.

If I can keep from playing too deeply with references (another challenge) then my time and energy could be better used on the contents.

And, because this is me, there’s going to be a standing invitation for people to attempt to ‘out’ my pen names. Normally a verboten activity, I’m going to encourage you to see if you can find where I’ll be dropping books. Other authors (unless they have explicitly stated they are open to this) are to be regarded as completely off the table – and I’m going to be very disappointed if people start exposing authors who have good reason for trying their damnedest to maintain a level of secrecy – but you can expose as many of my forthcoming pen names as you want.

In fact, lets make that a game. I’ll throw up a page here with the pen names once they have been correctly identified, with each getting their own page listing the works under that name, and a mention in the “biography” section of who was first to correctly identify me as the hand behind that name. Fuck it, if I’m going to make a mockery of the use of pen names I’ll do it with panache.

This is likely going to ruffle a few feathers. Y’know, as long as this is kept constrained I can’t see the harm in letting it play out. This is hardly the worst thing I’ve done, in case anyone thinks that by moving the goal-posts so far I’m wilfully attacking the core conceit of a pen name. It has the beneficial side-effect of forcing me to alter my writing style when working on something, and it challenges people to use analytical skills when approaching a text – the entire idea itself is something which makes pen names <em>more</em> interesting as a concept.

Don’t think I’ll make it easy for you – there wouldn’t be any sport in that. I’ll take things on my end seriously, applying all of the things I would were I to seriously be attempting the use of a pen name. There won’t, for example, be any of the usual pithy indifference of status6, or mockery of my usual subjects of scorn. You are going to have to work for your bragging rights.

And there’s the other thing.

It is difficult to put the following into words without causing at least some consternation and annoyance, so before I dig into the other reason why I’m using pen names I’m going to make an important distinction which needs to be made between what I’m doing and, for example, people writing erotica. There’s a damn good reason why a person might not want their name to appear on the cover of… Red Hot Sex Slave or something.

I have no idea if that is actually a book. It sounded like a title which could exist so I ran with it. If there is actually a book with that title, and if it is under the author’s own name, I apologize profusely, but the title sounds lurid. I’m imagining someone tied up in bondage gear on the cover, a goofy grin on their face. Somewhere between one of those gorgeous fifties paperbacks – with improbably pneumatic women, and men in elegant suits – and a grubby eighties straight-to-videocassette feature. It has the ring of authenticity about it.

Man, I need to write that. The hell with the rest of this post, that sounds like an interesting little novella which I could knock out in a few hours…

What was I saying? Oh, yeah – there’s a real and serious reason for people to use pen names. I’m not dismissing that. What we need to think about, in regards to pen names, is the authenticity of the contents in relation to the authorial persona when it comes to awards. There’s a long list (a very, very long list) of pen names who have won awards, but in most cases the identities of those authors are either an open secret or are the subject of rumors, speculation, and general chit-chat.

Most of the works which one can pinpoint as by a pseudonym are pretty good, and truly deserve any awards they pick up.

Buuuuut… (there was always a ‘but’ coming) I’m ruling myself out, here and now, for any and every award. Don’t even think of suggesting a work which appears from my pen (or keyboard, actually, but pen sounds better), or else I will step in. Not only am I prepared for this – albeit unlikely – eventuality, I am more than willing and capable of putting the kibosh on any unwanted celebration that a pen name might garner. Although there are certain awards I would definitely want on my shelf, I wouldn’t want to look at one which didn’t have my name on it. I’m not, therefore, going to chase anything.

Pen names don’t count.

Once more, because people might be skimming – this is only in relation to me.

There are a bunch of reasons behind this line of thought, but the main thing I keep coming back to is the integrity of the lists. While others may be happy with any name on the lists, the thought of sitting back and letting a patently false name mar any awards list makes me uncomfortable. A great many things I refuse to let stand have, over the years, been points of principal that have attracted bemusement, scorn, and disbelief. It doesn’t matter what you think, it doesn’t matter what the rules state, and it certainly doesn’t matter what popular opinion decrees.

What matters is my ability to focus on things which are important (to me), and not have to deal with thorny dilemmas which are a distraction.

Someone ought to start tallying up all the things I refuse to do for dumb moral reasons, then slap me with the printout. Yes, I am well aware that this is yet another thing that isn’t actually a thing. This is an issue which only exists in my head, and nobody else cares. I get it. I completely accept that I’m the only person who has a problem with accepting a pen name’s eligibility for awards, but that isn’t going to appease me any. I want no part of awards outside those which I am eligible for under my own name.

You don’t have to understand, and you don’t have to like it.

1. I’ve already begun playing with models constructed from bits of cardboard and plastic, using the crappy webcam to block out shots I’m planning as best I can. It has almost zero focus capabilities, and a terrible picture, but I can get the overall impression of what I want – making the leap to an animatic less problematic, and shortening the amount of time it will take to step up to the finished article.
2. Recreating lost footage, such as missing Doctor Who episodes, are an exception. Moving things across media is also a valid use of recreating what was, and it is largely when there is little original input into the finished article that I get annoyed at seeing people reuse things. If there isn’t something new brought to bear on a work then there isn’t any need to remake it – which is my main problem with film remakes appearing so often. Very few seem to have had proper development of the ideas inherent to their properties, making for an unsatisfactory and cheap experience.
3. There are so many ways in which I despise the lighting set-up, camera placement, and UV unwrapping in Blender, none of which are as intuitive as other software makes the processes. There’s more on this at Digital Hume. I may yet splash out on something a little more to my taste, though the budgetary concerns are playing a massive part of my thinking as yet.
4. Complaining about payments, and the loss of rights, helps nobody – anyone thinking that there’s something inherently wrong with a sale shouldn’t go through with it, and that isn’t just my way of saying “let me grab that opportunity, thanks” – and I expect everyone to be doing their homework on what they are giving up when they sell something they have created. Merely because I am satisfied with the money paid for my writing doesn’t meant that anyone else should settle for what they determine to be a bad deal.
5. Yes, the novels are good. A great many covers may leave something to be desired (and I’m going to get around to that eventually), but the writing is, overall, of a very high standard. My sampling may not have been extensive, nor covered all genres, but of what I have read there is much to be impressed by.
6. Don’t. Really, don’t… If you are going to start listing off how this is a problem of epic proportions, I don’t want to hear it. People have been using pen names for centuries, and if you have a problem with my decision to use pen names then you can take any commentary elsewhere. I’ve found a way to make it fun and interesting.
7. This is not going away. Here, where I get to bang my brains out on the keyboard and mash gray matter into my words, is going to remain a place where I don’t have to acknowledge that there are tiers. Nobody is more important than anyone else by virtue of their back catalog. I’m not going to tip my hat to anyone, and I don’t expect anyone to view me as being more important merely because blah, blah, blah. Watch this. Now, tell me – does it make any sense to maintain a status quo which has been so thoroughly demolished over the years. There may be a t-shirt reading “I am vulgar and I don’t know my place” waiting in my future…

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Insomnia Blues

Posted by BigWords on February 29, 2020

There are days, like today (writing this late on Friday night, or early on Saturday morning depending on how one looks at it), where I wonder if my trouble sleeping is something physical. I’m not saying that I would jump at a cure, which would put a severe dent in my output, but it would be nice to know for sure – with the option, at some point in the future, to be able to do something about it.

Exercise was meant to alleviate the chronic insomnia.

Before you point out “it doesn’t work like that,” yes, I’m well aware of that fact now.

At the time I started, however, I figured that doing a bunch of push-ups, or anything else that popped into my head, was going to assist me in getting more than four hours of sleep. It really doesn’t matter what I do, the numbers don’t go up. I can do seven or eight hundred push-ups, thinking that’s going to tire me out, yet a short while later I feel like I could do it all over again. It really isn’t fair.

So the answer as to why I can’t sleep can’t be psychological. Not if I’m able to add that to my routine without discernible effect. My body is obviously broken – I’m producing either too much or too little of a key chemical which is ruining my ability to sleep. There was a lady at the gym – and I’m not sure if she was a trainer, or an assistant, or what she was – who told me, as I’d only begun ramping up my physical activity, that I shouldn’t do too much to begin with.

That really didn’t sound very encouraging. So yes, I went ahead and did the very thing I was specifically told not to do. And I still didn’t nab myself a good night’s sleep. When you get close to tears because you can’t sleep, which has been the case a few times in the last year or two, anything which might help is on the table. I’m still not ruling anything out.

While a lot of people seem to swear by trackers (Fitbit, or whatever), I’ve merely been setting the timer on my ‘phone – a simple and effective tactic, and one which I really like because it doesn’t cost a thing. As exercise is in addition to everything else it wasn’t part of the budget which I’m valiantly attempting to stick to (although it hasn’t held this month, for numerous reasons), and I don’t want to start messing with the numbers to accommodate further expenditure.

I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in my entire life. Still not sleeping, mind you, but concentrating on the pluses seems a better use of my excessive energy than focusing on what isn’t working out for me.

This isn’t coming cheap. One teeny tiny fact which everyone neglected to inform me of was how much more I needed to eat. Being told “you should work out” is fine (if annoying), but the knock-on cost of eating more is slightly worrying. While it may sound awesome to eat all the time, I’m always somewhere between ‘why won’t my stomach stop rumbling’ and ‘I can’t eat another mouthful.’

Often these feelings arrive together, tormenting me with the fact that I’m in need of nourishment but don’t want to eat – an additional psychological torture I could really do without.

Being more active hasn’t boosted my immune system either, as I got knocked on my ass with the flu over Christmas.

And that’s another thing which nobody seemed ready to offer commentary on before all this: after a week of feeling as if Death himself had gripped bony fingers around my scrotum and squeezed, the momentum of my routine was shattered – I was barely able to do half of what I could the week prior without getting all shaky and dripping with sweat, although tenacity, OCD, and the dread of getting up in front of a crowd soon got me back on track. That week, though… Damn. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think my arms and chest got visibly, albeit marginally, smaller. In one week.

And then there’s the other thing. This might be connected to the insomnia, as it only seems to happen when I’ve gone a couple of days without any sleep at all, but that may be coincidence. In fact, it could be any number of things, as I haven’t been keeping a record of what and when I eat – that’s far too anal, even for me.

There was a weird “glittery effect” which is extremely difficult to describe other than a half-circle of shimmering lights at the uppermost side of my right eye, and this initially started when I was drawing. The first time it happened I thought I was having a stroke or something (don’t mock), but as it went away after half an hour or so I put it out of mind. Then it happened again (at a point where I hadn’t been sleeping once more), with the same duration, more or less. As it hasn’t killed me already it can’t be all that important…

It only seems to return when I’ve gone without sleep, and as this is a New Thing, previously unheard of, I’ve been reticent to get it checked in case there needs to be any rest period involved.

I can’t afford to take any time off.

Most of the year has been sketched out, and I can’t fall behind any farther than I am. It is all well and good to have people telling me to stay on top of my health, but bills don’t stop landing at my feet merely because I’m not at the top of my game. It is one of a few things bugging me which, when I have a financial cushion against unexpected events, I’m definitely going to see someone about – just not straight away.

There’s one particular thought which has been rattling around in my head, and likely adding to all the other issues – does being awake longer, on average, than most other people mean that I am, effectively, older than my age group? Seriously, this is something that has actually been a burning question for a while now. Is it like dog years, in that an inability to sleep properly can screw up the chronological aging process somehow?

In darker moments I find myself imagining what it would be like to suddenly look a couple of hundred years old. Which would be great for Hallowe’en, but which would suck great big, hairy, sweaty donkey balls for the rest of the year.

And I still, to the dismay of everyone I have confided this fact to, haven’t got a will.

There was always a plan to get some kind of a museum up and running, and that, still, is something I want to do with the collection. I can’t see Logan having the patience or delicate touch required to deal with certain fragile documents (he’s already decimated what was an almost pristine set of OG Action Force and G.I. Joe figures, and he’s well on his way though what was my Super Powers collection), and Zoe already has notions of what she wants to do. It isn’t fair to saddle anyone with thousands upon thousands of old comics when I eventually kick the bucket.

I’m well aware, with each passing year, that the need to keep the collection intact means that a will ought to be one of my priorities. The thought of what happened to Denis Gifford’s collection is a prime motivating factor, and I have nowhere near the number of early comics he did. Most of the seventies through the nineties is complete except a few things here and there, although a few of the spin-off items (Marvel’s puzzle books especially) have been remarkably elusive, and I would hate for all the work gathering things together to go to waste.

Which is why, when I’m so damn healthy, it makes sense to do everything I want to do. Computer games and films are easier to leverage into other opportunities than a museum (of any description), and if I can find a way to make enough money – alongside subbing a frankly disturbing number of short stories to as many markets as I can think of, across quite a few genres – then any stationary facility will have secured funding.

It is highly unlikely that I can keep up this level of output forever.

And no, there will be no topless photographs of me posted here.

Unless, that is, someone is willing to pay for them, in which case…

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Don’t Say “Money Pit”

Posted by BigWords on February 28, 2020

The money situation might seem like the big hurdle, but it isn’t as tough as it might seem. That, in case anyone was wondering, is why I now have a budget. It isn’t cool, it certainly isn’t sexy, but it is important, and I’m really trying to keep within it every month. I’ve already sold off a lot of things which I’m unlikely to ever need again – picking and choosing what could go was, admittedly, one of the toughest things to dig into, but I’m fairly happy with the items held back.

At some point I may decide to sell of a few more of the hardback first editions in order to get a little more money, but most of them are important. I also held onto the signed books, and anything which had special value to me – although I completely accept that while some of these have very little monetary value, they hold a special place in my heart. And some of the books, especially the low print runs, are hard to find these days, so I would kick myself if I sold them off merely to get a quick cash injection.

One of the minor niggles which has stalled other projects – especially something which is currently a massive pain in the ass – has been finances. I’m really, really bad at this, and it has only been with the patience and understanding of people who deal with large financial issues on a daily basis that I have finally got to grips with the fact that I can’t go out and spend money like there is no tomorrow. I like spending money. It’s because it doesn’t feel real (being mostly numbers on a screen) that I have no problem throwing cash at things I like, but in order to get things done I have had to stall this.

The last few years should have taught me something, but no. My brain is still wired to respond as if I was earning the kind of money I was in my twenties.

And here’s where the whoring starts. Sorry. You can go to many other fine sites on the internet while I get this out of my system…

If I can write two or three short stories a day (which is fairly easy), or a couple of short comic scripts a day, I should be able to earn enough to halt on the selling-off of other items from my collections. That is, of course, if I can find markets for them. This is something else that had shown itself to be a problem, as there are very few people accepting anywhere near that amount of material. Actually this may come in handy later, as a backlog of unsold material is going to be very useful when all my time is spent working on FX.

I don’t really want to sell off any of my original art, especially things which were done back when my style was awkward and far too angular, but that’s always an option. They don’t seem like they would work on tees, so that’s probably out of the question as well – and, complete transparency being the operative mode here – I wouldn’t make a lot from Redbubble anyways. They take a massive cut of the profits, and it seems slightly pointless busting my ass to make three or four quid.

There’s art I would be happy to sell – the giant B&W pointillism piece of Morpheus from the Matrix, for one – but which are based on other people’s rights, which I don’t feel comfortable nudging up against.

While I’m not going to mention the number I have in my head, there is a clear lower limit to how much I’m going to need in order to get things rolling. Anything above that sum and I can have a little more experimentation when filming begins, although getting above the low bar is probably going to be difficult. I’ve looked into both renting and purchasing cameras, and the latter seems a more sensible option – I’m inevitably going to think of something else which is interesting, and having that equipment to hand will save money in the long term.

No idea about lighting or sound, and the cost of that particular equipment is housed in the nebulous “other expenses” column. I’m being extra-generous with that, as there are likely a lot of things I don’t know I need, or which will cost more than I might anticipate, and I don’t want things to grind to a halt while I get my hands on more money. I’m not sure why I would need lights if I’m shooting in the desert, but you never know…

One of the principals which is solidly in place now, so that there is no question of misunderstanding later, is that everyone involved in getting this film made is going to get a cut of the takings. Others can beat their chests and yell “mine, all mine” when they film something, but it honestly isn’t about the end product generating a revenue stream for the next X years that is driving me. While the fine details of the revenue-sharing isn’t clear at this precise moment, it is something that will have to be put on paper before filming begins in earnest.

As long as there is enough in my pocket to keep me in marshmallows and coffee I’m going to be happy.

I’ve been pondering the wisdom of making a t-shirt saying “Have Pen, Will Travel,” but I’m not sure how many people are likely to get the reference.

Finding a place to house some of the writing is my best shot, as banging out thousands of words a day is only going to be useful when I get a steady stream of income from it. I’m not going to throw up adverts everywhere, as that smacks of opportunism, and I dislike the kinds of adverts which are being plastered across everything these days. What happened to class? I mean, c’mon, the vultures are circling Kirk Douglas – have you seen the tasteless shit about his bank account? Damn. Anyone creating those ads should be ashamed of themselves.

My bank manager is probably screaming at the screen right now.

There’s still an ongoing issue with my budgeting skills which is giving me a slight headache – there are far too many interesting things being published to stick within the limits, and in attempting to quash the urge to pick up new releases I merely end up adding them to lists of things I should buy. This month, as I type this, I am £140 over budget thanks to several things being released closely together, finding things I’ve been looking for, along with some impulse purchases. Don’t ask.

I’ve been eyeing Smashwords as a possible place to drop a bunch of short stories, but I don’t know whether that would work out – there seems to be a lot of people throwing things up there for free, and you can’t compete with free. I would have made a killing in the era of pulp magazines…

So that’s as much as I really want to share about the financial mess. There is probably more than I initially wanted to share, but I can’t go back and start deleting things or I’ll not be able to stop.

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I Really Do Have a Plan. Honest.

Posted by BigWords on February 27, 2020

As I’m being completely transparent as to my short and medium term goals – well aware that they are likely to draw criticism – it is only fair that I also let you in on some of the difficulties and opportinuties which are complicating matters. Full disclosure is probably unwise, but this is cathartic as much as anything. Do you have any idea how stressful it is to attempt to keep things on the quiet? I’ve been downplaying things, and… I’m not sure how successful – if at all successful – any reassurances given out have been.

The new laptop isn’t ideal. It isn’t the fault of the laptop itself, but rather the overall design choices which are dominating the current generation of laptops. I’m probably going to have to buy a more substantial external keyboard at some point, as writing around a hundred thousand words a day on this is going to wear out the keys in no time at all. I’m also slightly concerned about the tracker pad, which was never designed for such extensive use.

The only reason I’m able to do so much right now is the insomnia flaring up – with only around four hours sleep a night at the moment, and not good sleep either, I’m somehow increasing my workflow substantially. There should be a knock-on effect of exhaustion, but I’m concentrating hard on Blender and getting excited at the notion of getting a film made. The current situation does afford me more time than I would otherwise have, so I’m portioning out that time as well as I can. I’m keeping – more or less – on schedule, with the only limiting factor being my comfort with Blender.

The rest of the time…

Well, there are short stories, scripts, and designs to figure out. While I’m not sure quite how much material I’m going to have to create in order to fund all the steps along the way to the previously mentioned projects, there’s likely enough wiggle room to play in if I keep on budget. I’m not going to borrow money, or go into debt, in achieving any of this, and I don’t want to ask anyone for help – that would probably be the smart thing to do, but I want my fingerprints on everything. It is ego, pure and simple. I can do all this if I put my mind to it.

The funding, as far as financing is concerned, has always been intended to spring from me, and me alone, as asking anyone to chip in seems too much like begging.

Actually there’s another reason why I have to do everything on my own, and that is for what comes next.

Building on what I’m working on now, moving forward with concepts which intrigue me, has to follow certain specific constraints. It would be both arrogant and unrealistic to expect others to adhere to such limitations, so there really isn’t any point in frustrating anyone with them – and as I have no interest whatsoever in creating franchises, and little interest in playing within the worlds others have created, I’m largely stuck doing the best I can with what I have.

There has to be a certain sensibility in all these things. Not that I want to impose a look on things, or that everything has to be willfully clever (there are enough stoner gags in the film script to keep everyone happy), but that they come from a certain place – the understanding that they all originate from one source. Despite the complications which tackling everything creates, having one hand behind all aspects involved is the best way to maintain that sense of auteurship.

Like I said – rampant ego.

I’m not tackling everything completely alone, as there are people who are absolutely vital to get on board. There’s a certain director – semipro, with a great visual style – who seems as if he could cope with the level of interference I would bring, and I’ve been on the look-out for people to fill other key positions. There’s no cast in mind yet, which is going to make me really, really nervous when thing move forwards, but I figure that there’s plenty of time to deal with that yet.

And before anyone asks, yes – I did all the storyboards myself. Any opportunity to cut down on the overall cost is to be grabbed with both hands, especially when there are so many specific things to keep in focus. As soon as I can figure out how to get the animation properly rendered, I also have a vanity plate ready, for which the letters were specially done. Everything has to be mine, otherwise I’m going to look back on the finished article and regret not spending the time to do it right.

Whatever else, this should be interesting. Hell, even if things go completely mad and I end up stuck in the desert for longer than anticipated, at least it will make for great blog posts, right? There’s no way I would leave you hanging while I’m doing something so ambitious.

There is one small, yet crucial, aspect of this that I’m not even going to attempt to tackle solo – the soundtrack has to be completely right for the story. That means, unfortunately, that there can’t be any synths used. Nor pianos, or guitars, or anything remotely familiar. When I was working out the story, and trying to find as much information as possible on artifacts which originated in the right place, at the right time, I found a few possibilities – and there are at least three instruments I want to track down replicas of, if any have actually been created.

Putting the sounds together, and mixing them in a way which doesn’t detract from the visuals, is a whole world of technical nightmare. I wrote a few scenes to specifically play out in a manner in which the audio leads narrative development, so the pacing, mood, and intent has to be right as well. Soundscapes have to possess so many factors that it would really stretch my abilities, and I’m not comfortable tackling so demanding a role when there are people around who not only do this stuff for a living, but are far, far more talented than me when it comes to sound.

There’s one thing that really tipped the balance for me when it came to the decision I would make this film: there aren’t really any combat sequences. Yes, there is some action involved, adhering to the original concept “Conan meets Cheech and Chong,” but no bloodshed. For that matter, the computer game will be mostly free of physical violence as well.

I told you that I wasn’t thinking with my commercial brain.

There really isn’t a need to add violence for the sake of it, nor is there any need for nudity. Well… I may throw in a naked background cameo if nobody objects, but mostly because it would be extremely amusing to do so, and not for any artistic reasoning. Don’t worry, I’ve been working out. I’m not saying that I’m gonna look like Chris Evans anytime soon, but at least there’s muscle definition.

Changing the nature of the discourse between standard fantasy fare and audience is something that has been bugging me a lot, and as nobody else is willing (or able) to step back from the popular concepts to examine more important aspects, then it is largely down to those who need to do so. In this case, yeah, me. That there is such a broad canvas from which to draw fantasy from, but so little making its way from the archetypes to what is presented on screen, means that there is an audience which has never really been exposed to some of the fundamental ideas.

While I’m always going to love the Conan films, and even films such as the Ator sequence (especially Iron Warrior), I can’t help feeling that there is room for something greater than that which we are so often presented with. There’s little exploration of the spiritual, or even just the social structure, of these societies, and stepping back to look at how life might have been forty-something thousand years ago – well, forty-something thousand years ago with added weirdness – is far more interesting than seeing guys chop each other to bits with swords.

Something I mentioned on the digital blog keeps being repeated in what I want to do – to break out of the way which everyone else seems to be thinking and do something new. I’ve tried my best to write whatever might be beloved by all, and to fashion characters which can be made into toys, and cartoons, and all the rest of the noise, but there’s always something soulless about such work. It doesn’t speak to me the same way that crafting an entire little world, self-contained, and living, does.

There’s a lot to do over the next few months, and I desperately want to be shooting in August or September – when the desert is going to be cool enough to film in during the day. By that time I can have the animatic up somewhere, then start figuring out the effects which are needed. I was smart enough to include a couple of scenes which could be filmed anywhere, and those are the ones I want to get done and dusted first (although these are also heavy on magic) to have at least a little headway before venturing forth into the wilderness.

And I’m going to have to paint a poster, because all films should have proper posters and not horrible Photoshop monstrosities. Gouache is probably better than oils for this, as I’m pretty certain that a lot of 70s and 80s posters used them for their art. It will need to be something slightly in the style of Frazetta, though not so much a parody as it is inspired by his style. While this may sound like the easiest of the things needed for the preparation, it is going to have to look like the characters – something that will have to wait until I’ve gone through the casting process.

As far as art is concerned, I’m also going to do the comic adaptation – script, art, lettering, and possibly the coloring. That last one is still questionable, as I don’t want it to look too rough and ready, and I can’t help but fill in detail where I can. My tendency has always been to put in more details than are really required, and it would probably work better with a looser, more traditional, style. That’s way, way into the process, though, and something which I’m not even going to ponder until I get other things done.

Before I get too far into all that, there’s a test shoot required on a beach somewhere.

I’m not sure that I’m going to post a full schedule, as having people arrive unannounced wherever I decide to use might be annoying, but all other information is likely to end up here.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

So Not the Future of Gaming…

Posted by BigWords on February 26, 2020

There are a bunch of good reasons – sensible, practical reasons – that I should already have got Blender mastered. But, no. It is a software which punishes you if you aren’t giving it your full attention, and until I get its peculiarities into my skull I’m not going to be able to do any short films, or cool images, or… The Other Things. One of those Other Things is the game I mentioned, and which has been tormenting me recently. I took a great idea and smothered it, mostly because there wasn’t a completely clear endpoint in sight.

I have that endpoint now. It is a simple little statement which is so beautiful in its clarity that I can’t help but think that someone else must have had the same notion at some point. It boils everything down to a single location, a single – albeit complex – puzzle that doesn’t hinder gameplay if the solution isn’t forthcoming. Seeing that game to fruition is one of the reasons I want to get a handle on using Blender. Of course, that isn’t going to be enough, and after Blender I’m going to tackle Unity, but one thing at a time…

This is a personal challenge inside a personal challenge, and it is Matryoshka dolls of goals pretty much all the way down.

Challenge 1 – The Concept.

Back when I was writing crappy games (which I hated myself for, so you didn’t need to) it occurred to me that it would be fun to see if an interesting game without enemies was possible. Something which dripped with tension, but where the player character never encountered someone to battle. Turns out that it is possible to have something like that, but endless hours of painfully slow progress showed me that it was likely of extremely limited interest. Turns out people like hitting and shooting. Go figure.

This isn’t to say that the game lacks an adversary – far from it – but that the tired and conventional End Boss thing is so far overused that I’m bored with the notion.

Challenge 2 – The Look.

Unless there is a depth to what you see, a game is really just pixels on a screen. There has to be objects half-hidden, things which you can’t quite reach, and logical reasons for everything to be there – everything pulling you forward, demanding that you understand what is happening, why it is happening, and how to resolve the problem laid before you. Without going too far into explanations on the setting, the entire gameplay area has to be visible from the off (I always wanted it to be set in an abandoned warehouse, which lends itself to this), but pushing the stylistic quotent to the fullest.

You have probably seen at least a dozen of the films I watched obsessively, picking apart the use of layered imagery, but it would be entirely unfair to give too much away this early in the process. Seriously, those really are spoilers.

I will point out that there was a hidden, extra, personal challenge at the heart of this – to bring back a form of gameplay which has, largely, fallen out of favor. Yes, I’m stretching the notion to the very breaking point, but there is a maze here nevertheless. The appeal of mazes lies in their simplicity, but it was the joyous sense of transgression in this specific use – the taking of a thing intended to amuse and distract, and turning it into a horrible, intrusive, nasty place. Or, y’know, taking the form back to its roots. Your call.

There are other things I want to bring back – and do properly – as their reputation has been sullied by awful games, but I’d rather hold back on revealing how much of this game is going to annoy the hell out of people.

Like I’ve said, this isn’t a game which is likely to appeal to a mass audience, and as the possibilities inherent in the idea are so appealing to me (irrespective of commercial interests) it is something I’m willing to tackle alone.

Challenge 3 – Write a Great Ending.

I’m cheating somewhat by describing this as a challenge, as it is actually closer to seven or eight. See, games which offer the most to me have always had little paths through them which twisted off at angles, allowing a different take on events. Some of that (especially after a week playing Deus Ex on its original release) was always going to filter into my thinking, but until I dusted off the story and took a look at it properly I didn’t realize quite how much I had been thinking in those terms.

So you can blame Warren Spector for this, in a very real way.

Why now? Why, when there is an immense list of things that need done, choose to add to the workload? Why, when so many things are more important, choose to focus on a game? Well… In the intervening years there have been two films which came perilously close to butting up against my central idea, though both, ultimately, went a lot bigger, and much more mainstream, than anything I had been considering. Before anyone else hits on the thing that had driven this I want to get the game done and dusted. It is a game whose time has come – others have laid the groundwork, and it is up to me to get the idea over the final few hurdles.

Hell, even if it winds up being hated by all, I honestly need to finally get it out of my system. I’ve been plagued by this for long enough.

Challenge 4 – Build it.

This was always a tough option. Where do you begin? It was originally started on the Unreal Engine back in the day, but… Well, it is 2020, and those graphics are painfully dated now. The good news in restarting from scratch is that I have had an opportunity to test out some of the tricks, so I know where I am going with key visuals – as you ought to be able to see damn near the entirety of the map (mostly unobstructed) from the get-go, this is important. I have a head-start on where I need to be in terms of level design. That ought to cut a little of the workflow out.

There’s a Kubrickian charm to old warehouses that modern ones don’t have – the vertical and horizontal lines, beautifully detailed roofing, and spaces of light and shade. It is a race, now, to get that warm, golden-hued reality onto the screen, before the last vestiges of the industrial sector have been completely eradicated by developers. I don’t want to create a game which is stuck in the past, as this has always been about maintaining a certain reality.

Everything contained within that space, also, has to be readily available. There can’t be any jarring inconsistencies with what one would be able to do – a game which, in other words, reflects what is possible now. Here we have another stumbling block as far as marketing this to anyone is concerned, as the fantastic (the unreal, and imagined) seem to do far, far better than the mundane. I can’t terrify players if they aren’t completely caught in the versimilitude, and that is an important aspect.

I even know, more or less, how some of the mechanics need to be handled.

So I’m sitting at the fourth challenge. This is the toughest so far, and even though I wan’t expecting Blender – even new, improved Blender – to make things easy, there’s still a ways to go before I’m happy using it.

The presence of this project so high on the list, by the way, doesn’t mean that everything else is on the back burner. There are issues I’m not quite sure how to resolve, but the rest of the ongoing work will continue. I really do need something that is going to make me some money, and I can probably sell at least a handful of copies of the game for around ten quid or something. Actually, I have no idea what I’m going to do with it when it is done and dusted but I’ll get to that question closer to the point where it makes sense to consider it.

Generating money has become less important the older I get, which is either a great or terrible sign depending on your point of view.

Look, it is a useful thing to have, but money shouldn’t be the primary motivator for doing something. I’ve got to do the game justice, same with everything else mentioned on the blog, otherwise my pitifully few moments of sleep are going to be completely ruined.

The only thing I may have to change is the name. Originally I wanted this to be simply named Maze, giving nothing away to the unsuspecting. It is a title with a long history, first appearing back in 1977 on a Fairchild release, but arguably more familiar from the 1982 Acornsoft game for the BBC Micro. I adore the simplicity of that title, but it may be slightly too generic given that what I’m attempting is going to grab the genre by the neck and shake it awhile. There’s also the issue that some might see this as me passing something completely new off as a cherished title from the past.

If anyone out there is thinking “this sounds interesting,” then please – I’m serious right now – take a moment to consider the finished article: this is going to be a first-person non-shooty game set in a single maze located within a warehouse. You try taking that to any developer and see how long, and how hard, they laugh in your face. No HUD, no inventory, no life system, no points system, and definitely no little trinkets to collect along the way.

And this is one of my babies, so there’s going to be almost unbearable tension.

Posted in Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

For the Benefit of Future Historians

Posted by BigWords on April 29, 2019

The Prelude

Because dates matter so much, and often the specifics are lost to time, it is important to make note of when certain ideas, decisions, actions were originated. This isn’t going to be a horrifically in-depth look at what I am doing – mainly because I am not quite at the point where I can happily lead you to the Brand New Thing with confidence (there is still a painful amount of Javascript and PHP to fix), but I can enlighten anyone who is wondering where certain things have gone.

Students of psychology, interested in how a person gets from point A to point B will likely be parsing this post with interest, as it goes some way to explaining why I’ve done certain things in the order in which I have. There are also going to be some (fairly common among creative people) incidents which I am going to be naming and using herein, so be prepared.

Don’t Press the Big Red Button

Lets start with the night of the 23rd of April. Nothing about that Tuesday is really important in and of itself, and it is only the chain of circumstances which exist outside of the day that makes it of note, but because so much focus is placed on when things happen we have to accept this as The Last Day for On This Day posts over on the Database. The date of note should properly be Wednesday the 24th of April, given when I made the decision to halt all pending posts on the Database blog, but I dislike stating the event took place on Wednesday when all the consideration and planning took place the day before.

It’s only slightly sad to see it go, but being buried among all the other things in the Database wasn’t helping On This Day reach its potential. The problem lay in its placement: without an identity of its own, it was only ever going to be an aspect of a sprawling mass of data. Don’t get too upset, if you happen to like that feature – there’s a twist coming. There’s always a twist. In many ways life is somehow more twisty than novels, as you never now where some ‘wham moment’ is going to come, out of the blue, to change things. You’ve got to keep a look-out for the wham moment… It shouldn’t be too difficult to spot.

There Are Two Kinds of Features in the World

There’s an important distinction to be made between the type of things which can only ever be used as part of a greater work, and those which can happily exist in isolation. A great example of this is an EPG – when you want to know what shows are on right now an EPG is a very handy tool to have on your television, but it isn’t something which has much (or any) use if you don’t have a television. How many people, bereft of a television, are going out to purchase a television guide from their local newsagents? Not many, if any, I’ll wager. The EPG is a feature which can only properly be used as part of something greater, in this case (in abstract) network scheduling and (in fixed form) a television.

Within the concept of an EPG there lies a whole bunch of other concepts, unimportant to this train of thought, but I might come back to those. The important thing to take away is that you can’t strip out an EPG and use it, for anything remotely interesting, without the surrounding technology and events which make it useful. It also, crucially, is location-specific. While you may not consider this to be a drawback, if you are using your EPG to find the latest episode of your favorite series, it hampers the use of EPGs globally – nobody in Australia is going to give a moment’s thought to what is currently showing on Norwegian television, and it is unlikely that an American would care what is on French television.

The basic format of an EPG, therefore, can’t be scaled up. There’s no way to deliver a single EPG to the world, and make it useful to all due to the inherent limitations.

We need another example, so how about we take a gander at maps.

Maps used to be considered as giant, unruly things, which needed to be manhandled back into a more compact form when they were used. Folded over and over, they rapidly made users lose patience when attempting to locate that one street, but have, in the modern age, ballooned into big business. Do an internet search for a company, and you will likely find a map in the top right of your screen which displays the location of the company. There are sites such as Google Maps, which attempt to provide a comprehensive guide to locations, and satnavs which guide people as they go about their work and leisure. There are a multitude of apps which have maps of various descriptions and levels of usefulness.

I’m sure someone, somewhere, has come up with an app which shows what the layout of your location looked like in the eighteenth century, telling you what companies used to exist in the buildings you pass every day without a second thought. History drips from each and every map, and that alone makes them an intriguing and possibility-laden tool. There is a lot more which can be done with maps, but we aren’t talking specifically about maps today.

The thing you should be seeing here is that maps are scalable – they transcend their use in other media.

The difference between maps and EPGs is how they can be exploited on a large scale, and this way of seeing things is something you should be looking at in everything you do, and in everything you experience. Can something be sliced out of its location and expanded in isolation, or is it best left as is? There’s usually a clear Yes/No answer to this, and if you can’t immediately see the way in which something can be utilized outside of its current use, then the answer is likely “no.”

A lot of people these days have many different things on their sites and blogs, and while I appreciate the convenience of having these disparate projects gathered together in one place it does mean that people wanting only one of these interests highlighted have to wade through material which isn’t of as much interest to them. By splitting things out, the material of interest can be intensified in its concentration on a specific subject. This isn’t something which will work for everyone, and I accept that some interest are only ever going to be marginal, though in this instance I think I’m on the right track.

Crowdsourcing in Meatspace

When people talk about crowdsourcing, they often use it as a term which exclusively applies to the internet. This is fine, as far as things go, but there is a lot which can be done in day-to-day interactions which go some way to answering the question of this having a real-life equivalent – let me start by offering a small piece of advice:

When surrounded by extremely talented people, it is common sense to make use of the wealth of experience and knowledge that people have.

While I’ll always be hesitant to flat-out ask for help, I have been picking the brains of some of the programmers who I have access to at the moment. It has been rather difficult putting into words some of the effects which I always wanted to achieve, and struggling through some difficult (and highly experimental) notions on my own hasn’t produced the results I’ve been after, which is why talking things through – however imperfectly, and however far from implementation – has been a great way to figure out the edges of the possible. These discussions have revealed hitherto-unsuspected means by which to completely alter the appearance of common utilities for rather dramatic effect.

I still can’t reshape tags and categories into something useful – and I doubt either will improve any time soon – but there is real headway happening.

Before I get any further into the main thrust of crowdsourcing in everyday life, addressing the limitations of tags and categories is important.

Grab a book – any will do, so long as it has chapters, sections, segments, or its contents are otherwise separated somehow. A film guide, cookery book, or any index is perfect for this. I want you to loo through the contents for a moment, and see how things are laid out in a very specific manner. Most film guides (or guides to musical artists, television series, novels, or other media) is usually handled alphabetically, with – in certain instances – a small section at the back of the work ranking these by ratings, or years released, or some other metric.

Now take a look at any blog doing much the same function as one of these guides. Take your time and work out what is different about the two media.

Anyone with a sense of order and logic will note immediately that the online versions of these guides aren’t (usually) presented alphabetically. In order to have an alphabetical list you need some side-scripting in play. However, when using tags or categories to search through a site’s contents the material is presented in a ramshackle manner, with no sense of planning at work. Tags and categories are even worse when the important aspect of a post isn’t the entire post, but merely a small portion of that post. Then the tags and categories are next to useless, returning a great amount of useless (and counter-productive) material.

We can consider categories to be a top-order sorting method, sorting posts into a handful of groups which have a specific area of interest. If you look at blogs which focus on pop-culture, you will likely see a Music category which returns reviews of albums, singles, and possibly live gigs, as well as noting where interviews have been published. You might get posts dissecting promo imagery, noting which posters are for sale, talking about merchandise, and other results. If you are only looking for reviews this can be annoying. Worse, when a review is buried in a post which covers other things a reader might not look all the way through the post, preferring to go elsewhere to read a standalone review.

Tags a second-order sorting method, able to look at specific things – a particular band within the music category, say. Narrowing down the number of results to those which comply only with the specific area of interest required. There is, however, a problem with this method as well – if someone is covering things as they come across information the results will tend to jump around the timeline of the band: making note of the release of their second album, then covering their formation, then looking at a reunion tour, then a review of their first album, before covering the childhood of the lead singer, then noting their break-up. There is (currently) no way to sort tags by the date the material covered occurred, only by the date the piece was published.

What we need, then, is a more refined third-order sorting method, and one which doesn’t rely on the whole post being considered important.

Sections have long seemed the method by which this can be accomplished, though I am skeptical of their backwards-implementation – who has the time (honestly) to go through everything they have written and objectively look at each paragraph, then place code detailing to which larger work it belongs, and where in that work it should be placed?

Lets say, for argument’s sake, that someone has written extensively on television. Their content might be broken down in Categories by the nationality of each series broadcast (ignoring the thorny problem of joint productions), with each series earning its own tag. Maybe, in this scenario, there are some posts which cover rarely seen television shows, or which cover those which are no longer extant (in whole or in part), though by looking at the categories and tags it is difficult to see in which order the events took place.

What would be required is a way to:

a) return only the information pertinent to the subject of lost series or missing episodes.
b) arrange the order into a timeline of when each show was initially broadcast.
c) split out only the information about the show (ignoring commentary and personal updates)
and d) join the information seamlessly so that it appears to be a longer work split for internet publication.

Almost everyone ought, in this day and age, should be familiar with the big names in CMS . Instead of looking at these as cheats (which I often do), I’ve been attempting to ponder the ways in which they operate, and how they could be radically improved for the benefit of readers. Considering the range of subjects which can be covered in a single post – especially from anyone with eclectic tastes – this might be something best handled by an overlaid application, able to be accessed by a blog’s creator while viewing the resultant pages without going into the control panel to make alterations.

By selecting a section of text, one ought to be able to give the highlighted material a meta-tag related it specifically – perhaps “Everything I’ve Written About John Coltrane” – before highlighting other paragraphs and tagging them as being specifically about Tim Buckley, or Iggy Pop, or Linda Ronstadt, or Robert Johnson, or whoever else. Then, because selecting individual paragraphs on a given page to return isn’t going to magically sort them into order, there needs to be a secondary action where the (rough) chronology of the event can be indicated. It would make sense to have the ability to override this, however, to place it within the collected material in a specific place.

Once enough material has been properly curated (at least a few thousand words) in the prescribed manner there should be a place on the dashboard to further fine-tune what is a single work. each paragraph able to be grabbed and moved up or down in placement in the collected document – though not edited, as this would also change the original post. Having placed the “collected highlights” in order, the same software which allows for the tagging and ordering of the text really needs to do something with the results. My initial thought was that there should be a generated page presented to the reader, giving them only what they came looking for and nothing more, but something else occurred to me…

What if the completed document could automatically be pushed to, say, Smashwords?

Crowdsourcing in Meatspace (second attempt)

I seem to have got sidetracked. I’ll attempt to remain on-topic, but don’t hold your breath.

As I was saying, there’s a lot to be said for asking really smart people their opinions on attempting something before you go ahead and do whatever stupid thing you intend to do. It isn’t a way of proceeding that I have ever really thought about, preferring to leap first then check out where I’m likely going to land. It has worked in my favor as much as it has been a hindrance, and the mixed results really should tell you that getting someone to check over your plans is probably a good idea.

Some things have proved utterly impossible even using the full range of tricks, but – in almost every conversation – there have been nuggets of information I’ve been storing away. Small details which, when placed together, are enough to provide me with a rough guide with which to proceed. There are things which, although they might prove difficult to implement, are very tempting… Almost enough to justify doing something crazy with the bones of the Database. I didn’t want to tread over old ground without a notion of how to make it work perfectly, but the On This Day feature – so cramped and neglected within the guide – was the perfect thing to expand and nurture into something greater than itself.

An aborted attempt at dumping a bunch of stuff online brushed up against the possibilities of the feature, though my considerations there hardly covered enough to justify immediately proceeding, and when work interrupted the process I put the thought to one side. Now, with things more or less settled for the moment, it is time to reassess the concept of expanding and refining the concept. This led to the first of two things which would prompt my decision to remove the feature from its current home – the scripting required.

Having adequately covered how my brain processes what should be achievable with current technology, I’ll move onto the suggestion of doing something with a proper platform…

There are days where you find the perfect thing you need for the work you have to do almost just sitting there, ready to be plucked up and used. Then there are days where no matter what you do, or where you look, the perfect tool for the job remains ever out of reach. There’s a few things which, despite rarely being used, are essential to have in your toolkit for the moments where they come in handy.

Here’s another piece of advice for you – never turn down an opportunity to play a game. If someone suggests you might want to turn up to play a board game with a handful of interesting people don’t immediately write it off as something which isn’t for you… Grab these moments, as they often work on the parts of your brain which need a little oiling once in a while. I spent a very enjoyable evening, and, for a small while enjoyed a game of Trivial Pursuit.

On Monday the 22nd this game led into a conversation regarding the way in which certain television series have seemingly been completely ignored by the internet, and how the lack of information perpetuates the lack of awareness – it is a problem that can only be solved by presenting information about these series into public awareness, but tracking down such information is hardly profitable when so little is known about the series. A classic Catch 22 situation. If someone was to systematically present these forgotten series in some way, the audience might (generously) be a small, devoted one. That isn’t what most would want for their work, although generating enough interest to garner a large audience of the curious is quite possible.

Not only is it possible, treating the information surrounding these series with a splash of magic – tantalizing snippets of history focusing on the ingredients which are sure to bring in the curious – might lead to such a resurgence of interest that the near-invisible series from not-too-long-ago might, eventually, be released to the public either on a physical format – a dedicated DVD or Blu-ray, or as a special feature on a computer game – or even on a digital platform somewhere. The starting point for any of these shows to gain traction these days is repeated exposure to their existence, and that requires a special kind of presentation.

By the morning of the 23rd I had a list of around fifty shows which, for various reasons, have never been repeated nor released on DVD. That it is possible for me to do this without a great deal of effort – merely searching for the shows through Google and clicking through two or three links – should tell you something about either the woeful treatment certain series receive, or will merely confirm the depth of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. When I covered the Compact Annual, noting that I had no idea what the show was about, I never suspected that things would lead me to deliberately uncovering more information on shows which had disappeared from public view, though in retrospect my frustration at the lack of adequate information being readily available must have lingered in the recess of my brain.

It was working out the breadth of productions absent from any retailers’ lists which, combined with the interest of people who had heard of some of the shows, that the second thing to push home the notion of repositioning On This Day happened.

With people who knew code to hand, and with suggestions for shows that ought to be better remembered, things began to snowball. On the 23rd I decided to register a domain on which to place day-specific comic-book information, and – the next day – I picked up three more domains on which to detail the history of television series, films, and music. Every time I think I’ve covered enough to justify a launch I’m confronted with another coding challenge, and when I think that the code is (more or less) stable and cohesive enough to launch I pick up more information which needs to be added. I’ve been very conscious of certain failings which exist in similar things, deliberately avoiding the common pitfalls.

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On Design

Posted by BigWords on April 17, 2016

As I write this, the cold winds of winter still brushing against the land, the paperwork hasn’t all been signed and filed and the preparation of some basic material is still pending, but… I am really excited at the prospect of not having to rush things. Yes, there is a date picked for the launch of the madness train, but it is more of a celebration of publishing as a thing that exists rather than a point at which material must be produced by.

I’ve been poring over old titles to see why literature makes me so happy (I had fourteen books in the caravan, and all of them were read multiple times), and the realization that everything has a place in the grand order came to me. Like an insight which should have been obvious, but needed pushing towards in order to be uncovered.

It is simple to see, looking back, that the Penguin titles were the foundation of color as a brand. The use of bold color to indicate genre was not new to marketing, with the most visible use being vinyl records, but books feel different – less readily catalogued, more unwieldy. While a simple border color can hint at things being part of some larger scheme, it doesn’t readily follow that it would work for every title.

Indeed, it can harm future titles if a books performs remarkably badly, hinting that the rest of the works accompanying the title follows in the same direction. It also makes it difficult to see the movement in genre styles which come with the passing of time, putting older works and modern into a great stew which makes discerning patterns – ironically – more difficult.

Using specific fonts is another way in which a line can stand out, but this creates the same problems. Design? House designs tend to skew towards the old ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ mindset, and even though a great number of iconic, timeless titles originally appeared under basic covers, I am less than enthused about the use of strict house styles. Maybe it is a way of preparing books for the world which has had its moment

When the future chroniclers of the state of ebooks come to talk of design, what will be the consensus on design quality? Will there be gushing commentary regarding the chances taken, or will there be mockery. I am worried that we are all going to look like cavemen when historians living on the moon begin to disseminate their masterworks on literary history.

There is already a Tumblr about bad Kindle covers, and while I feel bad for those covered, it might be the impetus to shake up their process. Hell, it could drive people to pick up one of the books to see what the contents are like, but I might be wrong about that – if anyone has had a title mentioned there, they might want to mention how it affected their sales, if at all.

There are a few things which I look for when I am out at bookshops, but with the notion that everyone is different, please note: this is a personal observation. Woodcut prints stand out, block colors work if the story is easily conveyed, and painted covers can hit or miss depending on the artist used. Simple color schemes are dramatic in isolation, but among a variety of similar imagery gets lost easily.

And here’s something weird: In the last decade, but especially so in the last few years, the trend of using iconic schemes from other media seems to be picking up. Covers which mimic old computer game releases, or video cassettes, or even audio cassettes, are on a bit of a wave right now. I’m not sure if that is retro-love or laziness, but it amuses me to see throwaway culture being immortalized now.

Where are we going? Well, there are still plenty of uncharted atolls we can reach by getting an overall sense of the map. Which is a growing trend, apparently. Books about maps, that is. I’m not a great fan of the introspective titles using maps as metaphor, but straight-up map books? Hell yes. I may be in the minority when it comes to those, but they always seem so optimistic to me. Maps as a way of looking at the world.

I’m not sure where this post was heading.

I started with something about books being awesome, but got turned around.

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