Posts by Jim Munroe

Society fears us, as it always fears the New.

hoodiefencemaxine

We’re Kickstarting post-production for Haphead, my cyberpunk web series about a girl who’s literally empowered by videogames. Consider backing it and get some rewards like parkour lessons and producer credits!

Running a Kickstarter is a lot of work, but it’s work we need to do anyway — spreading the word about our new project. As always, we’re trying to balance the hype with a good deal of content.

First, the Kickstarter video starts with a teaser using the brand new footage we shot in the summer. Then we created a new reward with our talented artists, a calendar of post-apocalyptic pin-ups called Fallen Toronto.

Yesterday we posted a gallery of amazing production stills like the one above. Today we released a recruitment ad voiced by a local radio personality, “Fearless” Fred Kennedy from Edge 102.1. I’m really happy with it — it’s a parody of the “Get into the Game Industry!” ads that aim to profit from people’s dreams of getting to work in their favourite medium. Listen to it here.

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All Aboard the Haphead Train!

hapheadtrain

About a month ago we got the word that Haphead, our near-future videogame subculture webseries, received funding. It’s a lot of the same folks I’ve been making lo-fi sci-fi no-budget films with since 2007 — except this time we’re getting paid a living wage for it! Pretty wild. Having a budget also means we can consider renting locations (like the train car above!) as well as accelerate the process — we’ll be releasing the first 45-60min (AKA “Season 1″) in January, instead of the 3 year odyssey that Ghosts With Shit Jobs was. I also won’t be wearing as many hats (just three: executive producer/creator/writer) but I know from the awesome proof-of-concept trailer our team produced with minimal interference from me that it’s in very, very good hands.

If you want to jump on the Haphead train before our mid-August shooting begins, this is what we’re still looking for!

  • a large abandoned warehouse or factory we can rent for a day (something like this pic)
  • people with physical talents: parkour, martial arts, circus skills, skateboarding/scootering, breakdancing
  • adult background actors (AKA extras) of different ages/ethnicities (no experience needed)
  • small camper / magic van / Winnebago
  • a house with a little character
  • onset medic

If you have a lead on any of the above, please drop our producer Anthony a line at anthony@lofiscifi.com and he can give you more details.

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GHOSTS in Indie Sci-Fi Bundle

otherworlds
I first heard about Vodo a few years back when they were using BitTorrent as a form of alternative distribution for science fiction shorts and web series — something we did as well with our 2007 effort Infest Wisely. Currently they’re trying out a pay-what-you-want model, and they approached us to include Ghosts With Shit Jobs in their indie sci-fi Otherworlds bundle. They’ve brought together a great bunch of sci-fi shorts, experimental videogames (Tale of Tales) and speculative graphic novels (Cory Doctorow), and we get a bit of money whether you pay-what-you-want for the main tier or “unlock” our movie on the second tier. (I guess we’ll have to update our profit-reporting post after this!) Incidentally, this is the first time you can buy a DRM-free digital version of our movie since the Kickstarter.

The Otherworlds bundle is available for the next two weeks.

Ghosts With Shit Jobs: The Final Numbers

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We started making Ghosts With Shit Jobs in 2009, released it in 2012 and screened it in 25 cities thanks to a Kickstarter campaign through 2012-13. We’ve learned a ton and recently applied what we know now to a proof-of-concept trailer for a new project — it’s called Haphead, and features the infinitely stretching electronics factory pictured above. And bunny-ninja fights.

But before we move on we thought we’d talk frankly about the numbers behind our lo-fi sci-fi feature.

We attracted attention to the project by being up front about our original $4000 production costs, and now we want to do a final accounting in the hope that it’s useful and/or interesting to other indie filmmakers. There’s a certain amount of pressure to not talk about this stuff when it’s not super-impressive — that somehow it hurts our credibility — but we think it’s useful to show people what very minor success looks like.

Ghosts With Shit Jobs cost $20,180.97 to create and promote and earned a gross of $39,317.18.

moneyspentbyphasespecificpromophasecosts
To date we have made a small profit of $19,136.21.

profitfromdifferentchannelsHappily we had a contractual agreement in place (read about our egalitarian model here) so it’s been a fairly straightforward disbursal. 54 people contributed a total of 7309 hours to the project, and the amount of hours they worked decides what percentage of the profit they receive — regardless of the role they played. We have issued cheques between $24 and $3,873.

Hour Division by Phase

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Since $2.62/hr is a terrible wage, even compared to the characters in our movie, we prefer to think of it in a different way. We estimate that 6857 people saw the feature film for a total 10,286 hours of viewing time.

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If you count the time people viewed the trailer (150K+ views) and the webisodes, that adds an additional 7130 hours. By this metric for every hour we laboured we created 2.4 hours of entertainment!
labourtoenjoymentcomparison

Some notes

  • Volunteer power allows passion projects like this to exist. Paying everyone on a similar  project in the future at $15/hr would cost $109,635 — and it’d be below scale.
  • We needed a lot of hours in post, mostly because we did way more effects shots than we should have and did an inconsistent job of location sound capture. We needed 20 ADR sessions (where the actors come in and lip sync to picture) to improve the audio as a result. Both of these things needed us to find technically experienced and like-minded individuals who were willing to donate their lucrative skills — quite difficult.
  • Time logging works well with certain types of personalities, but you need a variety of personalities to make a movie. We ended up estimating a lot of the production time amounts based on an (Hours on Set) X (Prep Time) equation. Also, we had pros and amateurs helping out with VFX, and 1 hour from an expert took someone learning 5 hours of work. As a result we needed to manually adjust for experience in some cases so that people didn’t get less of a profit percentage because they were a more efficient worker.
  • It’s harder to track hours watched when people aren’t in a theatre. There’s a chance people will buy a DVD or rent it on iTunes and only watch half, or not at all. But there’s also a chance they’ll watch it with a friend or two. So we’ve figured it’d even out, more or less.
  • A small amount of audience members — the Kickstarter backers — accounted for a very large portion of the profits.
  • The flights cost a lot of money, and it’s hard to gauge if our attendance put a lot more bums in seats. Or, for that matter, if it was a big factor in why people backed the Kickstarter campaign.

Ghosts With Shit Jobs is available on iTunes and DVD.

Haphead, a neo-noir webseries

Ten years from now, videogames are so immersive that teenagers learn lethal skills just by playing. They’re called hapheads.

The folks I made Ghosts With Shit Jobs with made this trailer I adapted from a book-length story I’m working on. Don’t know if we can honestly call what we do lo-fi sci-fi anymore — with fight scenes and full-on special effects, it’s way more in the mold of traditional action sci-fi. I’m thinking what’ll set it apart is the characterization of the father & daughter (my emotional entry into the story, thinking about my relationship with my daughter in 10 years) and the subcultural mileau that’ll emerge. This trailer a proof-of-concept thing meant to rally the interest we need to get it made — so if you’d like to see it, share it.

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Just Ella

I’ve been getting together with folks I made Ghosts With Shit Jobs with to make a trailer for our next project, Haphead — starts shooting on Sunday, get in touch if you’d like to help out. We’re going to be working with the same actress who starred in “Just Ella” — a short I wrote/directed for the Lo-fi Sci-fi 48 Hour Film Challenge. It screened at Toronto After Dark (my favourite Toronto film fest) a few months back, and now you can watch it here.

“Just Ella” posits a future overrun by gibbering monstrosities. Ella takes refuge in a “the Ossington Safehouse, a collectively-run space dedicated to human sovereignty.” But despite doing the assigned tasks on the chore list, the Safehouse isn’t safe — the terrors outside are nothing compared to those within.

Contains perhaps the first cinematic example of autocomplete used for a dramatic reveal.

Credits here.

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Aspirational Science Fiction

I remixed a 60 Minutes puff piece with one of the founders of Twitter so that it tells a story of open source bravery and genuine disruption. It’s part of my Postopias series. How it came to be and why I made it is below the jump.

I have resisted joining Twitter because I think privately owned communities are a terrible idea. Even if you can get over the few profiting from the labour of the many, they are naturally vulnerable to abuse — the bigger they get, the more pressure is there to change the original user agreements for easier commodification. I have no problem with social media per se, but to me the fact that you need to join Twitter to be part of that conversation would be like if the only place to get email address was Hotmail. But through my tweeting for various projects I also see how useful and interesting it is, so I’ve wanted to join as @nomediakings for a while. I told myself that if I wrote a utopic story of what I would like to see happen with Twitter, I’d give myself permission to join. (I already opt out entirely of a bunch of things for my political beliefs, so I sometimes use this “ethical offset” approach to avoid becoming a total monk.)

So I started to read about the people behind Twitter, and one of my sources was a 60 Minutes interview with Jack Dorsey from earlier this year. After watching it I decided against writing a prose story — I could use his revolutionary rhetoric buzzwords, his real-life open source roots and rebellious youth, and the interviewer’s fawning reactions to construct a semi-plausible alternate reality. You can see the original segment here, along with the web outtakes I also used.

To the interviewer, Dorsey must be a genius because he’s so successful, and the original segment attempts to build the case of his exceptionalism to explain the rise of Twitter to their viewers. Placing Dorsey and Twitter in context would have been messier and would have included txtmob and the other more radical models that inspired Twitter. I find him likeably similar to a lot of awkward geeks I know, and feel sorry for him when the interviewer criticizes his introvert tendencies — especially when he seems to agree with her. I just wish he did something more interesting with his power, and so I wrote a story where he acted like the hero that he’s presented as in the interview.

Thanks to Fanny Riguidel for sound help, and Paolo Pedercini, Miguel Sternberg, Mark Slutsky, Tate Young, Carol Borden, and Sean Lerner for feedback.

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Artist Residency at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Magi's Rendering screenshot

Quite flattered and surprised to announce that I’ll be the artist-in-residence at one of North America’s largest museum galleries, the AGO. During February and March they’re providing a studio, a stipend and institutional support to make art — in my case, game art — and engage the public. What the public engagement will look like is still in the planning stages but I’ll be posting more about it as event details firm up.

In related news, I took part in a hackathon and made this art game in about six hours with the guys at Verold. The Magi’s Rendering is my first 3D game, and you can play it now in most recent browsers. Credits and design notes below.

Design and Writing: Jim Munroe
3D Model: Mathew Borrett
Music and Voice: Brian Bernard
Scripting: Michael Bond, Derrick Weis
Thanks to: Ross McKegney, Sean Lerner

How it happened:

  • A few months ago Mat showed Sean and I a 3D model he was making of impossible houses, rooms that go nowhere and the like. We discussed the idea of making a game around exploring this space.
  • Verold announced they were having a one day game hackathon. They had some pretty sweet tech that allowed for 3D in the browser, so I got in touch and let them know what I was thinking.
  • Mat couldn’t come but he sent me a stripped down version of his model. I imported it into the Verold Studio and started playing around with it. I got drawn to this mysterious arabesque door and started writing.
  • Brian Bernard came in and voiced the lines, then found a track he’d made that suited the tone. Derrick got a floaty camera working, the waypoint-trigger scripting, and the sound firing. Michael got the beacons pulsing.

What I learned:

  • Jams and hackathons rule for quick drafts. It was lovely having the help of all these talented folks with the idea that we were both getting something useful: on my side, a new experimental game; and theirs, a playable demo of their tech. In some ways this is the same dynamic we had with making Guilded Youth. (Those interested in participating in next month’s hackathon should check this out.)
  • Artist-accessible tools are amazing. I was moving around waypoints (the places you teleport to) and in one case, was way off. I had intended for it to be right in front of the pulsing beacon, but it wasn’t there — it took me a bit to look around and see, above me, a faint pulsing glow from one of the alcoves. The pulsing effect on the beacon was one of the last things we added, and the way it interacted with the other systems suggested a whole hide-and-go-seek approach for a future iteration. Emergent gameplay!
  • With my starting point it was hard to avoid cultural appropriation. Although it is in a fantastical context, and while I made some attempts to address it (combining clichés like “saffron” and “carpets” with “flatbed trucks”) I acknowledge some people might find it problematic and am open to discussing it.
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Our BIFF Experience

At a time of year when everyone’s talking TIFF, we thought we’d talk BIFF. For us, getting into the Beijing International Film Festival was a bigger deal, what with Ghosts With Shit Jobs being about a future where China’s the first world and North America’s the third world.

Co-director Tate Young interviewed BIFF-goers earlier this year on what they thought about the premise of our flick, and got lots of great city shots to boot, in this 6.5 minute mini-doc.

It’s now four years since we began this project and it’s been quite a trip — literally and figuratively. Since its London, England premiere last year we’ve toured with the movie to nearly 20 cities across the world. Figured it merits its own commemorative tour t-shirt, which you can buy at cost for the next week (mens | ladies). It’s got all the cities on the back!

As an aside, you should enjoy TIFF while it lasts — it ends in 2019 after cultural funding disappears completely. BIFF buys all the red carpets at an auction afterwards.

Let’s Play Kentucky Route Zero

I was lucky enough to be on the narrative jury this year for the Independent Games Festival. One of my favourite games was Kentucky Route Zero, a lovely point-and-click adventure with an anachronistic story that dips into magical realism and Flannery O’Connor. Like the writing, the art and cinematography is evocative and assured, and indeed took the Excellence In Visual Art award (up against strong competition from my Guilded Youth collaborator, Matt Hammill).

I stayed with KRZ co-creator Jake Elliott on a recent trip to Chicago and, inspired by a Let’s Play-themed screening/performance event I took part in there, we ended up doing a Let’s Play-style interview (video heremp3 audio-only file here). It’s pretty long and in-depth as we do play through most of Act I, but I imagine some fans will get into the slow-paced conversation amidst the chirping of the crickets. But if you’re just mildly game-curious, scrub through it – you’ll get a sense of the artistic sophistication and some of the creative concerns. If you’re suitably intrigued, you can go buy it here.

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