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.
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.
To date we have made a small profit of $19,136.21.
Happily 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Do you know the Latin phrase “solvitur ambulando”? Used by the wandering scholars of medieval Europe, it means “walking solves it”. It’s always been true for me, as someone for whom walking is both wonderfully meditative and creatively inspiring. I started thinking about using this sentiment in a game context, and came up with an idea that coder Callum Hay and sound designer/composer Adam Axbey were both into, too. We realized a proof-of-concept this past weekend at the Toronto Game Jam.
Wonderland: A Solvitur Ambulando Mystery is an app for the iPhone. You listen to an audio story set in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood in 1915 — the projectionist of the Wonderland, one of the city’s first movie theatres, makes a grim discovery in the aisle one morning. You can listen to the beginning of the superbly produced and acted clip after the jump.
At the end of the chapter there’s a riddle that you have to solve to continue with the story. If you don’t know the answer, solvitur ambulando — walking solves it, literally! The phone’s accelerometer detects after you’ve walked a bit and gives you a hint in the form of one of the letters of the answer. You can solve it at any point, or keep walking until the full word is revealed and the next chapter begins.
This project scratches a few itches with me — one, to try a hinting system that has a legitimate alternate option if you can’t guess the solution. I love puzzles but they can be frustrating, and looking for answers outside of the game feels like cheating, so this way people can continue the game even if they get stumped. Two, I got to set something in my neighbourhood back in the days when it was a rough-and-tumble hub for train traffic. I’ve been really enjoying a lot of historical fiction, especially Poe and Fanny and the Devil in the White City, but it was pretty intimidating knowing where to start. After reading the West Toronto Junction Historical Society‘s great book The Leader & Recorder’s History of the Junction, I found the projectionist (Ernie, pictured above) who sparked my imagination. He’s a dapper yet sinister-looking guy, and after I decided on him as a character the rest of it fell into place.
We’ve got a long way to go with it — we’ve only done the first chapter and puzzle, and a stub for chapter two — but it’s off to a great start.
Anarchoblogs is a collection of blogs from
self-identified anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcha-feminists,
anarchists without adjectives, libertarian-socialists, autonomists and
other assorted anti-statists.