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OLD-SCHOOL PRODUCTION DIARY!!!

August 24, 2010

brookeburgess

Whatever didn't kill us...keeps us rockin' in the free world.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to hang with Broken Saints audio guru Adam Fulton for the first time in what seems like a warped age.  The afternoon included heaps of reminiscing along a winding coastal nature walk (I’m romantic that way), some quality java, copious cheeseish and cheesesque substances, and a slice of cinematic dessert.  Adam and I struck up a fast friendship during our Instructor days;  we were a pair of creative rebels – considered specialists in our chosen fields – and made it our parallel missions to inject undiluted doses of Passion into the minds and hearts of seemingly apathetic hordes of students…many of whom were only too happy to burn their parents’ mutual funds at Gaming University.

But no experience served our friendship more – and challenged it on every conceivable level, to the point of utter disintegration – than fighting side-by-side in the digital trenches of the Broken Saints 4-disc DVD 5.1 surround mix.   So, after a great reconnection and earnest pledges or more to follow from both sides,  I couldn’t help but dig in the saintly archives in search of some artifact from that vital era.  Something and found this old production diary

The account below – which was later published in Canada’s Reel West Digest – only skims the surface of what Adam and I (and the rest of the 30-strong DVD team) experienced on that 9 month adventure/greasy-slide-into-Hell.   But it might just give you an idea of what’s required when true Collaboration comes a knockin’, and the lasting rewards for those brave (and perhaps stupid) enough to answer the goddamn door…

PRODUCTION DIARY

In July 2003 – fresh off of an Audience Award win at the Sundance Online Film Festival –  Vancouver-based producer/writer/director Brooke Burgess and his tiny indy team launched the 88-minute finale to their free 24-part/12hr animated comic web saga ‘Broken Saints’ (www.brokensaints.com).   With strong mainstream critical acclaim and rabid fan support, Burgess was encouraged by Carol Parnell at the New Media division of Telefilm Canada to apply for funding and spread the saintly gospel even farther.  Burgess quickly drew up an extremely ambitious proposal; his team would produce a completely revamped edition of the series for release as an industry-quality 4-disc DVD box set.  The package would be crammed with all-new art and effects, 5.1 Dolby Surround, professional voice talent, and hours of interactive and production-related special features.  On paper, it would cost less than 500K to produce.  And it would need to be completed in less than 9 months…

This journal follows Brooke as he documents the life-altering odyssey of delivering his cyber baby out of the ether and into an exciting new medium (while switching ‘hats’ at warp speed and watching his team expand from 3 to 30+ along the way!)

FEBRUARY 2nd“Inertia”

After returning from an extended visit with my composer cousin Tobias Tinker in Berlin, things have officially started to take shape.  The letter of intent from our Toronto investor passed mustard, the incorporation details for Budget Monks Productions (my snazzy new production company) are finalized, and the first confirmed drawdown from Telefilm is in the bank.  But it didn’t feel ‘real’ until today – I’ve met with Andrew and we’ve storyboarded the new sequences for Chapters 1 and 2, and Ian’s embarking on the initial video test stages for Flash file conversion for broadcast.  I don’t think the enormity of this undertaking is truly going to hit until we’re in the thick of things during the summer, so we’ll try to take it all in stride and find comfort in the fact that we’re finally being paid for something that’s been a labour of love for more than three years…

FEBRUARY 25th“Gathering the Troops”

Tonight was the first meeting with the core production team of Andrew West (BS artist extraordinaire), Ian Kirby (BS tech wiz), Adam Fulton (DVD Audio Lead), James Thomson (Audio Engineer), and Ryan McKee (Finance and Project Management).  We spent the bulk of the evening sharing experiences from our run with the online series, tales from our collective student years, and anecdotes from my tour of duty producing videogames at Electronic Arts (’97-’01).  In the end, we agreed that the greatest challenge we faced was our timeline – it was feasible, but the new audio creation/recording/mixing alone would take at least 3 months and a larger team of engineers.  I’m having my first twinges of fiscal concern, but remind myself that our investors will be delivering their half of the budget well before we hit the studio.  For a final boost of morale, I share with the team that we have sincere interest in the project from a major comic book company, as well as talk of a potential feature film and videogame.  Let the speculation…and salivation…ensue!

MARCH 15thAudio Avalanche

James has started the Herculean task of transferring the original low-quality mono and stereo audio files from Flash and prepping them for Adam in Pro Tools…but with set-up, casting, recording, mixing, and authoring to do, we’ll need the gods squarely on our side to get things done.  Luckily, the AI admin (particularly Dawne Tomlinson) are extremely supportive of the project, and we’ve deduced some ways to involve students and classes as part of the production process.  Hey, if the original BS team was self-taught, imagine what some eager senior students might bring to the table in a professional environment!

APRIL 4thMoney, Money, Anywhere…?

More concerns with the proposed ‘investor’ being incommunicado – I haven’t received any finalized confirmation of support, and the Telefilm milestone is looming.  Is it legal to sell bodily fluids in this town yet?

APRIL 13thBase Camp 1

Andrew moved into Ian’s office at Power Source Media today to continue his art revamps for Chapters 3 and 4.  Ian scoped out some of Drew’s new stuff, and was pretty impressed…though concerned that the later chapters won’t gel with the incredible quality of the revamps now.  I dropped a modest ‘bomb’ about my goals for tweaks and fixes on the later material to bring it up to snuff (reducing bitmap shake, pumping resolutions, abandoning file size restrictions, and new effects).  He stared at me silently and clenched his jaw  🙂  The rest of the day was spent creating a rough mapping out of Extras and Behind-the-Scenes assets with Ian, and sending the original English text files to our volunteer translators.  The thought of fans savouring the series in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Japanese is so surreal…

MAY 16thRug Pulling

No matter how long I knew what was going to happen, I still wasn’t fully prepared for the disappointment – and the sheer panic – of getting the news that our proposed ‘investor’ is officially backing out on the promised 185K in funding.  His excuses were myriad and lame and expected…but in a strange way, even with the entire project now swirling that much closer to the proverbial toilet bowl, I feel a sense of clarity.  I can sense my ‘proactive’ side kicking into epic high gear.  We’ve basically got until mid-August to find a firm backer – either through private funds or a traditional distribution relationship – before we run out of green from the Telefilm coffers.  Hmm…I wonder if music licensors, lawyers, accountants, and a 30+ person cast would consider working on deferral???

JUNE 8thReinforcements

The fiscal stress continues, but tonight I wore a happy face for the troops as we gathered the rapidly-expanding team for a drink ‘n’ dine evening downtown.  The foundation players are all in attendance, as well as new key staff including: a music licensing volunteer, a videographer for our featurettes, a translation manager, and some more audio engineers.  Most importantly, I’ve brought on an official Associate Producer/Project Manager – Kim Violato – to help us get organized and keep the details from slipping into the ether.  Kim has done some swank event management and local marketing projects, but it was her otherworldly organization skills with contracts, contacts, assets, and scheduling that really made her shine in my estimation.  As the team blows off some steam and talks production milestones, I see her tallying bills, handing out contractor agreements, and labeling every scrap of paper within the ‘blast radius’ of our table.  Good call.  We’ll need that level of commitment and focus to finish by mid-Sept and get the DLTs to mastering for an Oct 29th release.  Less than four months.  Stress-on-a-stick…what have I gotten us into?

JUNE 30thNepotism

No news on funding.  Nada on distribution.  No progress report on audio transfers.  Breathe.  But the biggest worry right now is silence on the licensed music front.  The original series ‘borrowed’ a few snippets from some mainstream ambient and classical works, and we MUST get clearance on as many as possible before the mixing phase in September.  Assuming a worst-case scenario, I’ve contacted Tobias Tinker – our series composer and my beloved cousin – to stay alert in regards to potential rescores.  He proposed flying out on his own dime and helping with the mix in a hands-on capacity from early September until final.  Now that’s what I call familial.

JULY 12th –  Base Camp 2

We had our first meetings at the Art Institute campus with Adam’s hand-picked audio team today, as well as a casting information session for local voice actors and agents.  The technical side of things went well, though there are some concerns as to the level of additional audio design required to really fill out the surround mix.   I assured the team that we’re going to do some dynamic stuff with voice that will take unique advantage of the tools in a very trippy and original way, and they seemed cautiously optimistic.  Meanwhile, with casting sessions imminent, I poured on the charm, zeal, a/v goodness in order to hype Broken Saints to a packed house of talent from the local non-union voice pool.  People swear we’ll get the shafted without union performers, and early tests with my own voice as a scratch track neither confirm nor counter this as ‘reality’.  Kim and I discussed specifics of approaching UBCP for a union waiver if the casting sessions bear little fruit, and I remind her of a particular ‘ace’ I have planted far up my sleeve…

JULY 18thManagement and Megatron

For the first time in my life, the act of ‘delegation’ is actually working as it should, so I’ve been able to free up a little mental processing space to evaluate our first crop of auditions.  We need the union…period.  I’ve worked with some pretty talented cats from my EA days, and I have a few ringers in mind for key roles…but how do I convince hired guns accustomed to triple-scale paydays to work for rookie wages?  Cue the long reach for that ace…

I had a wicked reunion dinner with an old friend tonight.  David Kaye is considered by many to be THE voice man in Canada, and all I could do after a quick and gushy catch-up was to sell him on the integrity of the series – and the unique chance to wrap his chops around some of the meatiest and most thematically profound dialogue of his career.  He seemed to respect my bravado as he smiled…and signed on to play the series villain.

JULY 22nd –  The Passion of the Saints

Problems?  There’s always a problem – and with this project, it has ALWAYS been about the Benjamins.  All avenues of potential completion financing are dead ends at this stage – either too long in coming or too ‘questionable’ in nature – and we’re down to cab fare and staple-guns at this point.  Even resorting to a last-minute benefit concert or fan donation drive wouldn’t put more than 10K in the kitty, and we need at least six times that in order to finish with features intact.

I stood outside today in the afternoon sun for the first time in weeks.  I stood outside and I filmed a personal admission of imminent failure…about how the project was destined to crumble into dust and memory…about the irony of shooting a ‘Special Features’ piece for a DVD project doomed for cancellation.  I think I even cried a little.  If the gods were watching my professional disintegration and not raising an astral finger to help, then at least the tears were honest.

JULY 30thA Miracle.

What I honestly believed to be an afternoon destined for heartfelt apologies and pledges of compensation transformed rather quickly thanks to an incredible meeting with Carol Parnell at Telefilm Canada.  Carol had supported the DVD idea since the beginning, and couldn’t understand why I was in such a tizzy over funding.  She asked if my team was willing to defer some costs.  Did she have any idea who she was talking to?  We’d work for air at this point.

AUGUST 17thMaster who?  Synch what?

The music licensing issues are really starting to gnaw at me now.  The artists I expected to be the hardest to convince – Radiohead and Depeche Mode – were the easiest tracks to secure.  Meanwhile, the three critical classical pieces are still in limbo, and reps for Peter Gabriel and Godspeed You Black Emperor aren’t exactly treating our project as a high priority.  Tobias has been briefed on the continuing rescore situation, and is updating his gear in order to have a fully functioning mobile studio when he touches down in Vancouver in two weeks.  I’ll keep the faith…but I sure hope he’s graceful AND creative under pressure…

AUGUST 30thA good thing…

We’re deep into recording the leads now. Colin Foo as aging Shinto priest Kamimura brings a beautiful gravity and earnestness to the role. Kirby Morrow (of Dragonball Z fame) is the perfect voice for hacker Raimi Matthews – all surfer speak and geek venom.  Janyse Jaud as Polynesian princess and New Age messiah Shandala was a gift from the heavens, especially considering she just scored an Emmy for some previous work.  Dave was a total machine as expected, so I put him through 85 takes of his final line to get our money’s worth.  Bill Davis just dusted a scheduled three days of recording in 6 HOURS, like summer butter.   And today it was Michael Dobson – as our Arab hero Oran – reminding me how much joy lies in the creative process.  We fed each other in there.  I haven’t felt this high since Sundance in 2003.  We are doing a good thing here.

Sept 9thAudio Avalanche Deux

We wrapped principal recording today with wonderful sessions from Kirby and Janyse, along with some nice behind-the-scenes footage for the production featurette.  I had my final session as Gabriel Dunn this evening as well, and it felt downright sexy to dig deep and unleash some verbal ferocity.   Hopefully the dialogue editing team – currently neck-deep in trims and tweaks for over 10000 lines – can make me sound a little more like an Angel of Vengeance, and a little less like Kermit the Frog.

Speaking of angels, Tobias has earned his wings already.  His ‘cover’ of PMFIP from Depeche Mode is actually an improvement on the original, and he’s chugging overtime with James on smoothing out the original music mix for the entire series.  They’re currently huddled around the kitchen table at Andrew’s house with dueling laptops – T gives J the high-res replacements and extensions, J blends with care and matches to picture, and then they review.  Killer teamwork that saves me some monumental micromanagement hassles.

Sept 12 –  S…N…A…F…U

Mixing began today…which quickly revealed two heart-stopping critical issues.

1)  Adam and Ian have determined our basic mixes aren’t synching to the new video after several minutes of play – and this can only be properly resolved by re-rendering everything Ian has done over the past six weeks.

2)  Following our first mixing session with parts 1, 2, and 3, Adam and I were averaging about 90 minutes per chapter for music, effects, voice, and channel balancing.  Now, considering that there are essentially 57 parts in the series, and that they only get more sonically complex towards the end – well, let’s just say that the goal of finishing mixes and outputs by the 19th is ‘ambitious’.  Sure, Tobias, Mike, and James can supervise the transfers between rescore sessions, but Adam and I need to be chained in the studio 24/7 for the next week…at least.  Adam joked today that the average studio film takes three weeks of mixing per hour of footage.

What does it mean when you can’t find your own pulse?

SEPT 15How many cooks…?

Getting hardcore now.  Ian swallowed hard, stepped up, and got some help from an old friend – BS fan and self-taught rendering guru Jeff McAdam.  Together, they’ve created a 12-machine render farm for the new outputs, and Jeff’s volunteered to do all disc space calculations, menu linking in DVD Studio Pro, and DVD-ROM features.  Ian’s a Tasmanian Devil now, whirling between menus, special features, renders, subtitle placement, and frame fixes.  He promised me he’ll deliver, and that I should relax and focus on the mix.  I believed him on both counts.

Mix for 20 hours.  Stretch.  Smoke.  Caffeinate.  Repeat.

SEPT 18Suicide is Painless

Adam and I operate on instinct now.  Kim delivers sandwiches and cookies and we wolf them down with monosyllabic grunts of appreciation.  Tobias delivers remix reports with no small measure of fear in his voice.  We are crazed men.  Manic.  Meatball surgeons on a 36 hour jag.  We take turns being Hawkeye and BJ.  We sling insults and appreciation.  We leer in frustration and beam like mindless babies.  We de-evolve.

We have entered Nuttytown…and the place smells nasty.

SEPT 22Inhuman

Adam and I are reeling from 40HR shifts with rotating catnaps.  I’m smelling colours and seeing sounds…in Dolby 5.1 Surround.  It’s blazing bright outside but I’ve become a slave to the black cavern of sound.  The scent of tar from the refinished studio roof is mingling with our unique pungencies.  We’re reduced to licking orange rinds to stay awake and groaning for communication.

What an ugly corpse I’m going to leave behind.

SEPT 28So that’s what the sun looks like…

Audio Mix done at 2:34PM…26 minutes before the school’s final deadline.  Transfers are in progress in the open studio.  Kim ferries me to the office and I hand-deliver the first of several firewire drives.  Andrew, Jeff, Ian, and Lara look at me and wince.  I smile and say I’m taking one day off.  There were no arguments.  All is right in the world.

OCT 17This is my life…

After three more weeks of intense asset managing, number crunching, picture tweaking, page linking, subtitle correcting, package designing, and product testing, I held the DLT master tapes in my sweaty, swollen, and victorious hands.  Kim urged me to take the drive across the border with Jeff to the replication plant near Seattle, while she handled the final details for the launch party.

We’ve had to delay the official launch a few days to cover our asses on the packaging and e-commerce fronts, but Telefilm isn’t complaining…and frankly, neither am I.

You see, Jeff giggled as I handed over the tapes to the plant manager today.  He saw my pained face and guarded posture, and couldn’t understand why I’d be so eager to cling to the damn things.  Wasn’t I happy that the four year journey was coming to a close?  Wasn’t I eager to finally move on from Broken Saints?

He couldn’t see it.  Nobody could.  I had been reduced to 8 shiny bricks of plastic.

Somehow, I thought they’d be heavier.

Epilogue (as of Spring 2005)

Soon after the rock ‘n’ roll wrap party and fan webcast on the 4th, we made the Broken Saints DVD Set available for sale  at www.brokensaints.com while negotiations continued with keen distributors. Aside from some minor e-commerce hiccups, hardcore BS fans swarmed the site on launch day amidst rave reviews from respected Web media worldwide. In January 2005, the CBC approached me to carry several chapters on ZED TV and the entire series on their burgeoning Video On Demand service.  Thanks to this mainstream show of support, we have entered into serious negotiations to share Broken Saints with VOD and specialty cable outlets in Australia, Japan, Korean, Europe, Brazil, and the US.

At the time of printing, the Broken Saints DVD set is being released exclusively at Best Buy and Future Shop locations across Canada, as well as specialty retailers in the US and UK.  Finally, I am developing mobile and videogame versions of the property, and publisher/studio interest has reached intriguing levels with regards to a traditional graphic novel collection and a live-action television series of the saintly saga.

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6 Comments

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  1. August 24, 2010

    Oh I remember those days. An Odyssean ordeal and an incredible adventure and a near-impossible act of collective will – but one that seemed inevitable, essential. Everyone was taking it to the fence; you two were simply inhuman.

    Recent and related musings on collaboration… http://fearlesscreativity.com/collaboration/

    Like

  2. August 24, 2010

    You were right there with us every step of the way, cous’ – honoured to have you at my side on the creative battlefield!!!

    Like

  3. Wes Kelley #
    August 25, 2010

    What a cool story! The average person has no appreciation for the work that goes into TV and film, especially for a work of the heart like Broken Saints. Most of us average movie-goers just think that computers somehow manage it all. Not true.

    I especially liked the little “hidden track” you had at the end of the BS 4th DVD where you gave a riff about the fatigue and self-doubt that plagues anyone who makes the choice to endure the creative process. And like you said, at the end of it all, when the silence comes, you can truly think to yourself, “Hey…that’s not half bad…” and meant it! I have the utmost respect for anyone, no matter the level of their talent, who has the sheer chutzpah to go through with creating art, music, or writing. It’s like putting yourself in front of an existential firing squad. I believe part of the image of God imparted to us is the ability to create, but it ain’t easy!

    Makes me wonder what the creative process is like for God?

    Like

  4. August 25, 2010

    The last hidden track was actually done by none other than BS composer (and fav’ family member) Tobias Tinker! If anyone knows about the trials and tribulations of the act of creation (well…you know…OTHER than God), it’d be him: http://www.fearlesscreativity.com

    Like

  5. August 26, 2010

    Awww shucks… I’m glad it resonated with you! Actually I’d kind of forgotten about it, funny how much it ties into what I’m doing these days, nicely noted Brooke. Maybe time for it to have a brief resurrection…

    Like

  6. Wes Kelley #
    September 2, 2010

    Oh woops, Tobias, then, great thoughts. I really appreciated it.

    Like

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