31 March 2009

Meeting up for Fun and Profit à la French

The next step in my tales of adventure is my subsequent attendance of the regular Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking meetup.  These meetups were at the time held on a Tuesday at the Reston, VA La Madeline French Bakery and Restaurant which suited me superbly.  Indeed, although the idea of profiting from the Project KronoSphere concept has long been one of my lowest priorities, the fact that this meeting was taking place within 10 minutes drive of my house, at a place with which I am quite familiar and on a day where I allow myself to stay up a bit later than most made this meetup an almost certainty for me to attend.

So I get to the restaurant 5 minutes early and wander around, looking for our inspirational leader, Ayda or hoping at least to spot someone from our prior meeting at the Fairfax Public Access studios 10 days prior.  Spotting no-one I recognize, I proceed to wander around, looking again for someone I could recognize.  On my third go around, Ayda signalled me, and invited me to join her little group.  So, that I did.  Ayda, I should warn, does not look quite like her meetup profile picture, whence the confusion.  So I settled in, weary but curious.  I introduced myself in French, desiring to show off one of my few talents and then sat quietly listening to the meetings proceedings.

Here, the only people I seem to recognize or recognize me are the enigmatic David and Gino.  Gino is someone trained in medicine who wishes to break into voiceover work.  The day of this meeting, he recalled my brief story description from the Fairfax Public Access orientation and thus recognized me right away.  Good to know my concept is at least memorable, especially to an aspiring voice actor.  David, on the other hand, did not recognize me, but for some reason I had this visceral feeling I had seen him somewhere before.  I knew not where, but it did not matter since the recognition was not mutual.

David, who arrived a bit late given his long commute from his studio in Silver Spring, MD, demonstrated a plethora of his prior œvres on his Apple laptop.  We were all quite suitable impressed by this and Ayda gushed how happy she was to have David on the team.  David is our script writer and overall initial presentation co-ordinator, I found.  My chief goal being scriptwriter, this pretty much precluded me from any obvious service to the group, or so I believed.

As the hour progressed, we discussed a brief outline of goals.  Specifically, the Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking was set up by Ayda as a small-business collective where by we would each showcase our talents through computer based training videos.  The idea would be that we would each have one or more filmed segment that would be presented on our official web page, designed by Ayda, that would help educate people in the uses of modern digital video, audio & animation filming and editing techniques.  Then, once the web page was up and contained some eye-catching, self-produced content, it would then serve as a personal work portfolio for each of the members such that we could each be hired out for our service anyone wishing to commission the organization for work.  The business would handle commissions as an agency would, taking a percent off the top for administration and as a kitty for the member who have yet to receive a commission, and with the rest going as direct payment to the artist(s) and content producer(s).  Overall, not an unreasonable plan and I look forward to seeing it in play.

Anyway, back to the first of thus far 2 meetings, this one on Tuesday, 24 February 2009.  We settled into discussion rather quickly while a number of members munched on decadent French cuisine and piping-hot French beverages.  I, personally, am well sated, and thus order nothing.  The only contribution I was personally able to make here was to offer my personal experience with Adobe Creative Suite (CS) version 2, when most everyone else was already using Adobe Premier versions from CS3 and CS4.  I learned from The DC Podcasters Alliance meetup that some features in Adobe Premier CS3 were removed from CS4, but would likely be added back in CS5, so I am hesitant to upgrade at this time.  Having not a Macintosh computer built in the 21st century, I could certainly not contribute to any software tutorials or editing with Apple's Final Cut product either.  Therefore, I still saw my self as of little if any use to this society by the end of the meeting, but I none the less decided I would be back next month to try again.

27 March 2009

Public Broadcasting, Private Thoughts

The next instalment of my recounting of the last month of events in my life takes us to the Fairfax Public Access studio tour, and what an exciting and interesting adventure this was!

I know what you're thing, and just don't say it!  I know the reputation that Public Access has and I'm hear to tell you that you are quite mistaken when you think that production at a public access facility is the one-way ticket to nowheresville.  Case in point, when I was in middle school I was friends with a clever, funny and creative classmate by the name of Josh Cagan and at that time he had a small, cottage production interview programme on West Hartford Community Television.  Today, Josh has a his first feature film coming out this summer, Bandslam!  Public Access to Hollywood feature film can't be all that bad, even if it did take about 25 years.  And, need I mention Mystery Science Theater 3000?

Anyway, I first joined the Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking with some trepidation.  As I've already said, my goal here isn't to become rich or famous and although I'd like to make a bit of money for my work, in some ways I feel that Project KronoSphere should be produced completely as a non-profit endeavour.  Obviously, this does not fit well with the idea behind a group explicitly geared toward profit.  None the less, this group is the closest meetup to my house and the idea of touring an actual studio was quite exciting.

The meetup directions stated that it was to occur on Saturday, 14 February 2009: Saint Valentine's Day.  Yes, I would have to spend Valentine's Day with strangers whom I'd never met, but only really the afternoon and the important thing was I was there to learn.  So I dithered.  I considered.  I contemplated.  And finally, on the morning of the 14th, I decided: I was going.  So I reread the instructions more carefully now committed to the meetup.

Apparently, I'm supposed to pre-register.  D'oh!  Well, registration can be sent via e-mail, and e-mail is pretty fast, so I decided to just shoot off a quick message to someone named Meena expressing my interest in attending.  After all, 3 hours notice should be sufficient when using e-mail, shouldn't it?  So I use my iPhone to direct me to the Fairfax Public Access studio straight from the Leesburg Outlet Mall and arrive less than 10 minutes late.  I park around the side, hastily finish my Roy Rogers large roast beef sandwich and look for the front door.  Around the corner, I find the unassuming entrance and cross the threshold.

Directly inside, there is a counter where equipment can be checked out where a man stands chatting with some other visitors.  Desiring to know where to go from here, I wait patiently for the conversation to finish.  After about 5 minutes of staring at ceiling tiles I abandon this hopeless quest for directions and proceed to enter deeper into the bowels of the studio.  There I notice a placard with various event times, one of which announces an orientation and introduction to the studio.  I continue to wander until I come upon a large group of people sitting around in front of a large desk where a kindly woman of south asian decent is speaking.  This, I later learn, is Meena.

Since I did not register properly and was a few minutes late, I just stood in the hall looking in upon the beginning of the orientation.  As Meena asks everyone attending to introduce themselves, she spots me standing in the back and invites me to sit.  Eventually, I find a seat next to a nice fellow who has moved down from Boston and a pretty woman in front of me who wishes to start a cooking show.  Alas, I have since forgotten the names of these kind people and although I left them my e-mail address they haven't written me either.  None the less, I wish them well in all of their endeavours and hope that the experience we shared brings them much success!

Eventually, I am called upon to announce my goals, and I introduce the group to the basic concept.  Well, very basic, as I don't think I even called Project KronoSphere by name, but rather referred to it as a serial drama that could be live-action television or made for radio.  Like at The Washington Screenwriters Meetup a week before, Meena is quite keen with my idea to produce an all-new, original radio drama series.  After the introductions, Meena leads us into the depths of the studio.

First, we see Studio A, which has a full kitchenette ready-made for a variety of cooking programmes as well as storing an interview desk and chairs.  This room has 3 cameras and good lighting and thus is perfect for interviewing with one camera on the interviewer, one on the interviewee and the third as a wide shot.  Next to Studio A is a control room filled with equipment for sound and video editing.

Next we enter Studio B, which is mostly empty and has a screen which can be drawn to change between different monochromatic backgrounds.  The bare walls are coloured in the shade of Chromakey Blue and there are screens for Chromakey Green and Black.  This room also has 3 cameras and a lot of lighting equipment.  Because it does not contain any fixed equipment like Studio A, Studio B looks bigger than A.  The Studio B control room, however, is quite similar to that for Studio A though smaller more cramped.

We are then shown the 2 radio studios available.  These are broadcast as WEBR and WRLD and are outfitted very similar to a standard modern radio studio where a disk jockey or call-in show host sits and spins disks or answers the phone.  These studios would not suit recording audio drama, however.  For one thing, they are not big enough to store the full cast and foley artists to record the script like it was done in the classic days of radio.  In fact, as an audio production, the Fairfax Public Access studios don't really supply what is needed in terms of recording actors, then music and foley, with each actor on an isolated channel.  They do, however, have adequate editing facilities which we saw at the end of the tour.  But first, there was one more studio to see.

Studio C is very small.  It's walls are perfect Chromakey Green from floor to ceiling and everything in between except for the large window where the control studio can see the performers.  The lighting is both bright and diffuse with special filters to reduce glare, as well as lighting from behind and above.  There is only 1 camera here, which is computer controlled from the control room.  The control room has a computer with a number of digital backdrops which are then combined with the performers in realtime to give the appearance of a number of exciting recording locations.  Because of Studio C's numerous advanced virtual studio images available, users of Studio C aren't allowed to bring any props into the studio.  This, combined with the fact that the majority of digital backdrops available are for news anchor sets and fairly static, it doesn't seem that even Studio C would be all the appropriate for recording most of a live-action science fiction drama like Project KronoSphere.  At least, not without hours and hours of computer graphics rendering, which is much beyond my abilities at the moment.

Finally, we are ushered back into the conference room where Meena goes into the technical and legal details of using the Fairfax Public Access studios.  The first and most unfortunate of these issues is that, as a DirecTV subscriber, I can't receive any of the transmissions from the Fairfax Public Access stations as they are only available on COX Cablevision and other local cable television networks.  What more, as Meena goes through all the information in the information packet that I was too late to receive, I am partially at a loss since I don't have any of that information in front of me.  Meena is kind enough to leave me her packet after the orientation however.

The real shocker, though, turns out to be the rights structuring you need to agree to in order use the Fairfax Public Access.  As a writer of a screenplay, you are generally the copyright © holder of your work and all derivative works.  You then sell the rights to this script to a producer who then produces your story and maintains a production copyright ࡅ on the final piece.  When you sell those rights, you sign an agreement which will spell out the terms of what your rights are with the original script versus the studio, which is standard in any production.  What bothers me about the Fairfax Public Access agreement is that you basically agree to give up all rights for a 1 (ONE) year term as well as the rights to any derivative work from time of first broadcast.  This means, if I produce my scripts at the Fairfax Public Access studio, I'd be giving up all rights to produce other Project KronoSphere scripts at a different studio for that 1 year period!  However, the loss of rights isn't complete, since Fairfax Public Access is a non-profit organization, which matches my own goals well.  So, as part of the production agreement, you have the right to request the release of your production on any other non-profit medium, such as other public access stations or on the Internet via YouTube and in podcasts.

The final part of the Fairfax Public Access tour is signing up for courses.  Only by taking the studio courses can you be authorized to use the studio equipment and facilities.  The courses range in price from free to about $500 for some hands-on video editing training with professional software.  There is also a membership fee for the studio.  Since I could not decided then if I even wanted to use this studio, though it remains an option in my mind, I decided to simply pay the membership fee as a donation for the free orientation even though I can never watch their transmissions.  And with that, and a bit more friendly conversation with Meena, the cooking show woman and another kind woman, I left the studio and headed home, wiser and with many more options.

26 March 2009

Meetups, Script Writing and Getting Downtown

Well, it's about bloody well time I has a update already, hadn't I?

When I started this entry originally, I was planning to report how I had finished writing Scene 13 of a planned 16 of Episode 04a.  Now that that script is mostly complete, it seems I should focus instead on the beginnings of the production side of my saga.  So, to that effect, I would like to present a continuation of my series of stories revolving around my experiences with various meetups and social gatherings in and around Washington D.C.

When last you heard from me, I was telling you about my adventures in Green Screen at the The DC Podcaster Alliance.  Man, that was fun and informative.  But, there's more.  Since then I've joined a bunch more Meetups including The Washington Screenwriters Meetup, Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking and the newly resurrected Arlington Screenwriters Meetup, each with its own sets of highs, lows and adventurous experiences.  In this post, I shall be discussing my escapades with the first of these, the Washington Screenwriters Meetup.

On Saturday, 17 February 2009, a bit before noon, I drove my car over to the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride and waited for the Fairfax Country Connector 950 (pdf) to take me to the metro so I could get downtown to my first meeting of the Washington Screenwriters Meetup.  Strangely enough, the WMATA website suggested I take the metro to McPhearson Square and then take the 52 Metrobus down to the 14th Street Borders Books and Music.  This last step I found to be quite silly because by going one more stop to Metro Center, I'd just have to walk 2 blocks East along G Street and another block along 14th to get where I wanted to go.  I actually did try to get off at McPhearson Square that day and walk down 14th Street NW the 5 short blocks necessary but crossing New York Avenue is a pain, so Metro Center is my preferred stop for this destination.  But enough about my commute.

So, I get to the Borders and assume automatically that the meeting will be in the coffee shop of the store which I spot upstairs.  I order a white hot cocoa from the barista and have a seat next to the nearest electrical outlet so as to give my poor, starving iPhone a bit of extra charge so he can get me safely back to the Metro thanks to his clever GPS.  I sit there, drinking my cocoa and observing the people coming and going, scanning an old Project KronoSphere script draft for the pilot, waiting.  I was a half-hour early; apparently, walking is much faster than taking a bus.  Eventually, the meetup sponsor, Matt, shows up.  I don't recognize him per se and there's no way he can know what I look like, but I have a feeling he's the guy and I introduce myself.  We chat for a bit and he mentions a book that spent years on my Wishlist, The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by one Mr. J. Michael Straczynski -- my hero!  You see, I sometimes imagine my serial as a radio drama and nobody can cover experience in writing radio drama like Joe Straczynski in this book.  And indeed, it's the serial nature of the Great Maker's Babylon 5 television series which first inspired me to create my own rich tapestry of people, cultures, worlds, times and space.  But more on this later.

So I return to my lonely, charging iPhone and allow Matt to continue to set up his meetup table.  As more people arrive, I return to the gathering place, my phone now sufficiently charged.  There I meet many interesting, aspiring screenwriters, most of whom dream about the glamour, fame, glory and riches with the aspiration of having a Hollywood blockbuster hit commissioned based on their script.  But, don't get me wrong, we are all writers and none of us want to sell out.  We each have our stories, our children, that we long to see the light of day and each of them are hard-working and very thoughtful individuals.  The only contrast I can draw with my own goals is that I seek not fame or riches, though would never refuse either.  For me, it's all about the story, and as a story, it's not one you could tell in a mere 90 minutes.  That is why I write for television or radio.

Only by limiting myself to television or radio can I achieve a true serial drama, with ups and downs, highs and lows, trauma, tragedy, joy and elation.  As I've said before, my second lowest rung of productional aspirations is radio but it may be that in terms of financial commitment and potential popularity, radio has the best potential to allow my story to be told.  So, I presented my tale as radio and received a number of accolades for my original approach to story telling.  I don't honestly know how well radio can accept the return of the idea of the serial drama after what seems like a half-century of market loss to television, but the lowest of rungs for me was always podcast and even if I was able to produce my show as radio, I would want to see my story released in that digital format.  None the less, I learned a great deal from these discussions and have a page of notes that I may transcribe here at some point for the edification of others.

Anyway, so the meeting progresses and the thing is, Matt, clever individual and documentarian that he is, has pipe-lined 3 of his related meetups each to follow the other in logical succession.  I, of course, came to the first of these, that for the aspiring Screenwriter.  So, as we are discussing the finer aspects of Hollywood screen plays and productions, a series of editors, filmographers and incidental musicians start to trickle in and I am happy to chat further with each of them.  One fellow, Paul, is an accomplished musician.  Another women, whose name I forgot, was an aspiring cinematographer.  Many of the screenwriters, including myself, continue to socialize and meet all the newcomers as topic shift from writing to production.

Then, an hour later the actors start to stream in.  I didn't have a chance to interact with many of the actors and really only spoke to one woman who is an aspiring voice actress.  Her appearance was fortuitous since she may make a great candidate for a demo production of Project KronoSphere as an audio-only presentation, even though I think I believe her vocal register is a bit high for one of my female regular characters.  None the less, I shall keep her and all that I've learned in mind as I progress in my quest to bring Project KronoSphere out of the dark shadows of my mind and under the lights of a studio production.

Finally, as things wound down, I left the Borders and made my way home, wiser, happier, more fulfilled and in eager anticipation of my next scheduled meetup with the Digital Video, Audio and Animation for Profit and Networking at the Fairfax County Public Access studio on Saturday, 14 February 2009.