After reading Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail and having had to use my renaissance man skills and technology to generate income in these tough economic times, I thought it would be prudent to post how ancient “dinosaurs” and their “ancient” computer equipment are still able to produce video and code to solve today’s business needs. These requirements include the necessity to support my client’s customer’s older Personal Computer (PC) operating systems.
In addition, with the long tail of my 2003 travel videos, I was able to time-travel them from a legacy system into a format to create iTunes applications that play my video with DVD features like still photos , extra footage, and full length songs, all available on today’s mobile devices. This latter project is for a startup company called MoPix who is creating new digital distribution channels for full-length feature movies directly from apple’s iTunes app store.
At the turn of the millennium, I purchased an IBM Windows XP PC and installed my Microsoft Office 2000 Professional and Visual Basic development applications on the latest high-powered PC. As I expanded my device collections in 2001 to include a pro-sumer video camera, Sony DCR TRV17, I started shooting video and eventually purchased a copy of Sonic Foundry’s Vegas video and DVD editing suite. I used this PC configuration to create a Brazil Pantanal DVD and 2 Perú Amazon DVDs at 720×480 resolution. At the time, this was High Definition (HD).
Over the years, this configuration became obsolete and in 2008, I migrated to an apple macbook pro laptop with a 17″ HD (1920×1200) display. This was, and still is, the highest definition laptop capable of editing HD movies (i.e. 1920×1080). At the time, I declared this the most powerful laptop on the planet. For this device, I chose apple’s Final Cut Pro edit suite and installed it on the laptop.
For its first job, I created a Take ECO-Action! public service announcement and posted it online as a contest entry at the end of 2008. Unfortunately, it did not win but it was selected to screen at the Delray Beach Film Festival 2009, Enzian FilmSlam 2009, OrangeTV broadcast, Culture Unplugged Festival, and Neuse Riverkeeper Film Festival. This was my inspiration.
This led me to transition my career into the world of video, now that it was becoming a digital world. I enrolled in Valencia College (Community College at the time) to pursue a Film Technology Production degree. I felt like Neo in the Matrix movie series and transferred all the Valencia VHS training tapes to DVDs and bumped up the video to web-HD resolution while attending classes there.
While in the program, I learned all aspects of the cinematography industry including meeting professional producers, cinematographers, editors, audio recorders, grip, lighting, actors, and directors. It was a wonderful experience and a tremendous opportunity to join the network of movie making professionals!
My laptop first experienced its professional debut editing a 30-minute television pilot called Last Stop. The director, another colleague, and I spent several months editing multiple camera clips, several takes, and camera angles. This was my first experience with so many takes that we eventually patched together in a continuous story stream, very much like a jig-saw puzzle.
Then in August 2011, I graduated the Valencia College motion picture program and landed my first professional full-length movie gig in November; what’s best it was a paying gig. This was the first time I had the opportunity to edit more than 90 minutes worth of HD video and a first for my laptop too! It performed wonderfully with reliability that I’ve never experienced in my 25 year career using PCs. I had never used a PC like this laptop that behaved as I expected and consistently performed operations, especially the software.
But, the Great Depression II continued to blow dryly with no income stream to me. Out of desperation, I re-enrolled in unemployment insurance and tried every avenue possible to work part time or full time. Regularly, I used 5 or 6 job boards, applied only to those jobs I met the required skill sets (in project management, video editing, data management, and application development), sent out weekly pamphlets to all video producers in the Metro Orlando Film Commission’s database with my qualifications and wall post-it note (see example below), and searched craigslist for jobs on a daily basis.
During one dead time between jobs, a representative of MoPIX contacted me about his interest in my Amazon Explorama DVD. He said that their movie products will be the replacement for future DVDs and a way for movie makers to sell their movies online from iTunes.
Since I had the time, I agreed to distribute my video, but only as a free product. I don’t have the rights to the people in the video or for the soundtracks. Because the video is also a promotion for the Explorama Lodge, I felt it was an opportunity to promote their business to increase tourist traffic as well as an educational documentary of the Amazon basin’s animals and tribal cultures.
This gave me reason to upgrade my IBM PC with the Vegas video editing tools I had used on the original PC (same XP OS) that had ceased to boot over the years. This went fine but then I had to dig through 8 external drives to find my edit files so that I could once again edit and export the Amazon Explorama files, this time into a QuickTime format, as MoPIX required.
After about a week of compiling all the footage, finding the score and photographs from the trip, filling out the MoPIX form, and creating a folder with all this information in it, the folder was too large to upload. Then apple released their new iPad with retina display: HD (1920×1080).
That release bumped MoPIX into a scramble mode. All of their systems had to be changed to support HD for feature movies. Of course, it made no difference to me, and I returned to job hunting while waiting their return.
Then I got an email from Bison Optic Disc asking if I could author DVDs and CDs and work on a project basis. I replied yes to all. That’s when we setup a meeting to discuss business arrangements, like quotes and responses.
After our meeting, I left his office with an example of the CD they wanted to reproduce and spruce up a bit. After learning that the CD ran a startup application, I upgraded my IBM PC with all my latest version of my development system and Office applications. I tried to use Visual Basic for Applications (MS Office VBA) but it wouldn’t work from a CD as an application like the client wanted. So, I went straight for the Visual Basic (VB) editing suite and replicated their menu and application features.
Because the customer asked for an .exe application, my rate is a higher amount ($35 – determined based on a salary website for local talent – ironically, this is the same amount as back in 1996) per hour than I verbally quoted for a simple DVD or CD authored menu ($20/hr). This client’s application required a menu with buttons that opened web pages, displayed documents in folders for users to double-click open in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Acrobat Reader, and a download folder containing device software that allowed the user to update firmware on their hardware products.
Of course all this could have been accomplished off a website instead of burning a bunch of plastic for one year’s worth of distribution. But hey, Bison is in the business of burning discs, and if that’s what the customer wants, they sure will ship it for them.
So, I spent about a week, or 31 hours, working on the prototype to finish a final product. What is so wonderful these days for the software development world is that most answers are online instead of buried in books. People are so generous to share their crafty VB code that animate buttons or copy a folder from one disk drive to another.
From the Past
Then the dark days of the Windows transition from 16-bit to 32-bit PCs hit me like a brick wall. I couldn’t open Office applications with the long filenames and when I tried to get the short named version, it returned the abbreviated filename that cannot be easily read. So, back to the web I went to search for solutions.
In the interim, I had requested that any folder containing a long filename not have any spaces in it. For some reason, that always worked but it meant using capital letters to differentiate the name (e.g. FlowerPickingMachine) or using an underscore_between_words, which is not an ideal solution these days.
Finally, on about the last day before I finished the product, I found an obscure way to fix the long filename problem so that it worked for any folder or filename. I remembered using something like this in the past but had totally forgotten its solution: use double double-quote punctuation (i.e. “”long filename””). Problem solved.
For this job, I deposited a little over a grand in my bank account. This amount would keep me afloat for about two months until the next job might come along.
So why is it that I call this the “dinosaur’s long tail?” In 2010 during a conversation with a student, he told me my laptop was old. Shocked, I replied that it was only 2-years old. He told me that apple had released a new laptop and that mine was a previous version, or “old.”
Well, that means my 10-years old PC and software must be ancient since it’s now mid-2012. Since I finished my Amazon Explorama DVD in 2003, next year it will be 10-years old. I figured the metaphor was close enough because today’s technology lifecycle is 3-4 years before replacement, called a “technology refresh” in the biz. Fortunately, that worked out in my favor since I have the old technology to guarantee it works on old business PCs!
And fortunately, not all businesses follow the refresh procedures and I still have a market for custom software products at a premium rate and a movie distribution market to show my videography.