Dave Bing with Lester McCumbers and Kim Johnson
Having just sent out my documentary after eight years on the trail, I can’t believe it came down to the last day. For every major project it has always been the same thing – dealing with the alcamey of compressing and uploading. It’s so crazy. I struggle with shooting all these clips, writing scripts, re-writing, editing, producing whatever, but the actually act of getting if off your computer onto a disc or uploaded on a site, remains a strange confounding process fraught with fear and loathing and the very real possibility of doom.
I was hoping to avoid this hell, but there is something strange about the so called exact analytics of the computer world. There’s a jinx lurking that could doom yer project. Case and point; here I was ready to compress my 70 minute piece, a full length doc that I overcome so many personal and professional obstacles it’s ridiculous. All I had to do was send it through QuickTime and then compress it and Bam. But no. It’s oh so boring to talk tech, about setting and such, but when you in it, the drama is as intense as any sport. Because here I was getting the file kicked back to me. System fail. System fail all the time reminding me that I’m not a tech guy. No way I should be dealing with this. I might as well be repairing my furnace. But I had to. I was aiming to strike audio tracks before sending it through Quicktime but nothing would work on the other end. I was in a world of permutation, clicking things and off and on to get this project through. Sending, Sending, sending. Go Go go, please. No. System Fail. In desperation I packed up my gear, holding my hard drive like a newborn, recalling the manufacture’s warning that “My Book” wasn’t designed as a portable drive. Didn’t matter I had a back up drive, that was weeks out of date and I was down to a days before the deadline.
I hit my friend’s place, a penthouse with a stunning view of the city. Taking 23 gigs down took hours of processing only to hear the canyon echo of duplicate tracks reverbing. What were these tracks doing here. they were dis-engaged. What was this computer doing to me?
I was desperate, the audio track now one long 72 minutes band of green suddenly didn’t fit the equally long quiltwork of video. I’m off by frames but enough to make their mouths move like monkies in fast motion. There was the wacky task of taking all the cartoon ballon of audio that is uniquely FCP X’s trademark and cutting them out, somehow miraculously not deleting a chunk of video giving my doc one of those unforgiveable blank spots. I’ve been told too late FCP X isn’t designed for large prjects. It doesn’t have tracks at all. All you could do was assign one, which was precarious at best and yet somehow my sound guy was able to download these pieces and create a mix, which fit the project snuggly but now sat like a misfit in the so called finished compressed video. No way I could turn this in.
The hour was too late to be playing the audio game. Do I dare go and start cutting? How about rippling the vide?. It was closing on midnight and his amazing solid state computer was now throwing me FCP’s famous beach balls of death at me. The thing was forever rendering, which wasn’t suppose to happen in X right.. Then my buddy had an idea of going back to an older version in Final Cut’s library. Go back in time buddy when everything was alright. Yeah your so called improvements will vaporize but you can turn Crooked Tune into SXSW, as a work in progress.
But people, y’uall know going back in time, is some tricky business. Click the library and select a date Sat. 10:37 and bam you see your project marred in the horrible red. Missing footage everywhere. That’s not suppose to happen. Don’t worry my buddy, we’ll just relink. Relink. Relinking is a hell created by psycopaths who think it’s acceptable to have to go into your finder, go into some file deep into your computer where you see a many numbers click that and still nothing happens. If there is a correct way, it surely is so unnatural that many of people have been left on the side of the road with broken projects. Now I was about to be one of them. Now I was just hoping I could go back to the present to where I was where at least I had my footage. I was at this point, for the first time since I was gunning to be SXSW that I contemplating that I wouldn’t even being able submit. That the next day I’d be in this building stage.
I was in a mourner’s stage of acceptance with rage soon to follow. That’s when the FXP crashed. That’s when I went outside my body and watched. This is when all was really lost. Since FCP X has no save button then it could mean that it restarted this version with all the missing files would be seen as now the contemporary version. Oh well, it’s not meant to be. No different than Carson Palmer laying on the field with the best team to his credit, knowing that he woudn’t be allowed to take the Cardinals to the post season. No way out of it, he was done. I drew my breath as the FCP jolted back on the screen and there was my project, not only restored but the audio now matched like it did a good twelve hours ago. I couldn’t believe it. It that moment it could have gone either way, I’ve seen it happen back in the early days of word processing when a system crash would cost you hours of precious writing. Could have some program set up this safety switch. Who knows. But now came the realizing that at 12:30 a.m. I’d be in for hours of waiting for the compressor and hoping that we now knew how to click off the duplicate tracks. Hours through the night. After 12 hours of compression. The Nov. 13 deadline, though three days away, suddenly reared up like a deer jumping across the road. I lay on his couch, watching a helicopter sweep my waterfront neighborhood, where my wife and children lay sleeping. My buddy and I ran out of things to say and retreated to books. He read a book about Bees. I sun into the Good Lord Bird, a fictional account of the John Brown rampage through the eyes of a runaway slave, cross dressing as a girl. Did John Brown really charge an Army battalion and win?
The sound of their Pa’s getting murdered and bellowing spooked them to howling like coyotes, till the thud of swords striking their heads echoled out the thicket and they was quieted up.
Such a narrative kept me company as I roused my self off the couch to see the torturous processing line moving not a smidgen. The activity monitor flicked numbers that I don’t understand much like the beeps and led lights of hospital monitors. The night chugged slow, so slow. Sleep felt more like succumbing to a web pulling me down wrenching myself awake to see that processing line. Back to the book, back to thoughts of my life being so ridiculous, awake looking out at the city and the condos with the dark windows around. Back to a sleep with hopes of a completed file with a flick of an eye. And there it was all done, really in the gloaming. The sky was a murky blue, and me realizing that oh man the sun is coming up. People will be out fresh for the work day. Me I’d stand solo, a rat washed to shore. But I had this movie done. It was done. The world will know. The world out this window. It could happen. Couldn’t it? I was back on the computer, looking at the sound, looking good good and then at the very end. The last scene. It was OFF. But I had to get it in. This was a Festival not a beauty contest. So I told myself, forgetting that thousands enter for a few cherished spots. But I had to hope if they got this point and dug the movie than surely they knew it as work in progress such things were forgivable. This was the rantional that I now stuck to. Now way I could go through this more into the harsh light of the day.
With the copies burning. I sat on the couch a wounded victor. I looked out on the first light, I could hear the traffic arch up. I felt like an explorer who just pushed out of the bush to the edge of a cliff.
I drove home with the commuters and swung open the front door to see kids and my wife a the table. I resumed my role washing the dishes, grabbling kid’s lunch from the fridge as if nothing ever happened.