Cigarboxes, hard drives, and other challenges of media management

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard the phrase “Eric, you’re going to have to finish that LOUIE LOUIE film.” Frankly, I’m getting tired of hearing this, and if all the people that made those comments would have actually made a contribution to the cause, then perhaps I would have finished this project many years ago. Talk is cheap, and there are times where I do get very tired of talking. I’d rather just gather all my pieces, and just assemble the thing for all of the world to see.

If only it were that easy. There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t been able to deliver a completed documentary in the time period that I would have preferred. One of the big reasons is the challenge of obtaining proper permissions. From the time I came up with the concept of this film, I have always tried to obtain proper licenses for every company that owned elements that I wanted to use, be it music synchronization rights, master performance licenses, clips from television shows, motion pictures, photographic images, or in some cases, right of likeness. If it weren’t for Richard Berry giving me exclusive permission to produce this ambitious documentary about his famous composition, I would have given up many years ago. Producing a music documentary about a world-famous composition is not the sort of thing that those meek in spirit would ever choose to do. It can be a massive headache, and the frustration factor is often unbearable.

Another factor that cannot be overstated, at least with this project, is the challenge of adequately researching a project, gathering the proper materials, and keeping everything organized so it can be easily accessed. Quite often, the process of producing the actual interviews with the subjects is the easiest task of all.

That being said, not every interview has been easy. While the majority of interviews I’ve conduced for this project have turned out quite well, I’ve had my share of awkward moments. Looking at some of the early interviews I’ve conducted, it sometimes pains me to relive conversations that I wish I could have re-written. Luckily, I’m proud to state that I’ve got some fantastic interviews with some fascinating people in spite of my own shortcomings.

This summer, I spent a lot of time transferring my video masters to the digital domain. When I first started this project, I was borrowing a 3-tube video camera with a portable 3/4″ umatic package from the local cable access channel. Over the course of this project, I’ve also shot with Betacam SP, Digital-8, Hi-8, S-VHS, mini-DV and DVCAM formats. I’ve shot hundreds of hours of footage, and it’s been quite a challenge to do proper transfers of all the different formats. I wish I could say that every transfer has been a smooth undertaking, but that would be a major mis-statement. I’ve had videotapes break on me, and the Hi-8 tapes are plagued by a snowstorm of really ugly horizontal dropouts.

I still haven’t decided how I’m going to fix the drop-out problems with Hi-8 footage. I have a feeling I’ll probably have to hire someone to do some video reconstruction, using specialized post-production tools to retouch every single frame. I’m not looking forward to it, as I’m sure it will be expensive. If I could re-shoot some of my interviews I would love to do so, but unfortunately, so many of my subjects are no longer alive.

As I have a limited number of external hard drives to store the digital video transfers, and a limited budget, my primary archival format has been high-quality consumer grade digital videotape. As I organize the hundreds of digital tapes that I’ve collected, I’ve found an excellent means of storing this material in space-efficient containers.

Cigarboxes.

I don’t even like cigars. I think it’s a vile smelly habit, and I really hate all tobacco products, but I love cigarboxes. The boxes are usually well-constructed, have beautiful designs, and make storage of videotape so much easier to handle.

Earlier this summer, I was inspired to pick up a pile of cigarboxes when I read a great article in Make magazine about how to construct cheap cigarbox guitars. I don’t consider myself a musician, but I figured this was a really cool project to do. When you make your own cigarbox guitar, it doesn’t matter if you use one string, three strings, six strings or even what type of string you use. You can use fishing line, cotton string, bailing wire, or even rubber bands. You make your own rules, and make your own kind of music.

I assembled couple of cigarbox guitars this summer, had some fun creating some semi-musical sounds, but in the process, I discovered how much I appreciated the art of the cigarbox. Not only I have embraced the use of cigarboxes for guitars and videotape archives, but I’ve also used these boxes to create my own specialized CD box sets. While I haven’t assembled anything that looks as cool as the Charlie Poole box set, I’ve had some fun finding new uses for cigarboxes.

In the meantime, I’ve tried to collect the proper amount of hard drive space that is necessary to tame the beast that is my documentary. I’ve been using a lot of different external hard drives, ranging from 120 GB to 500 GB, storing the various video clips, audio clips, photographs, and scanned archival material. This week, after saving enough money, I ordered a 2TB external drive that will compliment the other drives as the primary source drive for my main LOUIE interview clips.

Hard drives on a computer-based editing system are a lot like real estate. It feels so much nicer to be able run in an open field, rather than pull the little exercise bike in a crowded apartment. I can get work done in both places, but I’ll take the wide open spaces whenever I can.

There is an art and a craft to media management, and I feel pretty good about how things are coming together. With any luck, I hope to be able to find exactly what I need without a lot of frustration over assets that were not always clearly identified.

I am taming the beast, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

As I come down the wire of completion for this epic documentary, trying to build momentum on a limited budget, I have become acutely aware of the concept of “hurry up and wait.” Working from a mostly self-financed budget, I exercise new levels of creativity in writing, producing, editing and paying for this very ambitious project. I’ve never worked on a project that challenged me on as many levels as THE MEANING OF LOUIE has. It’s been quite a ride.

And if you are one of those people that would like to actively support this project, I am absolutely open to outside investments and donations for the cause.





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