Tuesday, May 6, 2014

We (Do Not) Have the Technology

"It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you of how powerful they are."
-Clive James

Once the technology to do something exists, there is nothing more frustrating than it not doing what you want it to do.

In preparing a short series on a software I truly like, Jungle Software, the makers of of Gorilla and other production systems, I was reminded of those instances of what happens when technology does not work to your advantage.

Case in point: On my last feature, the script was written in Celtx.

Yes, Celtx is free, and, as Stan used to say, oh, the high cost of free.

Understand that for many years,scripts were typed, schedules typed, call sheets hand-written, and stripboards were really strips of cardboard. That is all well and good, but once we moved on, we should never have to move back.

For me, the prime example of the "never go back" principle is the coffee cup lid.

One day, some bright person figured out that instead of having to tear open a portion of the lid randomly, the lid could be perforated to offer the perfect opening from which to drink.

Surprisingly, this patent suggests that the technology was created in 1980 - exactly 11 years after we put a man on the moon and thirty-five years after we harnessed the atom so we could kill more people more quickly. It seems the boys at NASA and/or the Manhattan Project, respectfully, could have figured this one out during one of their, well, coffee breaks.

What does this have to do with making movies, or Celtx, you ask? Making revisions and sharing.

I am not going to get into comparing every software option for screenwriting - and certainly there are a number of ways that work, including simple templates in Microsoft Word, but I think most people in the business would find Final Draft the most convenient software from both a script creation and, more importantly, production-friendly standpoint.

I have previously discussed the role of script supervisor and script revisions, so I won't repeat that here. On his wonderful site lineproducing.com, Stephen describes how to do revisions using Final Draft.

In the internet age, making revisions to any document and being able to share that document and those changes is important. Celtx made both of these difficult, even after we moved out of free mode and "upgraded" to some of their "premium" tools.

I am no tech whiz, and if it were just me, then I would concede a lack of sophistication with the software. However, the process stumped me, my production coordinator, my producer, and my First AD. It seemed at every step along the way, you could not, as they say, get there from here. You could do one thing but not the other You could do it on your computer but not share it. When even my aforementioned genius script supervisor could not do it, I broke down and hired a PA to retype the script into Final Draft, after which the revisions were simple and share-able.

This is not an attack on Celtx. This is the same frustration every time you discover that any advanced program (and I am not accusing Celtx of being an advanced program) does not do precisely what you want it to do, and it takes you longer to figure out how to do it than to have, say, just done it the old way. We encountered similar (but not nearly the same) frustration with Dropbox, and, to a lesser extent, Google Drive.

At one point, the director's email account was not properly receiving or sending emails, "eating" them, as we like to say.

Then there was the junction box we rented, which did not seem to get us wifi in some of the places we needed wifi.

These are, to be sure, Third World Problems. To use one of my favorite Hitchcock quotes, a child did not die. On the scale of progress of Mankind, these aberrations would have produced barely a glitch.

Still, once one gets accustomed to having these conveniences, being deprived of them seems all the more painful.

On the production side, there are certainly a number of companies that offer great software that save us time and effort, including EP Movie Magic, which I used to teach at New York Film Academy.

However, for a number of years, I have enjoyed using Jungle Software, which initially was just Gorilla, but has now grown to a larger family of production-related software. There are many reasons why Gorilla is the software I prefer, and I will explore those in a few posts where I interview Aaton Cohen Sitt, the President of Jungle Software.

Here's hoping that, until then, your version of Hal 9000 never says to you:

"Im sorry. I can't allow you to do that."


Meow Meow Kittie said...

I am not a techie, but this sounds like an absolute nightmare. Good gawd!

JB Bruno said...

Kittie. Nightmare would be over-stating, though when pressed for time, everything problem seems heightened. I would say more like very frustrating. Thanks for the compassion though :)

Aric Blue said...

Yeah, I use Movie Magic which integrates nicely with Scheduling. I used to use Final Cut for my scripts--liked it, but now I've moved on...