With a brand new YouTube channel we first decided to film the most difficult video that we had come up with so far. The premise was simple enough: the hero is being chased by a villain with a knife, and every time the hero makes a decision the screen splits.
I never actually expected us to try it.
Graham and I came up with this as a bizarre chase scene that would “theoretically be cool”. When I decided to actually write it the whole process became extremely complicated. With any previous short we usually depended on nothing more than a small script and maybe some storyboards if there was intense action. For this one, I had to make a map.
That’s only half of the map.
With each decision, a new video had to begin. Each video was then labeled numerically, path 1 through path 32. Along with the very confusing map covered in numbers and arrows, there was a full 8-page script that was unlike any other script I had ever made. From an outside perspective, it made no sense. Even Graham had some difficult understanding what it meant.
There’s just a little piece of the script. Each bold number represented the start of a new path, which resulted in a new part of the script. As each path had further branching pieces, this became extremely complicated to understand.
The original vision was a perfectly-timed masterpiece wherein each decision was made at precisely the exact moment as every other video on screen, and thus the videos would multiply at the same rate and we would end up with 32 videos on screen at the very end. Before we even started filming, however, a simple problem arose that made this whole plan flawed: 32 videos don’t fit very well to the aspect ratio which we were using to film. At that point the planning became substantially easier as I preferred not to have every decision occur at the same points.
I had planned on upgrading my camera before we started shooting, but insufficient funds led me to use my basic Panasonic HD HC-VI80k and nothing else. As each path was uncut, the lack of multiple cameras wasn’t a problem. I brought enough memory cards to hold over 24 hours of raw footage, while we had only set aside a solid day to filming this ridiculous short. Let’s just say I was prepared.
But nothing really preps you enough for filming day.
Our chosen location was my parent’s house. Although they had done extensive remodeling in the last few years that I lived there, it was still a very familiar place and it made it easier to plan so much movement by drawing the different levels and adding arrows. The problem, of course, was that during just a single clip both actors and the camera operator could be running between all three floors of the house, giving my parents no set place to stay out of the way. We actually had to push back filming to get time frame when my mom was out of town, and my dad was just shunted around from room to room as we filmed throughout the day.
The setup was simple enough. I did just basic clearing-out of background objects and making sure that pathways were clear and lights were on in every single room of the house. The first hour and a half after arriving was dedicated to getting the whole set fixed up just right, and there is actually a very high level of continuity between the different paths considering how many things we had to move around.
Our only other piece of tech was a small Bluetooth headset that my brother Aidan wore underneath the villain mask. It was just a cheap off-brand product that cost $20 on Amazon prime, and it worked well enough when I tested it in my apartment. The idea was for Graham to be following along behind me as I ran the camera and telling Aidan when and where to show up at different times. What we didn’t expect was for our cell reception to keep dying throughout the day.
We arrived at 9:00 a.m. and started filming a little after 10:30. We ran through path 1 in 9 takes, which almost took a full hour. The way I labeled the paths, path 1 was the longest and path 32 was the shortest, and everything that fell in between was in descending order of length. We jumped right in to filming path 2, then path 3, and by this time it was already 12:30. At this point morale was a little poor, and we stopped to eat a healthy lunch of star wars macaroni and cheese. Ixchael and I also ran to the store and grabbed some 5-hour energies, which everyone except Aidan drank.
While we were lucky enough to have clear weather throughout the day, we were still racing sunlight. Ignoring the probably irreversible damage that I was doing to my body, I drank two of the five hour energies and went into somewhat of a frenzy. We leapt back in with the brilliant idea to film each short path that we could first, but only along the branches of the longer paths that we had already filmed. For example, path 17 broke off of path 1, which we had already filmed, but path 17 was so short that it didn’t have any decision splits and only resulted in the hero getting killed. We filmed it in a few minutes, and proceeded to the next shortest path.
The rest of the day was fueled by adrenaline and foolish hard-headedness. As our hero, Ixchael fell down so many times that he ended up with bruises on both legs, and at a certain point when I was brilliantly running backwards and looking at the camera I smashed into a tree. At that point we still had three hours of filming left, and I ignored the pain in my blackened toe and ended up walking with a limp for three days afterward. Somehow we pulled through and got the rest of the shots wrapped up before 5:00, and I rewarded the crew with pizza.
I soon learned that the hardest part was the editing.
I work with Adobe Premiere Pro CC. Up to this short I had been using an old copy of Adobe Premiere CS4 for any of my projects, although I’ve been paying the subscription for Creative Cloud for almost a year and I had already played around with the new Premiere a bit. Unfortunately, I almost immediately found a reason to update my computer. Premiere worked like a snail with this many videos on screen at once.
There was no room in the budget to buy a new editing computer, although since then I have been looking into doing that. I decided to deal with the slowness and ended up spending many more hours than necessary waiting for the project to render at its crawling pace every time I made a little adjustment. It was so bad that I couldn’t even click the playback button to watch what I had edited: I had to step through frame-by-frame with the viewing screen shrunk down small enough that it didn’t lag. To say the least, I made sure to save this project a lot.
Another piece of my planning in the beginning had been how to edit the short, which as I said before became easier once I decided that not all 32 videos would be on screen at once. To get a feeling of similarity between the various videos jumping around the screen, I had a whole page of height and width coordinates for each of the different sizes and positions. In the actual video, you can see the videos shift between 100%, 50%, 25%, and 12.5% of their original size. As soon as a video clip ends, the others around it get larger to fill its place and make it easier to see them.
Besides the movement and size of the 32 different video tracks I had running, I originally intended to add sound effects. But as soon as I watched a few seconds of the different videos playing at once, I knew that would be counterproductive. It’s hard enough to watch so many videos at one time, let alone if there were sounds for the other videos running simultaneously. I decided just to throw sound in for the beginning and the end, and have a short song cover the space in between.
When it was time to view the final product, it was actually very close to what I had imagined in the beginning. That also meant it was as confusing as I thought it would be, and that was less than thrilling. There didn’t seem to be a way to make it any easier to watch. I had considered highlighting certain spots with sounds, or even making some videos larger when I wanted the audience to watch that specific video. But if the audience kept looking back and forth between the different videos, they wouldn’t be able to watch a single path from beginning to end. Admittedly, that is how many people will probably watch this short, and to some that might be incredibly annoying. But the choice of how to watch 32 Choices is up to you. All that matters to me is that I didn’t believe I could pull it off from the start, and now it’s done and uploaded online. Time for the next crazy idea.