Here’s a page to tell you what I’m working on. This isn’t a complete list, but if you’re wondering whatever happened to XYZ Project, here’s the status.
The Tetris Champion
In 2014, I filmed the fifth annual Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) with a full crew. At one point we had six camera ops, plus a few un-crewed cameras, three audio recorders separate from the cameras, and me as director and DIT with a giant table of hard drives and memory cards. It was a pretty big operation for an entirely self-funded documentary.
Prior to the actual tournament, I spent months interviewing a variety of competitors and following their journey to the tournament. The working title of this documentary is either Ecstasy of Order II: The Tetris Champion or just The Tetris Champion for short.
Okay, so what’s Ecstasy of Order? Well, it’s a feature documentary on the creation and first year of the CTWC. I did some work on that film in post, and it got me into the CTWC. (I also went to college with its director, Adam Cornelius, and we’ve made several short films together.)
Starting in 2012, I began volunteering at the CTWC as a referee. I wrote about this in a 2013 article titled Playing to Lose, published in The Magazine and later republished here. After spending some time with the CTWC, I realized that Ecstasy of Order was an excellent starting point, but the tournament had changed so much since that first year, it would be useful to examine it again. Plus, the same player (Jonas Neubauer) won the first four tournaments, and there was a sinking feeling among competitors that he simply could not be defeated. I got very lucky with my timing.
Here’s a teaser for the documentary, made hastily in early 2015:
Shortly after that, I traveled to Los Angeles to conduct more interviews, this time with Carl King as crew and actually using a two-camera setup. (In the Portland interviews I was a one-person crew most of the time, up until the weekend of the tournament. I also could only afford one camera.) I sat down with Jonas Neubauer and Harry Hong, plus Blink, who plays more modern variants of the game. All of this led to an incredible amount of footage and room to make the film.
In 2016, Adam Cornelius and I made a rough cut of a bunch of portions of the film while we were working at the XOXO Outpost. (Adam is a Producer on the film, and having directed Ecstasy of Order, has a sense for how to assemble these things.) We ended up with roughly 90 minutes of edited material, without including any games. As you might expect with a documentary about a competitive tournament, the games would presumably add another hour or more. At that point I paused. I had no funding and had already sunk over $10,000 into this project without any income. I had to focus on paying work for a while.
Current Status: Post-production began again in 2019 after a very successful CTWC, by far the biggest we’ve ever had. At that event, I ran into my old friend Gilbert Tang of EDIT/OR, and I roped him into editing the remainder of the film. I also worked extensively with Trey Harrison (well, I was fed him material and he worked extensively) to digitize the old game footage we had (literally the Nintendo Tetris game screens) to match the more modern look you see on the CTWC YouTube channel. I felt that this was vital, since in 2014 people were used to watching two fuzzy TVs. But now they’re used to watching HD. We now have the HD games, thanks to Trey. Furthermore, I hired the aforementioned Carl King to score the documentary. In the final production, that’s the team, plus me as director-slash-audio-engineer-slash-closed-captioner. Various gears are now moving, and I was heading straight for a Kickstarter crowdfunding moment in order to fund completion when…the pandemic hit. So I am still trying to make this happen out of my own pocket (now I’ve even deeper in this hole), though it’s unclear how final funding will happen.
My Hope/Plan: I think this thing is best delivered in episodes. My vision is a five-episode arc containing a lot of gameplay, which is actually very different from the original vision of a relatively short film. With years of YouTube experience, I now know that Tetris fans are completely fine sitting through ten minutes of gameplay, as long as professional commentators explain what’s happening. So the episodes introduce our key players and follow them through the tournament. None of this gameplay footage has ever been seen, and we’re sitting on hundreds of hours here. I look forward to locking down funding and getting this done. By doing it in an episodic format, I may be able to spread out the funding using something like Patreon or a limited crowdfunding approach more appropriate for the current economic climate.
After releasing Access, I did a bunch of interviews—and in fact, keep getting requests to do more. That’s cool. But the behind-the-scenes story of that film includes the fact that I made a totally separate film (!) and then tossed it out the window in favor of what actually was released. In that original film, I interviewed a series of accessibility professionals about fairly in-depth topics.
A lot of people who see Access ask me to release or do something with that original film or footage. While the footage is relatively old at this point, it’s actually pretty solid (shot around 2016, typically two-camera setups). The issue is likely that what people said four or five years ago may not line up precisely with what they might say now. The other issue is that making Access ended up costing me more than the grant that funded it (in part because I made two films…).
My Hope/Plan: I’d like a company to give me a grant to do a second film. That film could either use some of that original footage, or perhaps be an extension of the released version of Access. The released film focuses on visual disability specifically, but I could make something similar focused on other parts of the spectrum. If you work for a company that is committed to accessibility, and has a little dough, contact me.
The Higgins Slideshows
I’m really into photographic slides. It’s how I got my start in photography, and I have always liked slideshows. I have been buying slide collections and am working on a series of slideshows (both of my own work and that of others), which will be public performances.
Literally, we’re talking slideshows in a carousel in a fancy (albeit very old) slide projector. My favorite slide projector is a late-model Kodak that was used by NASA (!) and still has the NASA tags on it. No, they did not do slideshows in space.
You might ask: What are these slideshows about? Mostly, “wait and see.” But I can tell you a lot of the material I’m working with was shot in the 1950s and 60s in the Middle East. Then there’s my own work, which was shot primarily in Florida in the 90s and then later in the Pacific Northwest. There are also multiple space-themed shows, since NASA released many (MANY) sets of slides related to specific space events, and in some cases even provided scripts to deliver slideshows. I’m working to combine the best parts of those, as Space Stuff is a category of art I enjoy. Some of the shows are funny, some are serious, and all are visually surprising. Slideshows are special because they require the physical object—the slide—that made its journey from the camera in the place the picture was taken, all the way to the room where it’s projected. (Well, unless you’re NASA and you’re duplicating images. But still.) There is something very special about making that physical connection.
One nice thing about this project is that it costs virtually nothing. It’s a simple performance that I can do locally with equipment I already own. Most of the shows are about a half hour long, so it’s likely I’d run them at a local theater along with something else. (Maybe I do two slideshows in a night, with something else in the middle to round out a roughly 90-minute event.)
Current Status: As I type this, I am surrounded by piles of slides. I am digitizing all the slides before subjecting them to projection (projectors can jam and damage slides, especially the vintage ones I’m using). While every slide I’m using is a “real” photographic slide (not a digital re-print), I do want a backup digital copy just in case. That may also allow me to do some other version of the show online or whatever down the line. Anyway, I’m working on this, with an eye toward starting a series whenever local theaters open up. (It could be a while.)
Untitled Funny Knowledge Podcast
The less said about this the better, but I’m developing a podcast with a Portland collaborator. Episodes will be relatively short, informative, and funny. Everything else is up in the air (mainly because I can’t physically go and record these episodes due to quarantine concerns), but stay tuned.