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BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and the Dripping Tap

BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and the Dripping Tap

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My, it's been a while since I wrote a longer article for the BloodSpell blog. That's the darned thing about making a project this huge - you want to tell everyone about all the stuff you're doing, but you're waay too busy actually making it.

But I've recently come across something that I thought I'd pass on - pretty much proof of something I'd always suspected as being very important in any kind of large-scale production, but had never had actually seen happen in the wild.

I'd just gotten back from my week's holiday, and was simltaneously energised and knackered in that unique post-holiday way. And, I've got to say, I wasn't exactly gagging to get back into filming. So, as any self-respecting creative type would do, I got stuck straight into a bit of quality cat-hoovering*, and informed f33b and Ben that we'd be tidying up the office over the next few days.

Five full bin-bags of rubbish later, it was clear that we really should have done that a little while ago. And now we'd cleared, we had the opportunity to move a few bits of furniture around, re-wire PCs, and, as I still really didn't feel like getting back into filming, I dragged out the "niggles" list I'd been keeping, full of things that had annoyed me during the filming process, and decided to try and fix a couple of them whilst we were at it.

Now, you see, there's a big chunky list of things that annoy us whilst working on BloodSpell. High up that list were two particular irritations: first, that any time I wanted to switch over from "using my PC" to "filming through my PC", I had to root around behind my desk and manually switch VGA cables over, and secondly, that our KVM switch, which I use to switch between the camera and recording PCs, was both cheap and nasty, and was prone to stop working randomly, forcing an unplug/replug, or to lock the CTRL key on until jiggled around.

Now, neither of those problems had been a show-stopping pain. They were just niggles I barely even thought about. And fixing the damn things proved to be a right pain in the proverbial - KVM switches hate me, for some reason, and we went through two before we found one that more or less worked. And the cabling for swapping VGA streams appropriately ended up requiring 5 seperate VGA cables, two switcher boxes, a returned-to-base monitor (heads up - the Iiyama Prolite monitors have a known bug which turns them blue sometimes), and a whole lot of swearing.

In the end, we spent about a solid week - in the middle of our filming schedule - sorting all this shit out. Moving tables, moving filing cabinets, installing cabling.

And since then, our productivity on filming days has gone up by about half. And I've started to look forward to filming days again.

It's just so much less frustrating. It's incredibly easy to discount the hassles that minor niggles cause - the frustration when you screw up a shot because the switch doesn't work, the worry every time you swap over a cable that really isn't meant to be swapped that regularly. It's very tiring, and stressful, and unpleasant - to the point that I'd not been looking forward to working with our current setup at all. But with these few minor changes, all of a sudden the entire workflow is much more controllable - I can switch back and forward between computers on a whim with absolute certainty that they'll do what I expect. And that means that there's an entire section of my brain that was devoted to stressing about the minor problems we were having that's now back online and working.

Robert Persig, the author of the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance", advanced the idea of quality as measured by a dripping tap. His feeling was that unhappiness is caused in substantial part by minor niggles - a door that won't close, a tap that drips, a KVM switch that periodically loses your clipboard. These things, he felt, cause your life to lose Quality, and that Quality is one of the most important components of a serene and happy existence.

Other writers support that theory. David Allen, writer of the "Getting Things Done" series of productivity books, feels that a "mind like water", cleared of worries and clutter, is vital to increased productivity. And numerous studies have shown that depression is directly linked to feelings of loss of control of one's environment - small things that just don't work.

It's also very easy to discount the time that small hassles lose. Sure, every time the KVM switch broke, it only took a minute to fix. But that minute involved switching out of filming mode, and into KVM-switching mode - something that writers like Joel Spotsky would immediately recognise as a Real Bad Thing. And it maybe happened three or four times a day. Over a year, that's a horrendous productivity loss.

Needless to say, we're now looking for other dripping taps to fix. And I'd recommend anyone else working on anything larger than a five-minute film stop, right now, and work to fix the dripping taps in your production. You'll be much more productive for it, but more importantly it will make your filming much more natural and fun - and that makes your creative work better, tires you out less, reduces the chance of your burning out, and, at the end of the day, is the reason we're doing this damn stuff in the first place.

*The natural state of any creative who should really be doing creative stuff - putting incredible effort into doing anything but what they're meant to be doing. Dusting the mantlepiece, doing the washing up, cleaning the grouting in the bathroom with a toothbrush, hoovering the cat. You can thank Charlie for that one.
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