Category: Tech stuff

NTSC DVDs are finally available

Finally, I’ve converted Part One of FST: On The Shoulders of Giants to NTSC format so that North American, Canadian, Japanese &  South American viewers can watch the DVD on their TVs.

If you’re unsure what all the NTSC/PAL fuss is about, check this simple reference chart.

It’s now available to buy on the Copperhead Editions web store.

Also you can stream a HD version without bonus features.

Part One: A Film for All and None is Finished!

That’s right, finally finished.

I’ve been slack posting the news here but Valerie updated the site with a pre-order page for the DVD.

Why have I been slack? Well, I was working on finding a streaming provider that worked without having to force people to sign up to a service they will never use and who will constantly send nagging promotional emails. I looked at Amazon, Vimeo, iTunes and a host of smaller distributers but the one that came closest to my goal was Distrify. You don’t need to sign up, you can pay by card or PayPal directly from the player, they don’t take weeks to approve or encode my film, they don’t take an unreasonable percentage from the cost of the sale or require a fee to use their service, I can embed the player in any website I choose and the final cherry on the cake is I can set the cost low. £3.49 (and equivalent in other currencies) is the lowest the service allows. So that’s how much it costs to stream.

I decided to use the Copperhead Editions website Valerie and I set up last year to sell prints and artwork. After the 17th February 2014 you will be able to watch the film here.

The same week I found Distrify, I found a local-ish DVD duplication service with an insanely quick turnaround time. So I set to work figuring out how to encode a DVD with real menus, bonus footage etc. I used Adobe Encore to create the menus because I didn’t want generic looking screens that looked like it came straight from iMovie/iDVD.
I originally planned to set up the DVD when all parts of the film were finished and released but after speaking with a few people who wanted to watch the film but lived in areas with poor broadband connections or who travelled a lot, I decided to look into small-run replication and it was more affordable and less difficult to create that I previously thought.

A note regarding cost:
I’ve tried to make this film as affordable as possible and try to give you value for money. I know £15 seems expensive for a 40minute film when you can regularly buy feature films for a third of that. I don’t have the financial backing of the hollywood system and this project was entirely funded from my own savings. Kinda like a time-consuming hobby. I know I will never come close to breaking even. That was never my goal. I’ve worked on this project for 2 years now. It really was a labour of love in the truest sense.

For the DVD package to pay for itself, including flyers, stickers and physical production (the DVD, case, inlay and booklet) I need to sell at least half of the batch I order from the replication company. My first order was 100 copies. Many of them will be given to people who helped me or are featured in the film. We also don’t get paid to package orders and take them to the post office. That’s just the physical product.

Let’s not talk about the equipment, software and hours of work that was necessary to make this thing happen.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. So far the response from my peers has ben incredible. I’m happy that the things I thought were important have been recognised by those who’ve already seen it.

Assembly Edit – August 2013

I have Assembly Edits of each section of this film completed.
What’s an Assembly Edit? Well, it’s the sequence of clips I intend to use, assembled in the order I intend to use them.
This is a major milestone in the development of this project. After weeks (months) of logging footage, marking transcripts and moving pieces of cut up paper around, I finally have something that resembles a film. Albeit without any supporting images, footage or graphics but it’s still possible to watch it, rather than imagine it. As it’s been up until this point.

News 2!
Yes, I said ‘each section’ up there.
My original plan was to make a film that served as a portrait of Frith Street Tattoo as it stands today. It seems I made four films.
While organising footage and making notes I wanted to divide the film into four subject areas to make it easier to watch. After I assembled the footage, weeding out extra repetition and less interesting parts, I was left with enough useable footage to make 4 films each at least 20 – 40 minutes each. I hope you lot have the stamina to sit through them all. Each one has a different feel and flavour.

Here’s a run-down of the working titles:

Part One: A Film for All and None
This film centres around the Frith Street Godfather, Dante (Danny) and the family atmosphere of the shop.

Part Two: The World is Watching
This one highlights the position of Frith Street Tattoo in the world of tattooing as a whole and the responsibility that entails.

Part Three: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
A film about the direct lineage of Frith Street Tattoo and the tattooers and people who allowed us to be where we are.

Part Four: We Never Sleep
(my favourite section so far – I’m really pleased with the way this one came together)
This film spotlights the work and effort that goes into striving to make each tattoo better than the last and the results of that effort.

I never planned to sell this project but because it’s turned out to be way bigger than originally intended (and thought possible) I’m considering various forms of distribution. My favourite at the moment is to have each section free for a limited time, then offer high quality downloads or a DVD compilation with tons of extra footage that just didn’t fit with the themes of the films.

Right now I’m working on a trailer for the series. As soon as it’s finished I’ll post it here and on Youtube.

In the meantime you can check out some behind-the-scenes photos of how I got to the assembly edits.

Marking the Transcripts:
This took a hell of a lot longer than I originally expected.
I had a huge folder of transcripts to wade through. Each colour pen pertains to a different theme. Yellow – Part One, Pink – Part Two, Green – Part Three and Blue – Part Four.

Logging the marked transcripts in the edit software:
Each marked section is given a number. In the edit software, I select the same range and give it the same number.
PaperEdit_July2013_06  PaperEdit_July2013_08 PaperEdit_July2013_03 PaperEdit_July2013_04  PaperEdit_July2013_02

Arranging the Paper Edit:
After numbering each marked clip I could cut out the marked sections of transcript and begin to arrange them into sub-categories.
Some are for the intro to each section, some for the middle, end, etc.
Then I can start moving them around and deciding how the narrative flows. Once I’ve arranged each section, I paste them onto sheets of paper. These sheets serve as a ‘script’ to the film.
 PaperEdit_July2013_10 PaperEdit_July2013_11 paper_edit_august_6 paper_edit_august_5 paper_edit_august_2 paper_edit_august_3paper_edit_august_4

Then it was a matter of finding the numbered clips in the edit software and placing them on a timeline according to my paper edit.
Now comes part where I re-arrange things a thousand times and make transitions and edits smoother, add photos and supporting footage than I’ll be ready to show a rough cut to friends and family for them to review.

Keep your eyes peeled for the trailer.

In November I mentioned transcribing interviews. When it became obvious I wasn’t able to do it on my own, I posted on Last Sparrow Tattoo asking for help from that community.
Quite a few people responded and offered to help – for which I’m very very grateful.
I now have a ‘reserve list’ to call on in the future – thank you all.

A long-time customer of mine emailed me with an offer to help transcribing the interviews. I sent him a couple of audio files of interviews just before Xmas 2012 and on New Year’s Day 2013 he sent me back the first transcription. His name is Danny Woodruff. I guess he’s the only other member of ‘staff’ on this project so far.
I couldn’t have been happier with the results of his work. He did a much better job than I could have, naming each speaker, marking laughter and audio problems etc. He even managed to deal with multiple accents. My northern English, Chad’s north eastern USA and Alex Reinke’s German accents didn’t seem to phase him.

It’s a hell of a lot of work, with more to come but all this effort will pay off when it comes to the editing stage.

Danny is away from the UK so he and I are keeping track of files and our progress using the project management site – it’ working great so far. I can sign in with my gmail details, attach files within the online software or link to files stored with Dropbox or Google Drive. The checklists there really make communicating remotely much simpler than doing it via email.

Here’s a glimpse at the “Transcriptions” folder on my hard drive. You can see the interviews Danny has transcribed and the ones he’s still got to do. In the coming months the “To Do” folder will get fatter too. I just need to make sure I update the boards at each time I finish an interview.


Here’s some close-ups of the transcription pages from Alex Reinke’s interview.
The eagle-eyed among you might notice that these are the bits from Alex’s Blog Clip last week.

The blank boxes to the right of the sheets are for my notes while re-watching the clips. Then I select the sections I want to use, cut them out and assemble a ‘paper edit’. I’ll use the paper edit to assemble the first cut of the film, so this project is still in the very early stages.

Thanks for reading,


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Time-Lapse Experiments

I doubt these clips will work their way into the finished project. So think of them as sort of bonus features.

Early in 2012 when this project had a different focus, I tried a few different time-lapse techniques.

Trivia Bit:
The footage was shot in May, June and July 2012.
There’s a couple of clips with me in the foreground and Valerie tucked away  at the other side of the room. There is a couple of just me and my clients then there’s wide angle shots of Chris and Will from VICE filming us (for Valerie’s TattooAge episodes) while we work and then interviewing me.

Tech Bit:
I’ve done a little time-lapse before with my iPhone but I wanted better looking results and more control over exposure and focus.

  • First was with the GoPro Hero2 but the angle is a little wide and gives the feeling of CCTV footage.
  • Then I tried Valerie’s Nikon J1 which worked well but I found it difficult to set the aperture manually to a setting I wanted to use for a time-lapse shoot. Also the lens is only available with 3.8/5.6 aperture which often is not wide enough for what I wanted.
  • Finally, using the Magic Lantern firmware hack, I tried a Canon 600D (which is what most of this project has been shot with so far). This meant that I could use the lenses I already have, with their wide aperture and wide range of focal lengths. (most interviews so far were shot with 16-35mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8 or occasionally  a 50mm f/1.8 prime) I compiled the image sequence using QuickTime Pro and exported from there.

All these attempts can be seen in the video above.

I haven’t totally abandoned time-lapse, but if I use it, I’d like it to be more than a gimmick.

Transcribing Interviews

Here’s one of the less interesting bits of making a documentary: Transcribing interviews.

I’ve spent most of today transcribing the interview with Chad Koeplinger.

This is the first time I’ve done anything like this and at the moment I don’t have the budget to hire professionals so I’m doing as much as possible by myself. I tried to skip the time-consuming task of transcribing interviews but soon found that planning and editing without transcripts would take many multiple times longer. So I bit the bullet and decided to transcribe interviews myself.

My first attempt was to use FinalCut ProX’s marker feature but found that I would need a printed sheet later. At the moment FCPX doesn’t have a way to print and the xml export messes up the timecode.

My second attempt was to set out a spreadsheet and insert the timecode and description manually. This proved tricky and frustrating to switch between applications to pause and play the video during typing larger sections.

Finally I looked into dedicated transcription software. I found InqScribe.

It’s a joy to use. The tab key pauses and plays, ⌘; inserts timecode into the text, clicking on the timecode jumps to that place in the file. By exporting a tab-delimited text file, I can import into a spreadsheet and format print-ready sheets to quickly flip through, make notes and decide which footage to use.

Chad’s interview is 01:15:57 (just over an hour and a quarter) His transcript runs to 11 pages.

The process, while time-consuming, was so hassle-free that I transcribed an interview with EJ Miles, which is much shorter, around 15 minutes. That transcript is just one page. Already, seeing the printed sheets, I can see how they will help me clarify ideas, narrative themes and hopefully make for a much more engaging end product. I’ll post my progress here as I go.

In my list ready for transcription, I have interviews with Jordan, Lee, Miles and a short one with Valerie we did in San Francisco last month.

I have a couple of cool interviews with guest artists scheduled in the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading,