Blog 51 – 8-Bits of Wonder

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In many ways, our pixelated 49th episode, “8-Bits of Wonder”, represents what happens when concepts and ideas meet filming realities.  It also highlights what bringing an established concept into the show can do for the interest other people might have in it, as this is one of our most viewed and most mentioned episodes of the series.

If our backdrop looks unfamiliar to you, then that’s because this was from a time when I lived in the magical realm of Wilmington, North Carolina, a place that combined a slow southern lifestyle with the natural beach terrain and about a thousand separate Waffle Houses (just in case you missed the one the block before) in a Quixotic jumble that perplexes me to this day.  Oh, and I also did like six episodes of “One Tree Hill” when I was there.

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Larry, after years of bluster and professing how much he loved the beach, actually flew down for a visit, and it was impossible not to expect to film an episode while he was in town.  Naturally, though, we put off filming until almost the very last minute, didn’t decide on a plot until it was almost too late, and started filming as the sun was starting to set.  Even so, luck was with us and things came together quickly, mostly spurred on by Larry’s obsession of the week, Caitlin McKinstry a Super Mario Bros.-themed app that would play music from the various NES-era games.  It wasn’t long before the episode was born, one in which we hit on many of the classic functions of the game, including great family favorites like fire, greed and death.

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Our guest star for this episode is our good friend Caitlin McKinstry, who lived in Wilmington at the time and probably didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she agreed to be on the show.  We naturally gave Caitlin all of the action in this episode.  Who can forget that time where Caitlin looks at her phone (it might actually have been an iPod at this point)?  Or when she kneels down and asks questions?  Or when we see the back of her head in shot after shot?  Classic “Action” McKinstry.

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One of the things you might notice is that throughout this episode, it appears that I am running not only through an indeterminate length of space, but also quickly across the fulcrum of time, as the darkness hastily settles in as the episode moves along.  After filming in the residential community (full of people wondering why we were running through it), we drove a few blocks over to the campus of the University of Wilmington, North Carolina, where we searched for a flagpole and wondered what we were going to do about the fact that it was, at this point, nighttime.  Larry helpfully (?) offered up his new smartphone flashlight (he was proud of this) as a source of illumination, but we instead chose the athletic field (a game of baseball going on a few dozen yards over) for the final scene.

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One unanticipated problem was just how noisy the hum from these floodlights would be, like some lanky, giant, pole-shaped insect buzzing ominously overhead.  Because of this, we recorded both Caitlin’s line and Larry’s sobs after the fact, something that you’d NEVER KNOW from watching the actual video and hearing the depth of emotion from both of these performances.  I am grateful for the padding on the base of the pole, presumably put there in case someone is flung into it, as Larry didn’t hold much back when performing my last Mario Bros.-themed wish.

My brother-in-law suggested that we should have had a green “1up” mushroom fall from the sky, bringing me back to life at the end of the episode.  This is a fantastic suggestion, and one that we could consider for an alternate ending.  All you have to do is make it up in your head and voilà!  It exists!  We’re not going to hold your hand here, people.

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Our “NO!” ending features Larry’s remorse over the loss of his long, professional wrestler-like hair.  You may ask yourself, if Larry was so sad over having to cut his hair, in some Samson-esque folly, why didn’t he just decide to keep it, or why hasn’t he chosen to grow it back in the intervening years between now and when this episode was filmed, more than four years ago?  The answers to this question are “it’s complicated”, “mind your own business”, “instead look at this Goonies shirt”, and “his girlfriend made him do it”.

This is the first episode in the long running (…) season three of Franks and Beans.  Did you get how I just said “running”?  I did that on purpose.  Because the Franks and Beans blog is full of deep meaning.  Also, Larry’s girlfriend made him cut his hair.

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Blog 15 – iChat

Originally posted 6.16.08

Some things to ignore about this post: 1) my mention of episode 13 being our final episode of the “season” (however we define it).  It’s not.  Also, don’t worry about it.  2) My references to Wilmington, NC as the place I live.  It’s not anymore.  3) The strange “man boob” appearance of me without my shirt on.  I don’t have man boobs.  The camera lies.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and newly uploaded episode 13, “iChat”, bears that out.  This latest collaboration between Larry and myself came about due to the unavoidable circumstance of our distance apart from each other.  But don’t cry for us, faithful viewer – we get by just fine.

I am currently living in the wonderfully congested city of Wilmington, North Carolina (look me up sometime) while Larry hides out in Somewhere, Pennsylvania, which puts us roughly 600 miles apart.  We film our episodes on my sporadic visits, usually cramming in as much camera time as we can stand before eventually strangling each other.  After episode 12, though, the well was dry and another trip to lovely PA won’t happen for at least another week or so.

As I am now the happy owner of a brand new MacBook, complete with the iChat application, and as the character known as “Larry’s Mom” has a similar model, we knew that we had the possibility for a long-distance episode.

Larry did a tremendous job, I think, of hiding the camera in this shoot.  Because don’t let his fancy disguising techniques fool you – we didn’t magically record the computer images on the new program iRecordmycomputerscreen.  No, the angle is just right to capture the action without the pesky camera sitting behind Larry’s shoulder or anything like that.  So kudos go out to Larry for his work here.

The episode starts out innocently enough – I once again admit my apparent ignorance of technology, in which I must disclose that here I channel a little of my dad’s prevailing sentiments.  “Why would anyone want to use something like this?!”  It’s an honest question, I suppose, but I imagine that many technological programs that are used today, at least the ones used primarily for communication, are their own answer.  You use them because you want to use them.  But I digress.  For whatever reason, my character is growing into one with an unavoidable fear of technology, and I accept that.

Larry and I filmed a good number of takes with this episode.  Most often we’d have to stop because unlike some other episodes, “iChat” is really just the one shot and takes several minutes to get through.  I’d usually get tripped up on a word or forget what to say and fall back into my regular routine of laughing at my own jokes – and we can’t have that here.  But every time someone would screw up, the next take would get longer, incorporating something from the previous take that worked and/or was funny.  Larry’s out-of-the-blue “So, they’re prosecuting tomorrow” is genius and every bit unintentional.  It started out as “So, I’m getting a hysterectomy tomorrow” and worked its way to the more acceptable.

Another pat in the back goes out to Larry for his job in editing in that pesky black censorship bar.  No matter how much I embarrass myself with these episodes, broadcast online for the whole world to see, I don’t want to show up naked on the Internet.  I just don’t.  And even though everyone else would probably like to, it’s just not going to happen.  At any rate, this is just another example of how censorship can actually be funnier than if I had been shown free swinging on camera for all to see.  If that were the case, the shock value would have been there, but that would have overshadowed anything else in the episode.  With that saintly black bar, we still maintain some façade of humility while letting the overall joke – “Jeff’s taken his pants off!” – slip through.

Our ending scene, the familiar “No!” that accompanies every episode in some way or another, was also a difficulty considering the distance between Larry and myself.  We discussed a number of different ideas, many of which will be kept and used later, but it seemed that every one involved me intervening in some foolish way.  We ended our conversation without reaching any conclusions, but then, late at night as I hung on the edge of sleep, I said to myself, ‘say it in Spanish.’  And thus this ending was born.

I’d like to point out that I don’t speak Spanish, nor do I know any second language well enough to use it in any meaningful way.  So take that into consideration when watching my butchery in interpreting “Next time on Franks and Beans.”  It’s interesting when I think about the programs being implemented in schools today, focusing on teaching a second language early on.  In forty years, when both Larry and I will be pushing seventy, I imagine that my monolingualism will be a source of ridicule and probably rightfully so.  Of course, I could take the initiative and learn a second language any time I’d like, but…maybe tomorrow.

You’ll notice that Larry’s sombrero is teetering carefully on top of his head in this cut.  This is, I’ve been promised, not because Larry’s head is so big (though it is), but because this hastily borrowed sombrero was much too tiny.  But Larry does a good enough job of pulling it off, big head and all.

With this episode, we’ve officially come to the end of our backlog of completed features.  It is a shame, because we’ve been having so much fun these past few weeks with the continuous stream of new material.  There may be a lull, but Franks and Beans is far from gone.  My hope is that filming of new episodes will take place in as little as two weeks, and July will bring that elusive 14th episode and beyond.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has taken their time to watch our stupid little internet show, and a special thanks to anyone who has taken extra time to comment and give feedback, which is what we thrive on.  Well, that and sandwiches.  Mmm.

Blog 09 – Rushed Commentary on “You’ll Never See it Coming”

Originally posted 9.21.08

As I sit here and write this production blog, I realize that if someone would take the time and read all of these things back to back (I struggle to believe that anyone might give it a try, but hey, knock yourself out), it would take that person longer than if he or she decided to watch every episode of Franks and Beans in existence.   This thinking is probably the reason for the very creation of episode 8.1, “Commentary on You’ll Never See It Coming”.

Picture this scene: Tropical Storm/Hurricane Hanna is quickly barreling down on Wilmington, North Carolina, and the townspeople are worried enough that the classes I was scheduled to teach that day are canceled.  Seeing this as an opportunity to catch up on some other things, I take my car in to have two of the tires replaced – as much out of a good car care mentality as it is the desire to be able to outdrive a hurricane if necessary.  As I live probably one even mile from the shop, I drop the car off and walk home, and a couple hours later I leave to retrace my steps and pick up my newly treaded automobile.  On the way there, while facing gusting winds and stinging rain, my thoughts turn – as always – to Franks and Beans.

A few days earlier I had written a blog for the episode “Milkshake”, in which I talked about putting together a theoretical DVD release for the show.  I’m a bit picky when it comes to movies and shows being released on DVD – I’ll purposely put off buying a movie if I think there will be a special edition release a few months down the road, because even if I don’t watch many of the special features (depending on what it is), I at least want them to BE there.  I hate it when TV shows are released and there are just the episodes.  Where’re the commentaries?  The ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurettes?  The making of an episode?  The awkward and often not funny blooper reel?  I’m not asking for much – just an immersion into a fictional world that I’m probably not all that excited about in the first place.

I decided right there, as I crossed through the parking lot of some hobo cuisine restaurant, that if Franks and Beans ever would create a DVD for sale, I’d make sure that it was stocked with all of the extra features that could fit on the disc.  That’d start with commentaries on all of the episodes – but then I started thinking – what the hell would we talk about that would impart any kind of insight?  “Message Board” might be pushing seven minutes, sure, and a few others are around three minutes in length, but what about the rest of them?  What about “You’ll Never See It Coming”, which clocks in at a miniscule 30 seconds?  We’d have enough time, I thought, to introduce ourselves (for Larry and I would always offer joint commentary), cite the episode title, and then we’d be out of time.  There’d be no time to talk about anything!  It’d be the most worthless commentary ever!

And thus, the episode you see before you was born.

Although the above was enough justification to create our commentary, our newest addendum was a child of expediency.  As with the episode “iChat”, Larry and I were faced with living hundreds of miles apart and running on our stock of reserve episodes from my end-of-the-summer trip home.  As any long hiatus can never be good for viewership, we were once again forced to improvise and rely on technology to help us bridge the physical gap.  We knew that we didn’t want to rehash the past with another iChat-themed episode (not yet, anyway…okay, don’t hold me to this), so the commentary idea made sense.

To actually make the episode, Larry and I discussed the logistics of it together through the aforementioned video chat.  The most difficult thing was allowing for the inevitable transmission delay, but we also had to figure out how to keep the other from showing up on our own audio source – if you could hear Larry in the background of my recording and me in the background of Larry’s recording, it would be a disaster to try and clean up in post.  As it was, creating two audio tracks and lining them up during the editing process probably worked out better than either of us could have imagined.

I recorded my lines on the “Garage Band” program that came with my MacBook – it’s one of those programs that looks so cool but you can never figure out what to do with it – and Larry went with the old reliable “Sound Recorder” program on his PC.  Aside from the fact that Larry seems to be eating his microphone at one point, the audio turned out clear enough for us to use.  Success!

The reason why I think “Commentary of You’ll Never See It Coming” works so well, if you’ll agree that it works at all, is that we get not one but two opportunities to run out of time.  I begin to talk about wearing one of Larry’s spare shirts and then, all of a sudden, we’re out of time.  Being able to try – and fail – to regroup shortly after helps to accentuate the chaos that we tried to portray: “Oh no!  We didn’t accomplish ANYTHING!”  Larry’s “Aw, man!” really puts the finishing touches on what I think was an irreverent but fun episode.  A nice change of pace!

As you may have noticed, there is no original “No!” ending on this episode, and that is by design.  The way I look at it, it’s obvious that we put this together as a joke, but I’m still trying to get across the idea that if we would actually make ‘real’ commentaries for this show, this is what would happen.  Whether that works or not in the big scheme of things, I don’t know…but I have my hopes.