McDonalds Kiosks: UX Disaster

McDonalds Kiosks

When you’re a kid, McDonalds is an achievement. When you’re an adult, it’s defeat.

The fact is, for me and I suspect many others, a visit to McDonalds is intended to be a quick visit, in and out and forget it. McDonalds has rolled out self-serve kiosks in a big way, that forces the guest to stop and think about what they’re doing. It’s awkward. It’s unusual. And it’s a User Experience (UX) disaster.

McDonalds Kiosks

These self-serve kiosks have been experimented with by a number of McDonalds properties primarily in the Western provinces, plus other fast-food establishments. Petro-Canada rolled out a series of ‘Neighbourhood’ cafes with little touch screens. I always ended up asking the guy standing behind the counter how to use it, anyway. It didn’t seem to save any time, and I was confused as to when or where to pay. Turns out it was the gas cashier that I was supposed to pay while waiting for the food. They’re long gone at least at the Ajax, Ontario location.

Some Chipotle locations in the US had kiosks, but last time I visited they’ve disappeared.

I can imagine why these keep popping up. There’s a theory that with the latest round of $15/h minimum wage movements some establishments are thinking this might save money by eliminating staff. There may be a push to attract younger people back to McDonalds who are staying away by going with touch screens plus adding more power outlets for charging devices.

The execution of these touch screen devices is flawed for a number of reasons.

Size

First of all, these screens aren’t the small table sized kiosks that were tested in the US. They’re huge! These monsters stand well over 6 feet high and over 2 feet wide. There are two problems with this.

They’ve just blown up the graphics from a tablet. As a tablet, I can imagine they looked kinda funky. Little burgers and drinks sliding up from the side or bottom or top. But when you’re staring at an approximately 40+ inch monitor on it’s side from only 6-12 inches away, it’s mind blowing. I can feel the heat coming off of these screens, and see the individual pixels. You were never intended to be this close to a television monitor of any design. This is just painfully wrong for the eyes and the brain.

You have a peripheral vision to account for: I can only see about 15 inches at a time standing this close to a monitor. That leaves over 75% of the screen in my peripheral vision, or completely not visible. My eyes darted around the screen like I had Attention Deficit Disorder. I felt like I was missing something on the screen.

Super Size

The other problem I hinted at earlier, these devices are HUGE! Not just the screen but the whole device. In my average sized McDonalds at the Lansdowne St West location in Peterborough, there are four or five of these monsters. While waiting in line after giving these things a try, I heard literally two moms comment about the cramped layout trying to scoot their children around the through the maze. Remember, McDonalds is about getting in and out quickly without effort. I agree, the quarters were very cramped with these devices.  And in the time I was there, nobody was using them.

Defeat

Earlier I mentioned the only reason I’m ever in a McDonalds is that I admit defeat. I’m late, or en route, or just need a quick snack. I don’t want to admit I’m there, and don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m there. A big problem I noticed right away when I tried to use the screens is that everyone waiting for their order was watching me try to navigate the menu and order my lunch. This was really uncomfortable! True or not, I felt I was being judged for my meal choice, and backed out then back in before finally giving up. BTW it was a McDouble and coffee. Pretty tame, actually. But what if I ordered that coffee 4×4? What if I ordered a sundae too? I just felt really self aware, and canceled the order at the first opportunity.

I turned around and realized the line had not moved, so I didn’t lose my place.

Efficiency?

I’ve noticed the pickup orientation here at the Oshawa Centre mall, too and observed the same pattern. Regardless of whether you order with the kiosk or a person, you’re assigned a number. When your number is called, you go to the new raised counter to get your food. As if going to a McDonalds isn’t bad enough, you’re now relegated to a simple number. Taking a cue from Starbucks, adding a name to an order really does matter. Having to stand around waiting for a number is just one step above waiting at the bottom end of a feeding chute. In the same way people were judging me for my order on the massive screen, I was now judging all of these poor souls waiting for their number to come up.

But on the topic of efficiency, I can’t prove this, but there seems to be a lot more people just standing around. Both behind the counter and in the lobby. But it’s the staff I see standing around that’s bothersome. There’s always one staff person in the lobby to help people with the kiosks. There’s also a staff person standing behind the raised counter to call the numbers and hand over the food. And this observation seems to amp up the apparent chaos that comes with any fast-food open kitchen. There’s always been a buzz, but now it seems out of balance. These two greeters or servers stand calm in stark contrast to the elevated activity happening in the kitchen. The most disappointing thing is that on two occasions now, I’ve tried to use the kiosk while waiting for a live cashier, but bailed. And there are less cashiers now so they seem to be stressed out just relegated to exchanging an order for money (remember, the guest has to go to the side to wait for their number).

Plus the other people standing around are the customers! The lobby was full of customers who had ordered, but were waiting for their number.

I gave up. I looked around at all of the people waiting for a cashier or for their food, then I decided to leave. Both times!

Who are these for?

I can’t imagine they’re popular with the 35-50 crowd like me. I know they will not be a hit with the older demo. Frazzled soccer moms have enough on their mind and are juggling orders in their mind while herding kids to and from the minivan. Maybe pre-teens might like the ADD-inspired screen animation, but it’s plastic only: debit or credit. So, who is this for?

This is awkward

The massive huge screens you’re standing less than 12 inches away from are hard to read and awkward to navigate when you can’t see the whole screen.

The fact that the entire lobby can see my order is awkward.

Watching the staff standing around to ‘help’ while it’s obvious the kitchen or cashiers can always use some help, is awkward.

And leaving the restaurant without buying anything is more than awkward. It’s a waste of my time. And a reminder that McDonalds has lost touch with its relationship with its staff, and its customers.

The screens may have looked great on a Creative Director’s iPad, but these behemoths amplify the problem with the fast food experience.

Launching a Web App with Teamwork Project and Desk

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m crazy about well-written software and, in particular, software that helps me work smarter, not harder. And when it comes to project management software, it’s the suite of products from Teamwork.com that I turn to all day long.

Teamwork Projects

teamwork project logo

Teamwork Projects is what I’ve been using for years, from the moment I outgrew Basecamp. I use Teamwork Projects with dozens of clients across the globe to get my teams communicating and delivering. Its strength is its simplicity and power. I assign and track tasks, keep a sharp eye on deliverables, and stay on top of every step in the process of pushing out product.

Teamwork Desk

teamwork desk logo

Fairly new to the suite is Teamwork Desk, a ticket system. Though not wholly unlike other ticket systems I’ve worked with, what sets it far above the competition is its tight integration with the Task system implemented in Teamwork Projects. This serves two purposes:

  1. It creates a closed loop of information from the client to the developers, and back again. All the while, Teamwork Desk uses its unique privacy settings, so conversations that happen with the client are sheltered from the developers. Meanwhile, developers or in my case, video editors, can have conversations with each other or others on the development team, without involving the client.
  2. It’s all managed by the Project Manager, who keeps clients constantly engaged with a real-time ticket thread system, allowing the production team to remain focused on the jobs at-hand.

BlushDrop: DIY Wedding Videos

So, when it came for me to launch my own startup web app, I decided to be my own best client and try to use the Teamwork.com suite in an unusual way: by providing real customers not involved with tech with an interface to communicate with remotely located video editors through a moderated system.

I’ve owned a wedding videography company for many years. I hire several shooters and editors to create some of the best wedding films in the business. But there’s been a problem that’s become an epidemic of late, there are dozens of people shooting video with smartphones and tablets, and though the quality will be excellent based on what I’ve seen from the latest iPhones and Galaxy’s, there has been no way to capture this footage.

Until now! We spent a summer building our first web app, BlushDrop. Using a private anonymous file transfer gateway, we’re able to provide wedding couples and their families and friends one unique URL. They can upload as much video footage as they want. If there’s fewer than 10 minutes of video, they don’t pay any more than their base account. If they’re over their allotted time, they just pay a few dollars per minute. Once they’re happy with the raw video, they use a system to alert us that the videos are ready to be edited.

We needed a system to track all of this video arriving from a huge number of sources and be able to assign projects to editors while not losing track of who said what and what was assigned to whom. It was imperative to create the impression that the customer was dealing with just one point of contact. They don’t need to think about how we’re processing multiple BlushDrops at various stages of completion at the same time.

Using Teamwork Desk features such as Triggers and automated replies, we streamline customer support and appear far more professional and organized than we would if we were just using web-based contact forms, Excel, and Gmail. In fact, I don’t know how we would have done this any other way.

Teamwork.com Workflow

 

When a customer creates an order and processes their payment, an email is sent to our orders@ email. Using the related Help Doc provided by Teamwork.com, we set up email forwarding from that address straight to our Teamwork Desk Inbox. Managing orders just became the easiest part of our jobs.

We created a Trigger in Teamwork Desk to send an email to the assigned agent responsible for triaging the tickets. It is that agent’s responsibility to make sure the names and emails are correct, initiate the BlushDrop account, and initialize the conversation thread in Teamwork Desk. We then send off a few canned yet personalized responses. The responses basically take the customer through the process of accepting our terms of service, while also providing them with their custom BlushDrop link.

What’s amazing is that all of this conversation happens through the Teamwork Desk interface. Using this streamlined interface, we’re able to contain any special requests or deal with any questions the client may have. No emails get lost. Ever. Everything is in one place and accessible by the agents and support team.

Engaging the Editors (pardon the pun)

This is especially important when a couple decides they’ve done enough pre-editing and want BlushDrop to finish the job. When we get the go ahead through Teamwork Desk, the supervisor creates a Task from within Teamwork Desk which feeds into Teamwork Projects. The job is assigned to an editor, and any relevant notes from the conversation thread are copied into the Task as a comment within Teamwork Projects. By enabling “email notification”, the editor now knows everything they need to cut the wedding montage. The music, any comments, and all of the video are either in Desk or linked from Desk, while the Task is a super-condensed, need-to-know document designed for speed.

The editors are all working remotely, so it’s important to have one central place to discuss one video – and Teamwork Projects provides that focused, sheltered conversation thread, even if the system may be processing hundreds of BlushDrops at the same time.

Knowledgebase

An incredible bonus with Teamwork Desk is the ability to log, track, and record frequently asked questions. Teamwork Desk provides a Help Docs Knowledge Base that seamlessly integrates into the BlushDrop website. We can add a logo, a link back to the main site, topics arranged in whatever order you like, and finally the ability to submit a unique customer request. The best part of the question submission process? It becomes a new Ticket in Desk, ready to be assigned to a subject matter expert, answered, and maybe immortalized on the FAQ page itself.

Finishing the Job

When the video is complete, the editor leaves a comment for his or her supervisor, who sends along a watermarked video to the client via the Teamwork Desk interface. Using simple @ notifications, I’m looped in on each and every video without having to deal with email or attachments, or knowing which editor did which video. This is very nice to have this luxury of knowing which of my video editors is associated with an edit. By the way, this is exactly the method of Quality Assurance (QA) I use as Project Manager for my software development teams.

If the client has any feedback, they reply via Teamwork Desk as a regular reply to the email they received. No login or passwords required. As the owner, I can see everything going on. Everyone on the team is on the same page or is on a need-to-know basis with regards to not worrying about what the other editors are working on.

Once the video is approved, the editor is alerted to this via Teamwork Projects, the Task is marked as complete, which is reflected in real time in Teamwork Desk. The client is delivered their edited video via Desk, and the thread is marked as “closed”. The client receives notification of the project’s status.

Using automation, it’s possible to handle hundreds of new job request via Teamwork Desk and Teamwork Projects every day, and know with 100% confidence which editor has been assigned to which client, and that editors and customers are communicating so everything is in sync.

This is no short order for a cloud-based video editing solution like BlushDrop, and Teamwork Project and Teamwork Desk are perfect for keeping everything moving forward and delivering quality and delight for customers worldwide.

 

 

Knowing that we’ve made people’s lives better by capturing and polishing everyone’s wedding smartphone videos into a genuine keepsake, makes it all worthwhile.

This cold-call email got my attention … for the wrong reasons.

I received an unsolicited email that sent me on a goose chase trying to figure it out, including scrolling past adult video retail sites search results to find my answers. If this sounds like a disaster in email marketing, you are correct.

Insert confused computer user clip art here.
Insert confused computer user clip art here.

As an Interactive Project Manager, I know you’ve only got one chance to get it right when delivering a message. The hardest thing to do when writing content is to be direct, clear and easy to read.

I also have to measure my techno jargon babble when working with clients, stakeholders, sponsors and moms who don’t share my enthusiasm for All Things Tech.

I'm sorry what does this email mean?
I’m sorry what does this email mean?

So this email I’m going to share is, by my estimation, how NOT to introduce a potential client to a new product or service.

Here we go:

Dear Rick Dolishny Representative,

First of all, get our mail form in order. Most of us don’t have the name brand recognition of Walt Disney. Or this is just a bad mistake.

I wanted to follow up on the email I sent a few weeks ago. I wanted to talk to someone about how ### can increase your AOV and increase overall lift by changing customer behavior and influence overall spending habits.

Whoa, whoa, whoa , whoa. There’s so much wrong with this opening line I had to stop the presses. First of all, the trick about ‘following up on an old email’ is really stale, even if there was an email. If I wanted to hear more from you, I’d let you know. In my case, after scanning my inbox and trash, I had not indeed received any email from you.

Never, never, never use acronyms right off the top without letting the reader know what they mean. I didn’t know what AOV stood for until I looked it up,  and even then I can only guess that it means Average Order Value. But that’s of course scrolling past the URLs for Adult Only Video stores. Not cool on so many levels. (sidenote: is AOV still in business?)

### enables you to offer universal rewards to customers who execute the targeted goal. These incentive offerings have high perceived value for the customers with low actual costs to you.

High value, low cost. Marketing 101, I’ll give it a pass. It’s a rewards program of some sort.  But did a robot write this?

As an example, one of our customers, a top 125 Internet Retailer, shared results from their latest campaign. To give you a baseline, they typically offer a discount of $10 if the customer spends at least $100. Partnering with ### and spending a similar amount, they were able offer a $100 Restaurant.com gift certificate if customers spent that same $100. They saw their AOV increase from $130 to over $200.

Whoa! Stop right there. After hitting me with the AOVs and ‘overall lift’ you go in for the double tap and really make me feel like an idiot. I didn’t ask for more stats, so now I feel really stupid. And Top 125 is kinda lame. Is it top 100 or not? I can only think of a few internet retailers where I would actually spend real money, so top 125 doesn’t impress me. In fact, it makes me think of Amazon,  Indigo or Apple.

### technology ensured these customers instantly received their reward by email or text and also provided the merchant with direct access to an online analytics dashboard displaying real-time transaction data.

This is perhaps just a personal observation, but anyone referring to a dashboard in any kind of pitch comes across as a douchebag.

 

We have partnered with multiple brand name reward providers including Fandango, ProFlowers, Berries.com, Shoebuy.com, RedEnvelope.com, Native Remedies and many others.

I would like to see if you have some time for a quick follow up call sometime this week or if you want, you can sign up directly here and we’ll have you set up with several free rewards instantly.

Feel free to check us out …

Thanks, ###

—– VP of Business Development

Insert 'hit any key where's the any key' here.
Insert ‘hit any key where’s the any key’ joke here.

Email Done Wrong

Whew. I was bewildered and spent some time on the site and think I got it figured out. They are some sort of loyalty program. But holy smokes, this is about the worst calling card I’ve ever read. Let this be a lesson to anyone pitching a new product or service.

  • Be clear right off the top.
  • State a problem, then a solution.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • If you’re pitching something new consider a demo video or graphics.

 

Email marketing needs to be easy and clear. Don’t make me work. Here’s some more reading on the subject.

Adobe Premiere CC: Discreet Edit Reborn?

Discreet Edit
The grand-daddy of all Non Linear Edit systems.

I’ve been using computers to edit video since the Amiga days, when Danish programmers brought Scala to the world. I was deploying content over dialup modems to digital signage outlets across the province for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission back in the late 90’s. It was the wild, wild west of media and whether I was in a truck delivering new video via CD to doctor’s waiting rooms or demoing non-linear edit systems in Las Vegas, I was often on the bleeding edge of technology.

Probably the one piece of tech that I remember the most was a software/hardware system built by a very resourceful crew in Chicago. It was capable of storing hours of footage captured from broadcast gear.  They could add dissolves and wipes, and mix camera audio with music and sound effects. It ran on DOS and talked to a RAID controller that cost over $10, 000. They called their edit system DVision and it was the holy grail of the nascent field of non-linear editing.

DVision was quickly bought up by some Canadian developers in Montreal called Discreet Logic. Discreet as it came to be known was looking for a way to enter the desktop. Their proprietary systems like Smoke, Fire and Inferno, were well known in the high end visual effects world. DVision, or Edit as it was renamed, was just the ticket. It offered unprecedented power and speed and stability that was unheard of in the world of video editing.

Anyone that worked on Discreet Edit (branded for a while as Edit*) realized quickly they were working on something designed for speed. A few of the features haven’t existed since, maybe because they were  under an onerous patent control, or maybe because in the race to get to ‘real time playback of 8 video streams’ someone, somewhere, forgot that video editors don’t like to wait. And they’re willing to pay a premium for features that get them out the door at the end of the day.

Discreet Edit delivered.

Then it was End Of Lifed.

End of Life

There were two things going against it. For starters, as a feeder workstation, working alongside million dollar workstations, it was kinda pricey. And the days of the million dollar Inferno suites were numbered too. The technology just makes things cheaper and cheaper. Edit became a middle of the road player, with upstarts like Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro nipping at the heels.

The other problem was Edit was a SD suite from the get go, never designed to work in HD. HD took over 20 years to come into production, but it was definitely in the intake and hardware manufacturers were in a race to the bottom in terms of cost and functionality.

Colour correction was a dog at best, and there never was a proper tool for anything but basic HSV tweaking.

Somewhere around 2004, after Discreet was bought by Autodesk, Edit was terminated. Wake parties were thrown across the globe (I hosted 2 myself) and we went our ways to Final Cut Pro and Avid.

I’ll flash forward past the next 10 years of post production. They are uneventful. Storage became cheap and a non-issue. Cameras became cheap. Monitors became very cheap. The role of the professional video editor disappeared, replaced by videographer, producer, or just editor (expected to do graphics, audio and script writing). And nothing really changed in NLE technology. With buckets or RAM and faster processors, it seemed like things were getting better, but the core of the process didn’t change. You could bang your head against the wall faster and in HD.

Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) Premiere

Then last week I bit the bullet and signed up for Adobe Creative Cloud. I do some part time teaching and qualify for the academic price of $19USD/month. I had been working with my academic Premiere 5.5 with my students and found it to be functional, but very, very clunky. Many of the workflow processes were taken from Premiere 1.0 back in the 90’s. I remember trying to use it real, real hard, and failing miserably. I was a Discreet reseller at the time and was 100% in sync with Edit.

But, the 2013 CC version of Adobe Premiere is a total game changer for me.

Scrubbable Picons

I don’t know what they call this feature, but Discreet Edit users rejoice! It’s exactly, no, better than the Picture Icon feature present in Discreet Edit. Now, you can over your mouse over any icon in the bin, and it plays. No clicking at all. If you do click an icon, then you have the ability to mark in and out points. The selected clip has a yellow horizontal bar to indicate In and Out has been selected. A tear came to my eye. Edit also used a yellow horizontal line.  (even better, you don’t even have to have a clip selected. You can mark an in and out and it remembers your selection!)

Large Waveforms

With a + or – you could enlarge the size of the waveforms making them easy to read. Now, technically Premiere doesn’t do this exactly, but with their new Rectified Waveform display, it’s a joy to work with audio again. Plus with the keyboard shortcuts Alt +/- we’re almost there.

EDL/Legacy Support

Premiere’s support for both EDLs and tape decks in a welcome addition to a digital world. Yes, I know I deliver mostly online or on DVD now, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I need it.

Intelligent Copy and Paste

One of the best features of Edit was the copy and paste. You could paste from one track to another, using the soft patch bay. Imagine my surprise to see a soft patch bay on the Premiere CC timeline! No surprises when it came to determining where a clip was going to end up. You can set your patch bay once, then edit using keyboard shortcuts like crazy, it just works.

Add to these features the Adobe CC Media Encoder (that lets me work while a sequence is rendering), the dare I say Inscriber calibre Titler, and the robust Mercury Engine support for real-time performance with my Quadro card, makes things fun again.

What’s Missing

I still miss the Paste from Out. You could copy a clip, then Paste From Out and it pasted backwards. Amazing how often I used that.

We have 2 point editing, 3 point editing, 4 point ‘fit to fill’ editing, but no one has ever figured out no-point editing which would always clinch any Discreet Edit demo I was giving. It was like a paint brush for video. Just find a point on your timeline to start laying in video, scrub to a clip you want to use and rest it (don’t mark an in point) on the start of video. Right click and drag on the timeline and the video was inserted.

The Future

But I’m not complaining. The fact that I can have a conversation about scrubbale picons in a modern, HD edit system is reason enough to celebrate. I wanted to document the work Adobe has been doing, thank them for listening to a few grey-beards like myself, and creating a valuable product that even an old curmudgeon like myself can enjoy using.

Shannon Larratt 1973-2013

“As the saying goes, “by the time you read this I’ll be dead.”

Toronto based artist and activist Shannon Larratt passed away last month. The word of his death was quickly passed on among the BME (Body Manipulation Ezine) community, a culture I don’t participate in but I respect for a number of reasons.

You can read his touching End Of Life document here.

On the topic of body manipulation, perhaps Shannon said it best.

“The fundamental question in becoming publicly modified is a question of finding a balance between how free you want to be and how hard you want to work. The more free you are, the more responsibility you have to take for yourself. The more you blend back into the crowd, the less freedom you have, but the ‘easier’ your life gets. But is it really your life if you’re not controlling it?”

You can read more about the community with a Google search for Shannon Larratt and BME. Warning: often NSFW with images I find disturbing.

So why the tribute?

monstersquirrel
Monster Squirrel. 24×36 Acrylic on canvas. April 2006.

Shannon was also a father, programmer, artist and entrepreneur.

And he was good at all of it, so I admire him.

As the founding publisher of BME he created a community of acceptance and hygenic practices and built his ezine to create a safe haven for people interested in extreme body piercing and tatoos and other manipulation. Many online tributes have recently come in with the headline, “Shannon saved my life”. With memories of my awkward teen years still in my mind as a father of teenagers myself, I know how important it can be to have a mentor who understands what it’s like to be different. Shannon was that voice of reason for people who were conflicted about their bodies. The comments on his blog, tumblr and BME speak for themselves.

Copyright 2009 Shannon Larratt.
Copyright 2009 Shannon Larratt.

I came across the programming of Shannon the same time I was on sabbatical to re-learn programming myself, and in particular JavaScript. A consummate professional blogger, he was kind enough to tag the programming ‘tests’ separate from his BME logs. He was very careful to use open source HTML and JavaScript (as opposed to Flash) and pushed the limits of what a modern browser could effectively render. These days with Chrome and mobile apps, it’s common to see a web browser render text and images dynamically responsively, but he was doing it many years ago. And with considerable artistic panache. His Space Invaders / Missile Command Chrome Experiment game ‘Apophis 2009’ needs to be played to be believed (desktop only). And true to the spirit of mentorship and sharing, he posted the source code for everyone like myself to parse and learn from. I had no idea JavaScript was capable of doing this kind of animation!

uilen
Uilenspiegel. Acrylic on wood. 12 x 16 October 2008

His playfulness was infectious. For example, check out the header on his blog, “The best thing about censorship is … “. Once you figure out the solution, you’ll smile with the little Easter egg you’ve uncovered.

But above all for me was his bold use of colour and line and shape as evidenced in his paintings, some of which he shared credit with his young daughter. I’m still amazed at how inclusive he was with her, and how much he loved her. In fact in his blog he credits ‘Nefarious’ for keeping him alive as long as he was.

As his eyesight and ability to read diminished, he turned to jewelry as his creative outlet, and opened an etsy store. Also, he finished a large book on body manipulation that he and his fiance hand-bound in their studio in Toronto. I can’t find the exact quote, but he said in the preface to his book, “you’re holding art that was actually made by hand by the artist”. I love hand-made.

We had a few exchange via email around the Chrome Experiment time, but I never met Shannon and doubt I ever would have. For me, he was one of those personalities that are larger than life that sometimes are best left online. I definitely didn’t agree with his opinions all of the time. I found his recent appearance challenging and not at all pleasant. His exercise in tattooing his actual eyeball is as cringe-worthy as it sounds. But it’s not for me to judge. I just wanted to take a moment to recognize the work Shannon did.

A quote from his EOL message that spoke to me as a father, husband, son, brother, volunteer, world traveler, business owner, mentor and friend:

…seize every opportunity that’s in front of you and live life to the fullest. Even with everything I’ve done, there is so much more I wish I’d squeezed in. Don’t let a single day (well, maybe a single day) be idle. Have every adventure you can, and explore every street — although treat the one-way streets with caution. Don’t fritter you life away into television, random browsing, and pointless substance abuse (I have at times been guilty of all of these) — although remember there are valid uses for them, both for growth and entertainment. Have passion about the future, and in the present. Especially if you’re young, push your education and your skills to their limits on every level. Don’t just graduate highschool, get a degree, get a doctorate if you can. I know these things aren’t for everyone, they they are for most, and they also open doors to some of the most special adventures. Even if you can’t afford proper schooling there are many, many ways to learn, free courses to volunteering, and so on. Value your health, and the health of our planet, and strive beyond its borders. We have such a glorious future, but never forget that your part in that future could end at any moment, so live a life that you can be pround of. And of course love and treat each other well.

Flying Spaghetti Monster, February 2013
Flying Spaghetti Monster, February 2013

May he rest in peace.

Bikini Party Massacre: Indie Horror Film from 2001

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54PjxXlOXyY[/tube]

Preface

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have a very long bucket list. I’m pretty passionate about things that I like, and tend to just go for it first and think about it later. This strategy doesn’t necessarily make me a popular ’employee’ or ‘team player’ most of the time, but on the other hand I’m never short of collaborators or business partners looking for a breakout idea, in particular in the world of indie horror film.

Rick Dolishny
Here’s me in 2001 happy to see my name on a DVD box at Blockbuster.

Way back in 2001, there really wasn’t any internet. There wasn’t really digital filmmaking. And there definitely wasn’t a way to get your film seen without a distributor. Interestingly though, I owned and operated a very popular film festival, was doing some work demoing cutting-edge new Non Linear Editing Solutions for Autodesk (Discreet Edit), and I developed an app for Palm for film festival promoters and attendees. It was in many ways the best summer of my life, where everyone was lighting up to the opportunity that computers and the internet could offer to indie film-makers.

At that time, the seminal book ‘Rebel Without A Crew‘ by Robert Rodrigues was embedded into every film student’s must-read list (and shunned by old-school film vanguards), and the notion of shooting a film in a weekend just started to pop up. Could it be possible to have a small crew and digital gear capture and edit an entire movie? It’s hard to imagine these days, but just the idea that you could shoot a feature in a weekend caught the imagination of absolutely everyone.

But it’s one thing to think about doing something crazy like that, and quite another to assemble a crew and actually do it. Remember, there really wasn’t any semblance of the internet that we know today, and certainly no way to see examples of what a film shot in a weekend actually looked like. YouTube wouldn’t happen for another two years (imagine!).  Still, with my film festival connections and by working with some very talented people as an Autodesk reseller,  the idea that a film could be shot in a weekend quickly germinated among a handful of creative artists including myself.

joseph_axThe director/writer/star Joseph Clark was the greatest visionary of us all. A skilled actor but novice director, Joseph was unencumbered with the reality that even proposing a film like this was ‘impossible’ by any authority on the subject. He had a great can-do attitude that I admire to this day.

graham_composingI was recently contacted by Doug Tilley, a writer with www.dailygrindhouse.com, who shares my enthusiasm for low-budget horror films, which prompted me to dig into the archive at dolish.com and pull the original content I created to promote the film. Interestingly enough, this website was the first web site I ever worked on. I now recall the drudgery of using Photoshop to convert the 1M digital stills into 32 colour .gif files because they loaded faster on dialup.

Watching the film again I will say it doesn’t age very well. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard or read is that the first half is a bit slow, and I cannot disagree. But believe it or not, back then you absolutely needed a distributor to get the film in front of any eyeballs, and you HAD to have at least 90 minutes of content. Interesting to note, my first cut of the film was only 39 minutes. We did a reshoot and let a shot go for about five minutes that would have made a great 5 second flashback, but we were working under a difficult deliverable constraint.

So, without much editing, I present the original articles and pictures from 2001. Enjoy!

– Rick Dolishny, March 2013


bpm_logo

Bikini Party Massacre

firescarboro_girlsGet a couple of guys, some hot girls, a Betacam, a few bikinis … and you’ve got one of the greatest low-budget horror films ever made! Shot over the course of a long weekend July 2001, the feature film Bikini Party Massacre (US: Joseph Clark’s Massacre) is the realization of the dreams of the cast and crew. I was the Editor and Visual Effects Supervisor for the feature.

The Story

Take a group of three hunky guys, three girls in bikinis, and a hot weekend up north and what do you get – Bikini Party Massacre!

As the story unfolds, we find our young campers making their way up to Upstate New York for “a weekend we’ll never forget”. The long trip into the wilderness allows the audience to learn more about the characters and very quickly we determine they they all carry some pretty heavy emotional baggage.

That’s me on the boom (right).

The music is a very enjoyable mix of 70’s Classic Rock and modern ambient electronic music. Much of the music was created for exclusive use in the film, or was commissioned from Paije’s (Phil Jacob) prior CD releases.

Stories with “twists” are pretty common these days, and BPM is no exception. The ending is satisfying and enjoyable. Plus, watch out for some pretty funny bloopers and deleted scenes on the DVD.

Production

The biggest problem in making a film in a weekend is getting everyone together and managing the inevitable cancellations and changes that come with paying everyone next-to-nothing. Our adventure began at the Scarborough Town Centre and surprisingly everyone showed up! 

Shooting was to take place at a snowmobile camp in northern Ontario, near Pembroke, about an hour west of Ottawa. That meant about a four hour drive from Toronto through some of the most beautiful wilderness we’ve ever seen.

Here, the guys ham it up in front of a spectacular rock bluff just north of downtown.

Our days comprised of waking up at 6AM and shooting until 1AM. We shot for three days in one of the most brutal heat waves ever seen in this neck of the woods. Temperatures quickly rose above 30ºC … and let’s not talk about the black flies!

I was the on-set Visual Effects Supervisor (which was good, because when we got back to Toronto I was the Visual Effects Everything). My ass was on the line! But when we were shooting non-effect shots I was the boom operator. There is nothing more torturous then holding a boom for a three minute take while black flies gnaw away at your legs. Graham the DOP didn’t do much better holding his camera. Remarkably very few shots were locked-off, and they look amazing!

BTW, we used a regular old analogue BetacamSP camera with an exceptionally nice Fuji lens. I prefer working with analogue video rather than DV for effects work because of the better keys I can pull. Plus, the film was destined for film-look and we were going for a nice organic quality. PLUG: You can hear more about the art-direction of the shots by picking up the DVD and selecting “Director’s Commentary.”

The hunting camp was our source of power, food, and shelter for the cast and crew who weren’t sleeping at a small hotel 30 minutes away. There was a wonderful clearing where we shot into the forest. Virtually all of the shots were set up within 100 feet of each other. Some great hand-held chase vis was shot just a few hundred yards into the forest (as the flies ate us alive).


The red rental van (left) served many purposes. Not only did it transport us to the camp, but it served as the van that transported the characters in the film plus it was a great jib for the beautiful shot that pulls to the title sequence … just don’t tell the rental guys!

Some shots took place far from the camp … Joseph’s dad (at the helm, that’s Joseph on the left) motored the cast and crew for one of the last shots of Day 1 on a private, secluded beach on Golden Lake.

Look at Joseph – shooting a film in a long weekend. Wonder what’s going through his head right now!

This was one of the fastest setups I’ve ever worked on in my life. We all motored out to this lovely beach, shot the beach shots, shot some water play, and even got coverage from the boat towards the shore. Within 40 minutes we were all done and heading back for night shooting!

Post-Production

The film itself was shot in a long weekend (plus a weekend of pickups). The editing was another story: taking up the entire summer of 2001.

Rick in Post on another project. Note the little CGI dog. There are no CGI dogs in Bikini Party Massacre but the shot of me and a Director (Scott Dobson) is cool.

We cut the entire project on Graham’s Discreet Edit system which performed flawlessly. I’m a big advocate of (the now defunct) Edit system and it handled everything we threw at it. Plus, for a feature film with some elaborate effects, its integration into Paint, Effect and Combustion was crucial to the success of the entire film. 3D animation was done in Lightwave and Animation Master.

For the most part the film was a one-take wonder, but even then we logged over 6 hours of footage.

Still, 6 hours of footage for a feature film is ridiculously low, but it’s what we shot. Graham brought to the production a career’s-worth of experience shooting news for CNN and other in Russia, Lebanon and the Middle East, so he knows a few things about getting the shot right the first time. His footage was amazing. 

Near the end of editing I used a feature in Edit that pulls all unused sources, and when I executed the command the bin came up completely empty. I used every setup!

Sound was a lot of fun. As a freelance editor I have a small library of sounds I always have on-hand, and I massaged and looped and generally mixed everything I had in the category of Horror, Gore, and Special Effects. I’m particularly proud of the sound of an ax chopping off the head of the police officer near the end of the film. Listen for it and let me know what you think!

9-11

Probably the most interesting little twist happened in the fall after spending two months editing the feature. It was the weekend of September 8th 2001 and I just finished a critical matte painting of New York City that opens the film. I set the move to render in Combustion (there were a few layers) and took off to the cottage for a couple of days to unwind. With this matte painting I would be almost done.

When I returned to civilization on Tuesday September 11 you can imagine my surprise listening to the WTC attacks on a static laden AM radio station broadcasting out of Peterborough, Ontario. I turned the car around and spend another day with my wife and kids in the woods before returning to the city. Who knew what would happen in the coming days?

My Combustion render finished almost the same time the towers fell. I called Joseph and we discussed what to do, and we decided to re-render the shot without the Towers. A bit of Photoshopping and the comp was re-rendered in time for the final picture lock. No one recognized the skyline.

Once the picture was locked the process of film-looking the feature began. It turns out very few people have tried to film-look an entire feature (it’s used all the time for commercials or music videos).

I can see why after completing the film I got calls from people asking how I did it. Honestly, it was a combination of off-the-shelf film-look software, some custom filter writing, and a network render farm of over 20 computers rendering full time for over 10 days.

Don’t tell the boss but used his laptop to render, too! 🙂

All tolled, it was 144,000 frames rendered at over 20 seconds per frame.

I mastered the project to DVCPRO and Shon at www.imcvideo.com in Toronto handled the conversion from 16:9 to letterboxed 4:3. The DVD Director’s Commentary track was mastered at Avtel Media, Pickering Ontario, and the DVD authoring was done in Los Angeles by the Distributor.