Don’t Listen Alone

Since LugRadio Live a couple of weekends ago, I’ve had lots of questions about whether the documentary I produced will be available on-line, whether I’m planning on selling it on DVD or whether it was an exclusive for that weekend. Well, all those options were discussed, but given all the work that went into it, I want as many people as possible to see and enjoy it. It also seemed unfair to directly charge for something which others had given time towards. So, if you want to see “Don’t Listen Alone: A documentary about LugRadio”, you can now do so.

If you’re interested in the background to the project, read on.

It started in 2007 when Jono suggested I follow the gents around behind-the-scenes at LugRadio Live that year, to get an some footage of what the weekend is like for them. There wasn’t really enough useful footage to create a story, so I turned that into the trailer for LRL 2008 USA. The gents worked out that they could afford to sponsor me to go to LRL USA and, again, video the trip for posterity. Oh, and to run the crew for the weekend too. The result (I avoided using “outcome” or “deliverable” there) was to be a documentary about the trip, which was such a big thing for “four idiots from Wolverhampton” to have spawned that they wanted there to be a lasting record.

I flew out to San Francisco with the gents and spent the long weekend videoing and photographing them. I also spent about half an hour interviewing each of them about the trip and about LugRadio in general, each in a different location around the venue. (My favourite is Chris in the basement. It just looks so grimy!) The stills I shot were ostensibly for a redesigned LugRadio website but that was project was shelved when the gents cancelled the show. I am pleased to have been able to use some of them in the documetary.

Within a month or so of us returning from the US, before I had the chance to do anything with the video footage, the gents announced they were cancelling the show. At this point producing a documentary just about the US trip didn’t seem as important, so I discussed the idea with the gents of turning it into a documentary about LugRadio as a whole, and specifically the last year of the show. They were up for this and I started to plan it all out. We arranged to record extra footage: I went up to Wolverhampton to record the last ever studio recording of LugRadio at Jono’s house. I arranged to interview some members of the community at LRL in the UK about LugRadio, what they like about it, what their memories of LRL events are.

At this point I should add, if it’s not apparent enough already, that I’ve never attempted a project like this before. I’ve never made a documentary, I’ve never tried to tell a story through video. Mostly I’ve videoed talks at conferences, which is a lot easier: The content is someone else’s responsibility, you just have the technical task of capturing it on camera.

I started off editing the US segment, as I had everything I needed for that. I showed it to the gents and they liked the direction the documentary was going in. I also arranged to meet up with Ade to interview him, which we ended up doing stood in a concrete courtyard at FOSDEM this year. (This interiew footage looks the best of them all, I think.) I then began to cut together segments, bearing in mind that I hadn’t yet interviewed Matt. It was handy having an interview later than the rest, especially at Matt was there right at the beginning of LugRadio. When I was interiewing Jono and Aq in the US, we didn’t talk very much about the early days because that wasn’t the focus for the documentary at the point. So interviewing Matt later than everyone else meant I could work out what parts of the narrative I didn’t have the right footage for, and tailor the questions I asked Matt to ensure I got them, as well as asking him to talk generally about his time on the show. It was especially pleasing to interview Matt in the Lighthouse, venue for two LugRadio Lives.

There then followed much reviewing of footage, making notes, editing, writing linking narration, tweaking and backing-up. The process was fairly iterative, cutting out bits, moving the order of clips around until the story was coherent. I hunted through photos from the early days of LugRadio, finding ones which illustrated the point being made then generating the pan and zoom clips. I exported the audio from each track and mixed it all separately before re-importing it as I needed to be able to apply quite a lot of audio compression at times, as well as cheating bits of audio in from other places. There’s no way to quantify precisely the amount of time this all took, but it would have been weeks of work even if I had been doing it full time. But this was the part of the process from which I learnt the most. It showed up the shortcomings of how some footage had been recorded, but also gave me a better insight into editing technieques and how they are “hidden” in professional work, as well as showing me the power of the editor to shape the story being told.

Almost the final part was to get the narration recorded. I knew I wanted a female voice as a contrast to the mostly male voices in the video. Even this part was a learning experience, as I had to direct the session and try and explain to Jenny (who very kindly let me talk her into doing it) what it was she was narrating and how I wanted her to say it.

Even the realtively simple process of sticking it all together and mastering it into a single file took a few evenings of work, due to the time it takes to process large amounts of audio. (The whole project was 13GB of Raw DV.)

But the end result of all this was seeing the documentary projected on the large screen. It was immensely satisfying, though I only got to see the first half as I had to run off and give my talk! Though it’s not a comedy documentary, there were laughs in the right places and it was gratifying to see the six large gents I had interviewed all watching from the audience.

I used completely Open Source Software to make it. Kino for capturing the DV, stills2dv to generate the pan and zoom photos (but it only does 4:3, not 16:9 sadly), kdenlive for editing and ardour for mixing the audio. I am proud of having done so, but it did mean enduring quite a few crashes from kdenlive. (I was using an older version, because I didn’t want to upgrade part way through the project!)

I learnt a lot and there are certainly things I would do differently if I were doing it all over again, for example:

  • Slow down and take time to check everything before recording. You can’t go back. Clean the heads.
  • Pay close attention to framing the shots.
  • Avoid windy places, or have a big wind gag.
  • Lock the white balance on the camera.
  • Have someone operate the camera whilst you interview.
  • Pay closer attention to audio levels (preferably have someone else do it.)
  • Use one video track for each video source in the editor.
  • There’s a weird tilting effect on the interview with Matt which I think is due to the image stablisation system in the camera playing up, but which I couldn’t do anything about.
  • Some of the audio edits are a bit harsh, but needed to be to cut out clicks or other unwanted background noise.
  • Allow the narrator time to get warmed up, get familiar with the project and then get them to record each bit as many times as it takes to get it right.

Overall, I’m immensely proud of the documentary. I hope it is a fitting reflective tribute to LugRadio. I’m very grateful to all those who helped make it happen, in particular all those who gave up their time to be interviewed, and Laura who not only videoed lots of stuff but put up with me spending hours editing it.

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    21 Responses to Don’t Listen Alone

    1. Mark Johnson says:

      I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet so I’ll post thoughts when I have, but is it intentional that the blip.tv clips are noncommercial licenced, but the archive.org video isn’t?

    2. No' says:

      Watched it during LRL and really really enjoyed it to bits. Now I can replay it ad libitum.

      Fantastic work – you are a star.

    3. Tony says:

      Thanks Mark, I’ve corrected that now.

    4. gmb says:

      I watched it last night whilst my brain was fizzing from insomnia and really enjoyed it. What rough edges there are are pretty minimal and they don’t detract from the finished film whatsoever. Nice work!

    5. davee says:

      Tony, an absolute masterpiece, no doubt about it. Really, this is both enjoyable and well-produced. :-D

    6. […] can read more about how he created the documentary (on Linux, no-less) here. Thanks so much, Tony! […]

    7. mmc says:

      This is great!

    8. Laura says:

      I love it. I’ve seen it many times now (in one form or another) but it’s still great (though 2.5 times in one evening on the Thursday before LRL09 was a little much…).

      Well done, Tony, for finally finishing it! :D

    9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by tonywhitmore, lauracowen. lauracowen said: Interested in how @tonywhitmore made the LugRadio documentary, Don't Listen Alone? http://tinyurl.com/yj4tmtc […]

    10. neuro says:

      I’m in it, holy crap!

      Anyway, courtesy of a LugRadio Ninja, have a torrent: http://hera.zensoft.net/~neuro/dont_listen_alone.ogv.torrent

      It’s totally totally totally seeded, so bash away and join the swarm. Share and enjoy!

    11. Mark Johnson says:

      That was spot on, Tony! Makes me miss the show even more. I’ve seen a few documentaries made by people who aren’t hadn’t made them before, and I wouldn’t know that you hadn’t from the film. I agree with most of your “do better next time” points, although I certainly wouldn’t add any more!
      I especially liked Bruno’s tagline ;-)

    12. eb8yN3VBq6F7 says:

      lower quality version for people without download speed in megabits?

    13. Tony says:

      Lower quality OGG version now linked above. :)

    14. eb8yN3VBq6F7 says:

      thanks for low quality version, its good to hear lugradio again.
      sir, great work with encoding and producing all this, all i can say – thanks, again [:

    15. Social comments and analytics for this post…

      This post was mentioned on Twitter by tonywhitmore: New blog posting, Don’t Listen Alone – http://tinyurl.com/yj4tmtc

    16. […] finished version of Ubuntu UK Podcast presenter Tony Whitmore’s LugRadio documentary – Don’t Listen Alone: A documentary about LugRadio, for the first time. Utter, utter brilliance. I’d seen a few draft versions before and they […]

    17. Philder says:

      Really enjoyed that! Excellent work. Here’s hoping UUPC and Linux Outlaws can carry on the tradition of not taking themselves overly seriously whilst still producing great shows.

    18. stillsdv does any resolution you want at any ratio, it is not limited at 4:3, you may had found some limitation in the encodedv’s options but if you use kdenlive you are not limited to dv files so you could have use ffmpeg instead just like in the “make example” of the demo of the version 0.600 which I uploaded here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d163tmospT8 (which is in 16:9)

      it’s easy to make 1080p ultra-quality video with stills2dv …

      it saddens me to see your video feed in nice HD with ugly cutouts in stills2dv…

    19. Tere, I uploaded a 720p 60Hz version with motion blur this time:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOOKBtZQ-wA

    20. Tony says:

      Hi Denis-Carl, thanks for your comment. You are right, it is encodedv that wouldn’t do 16:9, not inherently stills2dv. However I didn’t see any documentation relating to using ffmpeg when I was working on the project. (The photos were all processed a few months before the release.) Also, the version of kdenlive I was working with for this project didn’t have the necessary effects. It was quite an old version but I didn’t want to upgrade part way through the project.