A birthday, a half-birthday, a video and an announcement

Yesterday was Jonathan Coulton‘s birthday. Here is a collaborative video put together in about 14 days by 13 people (at least, 13 who contributed video; others contributed ideas) on his forums, as a birthday present. It’s a cover of Jonathan’s song ‘I’m Having a Party‘, with a few changes in the lyrics (and a title change to ‘We’re Having a Party’) to make it more suitable for a group of fans to sing to him. I’m posting it here because I did all the video editing (under the pseudonym Angelastic) except for the awesome tiling in the final chorus. See below for details on how this little idea blossomed into something scarily huge which was nonetheless sculpted into a less scary huge thing in the nick of time. You’ll also see why I’m a little too tired for fancy metaphors tonight.

The ‘simple (but easy to overcomplicate) idea’ I proposed for this was that we all simply sing Happy Birthday, or some similar song which Time Warner doesn’t own the copyright to. Mark T. Gordon suggested ‘I’m Having a Party’, and doing a video rather than just audio. When I volunteered to edit the video, I thought I would just be splicing together footage of people singing into their webcams, maybe doing the occasional appropriate action. I thought the audio would be merely a group of people singing along with the karaoke version of the original song, but luckily somebody competent volunteered for the audio mixing.

Of course, the simple idea was indeed overcomplicated, and before long we had not only 11 videos of people singing into cameras (one of which was shot in a professional studio with a green screen), but footage of people doing all sorts of other interesting things, including playing ukulele, cello, and accordion, making actual onion dip, and hopefully not wetting actual pants. There was even one full video which is now on YouTube in its own right. People were treating me as some kind of project leader, because I’d made the initial suggestion which they’d all added to. Jonathan’s birthday was on a Tuesday, so I set a deadline for video submissions the previous Friday night, knowing that anything can be accomplished in the infinite expanse of a weekend, if there are no constraints on how well it’s done. I learnt that from Writing Cards and Letters and Zeno.

I went to the Apple Store on Saturday morning and bought a copy of Final Cut Express, which I had been considering getting for a while, thinking that I could do some fancy tiling and other effects to emphasise how many people were involved in the project. Unfortunately, I found that Final Cut Express crashed once every ten minutes on average, and after wasting several hours with it I hadn’t even managed to get even the simplest sequence created and saved between crashes. A friend of mine who teaches Final Cut Express says he’s never seen it crash, so I’m not sure what went wrong on my case. I went back to using iMovie, and some time on Sunday I informed the others that I couldn’t do the tiling.

Because of the time lost to Final Cut Express, and more time than expected spent converting or attempting to convert 13 videos from different sources into iMovie-friendly formats, I was still working on it past the midnight Sunday deadline I’m used to. If you think I look tired in the shot of me getting into bed, it’s because I filmed that at 1a.m. on Monday, when I reached that part of the video and realised I didn’t have enough ‘time to go to bed’ shots. I got back out of bed and worked on the video for another hour, up to the end of the guitar solo.

The next morning, I woke to find Chicazul had come to the rescue with a fantastic tiled final chorus made in Adobe Premiere. All I had to do after work was add an introduction, credits, and the greetings at the end. This meant one more conversion headache. Nothing I could find for free was able to convert BorbaSpinotti’s contribution properly, and this was the most important one, as it was the only footage of Borba and he’d done such great work mixing the audi0. At around 3a.m, I asked on the forums and The Clinger uploaded a converted version within minutes. I love collaboration across time zones.

Ignoring the problems with video conversion and Final Cut Express, actually making the video was a lot of fun… the only problem was that there was too much great footage to choose between. It was all the fun of making A Laptop Like You, but without the endless takes whenever there was daylight to get the raw footage.

Most importantly, Jonathan Coulton apparently liked it, and called us the greatest fans in the world. We were not able to get a statement from Wil Wheaton before releasing the video (although that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love us), so I’m pleased to see that Wil did not come down and punch Jonathan. I wouldn’t want to misrepresent somebody who is inclined to punch people.

Now I have to admit something. I didn’t just do this for the fun, nor even for the amusing effects of sleep deprivation (you should’ve seen me attempting to do improv on Tuesday evening.) It happens that Jonathan Coulton’s birthday fell on the same day as my last half-birthday. Now, I’m not planning on doing all the crazy things that Carrie Dahlby hoped to do in the six months before she turned thirty, but I am planning something, and I thought this video would be a good way to kick it off. I’m starting another Thing a Week project called ‘The Last Six Months’, in which I will release something creative every Sunday for the remaining six months of my life (if this doesn’t make sense to you, go back and click on that ‘last half-birthday’ link.) I know, it’s crazy, it’s as if I’ve forgotten the tired Mondays of the previous project, despite being reminded of them by this video.

This time, though, it won’t always be writing… there might be some music videos, videos of me reading my poetry, robot-choir recordings of my own songs and others’, drawings, even some software. Who knows? I will also redo some of the cards from Writing Cards and Letters, because I would like to eventually publish a book of that project, but some of the Things wouldn’t sit well in a book, or just aren’t very good. The novel chapters are an example of both. I’m also planning a surprise for the end, although I might be lenient about the release date for that, since it will be close to my own birthday. The plan is I’ll work on part of that each week, though.

Next week’s Thing probably won’t be too elaborate, since I’ll be in meetings all Sunday. But there will be something, so come back and check on Monday, or subscribe by email or RSS using the links on the top right.

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