Since 2007, I’ve been a very specific kind of video producer. Namely, an indoor one. Common Craft videos are animated and mostly created on a computer. Despite making my living with videos, I have relatively little experience with live-action, outdoor video.
Leading up to the launch of BIG ENOUGH, I decided I would try making a live-action book trailer and do it 100% by myself. That’s part of the Common Craft way. I love learning by doing. The idea was to go on a hike at a nearby preserve with a tripod and drone and capture footage of me walking our two dogs, Maybe and Piper.
That probably sounds fairly simple, but it was far from it. Despite being a sweet, cuddly dog, who always seems to appear on your lap indoors, Piper is a hunter outdoors. If she gets off the leash, she will disappear into the woods. So, in order to keep both dogs safe, I tied their leashes to my leather belt. This meant that everything I did that day happened with over one hundred pounds of canine at my feet.
This would be a challenge without photography, in part because of the place where I hiked. Turtleback Mountain, is, well… a mountain. The loop I hiked is three miles and about 850 feet in elevation. This is where being alone became a challenge.
I wanted a few shots that featured me and the dogs walking through the frame from left to right. To get this footage, I had to hike up a hill, set up the tripod, then hike down the hill, and walk up it again as the camera rolled, then come back down to stop the recording and then up to the next stop. All with two large dogs tied to my waist. The three-mile hike surely went to five miles.
Then, of course, I was carrying a drone with batteries and a remote. Operating the drone is always stressful because I’m worried that it will crash or fly away. I’ve had it abruptly lose control and fly into a tree in the past. What if that happened on a mountain?
I have two drone batteries that each last for about 10 minutes of flight time and it goes quickly. I had a number of locations where I wanted to get footage and this created anxiety about using up the batteries before I could get to the next location. So, I was very cautious about wasting the precious energy and tried to keep the drone in a recoverable range, should something go off the rails.
Turtleback is a popular hiking trail and I was self conscious about other hikers noticing me behaving in a strange way. I imagined them wondering why I kept walking back and forth at the same spot on the trail with my dogs. Why does he have all that equipment? And maybe, why does he look so stressed out?
At the summit of Turtleback, there is a large rock outcropping called Ship Peak and I had been saving batteries for that location. Just before reaching the summit, I dropped my backpack on the side of the trail, something I never do. I think I was overheated and just wanted it gone. I grabbed the drone and made my way to the peak.
Soon after, an older couple appeared with a worried look on their faces. That’s when it hit me. A couple of years ago, someone found a pack on the trail with homemade explosives in it. Nothing ever came of it, but all the locals heard about it and everyone was warned – do not approach random backpacks on Turtleback. I, of course, had just dropped a suspicious-looking backpack, which the couple had found.
The first thing they said was, “Is that your backpack down there?”
I replied, “Yes, I’m sorry…” and before I could get more words out, the woman said, “You know there was a problem with a backpack here?”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”
They moved on, but got comfortable on another part of the summit, which left me with a dilemma. They already seemed annoyed, but I was there to fly the drone around and take videos. How long would they stay? Eventually, I just told them, “Hey, I’m just going to fly this around for a couple of minutes.” They nodded and that’s what I did.
On the way out, I looked over at them with a quick wave of acknowledgement. With a smile, the woman said, “Don’t forget your backpack!” I could only laugh and feel a bit embarrassed. I was that guy.
Thankfully, it all worked out beautifully. The weather was perfect, the drone stayed in my control and the dogs… they had no choice. Despite the effort, stress, and awkwardness, I loved every minute of making that video and I’m really proud of how it turned out.
With so much going on between the book and house, Sachi and I often relax in front of the TV in the evenings. Lately a few shows have been keeping us entertained and I’m now realizing that these are all kind of dark and on Amazon. I guess that’s our style right now.
Here are my quick reviews of each:
Patriot (Amazon) – It sounds like a Tom Clancy novel and it has some elements of espionage, but it’s not your average spy thriller. It’s stylish, dark, unexpectedly funny, and has musical interludes, sung by the main character, that advance the story. We loved both seasons. This video captures an enduring part of the show that cracks me up.
Counterpart (Amazon) – I love the science fiction premise of this show, starring J.K. Simmons. It takes place decades after scientists discover a portal to an identical world, or parallel universe, where everyone has an “other”. The show is mostly about interactions and schemes between the two worlds. Complex, dark, and well-made.
Homecoming (Amazon) – A secretive company is working with soldiers returning home with symptoms of PTSD. Over time, you learn the company’s true intentions and the scale of their efforts. The first season stars Julia Roberts and the second, which I liked even more, stars Janelle Monáe.
When I first started planning Ready for Rain, what excited me was not only telling stories but creating media. One of my true passions is using technology to share an experience or relate an idea. In fact, it’s been my day job since 2007.
Now that you’ve seen the types of media I post, I thought it would be interesting to share how they come to life.
Because my goal is to publish a new post every week of 2019, Ready for Rain is on my mind every day. From the moment a new issue is published on Tuesday evening, my attention turns to the next issue. I don’t work from a publishing calendar or have a plan for future issues. I just feel it out and try to publish what I think could be interesting.
Usually, a new issue is drafted by Saturday and that’s when Sachi gets involved. She is my editor in nearly everything I do. I share the post with her via Google Docs and she provides copy edits and editorial feedback. On a couple of occasions, she has stopped posts in their tracks and said I should start over or find a new topic. Over our many years working together, I trust her judgment, even if it stings a little.
By Monday night, the post has taken shape and I move the text into a publishing tool, called Revue, to start adding media. I use Revue because it’s built to be a newsletter tool, but also creates a blog-like archive. We both continue to tweak the post until it’s published on Tuesday evenings.
Photos and Videos
This year, I have taken over 8,000 photos (and videos). I’ve always loved photography and mostly use basic tools. It’s possible to spend large sums on software and camera equipment, but I don’t bother. My favorite camera has become my iPhone and I use simple editing software that came with my Macbook. My goal isn’t winning awards, but sharing an experience. Sometimes, professional-level tools can get in the way.
When I flew the drone for the first time, it felt like I was a kid again. Growing up, I was fascinated with paper airplanes and learned to make them to optimize both acrobatics and air time. I remember wishing I could see the world from their point of view. Now, the drone gives me this ability and I’m still amazed.
I chose a DJI Spark, which is a basic model that costs under $500. It’s an incredible piece of technology that includes a video camera, GPS and sensors that prevent it from hitting objects from multiple directions. Unfortunately, I still find a way to crash into trees sometimes.
The drone comes with a remote control that can be connected to an iPhone. Once you have everything connected, the phone becomes a screen that displays what the drone’s camera sees. I can send the drone up 200 feet and see what it’s like up there. It feels like a dream come true.
And it’s not just seeing what the drone sees, but being able to capture it and relive it. With the press of a remote control button, I can take photos and switch to video that makes it feel like I’m flying.
Everything is recorded onto a micro-SD card that fits into a slot on its body. When I get back to my computer, I import the video and images so I can edit them.
In a number of issues, you’ve seen short videos that play on a loop. These are “animated GIFs” which are not videos, but images displayed in quick succession. I’ve often compared them to a digital flipbook. I use these in the newsletter because true video doesn’t play reliably in email.
These GIFs are easy to make, but the problem is file size. Because they are made of dozens or hundreds of photos, they can easily become too large for an email. I use a tool called GIF Brewery (iOS only), which turns a video clip into an animated GIF with the press of a few buttons.
Building plans on paper can only go so far. 3D models, on the other hand, bring the structure to life and help you anticipate how it will look. In the planning stage, I learned to create 3D models and now it’s one of my favorite projects. I sometimes feel addicted when I’m working on a model. I’m willing to miss dinner or a dog walk, just to keep designing. There’s always something to add or improve.
The software I use is called Sketchup, which is a sophisticated and expensive tool. For my needs, however, I’ve found that the free online version of the software works wonderfully. All the models you’ve seen were created for free.
Most people believe Powerpoint is just for clicking through presentations. But it also provides an easy way to draw and arrange simple shapes. With a few clicks, I can create models that relate ideas, processes, and buildings. When they’re done, my Macbook helps me take screenshots, which are photos of whatever is on my screen.
Most of the videos I’ve shared on YouTube are from the drone. Others come from my iPhone and most of the editing happens with software that came on my Mac, like QuickTime and iMovie.
Because the house is a physical object that is growing and changing over time, I can’t imagine not using media to tell the story. I’ve always been fascinated with unique and interesting ways to share ideas and Ready for Rain is the perfect outlet for me to test what’s possible. If I’m doing it right, you’ll experience the project from a perspective that’s new and unexpected.
If you’re curious about what media I enjoy that’s related to the project, see below…
I’ve become fascinated with home design and construction, and that fascination is apparent in my media consumption of late. A few examples:
We both love the show Grand Designs on Netflix. The show follows homeowners in England who are building very interesting homes from start to finish. It’s hosted by a charming architect and is as much about the people as the buildings.
My Instagram feed has been taken over by architecture accounts which provide daily inspiration and sometimes, disgust. A couple of my favorites are:
A YouTube channel recently caught my attention thanks to two different friends named Tony (thanks, guys!). It’s called Essential Craftsman and it documents a house being built along with explanations of every part of the process. The host is a lifelong carpenter who is excellent at communicating the process and reviewing the best tools for the job.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.