Archive for the ‘Production Notes’ Category

Further Updates

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

T shirt pair

I’m afraid it’s taken a while to get well – one of the drawbacks to getting older. But I’m able to report that all thirteen tracks have now been finished, at least to the point of having the four fresh music tracks installed and all thirteen now have the cleaning process complete (at least for the DVD versions). This is a time consuming job of pure tedium – each scene has to have five different – and changing – parameters set before encoding. However, I’m not in the camp that sees scratches and dirt on film stock as a sign of authenticity – Kodachrome was never designed to look that way, and I prefer to present the image as cleanly as possible. Given that the film was dragged all over America, stored in basements and attics, edited in garden sheds, well – those tribulations have made their film dirt mark. Now the image is much improved. The next stage is to construct the actual DVD.

As I don’t yet know the file size requirements for the thirteen tracks, it’s not yet possible to say if there will be spare space left on the DVD. Rather than the 1st 14′ of Codachrome (as mentioned on the site), I’m hoping that there will be room for Plan No 73 – harmless rebellions of middle age, a 26′ programme I made in 1999 that uses footage from driving around England and the Continent in a 3 ton van I owned at the time. I will post any developments later.


I’ve established that the film looks great on an iPod Touch. I was able to borrow my neighbour’s to run a test and I was most pleased with the quality of the image (much sharper than these rather crude stills would indicate). This has some bearing on the production tasks as I will be providing a separate CD (to the DVD) with the thirteen tracks already encoded for the iPod. It does require yet another set of tasks, as in the ongoing struggle to keep the image quality as good as it can be I’ve had to prepare two versions of the films. I won’t go into the endless technicalities here – but it boils down to the fact that the iPod versions are 4% larger than the DVD versions, and that 4% difference is important enough to require separate versions to be produced.

Red cap mailman

S Dak old car

And a t shirt! What self-respecting website shop doesn’t have a t shirt on offer.

H T shirt Ed T shirt

Actually, the thought behind the idea is that Road Dreams is an unusual entity in some respects, at least in the way the series disappeared from view for so many years. During the Channel 4 showings it was getting viewing figures of 500,000 an episode, with quite a few of those viewers feeling that it was something special. The vast majority of them have long given up on tracking it down – it’s a fairly new development to be able to locate me via the web. (Until fairly recently I had no idea the series had made such an impression.) So the thought is, just perhaps by wearing your Road Dreams t shirt (at least in the UK), who knows what reaction or contact you may establish? Maybe a role like the passage in On The Road where Kerouac writes ‘We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess … across the night, eastward over the Plains, where somewhere an old man with white hair was probably walking towards us with the Word’. Or then again, you might be set upon by a baying mob. At least you would be likely to generate some response.

Now I have to improve my skills with DVD Studio Pro 4.


Update on Production Tasks

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Road Dreams study

I thought I would attach an image of my study for this post. As you can see there is very little spare space, which should be viewed as a form of positive, indicating that there are many tasks in the process of completion.

Since the last post I can report that collecting the new fx is now complete – 216 new fx for later use in the full length version of Codachrome. Only £624 in the Sale (to give you an idea of how costly film production, even at this level, can be).

The design of the audio CD and DVD packaging is complete – and an initial batch of audio CDs has been produced, using LightScribe. Below are some rather basic images, to give some idea of the look.

Unfortunately, the annual, winter illness has also arrived and I need a few days to deal with that. At least lying in bed has given me the opportunity to read the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary came into being. It seems that took from 1858 to 1928, so I have a bit of leeway (just kidding – I want this stage of the task completed as much as anyone). As soon as I have arisen from my sick bed I expect to pick up the pace considerably.


audio CD cover

audio CD inside

audio CD backfront

RRT DVD cover

RRT DVD back

Production Update

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I’m sorry to have to report that the completion date for the RetroRoadTrips DVD package is still in the ‘tantalisingly close’ category. It’s in the nature of the self-funded, one man in a room type of operation (of which my project can definitely be said to fit) that work nearly always gets sidelined by events, mainly through software and technical hurdles that appear from nowhere. I only spend about 10% of my time on what could be called creative activity – the rest is devoted to problem solving.

So, rather than suggest actual completion dates, I think from now on that it will be less frustrating if I outline the tasks I’m dealing with and then update the list regularly as I progress. I have no idea whether this is at all interesting to anyone – my hope is that at least these details will indicate that I do work on the project on a daily basis, that I am as keen to get the RetroRoadTrips DVD completed as anyone, and am not down at the pub evading my chores.

1. The (excellent) Sound Effects Library are having a sale that finishes at the end of January. I now put much store in adding fx to the soundtrack (to flesh out the mute Super 8 film), so will have to go through all six episodes of Road Dreams with a fine tooth comb to establish the range of fx I would like to acquire – then start the quite lengthy process of searching for, and auditioning, fx from their collection. The cost savings mean that I must take advantage of the Sale. This is at least a week’s work, maybe more.

2. Finish designing the graphics for the DVD and audio CD. Most of the designs are complete, though I have to establish quite how to translate these into file form for the printer. I use a software called Discus – and very effective it is in combining text, images and graphics – but there are indications that the exported files for the printer are not sized at 100%, even though a straight A4 print is correct. A problem to solve.

3. The DVD Booklet. Write the 3rd anecdote; add images to the booklet; design the layout; and provide a compatible file for the printer. I’ve been using Pages in iWorks 08 – a brand new software for me.

4. Four of the music tracks have been remixed during the last few weeks (at Dave Pick’s ffg studio near Tewksbury). These were four of RiK Loveridge’s collection. Rik has, as he always does, come up with some wonderful sounds. I consider him in the same category as the late Simon Jeffes (whose music I used in Road Dreams). It’s not that he writes Penguin Cafe Orchestra clone music – his sound is entirely his own, but they both have distinctive musical voices. François (Godefroy) is no mean talent, either. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the chance to work with both of them. There are thirteen tracks chosen for this RRT audio CD (selections can be listened to on the site’s Music page), but a total of 27 tracks have been almost finished for use in the full length ‘Codachrome – a time of road dreams’.

5. These four music tracks have to be relaid to the Final Cut Pro Timeline, and each complete film re-encoded.

6. Finish the process of ‘cleaning’ the film, using CHV software. This requires each clip to have five separate parameters set. There are still five of the DVD tracks to be tackled (eight have been completed), as well as all thirteen of the iPod tracks (these versions use a different aspect ratio frame filter to the DVD ones – I don’t think I can simply layer the one set of filters from one to the equivalent version, though that has yet to be researched).

7. Finish encoding all these tracks, ready for export to DVD Studio Pro.

8. Set up the DVD master, with layout and button interoperability. I need to get up to speed with DVD Studio Pro 4 for this.

9. Physically produce the DVDs and audio CDs myself, at least to start with. The estimates received for the sort of production runs required to justify commercial work make this a cost that can’t yet be born. As part of this, I need to become proficient at creating LightScribe designs.

10. Do the final set of changes to the website, to include a functioning shop mainly. This requires setting up a merchant payment agreement, and also a visit from Aidan O’Rourke, who has been instrumental in helping me establish the website to date.

And with that all done I shall be able to email those of you who have asked to be notified, and also to place a large sign on the Homepage saying DVD READY.

That might even justify a topping out ceremony.

Thank you all for your interest over the while.


Seasons Greetings

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Seasons Greetings and a thank you to all who have shown an interest in this site.

A brief update is that the late January completion date is looking likely – the tasks still to finish are mainly connected to physically producing the DVD (including the design, printing and packaging – still a lot of work), as well as setting up a shop on the site. In addition to the DVD, the iPod disc, and the audio CD of the soundtrack music, I’m working on a booklet that will also be included. This will feature some Road Dreams anecdotes in greater detail than the spoken narration normally allows. Hopefully these stories will entertain, and also provide a wider view of what a life on the road was like at the time.

Current status

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

November 21st 2007

DVD delivery date

I’m afraid the delivery date of late November for the DVD has had to be pushed back. The type of technology tasks required for the production have a nasty habit of throwing up fresh hurdles. Currently I’m working on a process that removes much of the dirt and hair blemishes that had transferred from the original Super8 film to video during telecine. It’s quite a time consuming operation (each film clip needs five separate parameters to be set), though is well worth the effort as the images are quite a bit cleaner as a result. Viewers of the earlier Road Dreams series especially will see a marked improvement in image quality. And this is all before the actual DVD production run – with an NTSC version requiring a further set of changes again (the PAL version will be released before this).

I do apologise for the delay – and hope to have the PAL DVD ready in late January.

In the meantime, by way of a small recompense, the website will shortly – November 30th – have two more short films and a Frame Grab slideshow added.

Elliott Bristow

November 21st 2007

Road Romance No.73

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Not exactly sure when I wrote this, but the episode itself took place in either 1973 or 1974. I anticipate that it will become apparent why this episode wasn’t exactly filmable.

Road Romance No.73

Even a 9th Century monk would recognise decreasing possibility from the sound of a car battery going flat. In the cold and stillness of a desert dawn, 45 miles out from Delta, Utah, there’s nothing else – just 318 cu ins of dead Detroit iron paired with my total anxiety. Not an uncommon feeling on the road. But I’m also in movies for a living (of sorts) and so, right on script cue, here comes the helpful local rancher. Only time he’s been by this spot all week he tells me. The first thing to do is learn the well known (round here) screwdriver in the automatic choke trick. The second is to say thank you as I head out. People who sleep in their clothes in their car don’t need to pack. A mile or so down the dirt track brings me back onto Federal 50. I’m heading eastbound.

Ahead, across Utah and the Western Slope, lies Loveland Pass. Over the Rockies in early winter, the highest, steepest haul on my journey from Los Angeles to Athens, Ohio. The Eisenhower Tunnel starts at 11,974ft. Over the Top, out there beyond Granite City and the Great Plains lies the first of three Road Dreams shows. People paying good money to watch my four screen film. Money I must have.

Twelve hours later, after crawling across Utah at a fevered 45mph, I’m up through Green River to just past Grand Junction. For a man who’se always been a car’s last owner, such a walking pace should not come as a surprise. 45,000 miles ago I paid $300 for this nag, a relative youngster then with 112,000 on the clock. To drop in its traces is this car’s fate.

But I’m over the Colorado line at least, on the first inclines of the Western Slope. Interstate 70 isn’t yet complete here. Miles of twisting, two lane blacktop lie ahead, seemingly with rusted out Ford PInto’s around every bend, all showing late running Michigan plates and towing oversize U-Haul trailers. The hour between dog and wolf comes and goes, the engine loses more and more power. A big buck freezes in the headlights, along with my heartbeat. A first set of accident flares slides by. The engine is making that continuous, desperate sucking sound (the same for man or machine) brought on by not having enough air to breathe. Suddenly, up ahead, a jumble of running lights, the visual confusion caused by trucks backed up on a blocked hiway. A single orange light illuminates the sign: Snow Chains Required – Inspection Station Ahead. Pulling off into the gas station at Vail I enter an urgent confusion, like an armored column in wartime retreat. Rumors of the approaching blizzard enemy fill the air. $23.50 snow chains are $40 – cash and no arguing. $4 more goes on gas to get me to Boulder. There perhaps Jim can lend me a make up $40 to get me to Ohio. For right now, that leaves $3.

The snow chains have no instructions. I watch others, learn that it’s necessary to hook a specific notch on the wire through a metal eyelet – on both the inside and outside of the wheel. But my station waggon is so overloaded with equipment, riding so low on the springs, that I can only get one arm at a time into place. Through all of this I’m lying in the snow, acutely aware that if I don’t make it over, if I’m beaten back at the crest, I can kiss those three shows – and the money – goodbye. Time after time I try to hook the eyelet onto the notch, my fingers numbed to an unfeeling clumsiness. Finally, by dint of some desperate blind flailing, I make a connection, roll the car foward to test the tension – and it’s too loose. Back out into the snow again. By now my clothes are sopping wet. My body begins to burn with manic fever. Quite irrationally the hook suddenly catches. The snow chains and myself are equally tense. It must be at least 9,000ft here – and getting real cold.

Heading out of Vail, past the empty inspection station, a vicious thumping starts up from the wheel arches. There’s still 35 miles to go to the summit, an interminable penitent’s progress that has me screaming at the swirling snow, begging to be Faust in Let’s Make a Deal. Storm atmospherics carry a comforting radio voice from California to Colorado, urging me to send a ‘tax deductible gift of love’ to Pasadena. No doubt a miracle to some and as I promise I WILL, I WILL – there, the tunnel entrance appears through the driving snow, a beckoning illusion of harbor lights. But, as with a one light town, the soothing orange glow only lasts for a moment before I’m expelled, like a model ship from the safety of its bottle, out onto the Front Slope. It’s snowing even harder. Only 80 more miles to Boulder means three more hours for me.

Crazy truckers come roaring up behind me at 60mph, running 40 ton rigs over snow on top of ice, squeezing by where the ploughs have banked up canyon walls of packed snow. The juddering from the wheel arch gets worse. Suddenly, a distinct lurch. Thump, thump, thump. One hundred yards and agonies of time ahead there’s a partially cleared space, enough to pull half off of the roadway. Out of the car – the snow blows so hard as to be almost blinding. But I know what’s happened. The offside snow chain is broken, the shredded tire so hot it’s steaming in the snow.

That means the spare, the one that cost $6.50 in Sacramento instead of the usual $13, because they didn’t charge me for the bald half. To get to it I have to empty my Nimitz sized station waggon. Four screens, 60lb projector boxes, the myriad bits and pieces that always accumulate on a trip, everything has to be dragged out into the snow, for all the world like a looted coach on Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Every few minutes tractor-trailers come racing by. Those crazy bastards could never stop and I’m more on the road than off. If two of them should come down abreast there simply won’t be enough room.

I work frantically to operate my practical-joke jack, a ludicrous Detroit homage to Rube Goldberg which hooks onto the back fender and has to raise the rear of the car at least 3ft before the wheel springs are even affected. Arm strength simply isn’t enough – I have to throw my entire body weight on to the ratchet to force any movement, notch by notch. I’m sodden and sweating, my heart’s pounding, I’ve no strength left to raise the car any higher. I fall to my knees and pull the wheel off, in the process cutting my hand on the broken snow chain. Within moments it becomes slippery with blood, an unfeeling wooden stump sliding around on the wheel lugs as I struggle to line up the spare. It’s immediately apparent that the tire is oversize and so the lugs won’t align. The jack has to, HAS TO be raised several more notches. A screaming, demented figure hurls itself on to the ratchet, locked in a bizarre dance with a dangerous, dying two ton partner. The whole car is swaying on this spindly strip of metal with no lug seated wheel in place if it should collapse. Nothing for it but to pile the film screens underneath the brake drum as a last desperate, useless measure. Vaguely I note that my blood is staining the screens. By now it’s been 22 hours since leaving dawn in the desert, a seeming lifetime’s voyage to this lee shore off Vanishing Point, where the primal power of the mountains crowds in darker than the night. If swallowed up in that grim implacability a body would stay hidden until the Spring.

I don’t even remember arriving at Jim’s house. When I awoke later that afternoon he went to the bank for the $40 and then helped me to empty the car. We dragged everything out of the car to dry as best it could in the winter sun. For a few hours Stickney Street had its own beached freighter. With that done I sat on the porch glider, with its views of Longs Peak, sleepily nodding to Alysa’s stories of life in 5th Grade – though, like any traveller who reaches port through the storm I mainly gave myself over to the pleasures of my exhaustion. But very soon, a matter of hours even, I would have to get back on the road. The bookings in Ohio wouldn’t wait. And, having come through one storm, I now knew that when the next one came, as it surely must, this past escape would provide no protection. Every departure, every destination, requires a fresh start.

XHL drying out

Live Film Shows

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Live Film Shows

chapel 4

As detailed more fully in the ‘Super8 to Final Cut Pro’ article, I made a living (of sorts) by showing a 4 Screen Film of my travels, incorporating the same footage that is now seen in RetroRoadTrips. My circuit was mainly at colleges, and the venues (which were often lecture theatres) were often just right for this sort of show. But there were also other locales where I’d arrive on a bright summers day and find that I was expected to set up my projectors in a cafeteria with two walls of large windows where most of the blinds were missing, and with the first three shows scheduled for mid-afternoon. At such times it was natural enough to indulge in daydreams of how I would like to present the film, influenced no doubt by feature films I’d seen which were set in countries in which a travelling film show comes to a village where there is no other form of entertainment. Below is the movie script setting for my Fantasy Film Theatre.

4 screens ws

‘Road image neon sculptures glow softly on a dark green, canvas tent wall, enclosing a temporary film compound. Beyond the wall, reaching up into that blueblack, star starting night are the silhouettes of three buttes. Sudden recognition here and Yes, the gut reaction was right – they do have movie meaning because we’re in Monument Valley. Which is no surprise to the Navajo sheep herding family who are waiting patiently for the performance to begin, as are (though not quite so patiently) the UniLever Wash Mon V2executive with his wife and two children from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, whose 37ft Pace Arrow Ponderosa Motor Home is temporarily out of action with a malfunctioning microwave oven. Up front, in somewhat solitary eagerness, is the Activities Director for the YMCA in Shensii City, Japan. He’s cycling, rather intensely one might be inclined to judge, to Mason City, Iowa to hand deliver a Sister Cities proclamation. All of them are waiting for the show to begin. Then, with only scant warning as the generator kicks in, up there on the screens colour and shapes are swirling and puslating as rapidly as a spring melt river. Ten years of a life condensed into 26 minutes. It’s all just a moment really, and look how full it is!’

Needless to say this scene didn’t take place, though there were plenty of times which were just as effective, even if they weren’t in quite such an exotic locale. Different audiences have different interests, of course. At a show I did on the Blackfoot Reservation at Devils Lake, North Dakota, the interest was mainly in the horses shown. When I tried (unsuccessfully) to interest Detroit in subsidising me one time, my preview audience of auto industry executives were quite taken aback with how many old cars there still were on the road in America. In similar vein, at the headquarters of Coca-Cola in Atlanta (Yes – there really are ‘water’ fountains that dispense Coke), there was a ghastly moment when a Pepsi sign appeared on the screen. I even had a woman at a show in Phoenix who recognised her old house in a suburb of Boston.


All of the above seems to demonstrate that melodic scenes from the everyday, when recorded without a message or political point of view in mind, do have a range of contact points for a wide set of audiences. For myself, as part of getting older, there is by now a more pressing knowledge of that abiding wistfulness in all beauty.

’41 Jimmy pickup

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

41 in LA 2

I’ve been asked about the ’41 Jimmy pickup that appears in the Home in October film. I drove it from Los Angeles to Long Island, in 1980. Its owner (Richie Gilks) was contemplating a return back East (after completing that musician’s ritual rite of passage – a period of living in LA for a few years). I was on the verge of leaving America for good and needed to transport 41 hood upmy three foot lockers of film (75 hours worth) to the East Coast, prior to finding a way to get them back to England. So the deal was that I would deliver the vehicle in return for using it as my carrier. The physical cargo was, quite clearly, a large slice of my life. Given that the truck hadn’t been out of California for most of its life and now was facing a load carrying trip over 3,000 miles, through deserts and over mountains, there were a few anxieties in the air. This set up had all the ingredients for the start of a Twilight Zone story.

Jimmy desert road

In the end, there were no big catastrophies – just the steady, ongoing anxiety of listening to the engine mile after mile for any new (and threatening) mechanical noises. Standard driving procedure of the time. It was quite a basic drive (as was to be expected – though not quite of the era as an Advance and Retard lever, which I had on my first car, along with a Town & Country horn), and there were nice touches like a windshield that was hinged at the top and which could be opened out to promote air flow through the cab – very handy in the desert.

41 main street

Not too surprisingly, driving into small towns in the midWest (I tended to take back roads and sleep alongside the truck at night) in a working ’41 truck with California plates, created small pockets of interest. It seems to be a human trait to enjoy seeing old things still useful and working, which is probably connected to our own desire to have a long and productive life.

41 in NYCIt got a bit tougher around Iowa as the brake hydraulics were quite perished and I had to start replenishing a leaking system. By the time I’d gotten to Philadelphia the brakes were totally shot and I then had to drive on to eastern Long Island on the handbrake. The least stressful section of this leg of the journey was driving through Manhattan – a perverse advantage to crowded, slow moving streets. But I made it to East Quogue – truck and film intact – and moved into a small trailer I’d bought earlier, which was parked in the yard of Richie’s brother Mike. And that was my last coast to coast.

41 picnic table

Location Quiz

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

I’m sure that one of the motivations for my keeping a film diary has to do with having a poor memory for events, though I do seem to be able to recollect colours. My wife remembers how we first met in 1961; I remember the blue of the dress she wore that evening. I can also find my way back to places visited some years before, though that doesn’t mean I could give you directions.

Where the diary is concerned, and as many of you know from your own road trips, roadside scenery rolls by in an unfolding, often seamless panorama. So how to identify single scenes at a later time? With this quiz you can try yourself out in this skill. No prizes offered I’m afraid, partly because we* aren’t always 100% certain ourselves – and also, some of these scenes I know for a fact no longer exist.

Flying saucer

Ashtabula, Ohio – ‘phoned home’ a while ago

All the same, even if the answers don’t roll off the tip of your tongue, there is always the chance that the places depicted will fire up your own road longing. As visiting movie locations is the contempoary equivalent of the 18th Century Grand Tour, the proposal has to be – don’t you warrant a Grand Tour of your own?

Steve Mainwaring*thinks so. Steve is the source I rely on to establish the naming of places. He enjoyed Road Dreams enough during its screening in 1989 to establish a pattern of taking holidays in America, searching out Road Dreams scenes as he travelled around. What an interesting structure to layer onto a holiday.

Anyway, none – or all – of the above may apply. Just enjoy the process of looking back (and if this sets you off to ‘remembering’, why not share your own road stories in the Visitors’ Stories section).

There are three categories (which will get replenished at intervals).

1. Pretty certain: This means, mainly thanks to Steve, that the location details are pretty accurate and specific.

2. Or thereabouts: Much less specific. Try and guess the area of the city, or even just the state we’re in at the time.

3. Who knows: Just don’t know, though I might be able to provide a rough likelihood. And if you could tell us, that would be a bonus indeed. Just enter the details in the dialogue box at the bottom of the page – and many thanks.

– – – – –


Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

I slept in the car quite a lot of the time, mainly on a needs must basis because of cost. It can be an unnerving experience, especially if your vechicle has no curtains and anyone outside can peer in. With XHL 236 (the Dodge station wagon I owned for a while) I would sleep on top of the projector boxes, which felt a bit like being laid out on a slab – sacrificial or otherwise. And there were times when ‘someone’ was circling the car, making a possibly unpleasant decision. I invariably used the play dead technique – not difficult to do when you’re rigid with fear. One basic rule to follow is to park way off the hiway, out of the range of passing headlights. I’d applied the rule in this particular case, though as the following article by Aidan O’Rourke will outline, that didn’t prevent a most disconcerting episode.
Go to VW Camper Van Ghost Story – Part 2 Article