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Interview with Hugh Hancock

Hugh and I had a wonderful conversation one morning last week, but being Skype-cursed I managed to record only one half of the conversation - mine. Hugh came through like a little tin can, probably due to a setting somewhere that didn't come up in my tests the night before. There's something eerie about listening to yourself laugh out loud to near-silence.

Anyway, without further ado, and without the humor that I had so much enjoyed and that is to be expected from Hugh in general, I give to you... the transcript.

On Production and Puppets

Ingrid

So the age-old question is… how do you decide where to put the camera and why?

Hugh Hancock

Well, my approach to directing the camera is really pretty utilitarian. Frankly, I'm not the world's greatest cinematographer, and I am well aware of that, so I focus on showing the viewer what's happening in the damn scene, first and foremost. Get the coverage, then you can do the nifty stuff. I also take a lot of suggestions from the crew working with me – they've got great eyes for shooting, one and all of them, probably better than mine.

So, I shoot for coverage, then we edit and see what's missing. In fact you never see the first or even the second or third takes in the series, because we would shoot it, look at it, see where we needed other coverage, go back and shoot it again, edit a rough cut, show it to a small group of people, figure out what we needed to reshoot, shoot again, and sometimes yet again.

Ingrid

So when you go back for a retake, do you have it all set up where you can rewind and click “go” and it plays out for you the same way?

Hugh Hancock

No, not at all. This is all done live. I don’t really like using scripted filmmaking, I prefer puppeteering, where you can have one person click “kick him in the head” and then the other person clicks “roll over in pain” or something like that.

Ingrid

What’s the most people you have had in a session?

Hugh Hancock

Four.

Ingrid

Oh so that small number makes it easy to communicate and manage things. How was it with people sitting around doing take after take – is everyone pretty patient?

Hugh Hancock

It’s very much like working on a live-action film set, where people are sitting around a lot. But they are there to accomplish something, and they were very patient. Sometimes we’d get only 3 shots, and sometimes we’d get 2-3 minutes of footage in one session.

Ingrid

Does Strange Company have a permanent studio?

Hugh Hancock

Yes – We’re working in a room that’s about 6 feet by 10 feet. We have 6 PCs and a Mac.

On BloodSpell – Then and Now

Ingrid

What are some of the changes between the series and the feature?

Hugh Hancock

Oh it’s very different. We like to tell people it’s a whole new experience. It is the same story, but we’ve completely reshot the first two scenes, and we’ve tightened up a lot of the other scenes, filled in plot holes, and overall made it a much better movie. We reshot the Cathedral scene with a better model than the one we threw together for the series. We recut the film and then Phil completely redid the sound track from the ground up.

Ingrid

Do you think that working on the series first really helped you to do a better job with the feature?

Hugh Hancock

Absolutely, we learned a lot from making the series. I might do it differently next time but we definitely learned a lot.

Ingrid

How long as BloodSpell been in production now?

Hugh Hancock

4 years September

Ingrid

Four! Whatever happened to machinima being easy for one person to quickly tell their story or make an independent movie?

Hugh Hancock

Machinima still has its advantages if you think of BloodSpell – you’ve got action scenes with 35 people in the background and monsters and enormous staircases and sets and something like that might cost you $5 million in a live-action film, and even more realistically more like $40 million. In BloodSpell we’ve got huge battles with 35 people fighting each other or fighting demons…

Ingrid

If this had been a live action film, you could have had a minimum $40 million budget just for special effects alone.

Hugh Hancock

Exactly.

Ingrid

So the advantage here for you is really in the cost.

Hugh Hancock

Or time. Basically, yes, Machinima is still the super-quick way to make BloodSpell. It might have taken us four years, but that's 12 man-years rather than something like 12,000 man-years for a Pixar or New Line movie!

On Cooking and Impatience

Ingrid

What’s in the future for Strange Company?

Hugh Hancock

I am looking at doing a cooking series…

Ingrid

Cooking series? Wow. Are you a chef?

Hugh Hancock

Well I wouldn’t call myself a chef but I can cook.

Down the road I have some ideas for some other stories. We're working on 'Steelwight,' which is basically a swashbuckling Victorian superhero series, set in a city that was so bad it went to Hell, and 'Industrial,' which is basically about sex, music, magic and mathematics – it’s to the university setting what “Buffy” was to high school.

But of course you might not see them for a couple of years! I'm pretty committed to having something out well before 2010.

Ingrid

I don’t think we can wait that long!

Hugh Hancock

It might be that long for you but it starts for me in about six months.

On Promotion, or Exposing Yourself

Ingrid

What is your strategy to publicity?

Hugh Hancock

Exposure. Right now I want to build publicity around what others say
about BloodSpell and not build up as much hype ahead of time like we did
for the series. We really had a pretty arrogant approach to the series
premiere, partially because we had been working on it for so long, and
it backfired. I can see why. So...

Ingrid

Which do you think works better – hoarding exposure by posting on only your own or a few sites, so that you can track the visitation better, or putting your film out there in as many places as possible?

Hugh Hancock

It depends on what you’re doing, but I’d say if you’re not a big brand or a well-known director, as is the case with most people in machinima, you’re better off posting in as many places as possible, because people are going to view their films where they are – on YouTube or whatever – and they aren’t necessarily going to go to your site to watch them. You want to get it in front of as many people as possible.

Ingrid

Do you count views? Do you think views are a good measure of success?

Hugh Hancock

Again it depends on what you’re doing, but views are a good measure of how many people are watching your film. It doesn’t really tell you too much about whether its any good, unless you are getting something like a million views which could mean that people are sharing it with their friends and so on.




  1. Blogger Ricky Grove | October 26, 2007 at 1:00 PM |  

    Interesting interview, Ingrid. Too bad you weren't able to get the audio. But, even a shorter version like this still gets the flavor and ideas you both were discussing. I enjoyed the conversation, especially questions/answers on promotion and machinima. I think there is room for debate on the narrow/wide approach to getting your film out there. Perhaps we can go into this in more detail in the future. Maybe a round-table discussion?

  2. Blogger Evan | October 28, 2007 at 8:54 PM |  

    Promotion and publicity are things that I know very little about that I would love to know more about. I think a lot of people in machinima would. In this world that revolves around user-generated content (which means a lot of voices) I think it would be good to know what it takes to be heard above the crowd.

  3. Anonymous Overman | October 28, 2007 at 8:56 PM |  

    I'd be very interested in such a discussion. I've recently had a change of heart on the subject, and am retooling my website accordingly. Would love to talk about it.

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