Filmmaking is a creative profession, but every spark of inspiration is followed by a dull hell of repetitive production tasks. So, to make the hours of editing and color-correction a little more fun, Austin filmmaker Joe Nicolosi built an Anti-Reality panel.
And a Waveform Collider. And a panic button that bounces cat photos across his monitor.
Nicolosi spends most of his energy setting YouTube ablaze with viral shorts like "The Matrix Retold by Mom" (almost 6 million views!) and paying rent through commercial work for clients like Tillamook, but over the last six months he's carved out time to transform an old metal fusebox into a film production control center that looks like it belongs in a sci-fi spaceship.
"When I started building, I didn't know what I was doing," says Nicolosi. "I thought I knew how electronics worked, but I'd wired it, and then it'd just break. There's no easy mode, it's just hard."
Under the hood, the machine is a web of 600 individually soldered wires that Nicolosi tinkered together himself. Then he learned the programming software necessary to map commands to the 130 different LED buttons and trigger switches that were imported from China (and RadioShack). A laser-etcher in Buda helped with the finishing touches.
The resulting "prototype" hangs by 15 feet of wire suspended from the ceiling over Joe's computer monitor at his office at Arts + Labor. The 11 panels that comprise the machine are programmed to make video editing more efficient, but the practical functions are chased with a dose of Mystery Science Theater campiness.
The oversized buttons of the Anti-Reality panel are mapped with time-saving Adobe Premiere shortcuts, but the iTunes "Waveform Collider" features a "trill" button to select a random Bun B song. The Subspace Sat Comm manages Internet functions, including a button to type "haha" into Gchat and another that links to the Reddit homepage, the browsing of which he rations to 10 minutes a day using the time-management program Stayfocused.
The whole machine seems like a big indulgence until you realize how hard Nicolosi works. A 14-hour day of filming is commonplace, especially on painstaking projects like his Lego re-creation of The Wire. Once shooting is complete, the real battle begins: a three-way standoff between Nicolosi, the footage, and his workstation.
"It's either going to be mind-numbing or slightly more fun," says Nicolosi. "I just take effort to make sure it's less mindnumbing."
Given that his audience's average attention span is approximately as long as it takes a cute cat to escape a cardboard box, it's remarkable the amount of precision and patience that goes into his work. He riffs on that idea in "Kittywood," a clever mock-doc about a film studio specializing in green-screened feline cinematography. What he thinks people don't realize about his process is that crafting a film lean enough for Web success is similar to trimming a bonsai tree.
"I spend a lot of time making sure my shorts aren't one frame longer than they need to be," says Nicolosi.
The mentality results in quick films that feel dense rather than short. "Hell No," his parody about sensible horror protagonists avoiding tropes such as haunted cabins, required 45 rough cuts to wrap at the final 3:40 version. If you're spending that much time in the editing process, it makes sense that you'd want your workstation to feel like a spaceship.
• A fully functional HAL Bluetooth phone panel on the prototype
• A full-length script about horror-film survivors
• Completed "Star Cadets" short about two pilots talking about girls in starships
• A shot of Fireball to celebrate submitting "Star Cadets" to Fantastic Fest
Band: The Hold Steady
Movie: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
TV series: Firefly
Watch Joe Nicolosi's "The Matrix Retold by Mom" below.
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