Categories
Roller Derby Travel

Three important travel lessons I learned from my weekend in Dallas

I recently traveled from my home in Denver to Dallas for a short video project. My client was a small magazine with a tiny part-time staff.  Given the market they’re in, they have to operate frugally, and so at every turn we tried to plan for the least expensive option. That backfired in a couple ways.

Here are the big lessons:

1. Don’t fly Frontier

I almost always fly Southwest for both business and pleasure, because they’ve always treated me well. But Southwest doesn’t offer any direct flights from Denver to either of the Dallas airports. So, my client found a great deal on Orbitz.com for Frontier. I booked that, and the round trip cost was $238.00 (taxes and fees included). Seems pretty reasonable, eh?

Well, of course there’s the bag fees to tack onto that. If you buy your ticket anywhere except FlyFrontier.com, they charge $25 for your first checked bag and $30 for the second. On Southwest, both bags are free, which is one of the reasons I like Southwest.

What surprised me, though, is that as I was checking in, I learned that if you buy from anywhere but FlyFrontier.com, you also have to pay $50 for a carry-on! Now keep in mind I was doing a video shoot, which means I’ve got a camera bag and tripod in addition to a suitcase for clothes, toiletries, etc. So I check my camera bag and my suitcase, and then carry the tripod on. With these bags, we’re now up to $105 in bag fees — EACH WAY! In other words, my roundtrip ticket of $238.00 went up by $210.00 for my luggage. $448.00 doesn’t sound so cheap anymore, does it?

So, my first lesson is that if you have to fly Frontier, only book your flight through FlyFrontier.com. Or avoid Frontier altogether.

(For comparison, if I had done a non-direct flight on Southwest, I would’ve paid somewhere between $160 and $330 total, including all my bags. And I won’t even go into my diatribe about Frontier charging $2 for a soft drink that’s free on Southwest.)

2. Allocate lots of extra time if you’re renting a car

The Dallas Fort Worth airport is designed such that there is a separate car rental center that serves all car rental agencies. So after you get your bag you stand in line to wait for the next bus. I don’t know if it’s this way all the time, but when I arrived Friday night, there was a long line of people. It took us about 20 minutes to cram everyone onto the rental car bus (at 4 different stops), and then another 25 minutes (that is not an exaggeration) for the bus to drive to the car rental center.

This bus travels at really low speed (good, given how many people were standing) and some Texan in his infinite wisdom put the car rental center miles from the airport. In fact, where you pick up your car is so far away from the rest of the airport that if you drive back to the terminal to pick up another arriving passenger (as I did), you have to take a toll road to do so. That’s how far away the rental center is. One guy on the bus, about 20 minutes into the ride, yelled to the driver, “Can you just drop me off at my hotel?”

Having never flown into Dallas, I had the impression that the DFW airport was supposed to be one of the gems in the US airport network. But now I know what a shithole it really is. As much as we in Denver complain about the airport being so far from the city, at least it was designed well from a traffic flow perspective. Maybe they learned from the terrible mistakes the designers of DFW made 15 years earlier.

So the next lesson comes from the car rental shuttle bus driver herself: When you return to the DFW airport, plan an extra hour to deal with your rental car. The same goes for arrivals. Don’t think that you can get your bags, get a rental car in 15 minutes, and be on your way.

3. Be careful who you rent your car from

So my flight was almost an hour late. That’s not ideal, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The problem was weather, supposedly. That should be no big deal. But after finally landing and getting my bags and taking the rental car shuttle to the rental center, it was after midnight. Can you guess where this story is going?

In our efforts to save money, I reserved a car from Advantage. When I arrived at the rental center, I and several other unhappy renters discovered that the Advantage desk closed at midnight. I called the phone number listed on the reservation, and there was no answer. No customer service agent, no recording saying what to do if you have a late arrival, not even a message of “sorry we’re closed”, just ring ring ring ring…

My second choice would have been Enterprise, since I’ve always had good service from them. But their desk was closed, too. In fact, about half the car rental companies close at midnight, which meant huge lines at all the rest. I chose the rental agency that had the cheapest sounding name, “E-Z Rent-A-Car.” They had two cars left, fortunately, and I got a small Chevy SUV for what was a good price for an SUV (less than many rental agencies charge for a standard car) but more than for the original econobox I reserved from Advantage.

When visiting DFW and renting a car, if your flight might possibly arrive after midnight, check in advance that your rental company stays open past midnight.

All in all, I guess the trip was a good reminder that trying to cut costs to the bone can backfire. If and when I travel to Dallas again, I’ll be doing several things differently.

Categories
Roller Derby Travel

which rainbow wig should I buy?

I’ve narrowed it down to three possibilities. One of these three I want to buy and take to RollerCon 2013 with me. But which one?

Wig #1: Rainbow Glamorous Wig

Here’s how it looks on the model:

Here’s a simulation of how it would look on me:

rainbow wig 1

 Wig #2: Multicolored Feather Wig

First, the model (which is a styrofoam dummy):

And now me:

rainbow wig 2

 

 

Wig #3: Jumbo Rainbow Clown Wig

Here’s the model. I don’t intend to dress up as a clown, though.

And here’s a simulation of how I would look with it. Sort of like a psychedelic Bob Ross if you ask me…

rainbow wig 3

Categories
Film Roller Derby Travel

seeking help with my video backlog

Do you or someone you know want to get more experience with video editing in general or with Final Cut Pro X specifically? I’m looking for one or two like-minded individuals to help me catch up on my huge backlog of non-paying video editing projects. I’ve been shooting way faster than I’ve been editing for some time now. The list of unfinished projects finally got so long that I stopped taking on new projects – even some of my favorite topics, like roller derby – until I can knock some of these off my plate.

My video work is split between paying jobs (advertising, training, etc.) and non-paying jobs (both short films and work for charity organizations). I’m not looking for someone to help with the “work” stuff, but I could definitely use help with the “fun” stuff. Here is a list of what’s on my backlog right now:

  • roller derby action highlights videos
  • pedestrian bridges of Portland
  • interview with the Mayor of Missoula about creating community in a “big box store” world
  • Harvest Garden – a non-profit combination garden/workshop that donates all their food to charity
  • Team USA roller derby – two or three topics from the 2011 World Cup
  • Smashed Potato – a short film that’s 90% shot and just needs animation and editing
  • documentary on my grandparents’ life as dry land farmers in western Colorado, as told through interviews of people who knew them
  • Derbyverse season 2 – my roller derby culture interview series; interviews are all shot and just waiting to be edited
  • vacation 2008 – I’ll probably do this myself, unless I find someone who is really into canyons and rivers

If you want to help with any of these, you’ll need a modern Mac with Final Cut Pro X. I’ll provide guidance, training as necessary, hard drives to shuttle things back and forth, gratitude, good coffee, and so on. This would be the perfect way for a student to get some real world experience and credits on a low pressure project with small commitment. To find out more, just call me at 720-480-4890 or email todd@toddbradley.com.

Oh, if you haven’t seen my work before, here are some videos similar to what you’d be helping with.

Categories
Roller Derby Travel

my first USARS roller derby experience – WOW

Last weekend I went to sleepy Dubuque, Iowa to film the very first USARS Roller Derby tournament. It blew my mind. Fans, if you haven’t seen roller derby played by these rules, you must check it out. Skaters, you should find a USARS team near you and drop in sometime just to try it. It was “fuck you get past me” roller derby all day long – fast, aggressive, and hard-hitting.

The tournament did have some rough edges. Only three teams were able to attend – the Eastern Iowa Outlaws (the tournament hosts), the Rushmore Rollerz, and Tulsa Derby League. There were a lot of official timeouts – three timeouts in three jams in one bout. And attendance frankly wasn’t very good; more people watched the online broadcast than watched in person.

I was there as a volunteer for Derby News Network, filming the event and providing the (free) live video feed. Twelve hours is a long day to stand and work a camera, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to playing three bouts in one day at these speeds, as Eastern Iowa and Tulsa did.

I’m not one of these deep thinkers about rules and strategy, but what I can tell you is that it was action-packed roller derby. The average pace was higher than most WFTDA bouts, though of course it varied depending on the situation. One thing I liked most was that under these rules penalty killing increases the action and suspense (like in hockey) instead of decreasing it. I would say that speed and endurance are even more important in this style of derby than under WFTDA style derby. I think Tulsa and Eastern Iowa were pretty matched as far as skill, but it appeared to me that Tulsa edged out their opponents due to better endurance. Unfortunately, Rushmore could only bring 10 skaters to the tournament, and just couldn’t keep up with the other two full-sized teams.

One counter to the whole “fuck you get past me” roller derby sentiment that I’ve heard is “I happen to like strategy in roller derby!” Well, from what I saw there is plenty of room for strategy in the USARS rules – at least as much as WFTDA, and maybe more. It’s not just full speed ahead, turn left, and knock everyone down. I saw isolation plays, smart call-offs, and teams working hard to control the pack speed to their advantage. But on top of that, the ability for the pivot to become the active scorer adds a whole new set of possibilities that I think have barely been tapped. And I love that the non-lead jammer can become lead through speed, like in banked track.

I left the tournament thinking two things. First, people need to see this. Second, I would love to spectate a bout under these rules between two teams that are higher on the skill and experience scale. A match-up like MNRG vs. BAD under these rules would be amazing.

Categories
Film Music Roller Derby

my letter to YouTube, explaining why they are violating copyright law in their effort to prevent violation of copyright law

Here is a letter I just sent to copyright@youtube.com attempting to explain why they should remove their advertising from one of my videos.

Hi, I uploaded a video that contains audio from a song that is copyrighted by a US artist. However, in addition to releasing the music under a standard license, the artist also released the song under a Creative Commons license that allowed use for attributed derivative works. YouTube flagged the song as copyrighted, and I disputed that claim because I have the legal right to use this music in this video. YouTube then rejected the dispute, and reinstated the claim.

Because that the YouTube web interface doesn’t allow any further recourse, what are my options? Is there any way to get a human being to look at my license to this piece of music and remove the ads you are showing on my video?

The video is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9qBIKzK9hU

I purchased the music on March 5, 2008. And as you can see from the following article, the license sold on that date was Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. I can send you a copy of the receipt if you’d like.

http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/8095

Thanks for your help with this matter.

Sincerely,
Todd.

ps. Ironically, by advertising on my video, YouTube is now making money from this work, which violates the non-commercial restriction of the music license. That, in turn, makes it illegal to publically perform this work. As strange as it sounds, I think in your effort to catch copyright law violations, YouTube has now actually caused a copyright violation!

Categories
Film Roller Derby

roller derby documentaries and how Derbyverse came to be

A roller derby photographer from Toronto asked me to write a review of a film called “Derby, Baby!” But what came out was an article about roller derby documentaries in general, why a lot of filmmakers are wasting their time making docs that won’t earn any money, and where my online interview show Derbyverse came from. I liked the article so much I’m posting it here to share with my friends.

—-

In 2009, the modern resurgence of women’s roller derby made it to the mainstream in the form of Drew Barrymore’s film “Whip It.” Thousands of girls and women saw the film and rushed out to buy roller skates and try roller derby for themselves. Now, over three years later, it’s the only significant dramatic motion picture about the modern version of the sport. But there have been several documentary films about the sport, some good and some bad.

I’m a movie buff, a film maker, and a roller derby fan. To me, the two best documentaries about modern roller derby are “Derby, Baby!” and “Brutal Beauty.” Technically, they are the only ones that look, sound, and feel like a real big-screen movie. And they both work well from a storytelling perspective.

“Brutal Beauty” came out in 2010. It was directed by Chip Mabry, and looks into Portland’s Rose City Rollers over the course of about a year and a half. It showed in some indie film festivals, but never was picked up for any significant distribution. It’s now available for rental on Netflix. “Derby, Baby!” came out in 2012, with a much wider scope to show a lot of different leagues and people involved in the sport. The filmmakers took an unusual distribution route with this one; they teamed up with individual roller derby leagues to host screenings around the world and split the proceeds. Eventually it will be available on DVD and, I think, Blu-ray.

In addition to these films, there are several other roller derby documentaries, with probably a dozen more in some stage of production. Most of these films suffer from the same weakness. Some guy with a camera becomes a fan of roller derby, starts following his local hometown team, and then decides to make a documentary about them. I’ve personally met about six filmmakers who are trying to work on different films of this type, which means there are probably more than twice that many.

The fatal flaw of this type of film is that the market is almost non-existent. That’s because of two things. First, any film that’s about specific players making their way up the ladder – as many roller derby documentaries are – has a limited lifespan. The average career of a roller derby skater is only about three years. So by the time the film is finished being shot, and then edited, and then sold, and then shown in theaters, most of the people who are in the film aren’t even involved in roller derby anymore. And because the sport is changing so fast right now, the best you can get is an unsatisfying snapshot of what it used to be like a few years ago. The second – and much bigger – reason there’s no market for this type of film is that only the fans of a local team are really interested in a documentary of that local team. As much as the guy with the camera thinks his local team is unique and exciting and interesting, nobody in Atlanta wants to watch a documentary about a roller derby team in Vancouver.

This brings up a bigger issue that I should back up and explain. There is not a significant audience for roller derby documentaries of any kind – even the really good ones. First, in most of the world, there really isn’t much of a market for documentaries of any kind. In addition, even though derby is the fastest-growing women’s sport in the world (so I’ve read), it is played by only around 10,000 skaters worldwide, and watched by an audience of probably 50,000 to 100,000 real fans. That’s about 1/50 the size of lacrosse. And how many lacrosse documentaries have you and your family seen at the local cinema this year?

I’ve given a lot of thought to this issue because I used to be one of those dozens of filmmakers working on a roller derby documentary. I even had a pretty unique angle that most of the derby films never took. Instead of focusing on my hometown league, I was looking at the roller derby community as it varies around the country (the USA, which is where I live). I wasn’t so much interested in the history of the sport, or roller derby rules and strategy, or how my hometown league came to be. What excites me is the unique culture that’s grown up around the modern version of the sport.

I canceled that film project about halfway through production. But from the ashes of that film came something new and unique, a weekly online video series. It’s called Derbyverse, and each 6-to-10 minute episode focuses on a single person involved in modern roller derby. Most of the episodes are about skaters, but it’s not just famous players whose names are known to everyone in the roller derby community. I’m trying to show the full spectrum of people in the derby universe – the “derbyverse.” So there are some skaters you’ve never heard of, plus officials, fans, and volunteers. You can watch the series at http://youtube.com/Derbyverse, and we have a Facebook page at http://facebook.com/Derbyverse. Come check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Categories
Film Roller Derby Travel

I’m now a citable expert in roller derby

This year was the first ever Roller Derby World Cup.  It wasn’t put on by any official organization, just a roller derby magazine.  They chose to hold the event in Toronto. When I learned about it early in 2011, I decided I could probably afford to go to either Rollercon or the World Cup to shoot footage for my roller derby culture documentary. The World Cup seemed likely to have more significant historical value, so I chose that one.

I then made travel arrangements to go from San Diego to Toronto and back. You see, San Diego is the city where we expected to be living, as part of the 12 Cities, 1 Year project. Unfortunately, our best-laid plans were thrown into a tailspin when we learned Beth had cancer. Our travels went on hold, and we returned to Denver. I assumed I would need to drop my plans to go to Toronto, so I could stay with Beth for moral support. My airline tickets were mostly bought with reward points, and my hotel would be refundable, and I never actually bought tickets to the tournament because I knew I could get in for free. But Beth said she thought I should go. “This is the first one ever, and you should be there,” she told me.

Changing my travel arrangements turned out to take two or three hours of clicking and phone calls, plus a few hundred dollars. But I made it. The official events of the tournament were scheduled for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I arrived at the hotel very late Tuesday night, and made it over to the venue late Wednesday morning.

I had a terrible day, the details of which I won’t list here. But it was stressful, unproductive, sad, and expensive. However, before the day went downhill, I was staking out the building where I’d spend most of the next five days, and watching some roller derby teams practice. A local Toronto news team was there, doing story on the event. And since I was also there on a media pass, I struck up a conversation with them – the camera guy and the on-air talent. They didn’t know anything about roller derby, so I filled them in on the basic rules, a little history, etc. Since I seemed to know what was going on, they interviewed me.

That night, I was on TV in Toronto. Here is the news segment they broadcasted. As Bob LaRue later pointed out, this means I can now cite myself as a recognized expert on the topic of roller derby in my own roller derby film. Ha ha! I just think that idea is hilarious.

Categories
Roller Derby

My First Experiment with Live Audio Webcast of Roller Derby

My First Experiment with Live Audio Webcast of Roller Derby

Last weekend, Portland’s Rose City Rollers came to Denver.  On Sunday, Rose’s Axles of Annihilation took on the Denver Roller Dolls’ Bruising Altitude, and then Rose’s Wheels of Justice took on Denver’s Mile High Club.  The double header was at Denver’s practice facility, called The Glitterdome.

The Glitterdome is half of a warehouse.  It doesn’t have high speed internet service.  Derby News Network had already organized a live “textcast” from the venue.  A textcast is a text-only live broadcast done by two online announcers who type the play-by-play into an online chat room.  Since people had already laid the groundwork to have an internet connection for chat, I got the idea that maybe we could use the same connection for an audio-only broadcast.  After talking to DNN’s Hurt Reynolds about the feasibility, and gathering some gear together, I was ready to give it a try Sunday morning.

To make the whole thing work, I would need a few basic things: two online announcers with microphones, a way for the announcers to hear themselves in headphones, a way to get the audio from the microphones into my computer, and a way to transmit a digital version of the audio from my computer to the world.

Announcers with Microphones

After talking with some of the announcers in the area, Hurt Reynolds, Gonzo, and I found that we would have enough to provide two announcers for the in-house crows plus two announcers for the broadcast.

I had two handheld microphones at home, and brought those and a pair of microphone cables.

Mixing and Audio Routing

Next, I needed a way to mix the two microphone signals, provide a channel back to a pair of headphones, and digitize the mix for streaming.  I had two main approaches.

The first approach was to use my MOTU UltraLite-mk3.  This is a combination mixer and audio interface.  It has two microphone inputs, one headphone output, and a Firewire 400 connection to go to a computer.  Configuring this thing has always been frustrating for me, because it does so many things and it’s not obvious how to tweak things using only the controls on the front panel.  I got the microphone inputs set right, and was getting a good quality digital audio input at my laptop.  But I never did get the headphone output to do what I wanted.  So with only about 20 minutes before first whistle, I switched gear to plan B.

The second approach was to go old school and do everything analog.  I took my Sound Devices MixPre, which is used for live sound mixing for film and video.  After finding some AA batteries that worked (thanks to Dave Wruck for providing a backup pair), it was a simple matter to get things working.  Two mic cables go in, one 1/8″ stereo link goes from the MixPre to the analog input on the Mac, and it just works.  I had a 2-way headphone splitter, but instead borrowed a 5-way splitter from Brad Example (it was so cool, I ordered my own from Amazon the next day).  One advantage of this approach was that Dave wanted an audio feed of the announcers, to go onto the video he was recording of the bout (not for live broadcast, but to be archived); with the MixPre, it was as simple as plugging a spare mic cable from the mixer out to his camera’s XLR input (which is what the MixPre was actually designed for).

Digitizing and Streaming

So, with an analog audio input coming into the Mac, I was using the Mac’s built-in A/D converters.  They’re not really great, and I wouldn’t try to record music this way.  But they’re good enough for a live roller derby broadcast.

I used software called Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder to take the audio stream and send it to an account I set up on Justin.tv.  Justin.tv provides a configuration file for Flash Media Live Encoder, and that got me 80% of the way there.  I just had to turn off the video stream.  There’s no sense in encoding a video stream, when I knew we wouldn’t have the bandwidth to transmit it anyhow.

Justin.tv is mainly oriented to doing live video broadcasts, but there is no reason you can’t do an audio-only broadcast there.  They even have a cute little chat room for viewers (or – in this case – listeners).

Connectivity

The basic approach to connectivity was to use a Verizon Wireless Mobile Hotspot.  It connects over 3G to the Verizon mobile phone network, and then provides WiFi internet service to up to 5 devices through that network.

I set up my MacBook Pro as one of the 5 devices by entering the password printed on the back of the mobile hotspot.  Then it had internet service, albeit somewhat low speed.

Results

Everything came together perfectly, and we went on the air just in time.  The first bout started, the announcers were great, and our connection with the world worked beautifully.  I got a text message from Hurt Reynolds in New Mexico to say the broadcast sounded great.

But then, for some reason we still don’t understand, the internet connection turned super crappy for the second bout.  The stream was having terrible dropouts, and the software was in a non-stop cycle of getting disconnected and then reconnecting.  The two textcasters would type something and then it would take a minute before they could see what they even typed.

We reset the mobile hotspot a couple times, but this didn’t solve the problem.  In hopes we’d get a better connection by the door, we even moved the mobile hotspot across the venue to the garage door.  But the connection was still up and down.  In the end, we couldn’t keep the audio feed going, and I just gave up trying.  I noticed the mobile hotspot had gotten really warm, so I wonder if it’s got problems when it heats up.

We don’t really know if the problem was with Verizon’s service in the area, the mobile hotspot, or something else.  For all we know, it could have been that there were too many people in the building trying to use the Verizon 3G network all at the same time.  Whatever it was, it really emphasized that for even an audio-only webcast, the venue needs to have a reliable internet connection.  Low speed and reliable would be better than high speed and unreliable, for something like this.