Beep director Karen Collins Asbjoern Andersen


The Beep game audio documentary – Karen Collin’s massive undertaking of documenting the history of game audio – is finally complete.

Over the course of two years, the project has gone from over 100 interviews with the most influential people in the game audio world, 226 hours of raw footage, to an in-depth, 2-hour documentary + a two-volume book to accompany it.

And in this special A Sound Effect feature, she looks back at the ups and downs of this monumental project; a project that grew larger than anyone ever expected. Here’s the story behind the gigantic Beep project – and how you can finally experience the end-result:


Written by Karen Collins



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The trailer for Beep

Beep began as a humble project a little over two years ago now. Initially, I thought I would be interviewing about twenty people. I would simultaneously write a book around the interviews, interweaving interview content into the book, a history of game audio.
We launched a Kickstarter campaign in August 2014, and during the six weeks of the campaign it was easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding the project. We were a Kickstarter staff pick and Project of the Day. Major tech press like Engadget and C|net covered us. I was doing three or four press interviews a day. People from all over the game audio community got in touch and wanted to be a part of it.

I was looking at a dizzying list of about a hundred people who had made themselves available to interview

The project’s scope exploded as other people signed on, volunteers lined up, and by the end of the campaign, I was looking at a dizzying list of about a hundred people who had made themselves available to interview. My camera guy, Matt, and I set about with gusto to Los Angeles to begin our interviews in October, 2014.

 

World travellers

For the next year or so, Matt and I travelled around the world and shot interviews with people. Los Angeles, Toronto, Maryland, London, San Francisco, Seattle, Japan, Montreal and then Vancouver. It might sound glamorous, but the only time we really got to see the locations we visited was in the taxi from one shoot to the next. Much to Matt’s dismay, despite being five minutes walk from Buckingham Palace in London (a place he’d never been), we never even found the time to walk over and take some tourist shots. Many days I’d get up at 5 a.m. to begin preparing for the day, and wouldn’t get to bed until midnight.

We did have some fun times as well. The day we spent running (quite literally) around Tokyo to shoot b-roll; recording the humorous VO audio in a toilet on a train from London to Liverpool; or just looking up at the Hollywood sign on the way to our first shoot and saying, “Matt, we’re in L.A. shooting a movie!”

Many days I’d get up at 5 a.m. to begin preparing for the day, and wouldn’t get to bed until midnight

We felt like we were constantly running from one item on our schedule to the next, but the times when we could stop and catch our breath—sometimes just for a minute while we were in an elevator on our way up to a shoot—we’d look at each other with a stupid grin and repeat that phrase: “Hey. We’re in London, shooting a movie!” “We’re in Japan, shooting a movie!” In the enormous stress of it all, we managed to keep reminding ourselves how cool what we were doing really was.
 

How to watch the Beep game audio documentary:

As of today, Beep is available on Vimeo On-Demand here. The book, the DVD version, and Beep soundtrack can also be ordered here.

 

Running out of money

We rapidly ran out of the Kickstarter money—a combination of a sudden drop in the value of the Canadian dollar, and getting walloped by the loss of our AirBnB during one trip (our breakdown of our budget is here for those interested). We went back to Kickstarter and raised some more funds.
At the end of the year, including the two (and sometimes three) cameras we used, we had 226 hours of footage. 226 hours to wade through. 226 hours to edit down into something cohesive. I began editing. Cutting, cutting, cutting.

I had my first edit — everything I wanted to see go into the film. It was eleven and a half hours long.

After about three months of very long days, I had my first edit—everything I wanted to see go into the film. It was eleven and a half hours long. This would be the Lord of the Rings of documentary film.

I had to get ruthless. I had to cut some great content that I really loved, but which just didn’t fit the story arc. It was probably the hardest work I’ve ever done, to cut down that footage into something under two hours. I kept editing until February, always cutting away, each time felt like cutting off a piece of my own flesh.

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One of the Beep webisodes – this one featuring Damian Kastbauer, talking about technical sound design


 

The first screening

We screened an almost-done film in March during GDC for cast and crew. It was probably one of the best nights of my life: To sit in a room full of people whose music I’d been hearing since I was a child, who had grown into friends, and watch them on screen altogether in one room, after all that stress and all that work, was indescribable. Matt and I both just cried for the first half of the film.

It was probably one of the best nights of my life

At the end, we have a small dedication to Brad Fuller (who passed away in January of this year). The crowd—most of whom knew Brad personally, all let out a big sigh, and then gave us a standing ovation. Matt and I cried again. I didn’t stop crying for about a week, mostly from the relief of it not being a total disaster.

Since then, we’ve selectively screened Beep at festivals while we polished it off, adding subtitles (another enormously underestimated task!), building the DVD menus, doing all the artwork, and getting it ready for release in multiple formats. The project still has a ways to go before I can put it to rest. About half of the webisodes have now been released online and can be watched on our Vimeo page.
 


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Editing the book this summer showed the ridiculous scope of the project: 410,000 words. To put that in perspective, a normal book is maybe 75,000 words. Typing, editing and copyediting the two-volume book was an enormous task in itself, but I published the e-book last month, and it’s currently at the printers. I’m in the midst of mailing out Kickstarter goods, and spend an hour or so every day at the post office, slowly getting through it all. But now, at least, each step comes with a sense of getting closer to the end of the tunnel. Each step is a box ticked: releasing the e-book, seeing the DVD copies come in, releasing the soundtrack, mailing the goods out, and slowly getting webisodes finished off and released.
 

Leonard J. Paul composed the soundtrack for Beep – believed to be the first feature-length, procedurally-generated film soundtrack

Overwhelmed

If I had to sum up the past two years of my life, it would be with the simple word, “overwhelming.” From Kickstarter campaigns, to planning and background research, to filming, editing, finalising, transcribing, layout, copyediting, to the webisodes and press interviews and film festival submissions and managing all the emails and social media…I underestimated every single task how much time it would take.

I’d done major projects before, but this one was a whole other category of crazy. You never see how much work goes in behind the scenes on these projects, and I was working 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for most of the past two years to pull all of this together.

I was working 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for most of the past two years to pull all of this together

The big lesson learned I think is to assemble a team of people that you trust in advance—and whom you have worked with on smaller projects and know they will not flake out on you. There were plenty of people who volunteered to do work on Beep, but who disappeared when it came to getting work done. I tried hiring people several times to take on tasks, and always ended up re-doing the work myself anyway, disappointed with their results. Nobody is as invested in your project as you are, and ultimately, it falls on your shoulders to get the work done, so unless you’re prepared to do all of it yourself, then you need to raise enough money to hire professionals from the start. Could I have raised that much money? Most likely not.

 

Looking back at Beep

Looking back on the past two years, I can’t help but feel exhausted—physically, financially, and emotionally. It will take me a long time to recover from this project. People ask about a Beep 2 and I just shake my head. But I’m excited about what we accomplished. I feel giddy holding the DVD in my hand and I watch the mail daily, anxious to get the books. I’m regularly reminded how important the project is.

We lost another of our interviewees, Jory Prum, in April. I didn’t want to change our original dedication at that point, but Jory was a good friend, and has been in my thoughts all the time we finished the project. The film is officially dedicated to Brad, but in reality, it’s dedicated to Jory as well.

It’s dedicated to all of the people who made me fall in love with games, who gave me the soundtrack to my life

It’s dedicated to all of the people who made me fall in love with games, who gave me the soundtrack to my life. The unsung heroes who kept making great music despite toiling away in obscurity, often thinking nobody cared about them. We did care, and I hope that the project shows you how important you are to all of us. Thank you: to those who are part of the project and to those who we couldn’t get to interview. And thanks to all those who helped or supported me–either through backing the project, or just sending a few words of encouragement.
 

A big thanks to Karen Collins for the story behind this gigantic project – and congrats on the release! The Beep book, soundtrack, and film are available for purchase here

 

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