Trumbull & Trio: The Making of the Digby Video

Doug Trumbull Meets David Reed @ Gedney Farm – May 2016

Trumbull & Trio

The Making of The Digby Video

Diagnosis: Mind totally blown. Those who've known me awhile have likely suspected something was awry - and now I can confirm those suspicions. But I also can assure you that my current state is not unwarranted, nor considered life-threatening. In fact, it is totally awesome and life-affirming. Let me explain.

One morning last week my phone rang. I screen all my calls as I am inundated with requests from all over the country for surveys of one sort or another, offers to purchase solar panels or heat-seeking windows and the like, and the current, especially annoying spate of requests for political candidate dollars seems unending. However, as this particular caller's number registered as local, I picked up.

“Hello, David? This is Doug Trumbull. You may not know me but I am in the motion picture business.”

A moment's silence whilst my brain fast-framed through several possible responses I could make as I tried to remember why that name rang a distant bell. I considered some possible responses: “Yeah, sure, and I'm Porky Pig now go away!”Or: “Not interested, I'm already making a movie today, go away!” Or one of my favorites: “Hello! YOU are lucky caller number nine, you're LIVE ON THE AIR!”

Suddenly I remembered. Mr. Trumbull is one of Hollywood's best-known directors and gurus of movie special effects. Anyone who's ever been to a movie since 2001:Space Odyssey - including all the Star Wars and Back to the Futurefilms, Silent Running, Close Encounters, Alien, Blade Runner, Avatar among them - or if they have ever experienced a ride at a Disney or MGM theme park, or attended an iMax theatre has experienced his work. He's truly a bonafide genius but, tired and dismayed after years spent enduring the vicissitudes of Hollywood hucksterism, he relocated his very creatively progressive film studio some twenty years ago from Los Angeles, first to the post-industrial Berkshire County factory hamlet of Housatonic, Massachusetts, and a few years later to the farmstead studios he built hidden a few miles away in the sleepy village of New Marlborough.

And now he's on the phone wanting to speak to me? About what, exactly, I wondered? I elected a more reasonable, prudent response: “Hey, there! What can I do for you?”

He got right to it. Mr. Trumbull told me that he'd attended one of my performances with my trio last summer at Gedney Underground and that he'd been extremely impressed. He'd been thinking about our show since that July evening and concluded that my music would be perfect for a cutting-edge film production concept he was experimenting with.

My brain synapses began to crackle.

Trumbull went on to describe how he had been developing a totally new and innovative method for movies to be made and viewed. He had already filmed a few demos and showed them to prospective international investors who were scrambling to get involved. But he wished to take this idea further, to demonstrate that these new techniques could be used to go beyond just the making of movies. He believed that live sporting events, theatre productions, music concerts and more could greatly benefit from his new modality. That's where I would come into the picture, as it were.

Doug wanted to shoot a music video of a small, intimate concert featuring me and my trio. We would do so in his New Marlborough studio with multiple, computerized high-speed cameras shooting at two hundred and twenty four frames per second! All would be augmented by cutting-edge sound and lighting equipment on a set built specifically for our use.

Synapses: Smoldering.

He then invited me to his studio to see the space, experience some short films he'd already made to demonstrate his ideas and to discuss further how we might collaborate in this venture.

The next day, Claudia and I went to MAGI studio. Doug and his wife, Julia, (along with 23 miniature donkeys, myriad chickens, two fat dogs and a couple of grand children) met us at his large, Adirondack-inspired office nestled in the woods. The space was commodious, but cluttered with evidence that a genius indeed worked here. We were duly impressed by the many large, framed movie posters of his work, the Grammy and Oscar awards tucked away here and there amongst books, camera parts and other objets d'art. We comfortably sat with cups of coffee brought to us by Julia and conversed more about his vision and ideas for this project. Then we walked over to the production studio where “the Pod” lived.

Synapses: Totally ignited!

The moviePod is a Buckminster Fuller-inspired elliptical structure approximately forty feet around by thirty feet high that houses stadium seating for seventy. Surrounding the seats were a giant, concave screen and enough high-tech video and sound gear to move heaven and earth. We were deep inside

Trumbull's Geek Orgasmatron for sure! Doug explained to us how everything worked and, gob-smacked, I processed what I could. Then the lights slowly dimmed from dusk to total darkness and the sound came up – ba-BOOM! The seats literally shook as we stared through the guiding sights of a space craft hurtling thru the universe at warp speed...all in 3-D! The film actor's voice-over explained that he was a photographer and amateur UFO hunter and that he was convinced he could lure alien spacecraft right to his remote desert RV camper simply by releasing a super sub-sonic, low level nuclear explosion that he'd spent years developing .

However, the government was fixated upon shutting him down and had already sent several FBI-type agents into the desert to do just that. Our hero needed to enact his experiment before he got busted. The music intensified while the dramatic tension increasingly built. More Geek-speak voice-over ensued as wild, breath-taking spatial effects unfolded, literally all around us at laser speed. Our hero detonates his controlled miniature nuclear device and Voila! … all hell breaks loose as the sound pressure levels in the pod increase, thanks to the dozen twenty-four inch sub-woofers. Alien spacecraft begin to clutter the radar, dramatically zipping and zooming within our hero's telescope sites and everywhere else within our peripheral vision! The bumbling, miffed FBI agents dramatically break into the Hero's geek-outfitted camper only to find him gone and the nuclear device missing.

The 12-minute film ended and the credits rolled. Claudia and I were weeping. Neither of us are tech geeks, nor are we big fans of sci-fi outer space films, movies with Big Bangs, hundred-story tidal waves, sheets of fire or glimpses of Armageddon. But, by gawd, this little film sucked us in, made us suspend our cynical skepticism and for a short while we actually joined the hero in his quest for alien life. For that brief time, we truly believed everything we were watching! I was exhausted.

Synaptic overload: Fully achieved.

My inner cynic and skeptical self is fully aroused. What's this got anything to do with an eclectic trio of aging Berkshire musicians who play Caribbean-inspired folk rock and cigar box guitar blues? Why us? So I asked Trumbull directly, “Why do you want us? With all your LA and Nashville connections, surely you could have found much better players. And certainly way better looking!”

His response floored me: “I'm not a musician at all, but I know what I like. I like interesting, unusual and different and that's how I felt about you guys after I saw you last summer. You left quite an impression and I've been thinking about this project for quite a while now. I think you'll be perfect for it.”

Hey, who am I to argue with a bonafide genius guru?

Mr. Trumbull is pretty sure he can sell his version of 'Pod-cast' to future investors and movie goers. But he wants to expand beyond the current Hi-Def music presentations of operas, ballets and theatre productions that are popular in movie houses today to include sporting events, documentaries, travelogues, academia and more. He believes his techniques will allow audiences to be fully immersed with the performers, athletes, guides, teachers, anyone, anywhere – up close and personal. He is convinced that his moviePod technology, which is modular, quite portable and can be erected to seat anywhere from 20 to 400, could be used in myriad ways. It will deliver a multi-sensory cinematic experience absolutely like no other. He plans to create and film a small music video that will demonstrate to potential investors his new technology's ability to generate and penetrate new markets.

I played again last night at Gedney Farm. Doug and Julia Trumbull came to the show. He brought a small camera and recorder and documented the performance “for more ideas we can use in the future”.

Synaptic circuits: Fully blown. System shut down: Activated.

David Reed & TrioTraumatica will attend a tech meeting at MAGI studios next week and will begin shooting right after that. I'll keep you posted.

May 2016


The Digby Shoot: David Reed & Trio Traumatica @ MAGI Studios

Making Movies

On a gloriously sunny Berkshire July morning Marky-T (piano/sax), Samster (drums/percussion) and I (guitar, vocals, harmonica conch shell), together with my dear Claudia (photographer) reconnoitered at Doug Trumbull's MAGI studios where we began the filming of our first Trumbull music video, Digby, a calypso folk song from Barbados that we'd been playing since we learned it from a scratch band in the Virgin Islands a few years ago.  

Hidden deep in the South County woods, MAGI studios occupies a goodly portion of fifty acres of techie, geeky paradise.  As the photos attest, the film, audio and lighting gear is First-Rate extraordinary, say nothing of the world-class guy who is behind it all.  We were thrilled to realize that Doug Trumbull is as gentle, kind and humble a man as he is creative, innovative and brilliant.

After showing us around, we went to work setting up our instruments and gear while his 5-man crew placed lights, mics and props where they thought best.  Doug set to calibrating his unique cameras that shoot at film speeds of two hundred and twenty four frames per second!  Now that's a lot of data for the computers to digest and some hard drive issues soon arose that occupied a bit of time to debug.  

While the garrulous tech geeks began to investigate this, we three musical geeks ran through a few versions of Digby. Because this calypso is a dance tune that, depending upon the crowd's energy, can have a lot of verses. This allows the singer to take everyone on a virtual tour of nearly all the islands in the Caribbean archipelago; meaning it can take more than ten minutes to complete! For this music demo purpose, we had to condense Digby's verses and instrumental solos to around two minutes, which resulted in some seriously complicated musical and film editing!

An hour or so passed while the trio jammed and the film crew huddled around cameras and computers conjuring up some sort of digital juju that would allow us to continue our journey.  And then Doug announced, "Ready for Take One?"  And we were off.

It took nearly six hours, but we shot six versions of Digby, all without a click-track.  We were hoping we could shoot it accurately and straight through right out of the gate and have at least one keeper in the bunch. And we did.  But the challenging issue was "time".  Digby is a calypso dance tune, that depending upon the crowd's energy, can have many verses, allowing the band to take everyone on a virtual tour of nearly all the islands in the Caribbean archipelago with each's unique West Indian music or dance style. There are also the various instrumental parts, including a conch shell and sax duet, harmonica solo, guitar solo and a percussion/whistle jam at the end.  In its aggregate the tune is usually at least 8-10 minutes long; we are used to folks really shaking their booty when we play it.  But this wasn't going to work at all.  The computers could not, no how, no way absorb that much digital music and video data for our purposes in their file banks.  We would have to whittle Digby down to well under three minutes.  Yikes!

We all pow-wowed, in the end deciding to shave off the guitar solo, pare down the verses from a dozen or so to two, limit the harp solo to one chorus and the conch shell intro and percussion/whistle jam to only around 20 seconds.  Good.  "Take Six!"

Just then one of the main stereo-vision cameras pooped out. By this time it was around 7PM and the camera was not the only thing that was pooped out!  We decided to call it a day.  Doug wanted to look at all the raw footage and if we were lucky, we could edit, splice and conjure up something from what we'd done.  Or, we could come back another time and try it again!

A couple of weeks went by and Doug and I communicated via email a few times.  He was not happy with his cameras and he'd ordered a new one.  He was not happy with his computers. We should have used a click-track while recording; this would have, at least theoretically, kept the tempos consistent in each recorded version of the tune. In the end, Doug decided that "you guys were pretty good at keeping the tempos in the same neighborhood so we might be able to work with what we have."

Another couple of MAGI-silent weeks passed.  I called Doug.  "How's it going?"

"I think we may have something.  Come on by tomorrow at 10."

Claudia and I drove to the studios at the appointed hour and Doug took us into the moviePod where we donned 3D glasses and sat in the stadium seats surrounded by the bank of giant sub-woofers, myriad line-array speakers and the huge, wrap-around floor-to-ceiling screen.  Doug explained that he and the crew worked many long hours on Digby, and while it was by no means perfect, he was quite pleased with the results. He looked forward to my response. He worried, "I never could get the cameras to work right and you can see ghost motions in places, especially in Sam's drum sticks."

The lights dimmed down.  Then...Holy Mother of Conch Shell!  There I was, onscreen, lit by only a pinpoint spot from the waist up, at least twelve feet tall, pointing at the spotlight and blowing a ceremonial tattoo with my St. Johnian conch shell that rivaled Joshua at Jericho.  The sound literally shook the seats. Samster, way larger than life, pounded his drum kit, setting the tempo and groove for a wild calypso dance.  Marky-T's sax jumped in and dialoged with my conch shell for a spell until my guitar and harmonica introduced the tune and Marky-T switched to piano.  I sang my two verses and we segued into the percussion jam with me playing a samba whistle and djembe, Marky-T on shakers and the Samster staying on his kit. Then, with a couple of blasts from my whistle, Digby came to a startling halt. Doug and his crew had edited and spliced bits and pieces from all our six takes into one nearly seamless two-minute piece of calypso magic, with nary a “ghost motion” to be seen, either.

My impression: Pure GENIUS on their part! Doug tells me that he is "not finished tweaking" the film but that he has already shown it to several friends and "a few people in the industry" who have been "impressed" and "interested" with the project.

So what's next? I am not entirely sure, but am told that when it's finalized, I shall have the rights to use it whenever, wherever , however I wish and will have a few "hard" copies of my own - even in 3D if I want it. But I think the best part is, Doug Trumbull, who could have chosen anyone, anywhere in the world to be the first musical act to create his music video using his new filming techniques - he chose me and my trio. He mentioned to me that he'd like to shoot another closeup, solo video of me playing my cigar box guitars in the next few weeks!

Stay tuned.

July 2016

The moviePod at MAGI Studio - New Marlborough, Massachusetts

Post Script

Digby was included in Trumbull's world-wide marketing materials for his moviePod concept. He received tremendous push-back from the Hollywood industry moguls whom he had left behind several years ago. Sadly, the selling of the moviePod concept got bogged down with complicated industry personalities and politics. A couple of years later, Doug became ill and passed away from cancer on February 7, 2022. His legacy will live on forever in the annals of the film industry and in the hearts of those whom he touched. We never got to make that cigar box guitar video.


Doug Trumbull -  1942-2022


Photographer Claudia d'Alessandro with David Reed @ MAGI Studios



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