Sunday, July 10, 2016

RIP PowerBook G3

Well, I knew the day would come eventually. It had probably been a year and maybe a half since I fired up my Mac PowerBook G3 and, alas, when I tried to boot it up just the other night, there was no more life in it. I pressed the power button several times, desperately trying to resuscitate my beloved machine, but it was to no avail. If only I could have performed CPR or mouth-to-mouth! I couldn't do this, though...mainly because it was a computer and not a human being. Instead, I unplugged and re-plugged, blew softly on the keyboard, gave the tracking pad gentle kisses, recited seven Hail Mary's with an Our Father for good measure, but it was no use. My PowerBook laptop was officially dead at the age of 16.

Indeed, it was 16 years ago when my parents gave the laptop to me for a high school graduation gift. It was the best Mac laptop on the market at the time and it had eight whole gigs for a hard drive! Holy shit! I needed a computer for college and I convinced my parents that the PowerBook was the best one to fit my needs. See, the dawn of digital video and digital video editing was just on the horizon. The PowerBook was being marketed as the first user-friendly laptop out there that had "Firewire" ports where you could import and export video from a digital video camera. Then you could edit the video with new user-friendly software called Final Cut Pro. My plan was to major in film at Boston University, so I figured this was the laptop I NEEDED to have. There was no better one out there that would suit my needs.

Of course, it's almost laughable these days to think that a computer with a eight gig hard drive would be a practical computer to use for video editing. Today, only about five minutes of rendered high-definition video would take up eight gigs of space. But the early 2000's were the days of non-high-definition video so you could actually fit about 40 minutes of raw video footage on the hard drive at a time. This is still not much at all, especially if you were looking to make a feature film or documentary where you usually have hours and hours of raw footage to edit. Nevertheless, I was still able to make some really cool short projects with my little PowerBook; I just had to be a little conservative about what shots I wanted to import. But I'll get to all that in just a bit.

The Canon Optura PI
About a month or two after I got my PowerBook, I went out and bought my first digital video camera for about $1200. I worked two jobs that summer - one as a cashier at Stop N' Shop and the other as an "associate" at CVS pharmacy - to save up for the purchase; plus, I had a lot of high school graduation money saved in the bank. The camera was a Canon Optura PI model and even today I would still consider it a good camera, though it was non-HD and it shot in a standard 4:3 aspect ratio (i.e. non-widescreen).

I videotaped a lot of silly stuff when I first got the camera. For some reason, I shot some footage of my friends using a Pogo Stick and jumping into a snowbank. How silly! Then, I documented a trip my friends and I took to a thrift store called "Savers". Riveting stuff, right? I also set the camera up on a tripod and filmed myself playing the drums. Oh, and I think I got a lot of footage of my Basset Hound Oliver playing with his bone. 

It wasn't long before I got sick of shooting nonsense. About a month after my camera purchase, I cut the crap and decided I was going to shoot and edit my first short film.

That short film was a horror movie called GUTTER.

A "publicity" still from GUTTER.
This movie - for the most part - made no sense whatsoever. I played the role of a psycho who is out to murder two teenage dudes who happen to be watching "Full House" in a finished basement. One of these dudes mysteriously disappears at one point in the movie and is never mentioned again. It's basically a continuity error that would make Ed Wood's continuity errors look like mere blemishes. But, yes, I wore a creepy horror movie mask and I went and murdered a teenage Full House fan played by my friend Tim who puts up a little fight and then the movie basically ends with me posing in Christ-like formation. There was no reason for this apparent religious symbolism. Fans of GUTTER would later try to "read into all of it" and I unfortunately had to tell them not to waste their time. "It's all bullshit."

Despite the fact that GUTTER was pretty terrible, it will always have its place in the Matt Burns history books as the first edited movie I ever made. The only 'editing' I had ever done before that was in a high school video production class but that was during the pre-digital-era and we edited with the archaic "on-line" (or was it off-line?) tape-to-tape machines.

Although I did manage to get my hands on a pirated version of Final Cut Pro (don't tell anybody) I never actually used Final Cut until several years after having my PowerBook. Instead, I paid about fifty bucks to download a program called Imovie onto my computer. Yes, these were the days when Imovie wasn't pre-installed on Mac computers. If you wanted the program, you had to buy it.

So I bought Imovie for fifty bucks and boy did I make good use of it. I edited GUTTER during my winter break from college and, at the time, I was pretty amazed with the final product. It was an edited film that told a story through the Eisensteinian (not to be mistaken with Einstein) art of montage. Of course, it was a pretty bad story with many plot-holes, but it was a story nevertheless. What impressed me the most was the realization that I didn't need to buy any expensive 16mm film or try to rent out a Steinbeck film editing machine from God-knows-where. I had the power to make movies with my video camera and my laptop. That's all I needed in this new digital age. It was pretty awesome.

My next major film endeavor came that next summer when I made another ten-minute short narrative movie called "British Dingo from Ireland". The title of that movie was basically born out of my inability to speak in an Irish accent without it sounding either British or Australian, so I figured, well, why not create an ambiguous character who may be all three?!

And I did just that. The character was named Mr. Dingo and he was a shady dude who wore a scally cap and a black trench coat (I was kind of ripping off the movie Boondock Saints, which was popular at the time). All Mr. Dingo cared about was money and he recently got himself involved in a big drug deal with some shadowy characters named Kado and Pristine. But Kado and Pristine try to double-cross Dingo and screw him over. The drug deal goes sour and Mr. Dingo finds himself in a fire-fight.

The "fire-fight", of course, involved toy guns and lots of gun sound effects that I believe I downloaded off Napster. The film also involved some pyrotechnics and when I say 'pyrotechnics' all we did was light a firecracker in a Miller Lite beer can to simulate the can being hit by a whizzing bullet.

The trailer for British Dingo from Ireland.


When it came down to editing "British Dingo from Ireland", I really pushed Imovie's parameters. I remember that the first version of Imovie only provided two soundtracks for you to work with. This meant that you could usually put music on one track and then sound effects or dialogue on the other track. The problem was when you wanted to use background music, dialogue AND multiple sound FX at the same time. In editing programs today, you basically have unlimited tracks to work with so, say, if you have a car accident sequence and you want multiple sound effects (the crash, the horn sounding, glass shattering, hubcaps rolling, not to mention musical score and maybe even some dialogue, e.g. "holy shit we're crashing!") you have plenty of tracks to layer all the sound on top of each other. But when you only have two sound tracks? Well...your options are limited.

A rare photo of me editing "Dingo" on my PowerBook.
What I ended up doing is putting sound effects on the same track as music, which Imovie allowed me to do and the sounds would end up playing simultaneously. But you weren't supposed to do this, so it significantly slowed down the computer. In fact, in many cases, it slowed down the computer to such an extent that my poor PowerBook froze on me several times. I was beginning to realize that Imovie was really only useful for extremely simple editing. My movies were already becoming too complex what with their multiple sound fx, music and dialogue tracks etc.

Surprisingly, I didn't quite see all this as writing on the wall telling me I should really make the switch to Final Cut Pro. Well, maybe I did see the writing on the wall but I ignored it, mainly because I liked and knew how to use Imovie. 

So, short story long, I kept using Imovie. But it was with my next movie that I pushed it too far...

The movie was called "GAS" (later renamed "Only Entertainment") and the first version of this movie was made between my sophomore and junior year in college. It was a super-ambitious cat-and-mouse film about two teens who are playing Mario Kart, one gets pissed that the other dude beat him, they say "wanna take this outside?" and then a real-life car chase ensues. Reality mirrors fantasy and all that deep stuff. Despite the fact that I had no stuntmen and no permits to orchestrate any stunts, I surprisingly made the car chase look rather realistic through the use of montage and sound fx. 

Now, as I mentioned above, there are two different versions of this movie. Imovie was able to survive the first version of this edit, the version entitled "GAS", but then came the summer between my junior and senior year in college. I had just read filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's book Rebel Without a Crew, which is a very inspiring memoir of him making his first independent movie El Mariachi on a shoe-string budget. I was feeling all energized after reading the book and I realized, damn, I could do a whole lot better with GAS. I mean, it was a pretty solid movie but it could be waaaay better. All it needed was some better editing.

So I reedited GAS with A LOT MORE cuts and A LOT more sound FX and, well, this was when Imovie said, "No more!" Not only did the program die on me but it crashed my entire computer. My senior year started at the beginning of September and my poor little PowerBook didn't work until about the beginning of October. I had taken it to a repair place on the BU campus and they kept giving me the runaround whenever I asked what its status was. After several phone calls and numerous complaints, the computer finally came back fixed and it never crashed until the day it died in 2016. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the main reason it didn't crash was because I upgraded to the very first version of MAC OS X (i.e. Panther) later into my senior year. MAC OS X was being marketed as a system software that was virtually un-crashable. From my experience, this turned out to be true. My lovely PowerBook never crashed again.

As for GAS - now titled ONLY ENTERTAINMENT - I was worried that, with the computer crash, the newly edited version would be lost forever. And although Imovie didn't work at all after the computer was fixed, I was still able to export the finished movie to a DV tape and it was successfully saved. I was thrilled.


But, yes, Imovie was officially dead and - to no surprise - a new, more up-to-date (and legal) version of Final Cut Pro was on my Christmas wish-list that year. Santa Claus apparently decided I had been a good boy and I found "Final Cut Express" under my fake Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Final Cut Express was a more condensed (and affordable) form of Final Cut Pro. It had a few less features than its non-express counterpart, but it was still about a thousand times better than Imovie.

The first movie I made with the new Final Cut software (and last short narrative movie I made with my PowerBook) was a movie called WENDEL'S REVENGE. This was another silly movie that kind of fit in the horror genre. It's about a crusty dude named Rat Bonze who drives by his arch-nemesis Wendel and throws a dirty pair of underpants at him. Wendel takes offense and then hunts down Rat Bonze with the intention of killing him, hence the title "Wendel's Revenge". Sounds pretty avant-garde, right?

Here's the full WENDEL'S REVENGE movie.

I shot WENDEL'S REVENGE during winter break of my senior year in college but I didn't get around to editing it (with my new Final Cut Express software) until the summer after I graduated. It took me a little while to get used to the Final Cut software but it was so much more fit to handle a complex masterwork like WENDEL'S REVENGE. More importantly, it never made my computer crash! I was in love with Final Cut from that point forward and I must have created hundreds of projects (short films, wedding videos, documentaries and other videos) since. The only other editing programs I've used aside from Final Cut are Avid for my actual student films I made at BU and later on I tried Adobe Premiere but to this day it hasn't become a program I use very often, or really at all.

WENDEL'S REVENGE was the last short narrative movie I made on my PowerBook, though I did use it to edit numerous wedding videos, music videos and even a documentary called A PARALLEL WORLD (watch it HERE) where I investigate a haunted house on Cape Cod and attempt to communicate with the entities. All these projects were done between graduating college in 2004 and 2009 when I bought a new desktop Imac. I bought the Imac because I knew it was time to make the transition to working with hi-definition video. 

After 2009, I did still use my adorable PowerBook, mainly for word-processing, because by that time it had really lost its ability to do much else. It had long lost its Internet capabilities around the 2007 area and even then I remember it being very slow and sluggish. Web browsers were just getting too fast and complex for my poor eight-gig PowerBook.

The word-processing, however, still worked great. I had both Microsoft Office on it and my screenwriting software Final Draft. I can't even tell you how many things I wrote on my cute little PowerBook G3 between the years 2000 and, oh, 2014. In college, I of course wrote many a thesis paper, many of which got me A's...well, a couple A's. BU was pretty tough so I mostly got B's. One or two C's. 

Looking back, the most notable (college) paper I wrote on my PowerBook was a 50-page paper on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, 50 whole pages! The assignment required me to analyse the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece shot-by-shot and write about the "elements of suspense", which included sound, music, mise-en-scene, camera angle, camera movement, lighting and the editing from one shot to the next. It was an extremely tedious process, but I think it was very valuable. Today I know 2001 like the back of my eyelids and it taught me everything there was to know about the language of film (of which Kubrick was a master) and how to use that language effectively. 

What was great about my PowerBook was that it had a DVD drive built right into it, so I could have the 2001 DVD playing in one window and then write about each shot in another window. What a machine! I loved you so much PowerBook. We had such great times together!

Oh, and I should mention I got a B-minus on that paper because I had "too many grammatical errors". A teacher's assistant graded it. Total crock of bull! I spent forever on that paper.

After college, I no longer had any thesis papers to write but my PowerBook certainly didn't suffer from lack of use. What I didn't expect is that - after graduation - I would get bitten by the writing bug. First, it was screenplays and then, later, it became prose. So, as a writer, my PowerBook became my most valued possession. Every screenplay I ever wrote was at least initially written on that laptop. And I've written dozens of screenplays over the years. I also wrote about five of my six novels on that laptop. Then there were all the poems I wrote, and essays, short stories, erotic tales of sweat and name it!

Even when I purchased my Imac desktop in 2009, I still did the majority of my writing on the laptop because, well, it was portable and it allowed me to write in different environments with different types of energy. A lot of times, these environments would be libraries, like the Boston University Mugar library and the Boston Public Library, which were two favorites of mine. But I also liked bringing my PowerBook to places like Starbucks, Panera Bread and other coffee shops where the caffeine became the fuel I needed to turn me into an insane writing machine.

By the time 2014 rolled around, I noticed that the screen on my laptop was getting dimmer and dimmer by the day. My eyes were getting strained when I used it and, pretty soon, I just couldn't use the laptop anymore.

On Christmas 2014, Santa Claus once again decided I was a good boy and he left a new laptop under the Christmas tree. It wasn't a Mac, though. It was Dell and it was a rather simple Dell at that, only worth a couple hundred bucks. But it was a nice little computer and would be great for word processing and Internet use. 

I must say, however, that it felt like treason making the switch to a Dell. I swear on some nights I could hear my little Mac PowerBook weeping in the far corner of my bedroom where it collected dust until its eventual death. It felt hurt knowing I had found another laptop to assist me in my writing endeavors. Its heart was broken.

The Dell laptop has served me well over the past year and a half (I'm using it to write this blog right now), though it has also been a pain in the ass at times. It will never live up to my Mac PowerBook G3, even though it will try and fail.

Anyway, rest in peace, Mac PowerBook G3! What I shall do with your dead corpse I do not know. I'm still not ready to part ways with it. Maybe I'll keep you for the rest of my life. Who knows: if I ever become a well-known writer, maybe some sort of Smithsonion-like museum will want you in its possession. I mean, it would be like owning the typewriter Hemingway wrote his books on. Or Fitzgerald. Or Hunter Thompson. You get my drift. And that's not to sound arrogant or anything. The fact of the matter is that I'm on the same level as all of those writers. Well, let's not get nuts here. I'm well above them.

Boy, we had some great times together, PowerBook G3. I will never forget you. In fact, I think I probably wrote most of my significant work on you. I won't quite be sure of that until I'm on my death bed, though I feel it's probably true. You were good to me. I hope I was good to you. You lived sixteen years so I think I could've done worse to you. Know what I mean? I'm sure you do. You always understood me.

Love. Always.


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