The Making of Indie Van Game Jam: Filming an Episode

Hey everyone,

If you’ve been following these Behind the Scenes posts, you know that Indie Van Game Jam oscillates from a one to two-person filming team.  That means I need to be on my toes most of the time monitoring what’s happening on camera and checking audio levels in order to not miss the moment — it’s a tight rope act of juggling three people (a programmer, level designer, and artist) where staying focused is paramount to success.

It ultimately means editing in your head and at the speed of thought.  Much like the editing process, here I am also making difficult choices about who to capture.  I am trying to give myself options in the cutting room while I am filming (for ex. by pointing the camera at someone who is not speaking, I am editing in a reaction shot — a dart of someone’s eyes from left to right — to break up the speaking section.)


Shooting for episodes typically begin the weekend before travel, and everyone goes to Zeb’s place to film the Binary Solo HQ scene.  They play a smorgasbord of the developer’s gameography and then pretty much can not leave the apartment until they agree on a game design question that is interesting and exciting.  This process/filming lasts for about 4-5 hours.  Episode One’s Binary Solo HQ raw material totaled about 27GB.

Then early Monday morning, we’re on the road.  Zeb writes the design question on the top of the whiteboard, and I begin filming.  Whiteboarding usually lasts anywhere from 2-3 hours (8.33 GB *I’m using info from Episode One).  And I must keep rolling because who knows when someone is going to say something that turns out to be a gem sound bite?  Who knows when that moment is going to happen when someone is suggests the game premise?  I suppose I could’ve stopped filming, then have someone notify me that to film, or pickup the conversation (which happened a couple of times — people would have to tell me they’re about to have a conversation or redo it because I wasn’t either there or prepared to film it (#RealityShow problems)  Other times, when I was tired, I let anyone who was game jamming in back use the GoPro to record (it was mounted to a TV screen.)

After whiteboarding, there’s usually a pit stop to switch drivers.   Now Zeb will drive; Chad and Diego will break out their Surface and Wacom tablets, respectively, and begin generating scripts and character/map assets for Unity.  I’ve decided to stay in the front passenger seat as opposed to hop back to the furthest seat in the van in order to record OTS (over-the-shoulder).

I’ve decided to stay here because I can pan the camera to see everyone’s face rather than have everyone in profile.  And I don’t want to slow anyone down by asking to stop the van so  I can move to the back seat.  Ultimately, the van scene is shot from two positions (front passenger seat and Go-Pro shooting at a high angle pointed down) so I could see the developers speak, react, then pan around to grab B-roll of the road, cityscapes, etc.

The driving scenes are kind of a big fog to me.  I was in and out of filming, sleeping, staring out a window, driving and reflecting on the vastness of the open road.  I definitely had a different operating schedule than the developers; I would be awake for certain moments, then sleeping for others.

Looking at episode one, it seems like there are 11.9 GB of footage for driving, excluding the white board and journey home scenes.


Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert of media management!  This is what worked for us.

I cut small squares of gaffer tape and labeled my 5-6 CF cards with letters A-F.  I’d make a note that all the whiteboarding material was on CF card A, for example.  Once a card filled up, I’d deposit in into a small compartment in my camera bag, separate from the empty cards.

We’d arrive in a city at night, and put our stuff in a hotel.  I would take all the filled cards and back up the footage twice: one copy would go on my Macbook Pro and another would reside on a 500GB external hard drive in my suitcase.  I’d also keep footage on cards as long as possible as a third temporary storage unit.

Ideally, you need to back up your stuff three times, minimum, and each storage backup in a different place (there’s little sense in having all three drives in the same room in case of a fire.)  You can read here how the Indie Game: The Movie filmmakers managed their media here (it really is an interesting post):

In the mornings, I’d try to email an itinerary to the team that I discussed with Zeb the night before in order to give everyone an estimation of call and wrap times at the studio.  This  day was usually a full day of interviewing, studio tour, b-roll at the indie developer’s place.  At Klei, for example, we arrived super early, and I was able to take advantage of that time to shoot B-roll.

When we rolled up to an indie studio, I would make an effort to quickly location scout and think about the most visually and appropriate spots to film.  Interviews typically lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.  In episode one, I suppose the interview was part of a lunch with Rob and Ryan.  That scene was 7.52 GB (about 1/2 hr.)

Either the same day in the afternoon or the next day, we’d have a game jam playthrough with the guest developer(s).  We’d find a room (hopefully with a TV so we could use an HDMi cable and El Gato device to capture gameplay footage) and I’d set up the frame.

We spent a great deal of time explaining to the guest developers that this was the Tim Gunn moment on Project Runway, the part where the seasoned pro checks in with the designers and gives feedback and caution.  He doesn’t tear it to shreds.  We wanted everyone to feel like was a safe environment to provide candid thoughts; this was a supporting zone.  To bolster this idea, we tried not to stage guest developers on opposite sides of a table.  Everyone was allowed to sit where s/he’d like.

The playthrough for episode one lasted about 40 minutes and was 9.25 GB.  Sometimes we asked developers to sample game jam prototypes from other episodes, and this took a little longer.  They were true sports about that, despite their hectic schedules!

At night we’d go sometimes go out to a Barcade to celebrate with the developer(s) and we’d film there, too.

Finally, there was the Journey Home.  In the Journey Home scene, the developers wrote down any feedback from playthrough, began to improve the games on the way back to Austin, and then had a post mortem summary at the end.  This scene was the toughest part to film because it typically took place at night.  We used Diego’s camping lights and strung them up for sidelight.

There’s also pit stops that we take along the trip, where we film hypothetical situations.  Hopefully, you’ll see what I mean in episode three.   So factor that in as well.

Each episode contains anywhere from 70 GB to 100 Gigs of camera footage.  (the conversion is a~10 hrs. = 166 GBS, so each episode has a little under 10 hours).  Additionally, there are several GBs generated from asset recreation (I’ll get into this more in Part V.)


How does one stay motivated and focused during such an intense filming and game jam schedule?  During all of this, I was training for the Austin Marathon in February.  My schedule consisted of waking up at 6AM and running around the cities (Vancouver’s run was the coolest in terms of scenery!)  These runs allowed me to assess the day’s goals and challenges.

I could not have gotten through both filming and running without the unwavering support of my coworkers, friends and family who thought that a road trip/video game web series was seriously an awesome story to film.

Another source of motivation has been the responses we received from our Steam Greenlight campaign, which we kicked off last week at SGC.  The responses have been mostly positive, and I’m extremely glad to see a demand for the series.  Here are some of the comments that have been coming in:

I think part of the reason we’re opening up our process (both in terms of filmmaking and indie game development) is to really show people how easy it is to take the first step into doing something new.  Three developers set out on a road trip and in 3-4 months made 7 game jam prototypes.  We want to open up that process and experience.

In episode one, I chose to include what is perhaps the most important image of the series:



In case you’re wondering about the marathon:


This is Part III of IV on the making of Indie Van Game Jam.  Check out our previous posts on the gear we use and about our pre-production phase. Next week is the final post on editing!

The Indie Van Game Jam is a comedy documentary web and video game series in which we travel around the country, interview independent game developers, and make games along the way in our van. You can check out the series on and vote for us on Steam Greenlight.

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