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.

SGC 2014 Wrap-Up!

This weekend we were fortunate enough to be exhibiting at the Screwattack Gaming Convention (or SGC Wooooooo!) We brought a few of our games from the Indie Van Game Jam in order to promote the Steam Greenlight campaign we launched that morning, Friday July 11th. Although only Scott and I could attend, we had a total blast in Indie Heaven!

First of all, many thanks to our friend Drew McGee for helping us out and tending the booth with us. Drew is a former compatriot of BioWare and has written for titles such as Bumble Tales and The Banner Saga. He’s also a bright, smiling face who got plenty of people to the booth as well as the hookup from the roaming Red Bull distributors. (Dat Red Bull Silver!)

It was such a treat to meet so many new faces and watch as people genuinely enjoyed our games. We met cosplayers of impressive caliber. Hardcore gamers with impressive skills. Parents who forgot how a simpler game could be fun for (and played by) anyone. Check out some of our attendees on our Facebook page!

Someone just found the sea serpent in our game 'Round the World!
Someone just found the sea serpent in our game ‘Round the World!

As mentioned, we were trying to promote our new Steam Greenlight campaign for Indie Van Game Jam! Everyone seemed to be digging what we were laying down. Everyone was crazy supportive. Fans loved our stickers and seemed to be really interested in the Indie Van Game Jam. Honestly, when you see Stunt Mitch or Round the World in-person, it’s hard not to be a fan.

Indie Heaven, the happening place for indies, was full of great stories and talent. From our high-school neighbors, SmartCade, to the hometown heroes, Dallas Society of Play, the room contained a great level of passion. While Scott got completely addicted to Tumblestone, Chad flocked to KR-17. Big thanks to them and all the other exhibitors who we got to meet.

Can’t wait for Classic Game Fest!

Indie Van Game Jam Episode 2!

Hey! Hey! Hey! Have you been impatiently waiting for the second of Indie Van Game Jam? Well, you’re in luck! Our second episode, “Wizards of the East Coast”, just dropped. In this episode we travel from Austin to Orlando to visit Phyken Media, creators of Wizard Ops and Wizard Ops Tactics. You can check it out at the Indie Van Game Jam site and download the game, “Who Wants to Play a Game About Beekeeping!?”

The Making of Indie Van Game Jam: Pre-Pro

Indie Van Game Jam is a reality web series about the challenges three indie game developers take to create video games in a van — in a compressed amount of time — as they road trip across North America.  Special guests (seasoned indie devs) play the games and provide helpful feedback and suggestions for improvement along the way.  The team learns valuable lessons about game design and teamwork along the way.

Our plan was to travel to 7 cities in less than 90 days.  In fact, for two weeks back-to-back we shot three episodes and traveled to three cities!  That’s three playable games in 2 weeks — and a lot of coffee!

This is the definition of BADASS.

Here’s what the team’s January calendar looked like this year:

shooting schedule for January
Shooting schedule for January

Step 1:  Buy a van.


blue van is a GO!
Blue van is a GO!

Diego’s brother (who is fortunately a mechanic!) helped the team out by sending us Craigslist links to about 8 conversion vans in the DAL-ATX-HOU area, as well as tagging along to inspect its quality and driving performance.

Once we procured Big Blue and had it brought to our mechanic, Art, for repair and winterization, the series’ biggest missing component had been solved.  The van was a Dodge B2500 High Top Conversion Van with over 100,000 miles on it.  She turned out to be gentle and kind to us even as we racked up another 100k miles.

(We toyed with the idea of painting her with the IVGJ logo, gutting her insides pimping our ride, but we fell short on funds… Six seasons and a movie?)

Step 2: Contacting Studios

While the logistics were being ironed out for purchasing a van, I was reaching out to indie studios and gauging their interest level in being part of the web series.

In my opening emails, I would try to address questions that I felt indie devs would inevitably ask, such as, “Who are these guys?  What is the web series about?  Why should we [the indie studio] let them film here?  Why do they specifically want us in an episode?”  I wrote that in exchange for access to their studio for a day or two to film and demos/beta keys/etc. to play their games and capture gameplay footage, we’d provide them with high quality marketing material that would showcase their latest and greatest games.  Plus, we’d take them out to lunch.

I was surprised by how welcoming people were!  Here are some of the emails from the indie devs:

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.59.16 AM



Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 7.23.14 PM



Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 7.24.29 PM

Reading these emails again made me feel incredibly appreciative of how welcoming and receptive the indie devs were to our pitch.

Once we had all seven studios on board (we tried in lock in all filming dates with studios before traveling), it was time to get serious (not that we weren’t up until that point!)

Step 3:  Prepare!

We set out to procure what we didn’t have: hotel room reservations and/or lodging with friends, episode travel itineraries, emergency supplies, equipment purchasing/rental, equipment insurance, car insurance, release forms, beta codes and/or demos to play the indie games on Steam, driving directions, packing equipment, hard drives, etc. We actually got really lucky and only had to do the hotel deal twice.

We researched what news had already been covered on the developer/studios.  Doing so forced us to familiarize ourselves with the company’s culture, history, and the surrounding indie scene in each city (for example, this Polygon article on Klei: , as well as generate interesting interview questions if we ran out of ones to ask.

I’d like to state that we followed through with all of these plans as a team of FOUR people working at a startup.  Again, that’s badass.

Step 4: More Research!

The components of any single episode ideally include:

  • Intro Animation
  • Binary Solo HQ: Game Analysis
  • Studio Intro
  • Travel: {Whiteboarding, Art, Coding, SFX, Pit Stops, etc.}
  • Studio Game Jam Playthrough
  • Game Jam finish (in the van)
  • Wrap-up
  • Credits
  • Link to download the game

I then set out on to put together a kind of “look book” for the series based on web series with similar content, tone, and aesthetic for reference.  In retrospect, this was a tedious task but a necessary one, IMO.  I wanted to understand what other web series were doing, the aesthetics they embraced and how we could possibly differentiate ourselves from similar ones.

The series we looked at for inspiration were Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Man Vs. Food, Mythbusters, Penny Arcade, and Indie Game: The Movie.

In addition to assembling a look book, I started to create a shot wish list, breaking down the scenes into their visual components.  For example, under the Whiteboarding scene, I wrote down “packing, tracking shot of van, GoPro dev cam, pitstop commentary, computer screens, keyboards, eyes, interviews with the team.”  I knew that at the very least, if I captured a majority of these things on camera, we could stitch together an arc to the episode.

One of the last components we had to film as a team that I still consider pre-pro was the Binary HQ scene for all episodes.  This segment consisted of having the team meet at Zeb’s place on a Friday or Saturday and spending time sampling the indie studio’s gameography, then thinking about the common threads their games exemplified and finally developing the central game design question for the episode.  For instance, the game design question in episode one was: How can we remove an essential element from a game genre and still have people think it’s that genre?

And with that, like when Captain Picard took the helm of the Enterprise and set sail to Farpoint Station, we started the drive to Chicago, IL in December to visit Rob Lach.


This is Part III of V of a series about the making of Indie Van Game Jam. See Part I about the Gear used in Indie Van Game Jam. We will also be posting about our filming (production) phase as well as the editing (post-production) phase.

Indie Van Game Jam is currently performing their Steam Greenlight campaign. To help them get Indie Van Game Jam on Steam, consider donating a Yes vote now on their Steam Greenlight page.

The Making Of Indie Van Game Jam: Gear

Today’s post is all about the gear and tech for Indie Van Game Jam.


Here’s the complete list of gear we used for Season 1:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mk. III
  • Canon EOS 25-105mm. f/4.0 lens
  • Canon EOS 100mm. f/1.8 lens
  • Canon 5D Mk. III batteries (5)
  • Canon 5D Mk. III chargers (2)
  • Kingston 266 x 32 GB CF cards (5)
  • Manfrotto MA561BHDV1 Fluid Video Monopod and Head
  • Shoulder Rig Support
  • Flashpoint LED light with bracket
  • Zacuto Zwiss Cage
  • GoPro Hero 3
  • GoPro Suction Cup Mount
  • GoPro Hero 3 batteries (2)
  • SanDisk Class 10 x 32GB microSD cards (2)
  • CF/SD Card Reader USB
  • ElGato HD Capture Device
  • Zoom H4n
  • Rode VideoMic Pro
  • Rode NTG-3 Shotgun Mic
  • Shotgun Mic accessories
  • Mic stand
  • Sennheiser Wireless Transmitter/Receiver Packs (2)
  • Skullcandy Headphones
  • Rycote Lavalier Undercovers
  • Photoflex 5-in-1 22’’ Multidisc Reflector
  • Seagate Backup Plus 4TB 3.0 USB External Hard Drive
  • 500 GB external hard drives (3)
  • HDMI cables (2)
  • PortaBrace travel case
  • Tons of AA/AAA batteries
  • Gaffer Tape
  • 50’ extension cord
  • Pens
  • Notepads
  • Clipboard
  • Release forms
  • Bandana

 I’m borrowing heavily from the gear list posted by the filmmakers of Indie Game: The Movie here:

My experience with filming run-and-gun short documentaries has taught me that it’s imperative to pack as light and as efficiently as possible.  I wouldn’t have the space in the van to store lighting equipment, we wouldn’t have the production crew/manpower to stage and clear the equipment quickly in the indie studios, and finally we would be driving during winter, which of course meant direwolves and traveling on foot through snow and ice — not so good when you’re carrying around expensive candy.

 TL;dr Make sure you pack light and can move quickly with equipment in order to keep up with the team.

When choosing a camera for any production, there are a couple of important deciding factors for me that go into renting or purchasing one: (a) weight, (b) dynamic range, and (c) environment.

A. Weight

Will the camera’s weight slow you down?  If you like to move with subjects by using a shoulder mount, if you need to fit through tight spaces,  you probably won’t be carrying Red Epic around with you.

The cost of energy expended from putting the camera down and setting it back onto your shoulder means that your ability to press record in time to capture spontaneous moments is that much slower.  One of the primary objectives of a good cinematographer IMO is to minimize his chances at missing moments that typically happen in the blink of an eye (and thus can’t be repeated without some degree of acting and inauthenticity).

B. Dynamic Range

What is your lighting situation going to be?  With documentaries, it’s hard to predict where your subjects will move and how to light them properly and persistently over time.  This means that I must be able to punch in my ISO as fast as possible.

When the team returned home to Austin from Chicago in episode one for example, they had a post-mortem on the game jam process inside the van.  It was 2AM and pitch black out.  So we strung a couple of Diego’s camping lights up onto the side panels to give everyone some light, and I bumped up the ISO on the Mk3 to maybe 10,000.  It’s hella grainy, but you make out their silhouettes and it gets the job done.

C. Environment

How well will the camera withstand traveling and weather conditions?  Fortunately the 5D’s batteries never froze, but a better choice may have been a Sony or Panasonic HDV cam.

Tl;dr There are many factors that go into choosing a camera and its support, such as weight, dynamic range, environment, S-Logs, stability, etc.  Don’t let the analysis paralyze you from going out into the field and experimenting with one or the other.

Most of the gear fit into a single PortaBrace that I slung over my shoulder and one Osprey backpack!


(War mode + epic beard ftw)

Editing happens on a Macbook Pro using PluralEyes to sync sound, Premiere Pro to edit, Photoshop and After Effects for designing stuff (mostly tweaking Diego’s awesome animations he’s shipped me!), Audition for sound editing.  We use the El Gato Capture HD device hooked up to 2 laptops and 1 TV to record various development stages and Screenflow to capture a plethora of other things: missing gameplay footage, scrolling code, character animations in Unity, etc.


In case you’re interested in learning more about what goes into choosing a camera, check out this awesome post over at No Film School with thoughts from Still Motion:

Feel free to ask any questions about the gear!

This is Part I of IV of a series about the making of Indie Van Game Jam. Read on to Part II about the Pre-Production phase, Part III about filming, or Part IV about editing.

Indie Van Game Jam is currently in the middle of their Steam Greenlight campaign. To help them Vote Yes on the Steam Greenlight campaign and by sending out a tweet, facebook message, or tumbl!