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iPontificateA Power Mac G5 at Ground Zero of Austin Art Blaze


- March 24th, 2005

A few months ago, Kyle Fuller considered himself a platform switch hitter, using both Mac and PCs in his production company, SlamChannel, offices. Kyle felt indifferent towards either system, using both to accomplish the various needs of the multi-media outfit. That all changed, however, when his company's main project was saved by a Power Mac G5.

Kyle and his partner Mike Henry, were already deep into the first stages of post-production on a documentary about slam poetry, chronicling the underground culture that occupies smoky coffee shops to battle head-to-head, armed solely with the weapons of verse.

According to Kyle, the assistant editors had already logged and captured nearly 320 hours of raw footage, accumulated over the past year on the road, and at home in Austin, TX. On January 31st, the SlamChannel shut down the secondary office, housed at the 501 Studios Media Complex, and moved the company's operations to the main edit suite, located in an artist collective known as the Guadalupe Arts Center. Here, a community of artists kept shop, a diversely populated building of studios and offices where painters, sculptors, and visual artists took advantage of the family closeness the center provided.

That evening, after the SlamChannel company move to their new digs at the center, post-production of the doc and management of the slam poetry movement was dealt a careless blow. The rented studio directly next door to SlamChannel's suite belonged to an artist, who, according to investigators, left a pile of rags soaked in linseed oil which spontaneously combusted, setting fire to the center.

Melted monitors...

...and the editing studio

After the ashes settled, an estimated $650,000 worth of damage had been wrought, not including the intangible cost of the original works of art that were housed at the complex that were also destroyed. Entire bodies of work from artists who worked out of the complex were consumed by the fire, including the damage to SlamChannel's offices located at ground zero of the conflagration.

A ruined DVX-100
Fortunately, the flames that consumed the complex made only a slight march into the SlamChannel studios, but the heat generated next door and beyond was too much for the equipment to resist. Everything in the office made or housed in plastic melted into fluid deformities. Monitors, cameras, keyboards, computers, even a pen holder filled with highlighters succumbed to the intense heat of the blaze including the plastic cased canisters where the film resided.

The 30 hours of trimmed down assembly of the film was being cut on a G5 using Final Cut Pro HD, a secondary edit bay relied on a G4 for media management and logging. The G5 was stationed beneath the desk that sat directly against the wall separating the SlamChannel office and the source of the fire. After having to face the deflating news of the fire, Kyle and Mike had to venture into their office on a salvage mission, searching for anything that might be recoverable amid the aftermath of the water, smoke, and heat.

"Nothing escaped unscathed, everything had some sort of smoke, heat or water damage", recounts Kyle. At that point, they could only accept the total loss both financially and personally that lies before them. Recovery, or at least the fruitless attempt of salvaging something of the film, was the first priority.

You can't tell, but this used to be a
Final Cut Pro editing keyboard

A melted Sony DSR-25 Deck

The source tapes, the absolute necessity of any project, also sat in orderly rows, naked to the flame. The drives housing the selected media were staked in Daliesque rectangles. The G4 fared a bit better than the cameras and DVCAM decks that were total losses, the only visible damage being the heat scorched edges and warped casing.

The G5 however, displayed only smoke and water damage, it's aluminum casing was resistant to the violent temperatures, and the raised base stood above the inches of standing water left by the high pressure hoses used to battle the fire.

Kevin Triplett of Mopac Media took on the task of cleaning and drying the G5 with it's 720 GB of internal storage where the project file resided. Kevin cleaned the exterior of the G5 using an acid solution to remove the sticky tar deposited by the smoke. To dry the entire tower, he removed the tumbling mechanism from his home clothes dryer, and actually put the G5 into the machine and turned it on.

The Power Macs, however, held up comparitively well, though only the G5 booted.

48 hours after the blaze, Kevin called Mike around 5:00 AM and gave him the astonishing news that the G5 had booted successfully. It had survived the fire, somehow protecting the project and media despite the furnace that had surrounded it during the fire. The thing actually worked. The film was intact, housed in a bosom of brushed steel.

The weeks that followed the fire present a fine picture of camaraderie in the local Austin film community. Other filmmakers responded to the news of the destruction as if a family member had suffered the unfortunate fate directly.

Equipment has been lent free of charge to help with the completion of the project. Decks, monitors, keyboards and the like are coming in from all over the film community including a G5, sans fire damage, for the final edit. More help is needed however, especially from Apple to which the filmmakers are making a direct plea. Even the slam poetry community on which the documentary is based rose up to lend a hand to SlamChannel. The poets have donated what ever amount they can afford, oftentimes coming from minimum wage paychecks in truly selfless gestures.

Kyle said in the interview with me that if there was ever any doubt in his mind about the endurance and quality of Apple products, it no longer exists.

"If we had been using PCs to cut this film, they would have been plastic puddles, " like the one found in the office during the fire, completely damaged beyond repair. According to these filmmakers, the G5 is a phoenix, rising from the soupy ashes, on its wings carrying the poets, artists, and the community that live to create.

You can read more about the fire at the Austin Chronicle's story on the Guadalupe Arts Center destruction.

With five years in the entertainment industry, and three years writing for The Mac Observer, works passionately on various genres of film, including documentaries, narrative features, and shorts. He has two feature films under his belt as Director of Photography and Camera Operator, and his current role at TMO is to cover digital media and the film industry.

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