Adam Rackoff – Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app – Part 1 of 2
While talking with Adam, I made the comparison of their app to the significant role that The Great Train Robbery played in the evolution of filmmaking. Prior to The Great Train Robbery in 1903 movies, which is to say silent movies, were essentially filmed postcards–a camera was set up showing a train pulling into a station, a street in Paris or London, two people dancing, a magic act, and so on. One single set up long or full shot, no editing, no story. Then The Great Train Robbery came out and used shots as scenes, as well as breaking scenes into a master shot and medium shots for emphasis. It established that pictures edited together could be used for powerful impact in creating a new language—cinema.
I believe that Matthew Modine and Adam Rackoff may have just achieved something very similar with their new app the Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app which has been created exclusively to take advantage of Apple iPad technology.
Last week I posted a one-on-one interview with Matthew Modine on the project. This week I am bringing you this conversation, presented in two parts, that I had last week with Adam Rackoff, co-producer and co-developer of this revolutionary new app about the process and the creation of the app.
MC: How did the Full Metal Jacket Diary app come about?
ADAM RACKOFF: Before I started working with Matthew I worked for Apple Computer where I was responsible for a series of special events that Apple hosted called “Made on a Mac.” Apple would invite creative professionals—artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, editors, photographers—to come into the flagship retail store locations throughout the world and do a presentation or talk about how Apple technology played a role in what they did, whether it be Final Cut Pro to edit a movie or Photoshop for a photographer, whatever the connection might be.
In 2005 I worked with Matthew on a big event in conjunction with IFP Independent Film Week for the launch of his book Full Metal Jacket Diary at the Apple Store in SoHo (NYC). We had a huge crowd and presented a slideshow of Matthew’s photographs. It was a big hit. As a result, we ended up taking the show on the road and Matthew did a presentation in London at the Apple Store on Regent Street and one in Chicago at the store on North Michigan Avenue. It was a really successful way to tie in Matthew designing and creating his book on the Mac and being a way for him to promote the book’s availability at the same time. After that Matthew and I became friends and kept in touch. I worked at Apple for another four years and when I left the company Matthew and I started working together on some projects.
The Introduction of the iPad
ADAM RACKOFF: Around the spring of 2010, shortly after the first iPad was released, I bought one and started seeing the potential for using this beautiful screen and this whole audio-visual tablet computer. Apps were still kind of new at the time. They’d been out for the iPhone, but doing specific apps for the larger iPad screen were a whole new world. But I was excited and I said to Matthew, “What do you think about this? What would you think about turning your book into an audio-visual experience for the iPad?”
He liked the idea and thought it was really interesting. He never wanted to do another printing of the book. He didn’t want to do a paperback edition. He wanted to keep the book as a collector’s item since they’re all numbered 1 through 20,000. But he liked the idea of an electronic version. We thought this could be the “paperback edition” that everyone could have access to—provided they had an iPad, obviously.
Then we started trying to figure out, “What could this look like? How could we translate this Diary and transform it into something that’s a new experience for users, yet still retain the diary feel and some of the design elements from the original book itself?” While at the same time, making sure that the original printed book was still something that people would want to own. We couldn’t find anything back then to model it after, and that was a big challenge.
MC: This is really something that’s brand new. I don’t think anybody’s done anything like this before. What was some of the technical process that was involved in creating this?
ADAM RACKOFF: We didn’t want to hire a company that would essentially publish the app. We really wanted to do this independently. That stems from the fact that the publishing company that published the book had closed shop a number of years ago. Thankfully, as a result, the rights reverted 100% back to Matthew, as well as all future publishing rights. That allowed us the opportunity to self-publish and create this interactive app on our own, by building our own team of people to work on it.
My background prior to working for Apple was in film, animation, and illustration. That’s what I went to school for. Computer-wise, I’m technically proficient, but I’m not a programmer. I needed to build a team. First, we needed a designer, so I brought Jason Parry on board. Jason and I have been friends since college. He’s an amazing graphic designer and has worked on some other apps. Then we brought in his programmer partner, Taeil Goh to do the actual coding. We also had to record Matthew reading his diary, edit the audio, add sound effects, compose original music, and mix it all together. To record and edit the audio, I enlisted the help of my wife, Cristina Rackoff, who is an amazing editor for Big Sky Editorial in NYC. We worked with Dan Timmons at Sound Lounge to sound design and mix the audio. And a good friend of ours, John Lippi, composed the original score. Basically, that’s been the core team since the beginning.
Most apps are released by companies. This was an opportunity to show the world that a small group of people—talented and motivated and passionate about a project—could put together a really great app that’s unique and different, and self-released. That’s one of the great aspects to iTunes—you no longer have to have a publishing company or a developing company to put out something like this. It’s possible to do it on your own. It’s hard and takes a lot of time, but it is possible. There were a lot of times where I thought we were never going to finish, but much like a Kubrick film, eventually after years of work we got there. And now it’s available.
MC: Stanley Kubrick was known for controlling every aspect, and owning every aspect, of his films. In effect his films were handmade. This sounds like a continuation of that aesthetic into this app as well.
ADAM RACKOFF: I think that’s a good observation because that was something that we wanted to do all along. It was really important for Matthew to make something that was true to the book, to his personal experiences, but also something that would have made Stanley proud. I really took that to heart.
I’ve had the great fortune of meeting Leon Vitali, Stanley’s long-time assistant for thirty years. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Vivian Kubrick, Stanley’s youngest daughter, who did the music for Full Metal Jacket under the pseudonym of Abigail Mead. Having met them and having worked closely with Matthew, I knew there was a great responsibility for us to do something that honored Stanley—that shined a light on his genius and what it was like to work with him.
I’ve read a lot of books on Stanley and his filmmaking process and so on, but I think that the Full Metal Jacket Diary is such a unique perspective. I don’t think there really is anything else like this out there.
I think this is a really valuable perspective for film students and acting students to see how even a great director like Stanley Kubrick didn’t quite know what he was going for all the time. His movies were a work in progress as he was making the movie. He was very particular and did have a very real vision, but he was also looking to his actors for what they could bring to their role and to the film. As you learn by reading, or listening to the Diary, you learn that the ending of the film was always up in the air. It wasn’t until the end of the filming that a decision was finally made as to how it would end. I think that’s something that would shock a lot of people who admire Kubrick. He was trying to discover the ending of his own movies while making them.
MC: How important was Kickstarter in getting the app going?
ADAM RACKOFF: Kickstarter came about for a couple of reasons. As we were talking about this project early on, Matthew and I were starting to do research, looking through his negatives, in our own way trying to discover what this new experience could be, we realized that this could actually be quite an undertaking. We weren’t sure how much it would cost or how long it could take.
So I said, “Before we invest a ton of either your money, or my money, or anyone’s money, why don’t we try to gauge the interest level in this and see if there’s an audience for it?”
That’s why we decided to use Kickstarter. More to see, “Is there an audience?” and, “What kind of support would people be willing to put behind this to help get it off the ground?”
In a way it was a great opportunity to do some advance promotion and get people excited about it. As well as to personally reassure ourselves that this was a worthwhile venture.
I think there were around 295 Kickstarter Backers who donated anywhere from $1 to $5,000 to the project. We knew that it would probably cost a lot more than what we were looking to raise. We just set our sights on a round number of $20,000 and if it cost us $40,000 we’d at least know that we have an audience for it. We were fortunate to raise a little over $25,000. But the number of people who actually saw the project on Kickstarter and were interested, far exceeded that. So it made me confident that we were going to have an audience for this.
The truth is that it probably would have cost far more than what we ended up spending. We were very fortunate to have a number of people working with us who were fans of the film and Kubrick and Matthew. Many people worked for little to no money to be part of the project, volunteering their services and talents, which meant a lot to have that kind of creative support behind us.
As I mentioned, Sound Lounge, here in New York City, volunteered to do all the sound design and mixing for us and didn’t charge a penny. The amount of work that goes into sound designing and mixing nearly four hours of audio is unbelievable. Dan Timmons worked (on and off) for almost eight months. They really helped us to get this done independently on a budget.
We’ve had so much love and support from people who are passionate about Stanley Kubrick and heard about the project through Kickstarter and wanted to lend their assistance. There were a number of companies who said, “If you need any help, come to us.” In fact, we had far more people come to us than we could even entertain working with.
There’s something unique about a Kubrick-connected project—it’s a real passion project and a lot of people wanted to lend their personal passion to it as well. The credits page that we have on the app pretty much lists everybody that gave any kind of support, any kind of love, any kind of advice or assistance that helped us along this journey. I made sure to keep a list of their names because there were so many who really did aid us in some way, whether it was moral support or technical advice. There were so many people.
I think we all know that Stanley Kubrick was a genius and a brilliant filmmaker, but it’s amazing to me that he still has this influence on people. Even after decades, his films continue to have great meaning.