Adam Rackoff – Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app – Part 2 of 2

Published On August 29, 2012 | By Mike Carroll | Filmmakers, Matthew Modine, Stanley Kubrick

Matthew Modine and Adam Rackoff in the audio booth recording the “Full Metal Jacket Diary”

MC: The only other book I can think of that one person wrote about the experience of working with Stanly Kubrick was Frederic Raphael’s Eyes Wide Open memoir about writing the script for Eyes Wide Shut. But that book was entirely through words on the page whereas the Full Metal Jacket Diary lets you see it through hundreds of photographs taken during the production. It’s very experiential. Matthew obviously had the foresight to know that this was going to be special and that’s why he had the camera with him and kept the diary.

ADAM RACKOFF: Matthew never intended to do anything with the diary or with these photographs. There was so much down time on set, so Matthew used writing in his diary or taking photographs to pass the time while he wasn’t in front of the camera. Also, he was playing a journalist who was writing for Stars & Stripes in Vietnam so he did this to get into the character of “Joker” by actually taking the photos and keeping the journal as an actor’s exercise.

On many occasions, in between set-ups while they were lighting the next shot, Matthew was asked by Stanley to stand up and read what he was writing in his diary in front of everyone on the set. That forced him to write better and to put his thoughts down on paper as clearly and as eloquently as possible. It made him become a better writer—because he never knew when he was going to be called to read to the class, so to speak.

It was an almost two year process making Full Metal Jacket. While making this app, Matthew worked on The Dark Knight Rises with Christopher Nolan on and off for over six months, and that was a huge film to shoot. Still, it couldn’t even get close to the time it took to make a Kubrick film.

MC: When I met Matthew and he was looking through my copy of the Diary, he would point to a photograph and say, “That’s a speck of dust and I could never get the negative clean.” Or he’d point to a picture and say, “This photo was taken from a contact sheet because I couldn’t find the negative.” He was very excited about how thoroughly you were having the negatives re-scanned at high resolution. Could you talk about the photographs that people will see in the app and the lengths that you’ve gone to?

ADAM RACKOFF: I was able to get all of the design assets that were used to publish the book, all the original materials and original scans. For the most part, the scans were done in high-res from contact sheets that Matthew had kept from many years ago. In some cases, the publisher scanned original prints that Matthew had produced in 1987 to give to cast and crew as thank you gifts. He had two of every photograph produced, so he would keep one for himself and give one away.

They were large contact sheets, but in most cases the images on the prints and the contact sheets were rather dark and that’s how they come across in the book as well. A little darker than Matthew would have liked.

The publishing company was small and didn’t have a huge budget for the book. They didn’t have the resources to actually go back and scan the original negatives. But that’s what I decided to do. I’m happy we did it, but I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be.

Finding all the negatives was another thing. Most of them were in a box, all kind of disorganized. They weren’t in protective sheets or anything. So first I had to put them in protective sheets and organize them as best I could into some kind of chronological order, which had never been done.

We were fortunate to find a great imaging artist (Sam Matamoros) who scanned all the original negatives that we could find. We couldn’t find every single one. There were probably two rolls we couldn’t find.

Sam had to go through and do a lot of imaging work on the scans, cleaning some of them up. Some of the negatives were damaged. Then Jason added a treatment to the images to give them a sort of warm feeling to match the design aesthetic of the app itself so they don’t actually come off as the raw black and white. They have a warm hue to them to give them an aged, scrapbook feel—but without losing any of the clarity from scanning those original negatives.

And as we were working on the project, the latest iPad came out with the new Retina screen, so we were very thankful that we were doing these high-resolution scans because the new screen could show off all the work we’d done.

There were over 400 individual 2¼x2¼ inch negatives scanned at around 30 megabytes each with 3300×3300 pixel resolution. With the new iPad Retina screen resolution being 2048 on the horizontal side, the user can view each image at more than 1½ times larger than the Retina screen. On the original iPad screen, which is 1024, it would be more than 3 times the resolution of that screen. This gives the user the ability to zoom in on a photograph, look at the detail on someone’s face, look at something in the background that might have been hard to see in the book.

We were always conscious that we were making a large app and wanted to keep it down to a manageable size so that people wouldn’t think that it would take up their whole iPad. It’s a little less than 1.4GB in size, and that’s big for an iPad app. Hopefully people are excited that they’re getting so much content at so much resolution.

In addition to Matthew’s photos, Matthew’s wife kept scrapbooks of his career. Very comprehensive books that went through each year and have newspaper clippings, publicity photos, Polaroids, magazine articles, movie premiere tickets. So, of course, she had a couple of scrapbooks that had all types of content from the two years they were in England filming Full Metal Jacket. I went through and scanned everything on a regular flatbed scanner at high-resolution so that we could show some of the personal artifacts and letters.

There were a couple of notes and letters from Stanley to Matthew that are in the app. There are some Polaroids that Stanley took for exposure tests of lighting that he gave to Matthew. These little Polaroids  were in pretty bad shape, but the fact that they were damaged and yellowed and had kind of been through war added to the character a little bit.

On each photo there’s an info button in the lower left hand corner and when you tap on that you’ll see a caption that we wrote, and it also says who the photo credit goes to. Of course, most of those credits go to Matthew, but there are also credits for his wife or some of the other cast and crew who grabbed the camera and shot a few photos while he was working. Many of the other cast members (Tony Hayes and Sal Lopez) were also taking photos with their own cameras and were nice enough to give us permission to include some of theirs. Tony even sent us all his negatives from London.

Jan Harlan, the executive producer of the film, was also tremendously supportive of this project. He was Stanley’s brother-in-law and is the executor of the Kubrick estate. He provided us with a couple photos that he took as well of Matthew and Stanley that are in the app. We were very fortunate that this project had such support from the people who were there.

Warner Bros. has also been very supportive. There’s a new 25th Anniversary edition Blu-ray of Full Metal Jacket that came out the same time as our app that includes a booklet of photographs and other stories and we were able to provide a number of Matthew’s photos to that project as well. In return, Warner Bros. included a little promotional insert that says if you want more behind-the-scenes content on Full Metal Jacket to check out Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app on iTunes.

The Kubrick Archives in London was also very supportive. They gave us a photo that we needed permission to use. Leon Vitali, who was Stanley’s assistant for over 25 years, offered a lot of advice. (Leon Vitali met Stanley when he was an actor playing “Lord Bullingdon” in Barry Lyndon.) There’s a tremendous amount of people who contributed to this project on so many levels.

It’s definitely a product for a very specific audience and we just hope we can reach that audience, the people who really do love Stanley Kubrick and love this movie. The film is hugely popular with the military. There are many men and women who’ve served in the Marine Corps and other branches of the armed forces who’ve sent Matthew letters and photos over the years about how much they’ve loved this movie over other war movies.

MC: This is such a totally unique thing that you’ve done. I think that you are going to change the way people look at apps and for creative people to consider writing and storytelling in a different way. Have you gotten any reaction along those lines yet?

ADAM RACKOFF: I do firmly believe that we’ve done something new. Over the past year and a half there were countless opportunities for other people to come out with something that was doing more with apps than was already being done, but nothing really has come out that we are aware of. So it does feel like we’ve done something unique.

It’s difficult to change people’s perceptions of what an app can be. Most apps are perceived as gimmicky little toys—games that we pass the time with on our phones. I don’t think people see them as something artistic yet. With the Full Metal Jacket Diary app we are striving to elevate the possibilities of an app into a new artistic medium for telling stories.

This is not an iBook or an eBook or any kind of a digital book. This is much more than that. It does a lot more. It takes you farther into an immersive experience than what a normal book would do—and that was intentional. We could have gone the easy route of just converting the design files into an electronic version. That would have only taken us a month. But we sincerely felt we had a unique opportunity to do something special and new.

Most apps are either free or 99 cents. We’re pushing the envelope in the pricing ($14.99) and that’s why we’re trying to make people aware that it’s not something you’ll download and just play with for five minutes and then forget about. This is a premium app experience that you’re going to want to go through from beginning to end and take your time exploring. There’s hours and hours of material to explore.

I believe that apps have become a new multimedia art form that is filled with potential. It’s a lot like making a film. Making Matthew Modine’s Full Metal Jacket Diary app has been much like making a documentary, although it’s been incredibly harder because you have the programming aspect of having to build everything. It wasn’t easy getting everything to work! All these art forms are converging. It’s a new frontier for a lot of different artistic content.

MC: Listening to you describe all this I can only hope that Apple or Adobe are developing some new app creation software in the vein of Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere for building an app, step by step in layers.

I’m reminded of how the American independent film movement took off in the ‘90s with Sundance and camcorders and everybody starting to make their own movies, myself included. There’s a voracious appetite out there for information and entertainment, which the iPad is outstanding for delivering. I could see the iPad emerging as the new cinema, the new television, the new newsstand—if it isn’t already—that you can take with you anywhere.

ADAM RACKOFF: I think you’re right about how the early indie movie craze created a lot of new filmmakers. In the same way that anyone could pick up a brush and try to paint, now anyone can make movies on their own without crews and big budgets and all that. I think that’s also one of the advantages of apps. If you know how to program and can write code, or know someone who does, then you can create something on your own—and then self-distribute it via iTunes. With film, that’s always been the big problem—you can make a movie, but how do you get people to see it with all the content out there already? You can put it out on YouTube for free, but how do you monetize it? How do you make money from your art?

For the independent producer, using iTunes as the releasing platform is a way of both getting it out to the world and making money from doing what you love. It’ll be very interesting to see where all this goes in the next few years.

It would be great if one day apps are not limited to the iPad, that these apps could be used on all different kinds of platforms as we move towards touchscreen computers and touchscreen televisions, that the Full Metal Jacket Diary app could play on a television screen in an interactive fashion.

MC: In a way, you’ve replicated your own Full Metal Jacket experience in that it’s taken you nearly two years to get the app out there. What’s next on your plate?

ADAM RACKOFF: I actually just worked on another app. I helped to produce a children’s storybook app called Punky Dunk and the Gold Fish, which is also available now on iTunes, for which Matthew voiced the English language reading of. This is the first of a series of three children’s storybook apps that I’m working with a couple of people on. We’ve been taking these original children’s stories from 1912 that have been in the public domain and been giving them a new, modern re-imagining. We hope this will create a new audience for these 100 year-old books as well.

MC: It’s a great way to bring older books to a younger, digital audience that is so visually oriented. You could include photos and paintings and more historical background so that when you’re imagining the story of the book you’d have a foundation for what it looked like.

ADAM RACKOFF: Exactly, and that fascinates me—taking content from the past like this children’s story, that is essentially lost literature and breathing new life into it through a new medium. It can come to life, educate people about the past and the history behind it, yet still pay tribute to the original.

If we’re successful, I think that our new app will make the original Full Metal Jacket Diary book even more collectible. The app might even open the door to people who didn’t know about the book previously and encourage them to want to get a copy of the book to be able to have and hold in their hands. They’re out of print, but I’ll go on Amazon every now and then and I’ll see ten copies available. You wonder where they’re coming from—if they’re finding boxes of books from somewhere in storage. I’ll usually buy a couple when that happens because they’re always great gifts for somebody.

MC: When I met Matthew when he was here in Sacramento last fall, a filmmaker friend at the TV station where I work asked me what I was talking about with Modine for so long? I pulled out my copy of the Full Metal Jacket Diary and he looked at the book and said, “Man, I love that movie. I didn’t know anything about this. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” So I ordered a copy from Amazon and gave it to him.

ADAM RACKOFF: Everyone who sees the book says the same thing, “I had no idea about this book! When did it come out?” That’s why I felt there was a lot of potential in doing something more with the material, that there was a much bigger audience out there and that perhaps the iPad would be the perfect medium to release this content in a new form.

I’m very proud of what we’ve all created and very happy with the result. The true test will be to see if the rest of the world will appreciate it the same way. I felt there were far more Kubrick fans out there than those who owned copies of this book—and I’m hoping that’s true.

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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

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