Bronc Busters, Bomb Designers and Me
My Masters thesis project at Georgia Tech, under the guidance of the great Janet Murray. Completed in 2003.
Bronc Busters, Bomb Designers and Me is a multi-media documentary work on DVD-Video. There are two components to the piece.
The first is an exploration of the United States defense laboratories located in the town of Livermore, California. This element combines personal memoir, interviews, and historical research to paint a picture of the community.
The second component is a work of experimental documentary that incorporates interactive digital technologies and storytelling techniques. These techniques were selected for their ability to enhance the presentation of the content and provide a more powerful experience for the viewer.
The primary mission of the Livermore labs during the Cold War, and to a great extent in the years following, has been the design, testing, and maintenance of the United States nuclear weapons arsenal.
This piece explores the influence and impact of the national research laboratories on the community of Livermore and the people who live, work and grow up there. It poses a variety of questions that arise from the unique nature of the town. Who are the people who have decided to work at the defense laboratories? How has the laboratory shaped the city, and vice-versa? What are some of the other communities within the town? How do these communities feel about the work of the labs? Overshadowing these questions are issues of the influence of the Cold War on a small town, the current War on Terrorism and America’s international posture, and the return of the importance of the military industrial complex after the scale-down of the 1990’s.
These issues have been framed within a personal narrative drawn from my own experiences and impressions as an individual who finds himself straddling a line between being both an insider and an outsider in the community.
As the basis of its presentational format, the Livermore Project draws its inspiration from the flow of linear film. It does, however, exploit the participatory affordances of digital media convergence, which provide an array of opportunities to expand upon the linear documentary film form.
Bronc Busters, Bomb Designers and Me explores experimental principles of “database documentary”, simultaneous production for multiple media outlets, and branching-narrative structure. Viewers approach material in a wide variety of ways. The navigational structure of the project provides the means for an audience to experience the same content in several different interactive modes, from the passive “lean-back” metaphor of watching a film, to the more active “lean-forward” model of user-decision driven digital content.
This approach furthers the presentation of the key content themes explored in the piece. The navigational structure utilizes such devices as varying the sequence in which information is revealed and creating intertwined story paths to address the core issues of secrecy, love of community, rationalization, and human contradiction that lie at the core of the work.
Key to the synthesis of the subject matter and theoretical framework was the project implementation, which presented a host of production and design challenges. First and foremost was the gathering of content such as interviews and background information. Second was the analysis of the information. This process very often took place while the content was being gathered due to the social investigative nature of the piece – one discovery informed the next question. This content needed to be tested within the experimental narrative model to be sure that the synthesis would hold up. From this higher level synthesis, the actual production of interaction design graphic design, video editing, and DVD authoring flowed to produce the final piece.
Bronc Busters Bomb Designers and Me manages to incorporate all of these elements into a work of documentary that engages a variety of different viewers with the key subject matter. It addresses personal issues of family, work and community, and at the same time draws out broader questions about the shape of American society in the coming century.