80,000 Words (with Director’s Commentary)

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The letter O!n August 7, 2006, Making Magic featured one of my most popular columns of all time. In it, I took the readers on an eighty-picture tour of Wizards of the Coast. The only words in the column were scribbled on two small white boards that I carried around with me. This, of course, means that one of my most popular columns of all time also had my smallest word count ever.

On a completely separate track, I had the idea of taking one of my old columns and reprinting it with a director's commentary like you would find on a DVD. The key was finding the right column. After I'd written "80,000 Words," I realized that I had found the perfect choice. It was both beloved and full of lots of details that I was unable to talk about first time through.

What that means is that today you are in for a second look at my photo-journey through the office, except this time, I will be making note about each and every picture (as well as showing you a few that didn't make the cut first time around—yes, the director's commentary comes with outtakes). Hopefully, this sounds like fun.

I guess I should begin by talking about how this article came together in the first place. Oftentimes I come up with a neat gimmick but not the subject matter to pair it with. When that happens, I file away the idea until the proper subject matter comes along. For instance, I had the idea to do a "Choose Your Own Adventure" column six months before I got the idea of using it to show off what an average day is like for me.

The all-picture column idea came up when I was brainstorming on how I could do a column that broke traditional conventions. I loved the idea of using pictures in place of words. That said, I knew from the very minute I came up with the idea that I would need some words. I had the whiteboard component from the first moment the all-picture idea popped into my head. (Where did that come from? I don't know, maybe a Bob Dylan music video.) I also, interestingly enough, had the idea for the column's title. I didn't know what the number was going to be, but it was going to be 1,000 times the number of photos in the column. (In case you don't get the reference, the title is playing off of the expression "a picture is worth a thousand words.")

The problem I had was what kind of content I could tell with just photos. Sure, I'd have the ability to make a few comments, but the visuals had to carry the column. The subject matter had to be something people wanted to see. Flash forward to a year later when I was collecting ideas for columns. One idea was doing a tour of Wizards of the Coast. My problem with it was how to convey a tour with words. This is the point where I "get hit" by my idea. ("You spilled your all-photo essay in my office tour.")

The only rub was this: we were months away from moving. Was there any value to giving a tour of a building that was about to change? I felt there wasn't, so I waited for us to move. And then I promptly forgot about it.

Luckily, my good ideas occasionally burrow back up into my consciousness. So one day, I asked my wife to bring our digital camera to our weekly lunch (Lora and I have lunch together once each week—where, interestingly enough, we play Mood Swings, my awesome mass market trading card game that stubbornly refuses to get printed). Yes, the camera person for "80,000 Words" was my wife Lora. I always felt horrible that I didn't give her a credit in the original column, so I'm trying to make amends here. All of the photos, barring a few retakes (which I'll be talking about), were done the same day during my lunch break.

The one thing I'd like to point out about this particular picture was that I was concerned with how to take consecutive pictures that properly conveyed that we moved literally across the street. I really like the solution here of having me stay stationary (a.k.a. facing the same direction) but having the camera move.

One of the ways you can tell that it's lunchtime is how empty the parking lot is. Also notice how I'm trying to move closer with each picture to give a sense of movement. (My film school training is showing.) In the background you can see the Wizards of the Coast sign hanging on the building. We used to also have a Hasbro sign across the street, but for some reason we were unable to move it so only the Wizards sign made it onto the new building. The one thing you don't see here, mostly because it's around noon, is the crazy number of crows that circle the parking lot at dusk. It's a scary number—reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds.

At the time of this column, we had just moved into this building the year before. We had been in the "old" building for the previous ten years. Before that we were in a building several blocks away (what us old timers call the "old, old" building). When I started we were at the old, old building but were about to move, so I was never given a desk. But the move was delayed by a few weeks, so I had to work at people's desks when they weren't there. No, really—for the first month, I was a desk nomad.

Before the old, old building, Wizards of the Coast was in (founder and former CEO) Peter Adkison's basement. This time is now warmly referred to as the "basement days." For those who don't know, Wizards of the Coast was started as a roleplaying game company. Magic didn't come along until several years later.

Okay, real quick "Wizards of the Coast gets Magic" story—Richard Garfield and his friend Mike Davis (later a VP of R&D) came to Seattle to pitch Richard's game RoboRally. Peter liked the game but said that it was too expensive to produce for a company of their size. He explained what he wanted: a game using cards that would be small, portable, and quick enough that people could play it in between roleplaying sessions. Richard said that he had a game he'd been working on that could possibly work. Richard moved that game closer to what Peter was looking for, and voila—it's Magic. (My abbreviated version isn't really doing the story justice, so I promise one day to take a whole column where I tell the story in full. It's really quite interesting.)

I guess now's as a good a time as any to talk about what I was wearing. I knew I was going to be on camera in just about every shot, so I was very conscious about what I was going to wear. First, I wanted to properly represent what I dress like. What you see is what I look like every day—jeans, t-shirt, and appropriately colored flannel shirt. One R&D person tried to make money by betting people with 10 to 1 odds that they could pick any work day in the upcoming year and any time during the day, and if at that time I was not dressed with t-shirt and flannel, they would win the bet. Otherwise, he won. It was a sucker's bet.

I'm a giant flannel fan and own a sick amount of flannel shirts. Those who paid close attention in my wedding columns (part I & part II) will notice that I have a flannel vest. It was made specifically for my wedding because I wanted to have a little of "me" included in my tux.

The t-shirt is from an old Magic campaign we ran (when the Portal starter set first came out): "Magic: All you need is a brain, a deck and a friend." We'll get a chance to see the t-shirt up close later. There is literally a picture of a brain, a deck and a friend. The text, by the way, says "The Number 1 Game in the World."

While I do wear a decent number of Magic-themed shirts (I own close to one hundred), it is not the most likely subject matter on my t-shirts. No, that honor belongs to comic books. I have a lot of comic-related t-shirts which I wear constantly—so much so that it's a running joke in R&D. But this was for a Magic column, so I picked out one of my favorite Magic shirts. If you haven't yet figured out that Magic's Head Designer is a major geek (and remember I had a column dedicated to my collection of 3" superhero figures), I'll just come out and admit it.

Finally, we get inside. Two years later and the lobby looks exactly the same. Well, except for the fact that the walls to the right and left of me were knocked down to put in doors to new offices (for other companies—we'll get to this point in a moment). I'm not sure what people expect when they come to Wizards, but I often get, "This isn't what I expected."

Our old office was spread across four buildings, each with two floors. The current makeup is one single four-story building. Wizards is on all of the third and fourth floors and a good chunk of the second.

Here's one of the biggest changes since two years ago. This sign is now full. Back then it was just Wizards, the daycare, and one other company. Today the building is fully occupied (and close parking is much harder to get).

There were numerous things I wanted to show off on the tour. One was some of the perks of our building.

I also want to point out that this photo shows off that I in fact had two white boards. I didn't need two for most of the photos, but I wanted to have the ability to write more when needed. Anther popular white board question is whether I planmed out what I was going to write in each picture. The answer is no. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. The captions were written on the spot. (Remember I'm the guy who winged my wedding vows.)

I should point out that the entire tour wasn't exactly planned out either. Lora and I just walked through the whole building, in order, with Lora taking lots of photos. Once I was done, I picked the ones I liked (rounding to the nearest ten) and put the column together.


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