My Spectacular Odd Job: Time Coder

Before I was writing full-time, as I try to manage to do now, I made sure to clear as many weeks as possible to write. I always tried to make it a point to live by my motto: "All Art All the Time." This meant I took a lot of temp jobs -- something that I could do for a set period of time, pay my rent, buy some groceries and then take a few weeks off to write some more.

But I really wanted to sell a novel, and I felt that in order to do that I had to have the time to write. I ate a lot of instant noodles during this time.

I put the word out to my friends and tiny little jobs would trickle in. Sometimes it was handing out underarm deodorant or a new kind of soda pop at a mall. Sometimes it was doing reception or filing at an office. Sometimes it was doing background extra work on film and TV sets. And sometimes, I would time code for my friend Phil's production transcript company.

The thing about being a time coder is that it sounds as though it is something more romantic than it actually is. Think about it. TIME CODING. It sounds like it's a job of the future. Something straight out of a science fiction story. It's not.

A laborious process

What exactly is time coding?

My friend and boss, Phil, explained it to me.

"Time coding is where we insert the time code from the footage into a Word document that is a text transcription of the footage shot by filmmakers or focus groups. The time code is inserted into the document at 30-second increments so that people working with the footage can read the hours of footage and then easily scroll to the exact point of the footage that they want to view."

This way the editors or producers or filmmakers or focus group leaders didn't have to actually watch the hours of footage. They could read and do a paper edit and then go see if that footage was interesting.

But I did have to watch it. All of it. I would sit in Phil's office wearing oversized earphones and I would read the text that had been transcribed, watch the footage and insert the code. It was mind-numbing work.

Let me just say there is a reason that not everything makes it into a film. It is because there is a lot of very boring footage in the world. Also, some people do not articulate very well, which makes it nearly impossible to understand what they are actually saying. This is why, when it is super interesting, there are subtitles in documentaries. It's not that people have an accent, or a drawl. It's that they mumble! People everywhere are mumbling!

A valuable education

At first I was miserable.

And to make things worse, a lot of times the subject was uninteresting. But one day, I settled into my ergonomic chair, put my earphones on and listened to hours and hours of footage of people talking about the Armenian Genocide. It was witnesses and historians. By the end of the day I was a wreck -- I was weeping uncontrollably -- but I felt lucky that I had watched all of that footage. It felt real, and useful, and it was fascinating; more than that, I had received an education on a piece of history that I knew little about.

I started to take on jobs based only on subject. When I'd ask Phil if there was any work, I'd say yes based on what the footage was going to contain. And I began to look forward to it. I had become transported by the footage. I was fascinated when it was hours and hours about taxidermy. Intrigued when it was about a facility that cared for teens with eating disorders. Thrilled when it was about scientists pondering artificial intelligence. I was learning something new and vital every time I worked, and what had once been tedious became a kind of joy and a peek into the human condition, often from a first-person point of view. For a writer, that there is gold.

And in the end, it's where I got the idea for my first published novel. One time, I was time coding some behind-the-scenes DVD extras for a big sci-fi movie. While watching the hours and hours of footage about the die-hard fans, the seed of my first novel, 'BOYPROOF,' emerged. So while I wouldn't want to be a time coder again, I would say that time coding turned out to be one of the best jobs I ever had.

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