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DEFCON: The Documentary, a record of the 20th annual conference
August 10, 2013 5:42 PM   Subscribe

DEFCON is one of the world's largest hacker conventions, and for its 20th year, MeFite and technology documentarian jscott was asked to capture the event as best as he could. Almost 300 hours of footage was cut down to a two hour documentary, which has been recently released online in HD (YouTube, Vimeo, Archive.org, and an official torrent from DEFCON). More details on IMDb. [via mefi projects]

From the Projects description:
While we weren't able to cover every last aspect of DEFCON (and who really could?) I think you'll find there's something for everyone in the movie. It was done out of love And respect for this incredible event, I hope it brings a whole new appreciation of the special event DEFCON has every year.
Also from Scott: GET LAMP, a documentary about text adventures (and related MC Frontalont video), a tale of the early days of the Playstation, and an overview of the demoscene in 2007, to name a few projects featured on MetaFilter previously.
posted by filthy light thief (27 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 


Jason's BBS documentary is also an excellent piece of work.
posted by dr_dank at 8:13 PM on August 10, 2013 [4 favorites]




jscott is not my favorite person in the world. But he might be in the top ten?
posted by JHarris at 9:26 PM on August 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Jason Scott is a powerhouse. That is all.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 9:28 PM on August 10, 2013


Has anyone here seen this? Any reviews/opinions/reactions to the film?
posted by el io at 10:10 PM on August 10, 2013


I'm going, that's all there is to it, I'm fuckin' going.

Jules, and me too. See you next year at the Rio!
posted by spacewrench at 10:10 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anyone enjoys the film and finds themselves thirsty for more when it's over, there's also the DEFCON Media Archives Portal to explore...be warned however that it is simultaneously a treasure trove and a nearly endless rabbithole from which your productivity at any other tasks may never recover. ;)
posted by trackofalljades at 12:24 AM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just watched it - I've never been to Defcon, but it's something I've always wanted to do. Definitely seems like my kind of place and people. As the saying goes, "if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."

As for my overall reaction - the best stuff in the film demonstrated the diversity of activity (and people) at the con. From Capture the Flag to the Lockpick Village to badge-hacking and Defcon Kids activities, everyone in the film seemed like they were approachable and sociable, which helps break down the "antisocial basement dweller" brush that hackers tend to get painted with. Sure, there are lots of eccentric-types but I at least got the impression that the con is very inclusive, rather than being some 1337 faux-meritocracy. (As I stated before, I have no idea whether this is actually true or not.) The film also did not steer away from discussing the heavy consumption of alcohol, and there are also some subtle glimpses of the sexist dynamic that exists at this (and many other) cons. Glad to see that stuff made it into the movie.

That said, I was secretly hoping for a documentary that I could show to my non-hacker friends to help them understand why I'm excited about the things that I'm into, but I don't think this is that film. It's fairly slow-paced - nothing really jumps out and grabs your attention at the beginning. It's very much a "this is what goes on behind the scenes" documentary, and is not really geared towards an audience who is unfamiliar with Defcon. The sequential day-by-day approach also works against what I felt was a good non-linear narrative - the many different experiences that convention-goers get out of Defcon.

Basically, I'd recommend it if you like behind-the-scenes documentaries, but it didn't really scratch my own personal hacker-itch.
posted by antonymous at 1:21 AM on August 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really liked the bit after the credits where they have like a dozen people say things like "My best memory of Defcon? Well...I can't talk about that on camera."
posted by ymgve at 4:37 AM on August 11, 2013


Alex Stamos' talk (labelled Defcon 21) The White Hat's Dilemma is one of the coolest things I have seen lately. In particular his slide 15 "my personal conspiracy overton window".
posted by bukvich at 8:17 AM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I put on my Robe and Wizard Hat Guy Fawkes mask and monologue.
posted by fullerine at 10:01 AM on August 11, 2013


Good stuff, Antonymous.

First, thanks for picking up on the subtle references. I thought that it was more palatable than direct comments or a narrator for straight up criticism.

The chronology is there for people not to feel the movie is endless nonlinear scenes. If we're up to Saturday you can stop wondering how far we are. It is a long enough movie as it is. I cut as much as I could. It might seem slow to you but it's a torrent of information to others. Trust me.

I do agree being nominally technically oriented helps. But I cut it so if you have never been to one of that events you feel like someone who hasn't gone yet, rather than someone who will never be welcome.

I think some people would hope it would be the bridge to hacking or making for "normal" people. But I question whether any film that does that won't be pablum.
posted by jscott at 12:15 PM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree, a documentary of the 20th year of one of the world's biggest hacker/maker con is not the place to bridge the divide between those who know something of the related technology and those who only know of "hacking" from prime-time news coverage of identity theft or possible attacks from Chinese military on US facilities.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:46 PM on August 11, 2013


While I think this is a great project, I'm not really asking for any documentary to "bridge the divide" between hackers and outsiders (though yeah, that would be great). And I definitely agree that my own background with the subject matter makes me a more "demanding" viewer than most. But what this documentary doesn't convey is the all-encompassing curiosity that binds these different types of people together. It's a look into what goes on behind the scenes to make a successful Defcon. That's not a knock on the film, which chose a different scope to work within, but demonstrating that curiosity about how the world works really helps to showcase the hacker ethos.

When I talk to people about my interests (which range from spectrum analysis to 0day markets to social engineering), what usually engages them the most are the ways that the foundations of "modern society" can be exploited, manipulated, and even improved upon, sometimes trivially. I'd really like it if a film were able to tap into the energy and enthusiasm that arises from some of those conversations.

Anyway, I still think this is a good film for what it is and I'm glad I gained a little more insight into what goes on at Defcon.
posted by antonymous at 8:19 PM on August 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not as good of a movie as The BBS Documentary by a long shot, but a fun and interesting window into Defcon.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:11 PM on August 11, 2013


Why is it not as good "by a long shot"?
posted by jscott at 10:48 PM on August 11, 2013


Sketch, as someone whose first Defcon was #2 & once lived on DT's couch for a month while I apartment hunted, I thought you did a good job of documenting a difficult & complex subject. And I just wanted to add for the record that I remember The Public even if Jeff doesn't.
posted by scalefree at 11:04 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is it not as good "by a long shot"?

Because The BBS Documentary is an amazing piece of journalism, history, technologism, ethnography, etc as well as a technically adept example of documentary filmmaking. It is truly excellent. The Defcon Movie is "merely" quite good.

Truly, this is just my personal opinion -- but the selection of material, the structure (or lack thereof in the Defcon movie, except for the overly insistent and somewhat obtrusive pushing of the point that Defcon is really about the other people there), the nuts and bolts of the editing, the sequencing of interview subjects, the flowing narrative history of the BBS scenes that emerge, bringing in the Zip wars -- pretty much everything, really -- combined to produce a better film in The BBS Documentary than the Defcon movie.

Please don't take my comment above the wrong way: I thought The BBS Documentary was truly superb and an extraordinary effort, and I find it deeply meaningful personally. I bought two official copies, so I can lend one out for viewing without fear that it might not be returned. I've showed it to people ranging from friends I met BBSing and to law professors. I enjoyed the Defcon movie, but wasn't wowed by it in the same way.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:21 AM on August 12, 2013


Interesting. In that case, I'd not even compare the two - you're using them two entirely different ways.
posted by jscott at 11:28 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quite possibly. My favorite parts of the Defcon movie were the more in depth portraits of particular events or customs and their evolution over the years, the historical reflections, and so forth. Maybe I just liked the topical framing of the BBS Documentary better than the day-by-day framing used for Defcon. Either way, it doesn't really matter which one some random guy on the Internet likes better, and I really appreciate the effort and dedication they both represent.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:53 PM on August 12, 2013


Are the talks from DefCon going to be posted online?
posted by jeffburdges at 7:25 PM on August 12, 2013


There's an official media portal, though the YouTube presence seems to work better.

Gail Thackeray's talk from Defcon 20 is a neat treat, readers of The Hacker Crackdown will remember her name.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just got done watching this. Don't have much to add to other than that I thought it was really good, and yay for more links to other stuff the same documentarian's done!
posted by sparkletone at 10:30 AM on August 17, 2013


Before this thread closes down:

First, if the situation from here on out with my movies is "not as good as BBS documentary, but OK", I can live with that - it's no different than a lot of people who do a work that's unlike anything before it, and then they're compared to that initial work with its initial aspects forever. You can do worse in life. I have three movies coming out in the next few years, and I expect all three to be thought of as not as good as the BBS documentary by people who really like that series. I'm at peace with it.

Response to the film across this past month of initial release has been "mixed", in terms of the case of people having extreme reactions for it (loving it dearly) or against it (hating it, wishing it was something different, etc.). I'm very lucky with my films, including this one, in that I really did have final say on the approach, effort, focus and editing. Notes back from Jeff Moss and the DEFCON were minimal and in most cases a later (longer) cut satisfied their concerns and in a couple cases I took their suggestions and didn't use them at all. So what's on the screen is my set of choices, my ultimate decision-making. I can't overstate how much that puts someone at peace with their film, than having major decisions taken out of their hands and realizing it ruined the vision and the work.

There are definitely choices I had to make with such a film that were hard, and architectural decisions that people might not agree with. I do find some people drop "if only he had done XXX" comments without realizing that I have a crumpled up piece of paper with that idea on it that was thrown away some time ago. DEFCON, as a concept and an ongoing cultural event, is a pretty complicated set of contradictions - I expected the film to be the same.

The pure logistical nightmare of the film and dealing with the event are a story in itself, and there's a DEFCON talk we gave this year about how it all went down. Summary: It was complicated.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is some people have taken the position of "this guy didn't know what he was doing", and no, this guy knew exactly what he was doing, but you may not agree with the choices. DEFCON is big. REALLY big. I mean, super massively big - there is a ton of material in there, and not all of it lends itself to cinematic ease without utilizing production poison I refuse to imbibe, like scripting and multiple takes. Push the dial too geeky and 4 people care about what's being discussed. Push it more general, and people go "oh, this is just propaganda" or "it's a video yearbook". Finding that balance was the hugest challenge, and fitting it all into anything under two hours was another challenge still.

Additionally, the no-press policy for 20 years meant there was a whole other aspect to DEFCON that was not there - a comprehensive history of the big people and events from those decades, as told from the inside. Sure, there were lots of extreme stories in the press that came out, but talking about this hilarious story or that infamous character was lost to time, because of the press embargo. Some people wanted this movie to finally showcase them (often because it was a part of their own "glory days"), but it was never going to be that. It was face-first into "DEFCON 20" with echoes of "it was something else, a long time ago". I still think there's a lot to be said about DEFCON that could be in a book or website, it just won't be my book or website (although I'm sure Dark Tangent would let an author listen to the raw interviews and footage as background research).

I loved planning it, I loved shooting it, I loved editing it. I never thought I'd make a movie like this, ever. Making it was wonderful. I have no plans to make another like it, but things I learned during this will inform my later works, I'm sure. It was a great time. Knowing how the 18 months went, I'd do it all over again.
posted by jscott at 7:56 AM on August 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I guess what I'm trying to get at is some people have taken the position of "this guy didn't know what he was doing", and no, this guy knew exactly what he was doing, but you may not agree with the choices.

FWIW, I am utterly certain you know what you're doing.

First, if the situation from here on out with my movies is "not as good as BBS documentary, but OK", I can live with that - it's no different than a lot of people who do a work that's unlike anything before it, and then they're compared to that initial work with its initial aspects forever. You can do worse in life. I have three movies coming out in the next few years, and I expect all three to be thought of as not as good as the BBS documentary by people who really like that series. I'm at peace with it.

I wouldn't worry about that too much-- at least in my case, I think you're spot on in that I expected the DEFCON documentary to mesh with the BBS documentary stylistically even though the premise was different.

I'm happy to hear you have more movies in progress; I'm looking forward to seeing them.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2013


I'm happy to hear you have more movies in progress; I'm looking forward to seeing them.

THE 6502

ARCADE: a documentary

TAPE: a documentary with bias

(skeletal sites at the moment, useful bookmarks for the future) ^_^
posted by trackofalljades at 11:08 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


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