1: ON AUGURY HOUSE
three years ago, me and my friend named binh tried to start a business for the first time. I’d spent the previous summer working through a large chunk of the Criterion collection, so the idea behind this was to take scenes from 60s-70s films and turn them into shirts and postcards. we pressed some shirts in my garage, but fall came around, I had to go to school, and the project didn’t expand past the initial shirts.
A little after registering the first business, we started a second called AUGURY HOUSE which had even less to show than the first venture. we were able to start the business projects, but couldn’t quite figure out how to launch them. Over the next two years, the first business would retire to become my portfolio page (preeest.com) while AUGURY HOUSE sat somewhere in the back of our minds.
I was in school for one particular reason - to explore the medium of video in the way I wanted to. I’d graduated with a bachelors in Cinema Studies and saw too many experimental and slow films to be interested in diving straight into the world of film production. At the time, I knew I wanted to get into filmmaking, though I could really feel my inexperience when it came to actually shooting things.
Because of this, I applied to art MFA programs because under the lens of video art, I’d have more freedom to experiment and play with small ideas that aren’t tethered to a larger, scripted narrative. At school, I messed around with multi-channel video, making music to accompany my videos, paintings, multi-media installations, web-based video, screenplays for live performance, and zines. I didn’t have much experience with studio art before this, so school was like a big testing ground to see what I can do, what I’d like, and so on.
As the three-year MFA program continued, I started to see a looming problem in my future - a lot of the things I was making were, in my eyes, disposable experiments that reflected things I was interested in, but were indirectly related to my goals of working in film. The video projects were things I genuinely wanted to make, but they didn’t quite fit the bill of a professional/commercial video reel. On top of that, because of the quick nature of my video experiments, I didn’t feel like I had a comprehensive art portfolio either.
When my thesis year came around, I had my sights set on a collaborative video project. Because of my earlier dilemma, the idea was to shoot for a larger project in hopes that my video/audio skills improved enough to get the job done. The initially proposed thesis was to be a collaboration with many artists to make video profiles on the personal mythologies that fuel their work. After getting Irene on board and starting the initial work, it seemed like a better idea to put aside doing a handful of smaller investigations and instead do one deep dive into Irene’s practice.
Over the next few months, Irene and I started a series of regular conversations, and even shot some early performances. The shoots went really well, and after the first one, Binh and I sat on my front lawn, eating fried chicken (our shoot snack) with our fingers thinking “holy fuck, that felt great”. In the editing room, it felt harder to piece things together. I threw together a couple of demos, but nothing was clicking and it was hard to find ways to work conversation points into the larger video piece. At that time, I was nearing the end of the first term in my thesis year, and I could feel that the video, at that stage, was probably going to be a no-go.
Since I moved away from school, Binh and I stayed in touch by playing video games very late at night. At a point, Steam was running a big sale on a bunch of games, one of them being “The Stanley Parable”. I didn’t know much about game indies, but recognized it from a video game class I took a while back. After getting the game, Binh and I tried it out and it clicked! This could be the thesis! If I made something using a video game program, I could craft a larger world for our videos while having plenty of room to subtly find ways to incorporate the finer points of conversations with Irene. After focusing on learning the basic essentials of Unreal Engine, the new IRENE.HOUSE began to manifest.
When it started getting cold out, I made it a nightly ritual to go into the backyard, listen to some motown, eat an apple, and brainstorm. Despite the usual difficulties of learning a new program, IRENE.HOUSE was coming together surprisingly fast. The progress re-energized me and granted some newly-found confidence. During one of those nights, I thought of a far off solution that could bring everything together: what if we started another business venture in a similar spirit to IRENE.HOUSE? What about an art collective that made short and collaborative virtual experiences, but also played around with filmmaking too? What if the collective got to the point where we could produce a feature film in-house? The idea felt distant enough to feel like a hail mary - but if I were to put my screenwriting work on pause, I saw myself getting it done. And with that, the new AUGURY HOUSE began.
After about a year since picking up Unreal, AUGURY HOUSE is about ready to launch. In the meantime, we opened a business bank account and renewed our business license, started accounting spreadsheets, and made basic operating contracts. On the production side, I learned how to make cinematics, made more projects, made USB drive anthologies to sell our projects, got better at colorgrading and sound design, coded a website, learned how to livestream, figured out a strong workflow for making advertisements and social media posts, purchased and learned how to use a full-body motion capture setup, learned how to write and perform voice overs, got more comfortable making music, finished IRENE.HOUSE (and got it released on Steam), and even found time to finish a draft of a feature screenplay and a TV pilot.
As of writing this, AUGURY HOUSE isn’t officially launched, but all of the pieces are in play, ready to go. It really feels like standing on the edge of something. Once AUGURY HOUSE is shared with others, it’ll become something else. What will it be like to sustain something rather than building it from scratch? New victories and challenges lie ahead for us. I wrote this entry in hopes that when I need it, I could summon that insurmountable energy and optimism from when all of this was just a raw idea.