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Inside DavidLynch.com


If you were confused by Twin Peaks, the surreal television drama that ran for two seasons in the early 1990s, you're likely to be just as puzzled by DavidLynch.com. Featuring, among other things, animated shorts of flatulent rednecks, live video of hummingbird feeders, and a section simply titled Experiments, the seven-month-old site is an absurd collection of sound, image, and video that only a mother—or a devoted fan—could love. And that's exactly how director David Lynch wants it.

Lynch, who is known for demanding the final cut on his Hollywood films, decided to take his work to the Web in part because ABC rejected one of his television pilots. The cancelled pilot later provided material for the first half of Mulholland Drive, a feature film that earned Lynch an Oscar nomination for Best Director. But that didn't change Lynch's vow to never again work for network television.

Strategy

With visions of publishing his work in an unedited and unrestricted environment, Lynch began talking with designer Eric Bassett about using the Web. "Our dream was to do a Twin Peaks on the Internet," says Bassett, who has been creating logos and other treatments for Lynch's films for over eight years. "Our ultimate goal was to have an original series with the value-adds that the Internet can provide," he explains.

Starting out wasn't easy, given Lynch's busy schedule and lofty goals for the project. After a year of planning, Lynch and Bassett took another two years to create the initial content and implement technologies to get the site up and running. "David worked on it full time, although we lost about four months due to Mulholland Drive," notes Bassett. True to the original vision, the director maintained complete artistic control over the site. "This isn't an Eric Bassett design. This is a David Lynch design," Bassett says. "Nothing goes up on that site without him seeing it."

At a Glance

  DavidLynch.com
Servers 14 Mac G4s
1 Intel PC
Router Cisco 7200 VXR
Web Server 4D Webstar
Loading Balancing Men & Mice QuickDNS
Database 4D
Commerce Software 4D Business Kit
Portal Software 4D Portal
Site Media Macromedia Flash
Streaming Media Apple QuickTime

The duo knew that to maintain Lynch's site without any outside pressures, they would have to charge for access. (See a screenshot). To explain this to fans who might not otherwise sign up, the site has a page titled Why Pay? The page reads: "DavidLynch.com has not accepted sponsorship or advertising to avoid censorship or influence of its content. The result of that decision is a destination that requires payment to fund both the website and the content that it delivers."

The fee for the member portion of the site is $9.97 per month—competitively priced when compared to the cost of a movie ticket in major U.S. cities these days. Customers are billed every thirty days. Through the site they gain access to several of Lynch's creative works, including the aforementioned animated series (see image) and hummingbird video feeds as well as cartoons, electronic postcards, music videos, screen savers, a Weblog, and even a radio show by the director's daughter, Jennifer Lynch. The subscription form bears a scrawled note from Lynch: "I hate forms too—D.L." It's the sort of personal touch that pervades the site.

Interface

Lynch and Bassett, who works for Lynch on behalf of his design firm Bassett & Associates, originally began building the site with HTML. They soon decided that HTML didn't allow them full creative expression. They found it hard to add interactivity that had a consistent appearance across different platforms. So they turned to Flash. "We just wanted to keep it consistent," says Bassett. "Even pages that don't need Flash now use it," he says, referring to how the site is organized.

The duo decided to use QuickTime as its streaming media format, by way of a deal with Apple. Knowing that many companies would be interested in associating themselves with a David Lynch project based on the director's reputation, Bassett and Lynch approached Apple to see if they could swap free publicity for free software. According to Bassett, Apple wasn't interested at the time. The pair then went to RealNetworks to discuss a trade for the company's RealAudio and RealVideo products. They were about to close a "really good deal" when a sudden drop in RealNetworks's stock price put a hold on the plans.

Next, the two went to Microsoft to discuss its Windows Media products. Again, they came close to formulating a deal. "They wanted to bring over a bunch of PCs," says Bassett of Microsoft. "David got sick to his stomach. He didn't want to lose his Mac." A day before they had to sign for the Microsoft deal, Bassett and Lynch went back to Apple and negotiated an agreement based on their exclusive use of QuickTime on the Web site.

Infrastructure

Steve Jobs must certainly be happy about the deal, because DavidLynch.com is an Apple success story. All video that appears on the site was cut, edited, and delivered with Apple products. The files are even served off Apple hardware—a rare occurrence when HP, IBM, Intel, and Sun servers power most Internet sites and applications.

The site relies mainly on fourteen G4s. Three are 500MHz dual processor systems, and the rest are 400MHz single processor systems. The servers are load balanced with the help of Men & Mice's QuickDNS software, and are housed in Lynch's 200 square-foot clean room. A Cisco 7200 VXR router handles traffic to a DS3 line. The data center also has two T1 lines as redundant backups. "Originally, we were going to go with Exodus [for hosting], but I'm glad we didn't," says Bassett, referring to Exodus's recent bankruptcy.

An uninterrupted power supply with a three-day capacity safeguards the entire setup. The site also uses the Akamai content delivery network. This ensures that Lynch's media files can be delivered to customers even during peak traffic times.


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