Filming and Releasing A Comedy and Music DVD

Be Yourself DsicCall it a DVD.  Call it a special.  Whatever you call it, they’re a lot of work. Both from the business and creative perspective.  I’m blown away by guys like Ralphie May and Louis CK who can write and release a new hour every year. And Louis does that on top of his TV show.

It’s been about 3 years since I last released a new DVD, so I’m about a year late on my own schedule. Time to get on the ball.  So I thought it would be useful for you to watch me go through the process of planning, filming, and releasing this thing.

Right now I’m hoping to film it in October and have it released by December.  (Cuz comedy makes a great gift! Ha-cha-cha..)  I’ll be updating this post as things develop so you can follow the whole process. And I’m going to try and spend a good amount of time on planning this week as per my project binge schedule. In fact, this is the last week of project binge, starting next week I’ll be squeezing it in with everything else that needs to be done.

The Budget

I will probably use a larger budget on this special than I have on the past couple. I’ve done some big budget stuff.  $10,000 to record “Ribbed For Your Pleasure” – which I believe I’ve recouped on.  $7000 to film “Raising A Rockus” – which I’m quite sure I haven’t yet.  On the low end, my comedy DVDs have been done on a much smaller budget. $500 for “What Color Is Your Laugh?” and $300 for “Be Yourself…Unless You’re An Idiot”“A Nut Unbroken” was done in 3 days for $0.  So there are lots of different ways to go about it.

For the new one I want to go for something in the middle.  The $2000-3000 range.  What makes the big difference in the budget?  It’s really how many other people you need to involve. “Ribbed” was done in a full scale recording studio back in 2002.  We spent a good couple of weeks there and that gets expensive. “Rockus” was done as a 6 camera shoot with surround sound audio. Plus we had to bring in a lighting guy, rent a larger venue, and do more extensive promotion to fill the place. And at seven grand, I got a heck of deal all the way around.

The low budget ones were either edited by myself or a friend. We owned one camera and rented another (which honestly was the biggest expense), had friends do the shooting, and used a smaller and more easily filled venue.  So knowing what kind of budget you’re working with allows you to figure out what kind of production you can do.

My budget is still questionable.  I may be getting hit with a large tax bill this year.  Which I’ll know by the end of the week.  Plus I need to buy a new car this year.  So budgeting for another large expense may be tricky and all this could change.

Also, why bother?  Why film a comedy DVD at all?  I think artists often just assume these things needs to be done without thinking about why we’re doing them.  Well, a couple of reasons. First, it gives me some new merch to sell.  I often run into people at gigs that already own the stuff I have available. And I obviously easily made back my investment on those low budget ones.

But a new special is also for credibility and exposure.  Something that shows the industry I’m still serious and not just resting on old material. With that in mind, yes I’d love to get the thing on Comedy Central or Netflix.  Though I don’t think that’s possible at that point.  Netflix, maybe… Big maybe.  But Comedy Central is still out of reach right now.  In order to have something those companies want, it’s going to have to be really good.

A couple things may happen with the budget.  I can pay for it myself out of pocket.  I can find a production company to front the money (which may also smooth some of the exposure channels).  Or I can do some sort of Kickstarter type project and raise funds from my fans. Most likely?  A little bit of all three of those.

The Checklist

My first task is to put together a checklist of things that need to be done.  Now, at this point, I don’t really know every single detail of what needs to be done.  Don’t wait for that to do your own checklist.  Make a checklist of things you do know and add to it as you go.

Here’s my preliminary checklist:

– Find a venue that seats 50-100 people and is available on a Saturday night this fall

– Visit venues and talk to bookers

– Compile every tip I can find on promoting shows
– Hire publicist
– Create a BWB post to track the progress of the shoot (Check!)
– Create a timeline plan for all promo activities
– Adjust this list with new timeline
– Figure out which cameras I’m going to use
– Find out where to rent extra cameras
– Decide whether I’ll record sound myself or bring someone in
– Set up ticket pre-sales
– Form a 10 person street team to help with promotion
– Compile material for show
– Rehearse material for show
– Refine material for show at gigs
– Do gig
– Edit video
– Create cover and disc art

Many of those are extremely general steps.  But it gets me started. And that’s the important part right now. You can even see I included “Adjust this list with new timeline” in there.  Things will change and go wrong.  So I need to be able to adapt to them.  This is just a checklist of things I know need to be done.  But it’s not complete by any means.  It’s not even in order.  Creating this post is #5 and I sure as hell haven’t done the first four yet. 🙂

On my list to start on today is making a list of possible venues and taking stock of the material I have that I want to put in the show. My current show is a mix of new stuff and old stuff.  I have to figure out how to make just the new stuff gel as a show and fill in anything that’s missing.  I guarantee I’ll be tweaking the material until I go on stage to film the DVD. 🙂

So keep an eye on this post for updates.  There may be a couple weeks in between.  But I plan on taking you through the whole process so you have an easier time when it comes to doing your own.


So far I’ve gone through and collected the information for about 34 possible venues here in my area. Everything from the few music clubs we’ve got here to university theaters, civic rooms, and anywhere else that looks possible to produce a decent looking show.

My previous two DVDs were done at a place called Blue Rock Shoot that has a tiny performance space in the back that seats about 30 people.  It worked great for those projects, but I’d like to step up to something a little bigger with this one.

One nice thing about doing just an audio comedy album is that the place doesn’t need to look good. As long as you’ve got good sound and a good audience you could do it in a garage. But a DVD needs to look legit.  Though I really admire Maria Bamford’s DVD that she filmed in her parents’ living room. 🙂

Plus, a lot of my material doesn’t translate that well with just audio.  A lot of my punchlines and tags are physical act outs.  So video is a better medium for me.

My list of venues ranges from capacities of 100-3000.  Obviously I’m counting out the really large capacity places.  I don’t have the draw for it yet.  I’m trying for something in the 300-400 range.  Maybe smaller depending on what the budget looks like.  And it looks like I should be able to get a venue that size for $400-750.

Depending on the venue there are also considerations for labor cost of approved techs, box office staff, insurance, etc.  I like to use volunteers from my fan base for as much of that stuff as possible.  But some venues require their own personnel.

Once I whittle down my choice of venues I’ll have to look into their sound and lighting systems to see what needs to be augmented, if anything. Then I can start looking for quotes on those services.

I’ve also decided that I’ll be doing some documentary style stuff throughout this planning process.  We had a bit included on Raising A Rockus and it’s fun stuff.  Usually I don’t think of it until much later in the project, but I’m going to start shooting stuff earlier this time.


I think I’ve got a venue picked out, though there is one other I’m going to look at.  The venue is actually a private club attached to a music store.  They charge a tiny membership fee and do all ages rock shows there.  Holds about 100 people, which I’m comfortable in being able to draw.  I kind of wanted to go bigger, but hey, Marc Maron just did his last special for 150 at the Bell House in NYC.  Something to be said for an intimate show.

I’ll have to do a little decor on the place to nice it up, as well as bring in chairs and some extra lighting.

I’ve also been really focusing on refining the material I want to do for the show. And ooh, do you ever grow to hate the material when you start paying attention to every little wart and dead spot.  But it’s coming together.

As I mentioned in my previous update, I wanted to focus on shooting behind the scenes stuff to be used as DVD extras.  And duh, it ought to be on YouTube too, right?  So I’m posting those as I do them and working them into my other YouTube promo.

My next step is to do some research and come up with every show promotion tip I can find.  I also need to find the pertinent San Jose area websites to get the thing listed on.  Waaaay in the back of my mind I’m considering doing a 2nd filmed show in San Francisco.  Their net of event websites is larger and more effective than what we have in San Jose.  But that’s just an idea right now.


The past few weeks have been all about doing gigs and tightening the material for the show. I’ve got about 90 minutes worth of stuff that will be whittled down to 60.  Some of that other 30 will probably go on the next special once I’ve had some more time with it as there’s some stuff outside the realm of what I’m usually known for doing.

I’ve got a venue picked out in San Jose.  As with most cases, the guy who books it has been non-responsive to the fact that I’d like to rent his venue.  Amazing how people treat others sometimes.  Especially when they stand to make money from it.  In the entertainment business you learn how to deal with being ignored a lot.

So until the venue date is booked (for about 5 months from now), the rest of my to-do list is on hold. I am working on a master list of promotions to do for the show and I’ll be putting those in a separate post and you and I can use as a go-to checklist for that stuff.

I understand venue owners and bookers are busy people. Inundated with people wanting to play their room.  But to never hear back from them at all with a yes/no/maybe after many many repeated attempts at contact.. That irritates me a bit. I don’t mind it as much when I’m trying for a regular ‘ol booking at a comedy club or something. But when I’m writing about doing a special event and I want to PAY THEM to let me use the venue for, and I still don’t hear back?  Ridiculous.

The venue I talked about in my last update never got back to me. I found another place in San Jose that I really like. Great room that holds about 100 with a nice backdrop on the stage.

The owner does mostly music in the room.  His experience with comedy shows hasn’t been up to his expectations.  Mostly because his expectations are too high. But that’s a topic for another time.  I explained to him that my event is an “event” and I’m certainly not going to let the room be empty when I’m filming a special.  I guaranteed him at least 50 people and probably closer to 100.  That’s people walking through his store (attached to the venue) and buying food and drink at his concession stand. Plus he’d get part of the door.

I spoke with him today on the phone and he’s supposed to look over the dates and get back to me tonight.  We’ll see what happens.  Meanwhile a friend of mine offered me his room in Gilroy, CA to film at. He does a great Wednesday night show that I’ve headlined a few times and they sometimes throw a Saturday event.

The place would be packed and I’ll have help with the promotion.
I usually do pretty well comedically in that room.
I won’t have to pay to rent the room.
Great looking stage that will look good on camera.

Might make it a little more difficult for my San Jose fans to get to the show since it’s farther away than I expected.
It will be a more general audience rather than people that I know and like what I do, leaving more possibility for some jokes to not work.
It’s a smaller room that may be hard to do interesting camera angles with.
Smaller stage which means if I use the band, it may have be just a 3-piece.

So I’m waiting to hear what the first venue’s guy says tonight, if anything.  Then I can make a decision and get to work.

Big Update:

Phil Johnson DVD Filming PosterIt’s on! After many emails back and forth to discuss terms and ideas, I’ll be doing my event at Art Boutiki in San Jose, CA on November 8th.  It’s a little bit later in the year than I wanted.  I could have done an October date, but I didn’t feel like it gave me enough time to the promo I need to do to make sure the house is full.

So now the real work begins.  I’ve posted the updated version of my to-do list below so you can see the steps I’m taking.  I’ve split it into Creative, Infrastructure, Venue, and Promotion tasks.  That helps me to not miss important steps that might be overlooked in one giant list.

The backdrop of the stage is really cool.  It’s a ton of vinyl album covers.  Unfortunately, I can see some lawyers getting itchy about the intellectual property problems of having that in my film.  And if I want to take this to Netflix or Comedy Central or anyone else, now or in the future, I don’t want to get aced out just because of a backdrop.  So we’ll be covering that with black curtains and I’ll devise a backdrop of my own.

This venue also offers extended services that most don’t.  They’re going to help out with poster and flyer printing. Their in-house sound tech will record the show and give me the raw tracks for just $20.  Then I can take them to my guy for mixing afterward. So that saves some money.  They also do digital print tshirts that we can sell with no upfront cost as a special souvenir of the night.

A good portion of the to-do list is under Promotions.  And I’ll be doing a separate post going over each of the tasks and hopefully with some solid results for each that I can break down for you.

Choose songs for band
Send practice tracks to band
Schedule band rehearsals
Find an opening act
Compile material for show
Refine material for show at gigs
Rehearse material for show
Create cover and disc art
Edit video
Do gig
Set up Pre-order Kickstarter-y thing
Set up ticket pre-sales
Get hard copy tickets from Eventbrite
Band broadcast contracts
Hire sound recordist
Figure out which cameras I’m going to use (GoPro?)
Talk to Bert Divietri about camera work
Find out where to rent extra cameras
Adjust this list with new timeline
Create a BWB post to track the progress of the shoot and YouTube videos
Find a venue that seats 50-100 people and is available on a Saturday night this fall
Visit venues and talk to bookers
Public broadcast release with venue
Settle show details with owner
– including contracts, sound system, lighting, backdrop, chairs, and wifi for webcast
Figure out how to cover backdrop


Compile every tip I can find on promoting shows
Create a timeline plan for all promo activities
Have VA submit to event sites, list below
Facebook event page – discount code
Facebook ads – discount code
Hire publicist
Create poster/web flyer
Create event tshirt
Create print flyers with discount code
Special flyers for neighbors with discount code
Film a promo video for Youtube
Offer tickets to Meetup groups
Form a 10 person street team to help with promotion
Run FB/Twitter contests to get people to share – Share, invite all friends, write Mission Accomplished in thread- random drawing for winner at show
Offer volunteers a commission through Eventbrite affiliates
Do a “hide something around town and have people find it for a prize” contest
Get on locally produced podcasts
Post on local forums
FB contest to get people to change their header/profile pic to my flyer
Unusual places like Craigslist, eBay and StubHub as promotional tools
Alrighty… Too many projects happening all at once! Had to spend a couple weeks concentrating on my set for the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas.  That went well.  Took 5th place in the overall event.  Then I had to deal with the release of “Super Dan” and the accompanying contest (post coming about that soon).  That’s just finished up.  All that’s left is to send out prizes.
In between I’ve been hammering away at this DVD stuff.  Now I have a month to make sure the material and production are ready and sell 75 more tickets.
Rather than doing a Kickstarter project, I’m simply doing pre-orders for the DVD and offering sponsorship opportunities.  The sponsor opps will either be a text credit or full screen graphic depending on how much they’d like to spend.
I decided against a full Kickstarter simply because I don’t think I have the juice with my fanbase right now to pull it off.  Rather than being a money-raiser, I pictured it turning into yet another thing to promote.  And between the special and Super Dan, I’ve been way to promote-y online recently.
But I wanted something to offer the people that can’t make the show, so that’s where the pre-orders and such come in.
The guy printing posters and such for me was a bit behind schedule, so my main task over the last few days has been offering ticket discounts to charities, large businesses, and schools.  The idea is to have one centrally located person at an organization do some of the promotion for me in exchange for a good discount for their people.
For charities, I contacted about 10 San Jose-based organizations and offered them 4 tickets for free that they can either sell and keep the money for, or just give to someone they think deserves them.  In the email I made sure to let them know that I appreciate the work they do and I’d like to help them with these tickets.  No responses yet on these.
For businesses, I’ve sent emails to the HR departments of 3 companies so far.  It’s tricky to find a regular email contact for HR departments.  I may opt for some regular postal mail for other companies.  I offered each company a custom discount code, like “ciscoemp” for 50% off the regular advance ticket prices.  Again, no responses yet on these.  But I may try a few more.
For schools, I’ve only approached San Jose State so far.  Emailed their Music and Theater department heads with a similar 50% off custom code.  The theater department will be getting the word out to students, but haven’t heard back from Music yet.  Glad to see they get behind their alumni. 😉
I will, of course, be sending this to other schools in the area too.  SJSU was my test case.  Good enough to move forward.
I’ve also sent out at $2 discount offer to a variety of Meetup groups.  I know of a couple weekly shows around here that do very well with Meetup groups.  Offered the event and discount code to about a dozen and have had 3 post it so far.  One other said they’re members doing like comedy shows because they’re more of a talk-y social group.
I’ve finally got some posters and flyers now.  So I’ll be doing the grunt work of getting those up near the venue.  Though I’m going to look at Thumbtack Bugle (a postering service here in the Bay Area) and see if I’ve got the time and budget for them to do it.
I’m trying first to concentrate on the things that can bring in a lot of ticket sales with a little energy.  Then on to the more energy intensive, one-on-one interactions.
The big gig was this past weekend.  And we…. (drum roll)…. SOLD OUT!  YAY!  We actually oversold because people were emailing and texting me trying to get tickets even after they were gone.
I’ll be continuing to talk about the post-production process and the release in this post and things move on.  But I’m going to go over in detail which promotional tactics worked and which didn’t in a separate post that will be up in a few days.  I’ll link it here as soon as it’s ready.


Ok, I’ve been lagging on getting an update on here.  Truth be told there hasn’t been a ton to update.  It’s been all post-production, me sitting in front of a laptop editing and creating artwork for the last couple months.

During that process I did a couple more episodes of the documentary to keep people engaged in the process.  You should be able to see those in the YouTube playlist above.

I also did a 13th episode that will only be on the DVD.  I’m including all the episodes on the DVD as extras and Ep 12 didn’t feel like a good stopping point.  So I got creative and did cool “time travel” video for the the last one that I think people will like.  And, of course, I’m making it known that the DVD is the only place to see it.

And this week the thing is finally released! If you’re counting, that almost exactly a year from when I started the process.  March 10, 2014.  Yeesh.

Let’s talk some details here…


I always release and audio-only version of my DVDs as well.  Then people can listen in their cars or on their phones or whatever.  It’s another piece of product that doesn’t cost me anything.

For distro to iTunes, Spotify, etc, I use CDBaby’s service.  I’m not entirely sure if they’re still the most competitively priced or whatever.  But all my releases are there and I don’t particularly relish the idea of splitting off with a new company to keep track of.

Of course, that’s only for audio distribution.  I’m still looking into different services for VOD rentals and sales.  Much as I’d love to get it on Netflix, I don’t think the quality is up to snuff for them.  Thanks to Jim LaForest at AudioVista, the audio sounds fantastic.  But I wasn’t quite happy with some of the lighting and camera work.  Bigger venue and bigger production and I missed some details. That’s all on me.

For direct to fan sales I’m using BandCamp for both video and audio.  Video, you say?  While it’s not meant for such things, I have a little work around.  Along with the audio, you can include other files like images or small videos up to 600mb.

My hour-plus special is way over that limit of course.  So instead I just include a text document with a link to download the video in a zip file directly from my server.  It’s not the most eloquent solution, but it gets the job done.


During the pre-sale, I sold the download for $5 and the DVD for $8.  Everyone went for the hard copy DVD.  It was only three bucks more and included all the digital files anyway.  That’s a great pricing strategy for many situations.  Offer a stripped down thing for a decent price and then overload them with coolness for a few bucks more.

Since I had a lot of new people at the filming who weren’t already on my mailing list, I offered the same deal at the show.  All together, I had about 25 pre-orders.  Not a ton, but it helps pad the production budget.

Now that it’s out, I have the download priced at $8 and the DVD at $20 with free shipping in the US.  This may seem to fly in the face of my previous comment about pricing since the DVD is so much more.

The shipping is a consideration.  Within the US I’m looking at $2.50 to mail the thing, plus packaging costs.  It costs me about 75 cents to manufacture the DVD including case, printing, disc.  That leaves me with $16.50, which is great.

The hook is that the DVD has all the bonus features and the download doesn’t.  I maxed out the capacity of the DVD with music videos, all the documentary episodes, my opening act’s set from that night, trailers for my other releases, and some other stuff.

The people that actually want to see all that stuff and have a hard copy of the DVD are the collectors and biggest supporters of my work.  They’re willing to pay a little more to support what I do.  Most everyone else just wants to see the show.  They might watch the extras once, but it’s not a big deal to them.

These prices are a test right now.  I may drop the DVD to $15.  I used to include the audio on a disc with the DVDs in my other releases.  A 2-disc set is definitely worth $20.  So I’m testing here and may change the price.

Incidentally, the reason I’m not including the audio disc anymore is because it gives me a reason to get their email address with a sale and email a link to download the audio later.  They don’t have to do any ripping, I get a lower production cost, and I can remember to get their contact info.

That, and because I accidentally ordered two cases of single disc cases instead of double disc. 🙂  But it did spark the other ideas for me.


This is the big part of course.  Fortunately, my budget was low enough that I don’t need a blockbuster to make a profit.  The whole project cost about $2500.  So if I sell 200 copies, I’m in good shape.  After that it’s gravy.

I had hoped to do a release party of some sort.  I didn’t want to do a live event release, just because it’s another thing to promote that wouldn’t have had that big an impact.  My next thought was to do an online release party with a Google Hangout or something.  Play some songs, show some clips, crack some jokes with folks….

As it turned out, I just didn’t have time to put it together and promote it.  My touring schedule is picking up and I was trying to finish all the post-production in between.  And since I’m not banking on giant first day sales for anything, I figured I’ll just get it out and work it from the ground up.

Here’s what’s on the to-do list to promote this thing:

Email List Cycle – I’ve put together 4 emails to go out to my list over the next two weeks.  3-4 days apart.  The first is the longest and goes into detail of what they get and really emphasizes how much time and work I put into the project.  5 years all told.

The second email is a “Hey, did you get my other email?” note.  It’s much shorter and just links them over to the page to get it.  I’ve tried these on gig announcement emails and the second email often gets more opens and responses than the first.

The third email is all about social proof.  I include some quotes from people that have already seen the special.  And I emphasize that lots of people have bought (which they will have by the time that email goes out…).

The fourth email is for the holdouts and broke people.  I explain that I don’t want money to come in between them and my work, and offer them a 20% discount code.

I’ve also made sure to exclude anyone who already has the DVD from these emails.  If they buy early, they won’t get the other emails from me.

Since my email list is only about 1500 people right now, I don’t expect to get anymore than 20-30 sales from these emails. But that’s a nice start.  Technically, a 20% response rate would net me 300 sales.  But I’ve never known my list to be quite that responsive, so I don’t want to overestimate.

New Autoresponder Series – I have an auto series that new subscribers to my list go through.  I’ve suspended it for the moment while those initial sales emails go out.  I’ll be designing a new series that pushes new people to the DVD.

YouTube Clips – I’m going to cut the special up into about 20 or so 1 minute clips for use on YouTube and other videos sites.  I did a 3 minute trailer video before the release.

The clips will be parts of bits.  If it’s a bit that goes 3 minutes, I give them the first minute, cut it off in the middle of the next setup and send them to get the full thing.  Going up at a rate of one every five days or so, this will give me new content for the next couple months for my video channels.

Rather than doing them all myself, I’m hoping to outsource part of this process to my VA.  I’ll go through and mark down the start/stop times and then let him cut them up, stick the graphics on, and render them.  That will save me a ton of time.

Meme Images – For the image sites and social media sites, meme images work great.  I’ll go through the whole show and pick out the jokes that work in a really short, non-performance format and create images for them.  Actually, I’ll have my VA do this too.  The images will of course include a little note of where to get the DVD.  Then they’ll go up anywhere where images can be posted.

If you’re a musician, do this with your lyrics.

Goofy Face GIFS – This is an experimental one.  I use a lot of goofy faces in my act.  So I’m going to make some animated gifs of them that people can caption with whatever they want and share on their social media channels.  Giphy has a super easy tool for creating animated gifs from videos.

Podcasts – I usually just go on podcasts whenever I’m asked to. But I’m going to be more proactive about actually asking to be a guest.  The more interviews the better.

Album Reviews – I’ve never been a super fan of trying to get reviews.  Even though the majority of them are good, the one or two bad ones destroy my psyche for a few hours.  And I’ve really never seen them drive sales.

My work won’t fly on the average music sites.  But I’ll be having my VA do research on places that review comedy albums.  And I’ve also been taking notes of places that post similar things to what I do.  Even better than reviews will be to just get them to post a video clip or something.  I really don’t care what the critics have to say.  I just want to get to their audience.

Noise Trade – I really like Noise Trade’s model.  They’ve created a cool little pod of people that like new stuff and are willing to cough up an email address to get it.  They’ve netted me a couple hundred subscribers over the last couple years.  And only a few have been the download/unsubscribe types.  The bonus is that the comedy category is way less crowded than some of the standard music ones.

I’m going to do a sampler of the new album and include some auxiliary documents to push them toward the full album and video.

Online/Satellite Radio – I’ve got comedy stations that have been playing my stuff for a few years now.  A variety of small online comedy stations.  And of course I’ll be sending it to Sirius/XM, Dr Demento, etc.  I also upload everything to for use in podcasts.

Press Release – This is really for SEO mostly.  I use the free press release distro services and none of the big publications pick up from those.  But it’s good for getting more documents into Google.  I’d rather contact the big ones directly anyway.

Facebook Ads – This will be the last thing that I do.  But I am planning on doing some experimenting here with video clips and images with newsfeed ads to pull some people to the download site.  But I want to come closer to meeting my budget and making sure my infrastructure is working well before I spend money here.

Online Video Distribution – Since Netflix probably won’t be happening, I’m going to look into other venues like Bittorrent Bundles, IndieFlix, and Amazon Instant Video for exposure here. Not only for sales, but a rental system of some sort too.  We’re coming to the point where people don’t event want to own digital files now.  If I can offer them a rental version for a couple bucks, that’s another segment of the market I can hit.

Ok, more updates coming soon.  But right now I have to go do a gig. 🙂


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