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Me Or That Toast

Me Or That Toast is an experimental piece I created in October 2019 for my COMM 339 class. We had to find or write a haiku, and center a piece around it. I decided to write mine about a toaster popping, and aim for a horror/jump scare vibe.

While it’s absolutely random, the idea does have roots in a project I worked on during my freshman year at Penn State. For INART 258A, a sound editing course under the Music Technology minor, I had to create a 2-minute soundscape built out of audio clips no longer than 2 seconds each. For that assignment, I captured any sound I could think to make in my kitchen: drawers slamming, water pouring, knives scraping—and yes, a toaster toasting.

While working with all this audio in Logic, I looped the toaster sound and gradually distorted it. What I discovered was that, presented a certain way, toasters can sound pretty terrifying! This looped-and-increasingly-distorted toaster element from two years prior is the exact sound used in this piece.

Shooting was straightforward; I just had to buy a loaf of bread and some neon green poster board. Here’s my roommate Noah messing with both:

For the main shot, I just recorded the toaster doing its thing, fit fully in frame top-to-bottom. After removing everything else from the shot, adding a dark gray “floor,” and reflecting the toaster onto the floor in After Effects, I had this:

This was a video, where the toast pops up at the end. Marking the moments just before the pop as the arrival for the camera, I moved it waaaay back in 3D space at the start of the video. Enabling depth of field (with the focal length fixed for the eventual arrival) added a sense that we’re really moving towards the toaster—it becomes clearer what it is as the shot goes on.

The rest of the footage was just a matter of shooting the toaster, mid-toast, from a variety of intimate angles. I really wanted to emphasize the heat given off by the coils, since I knew I’d be spiking the volume of the toaster sound for the quick cuts in throughout the sequence. There’s a few focus pulls which were fun; those were all done with the tripod arm in one hand, follow focus wheel in the other.

Editing involved timing the close-ups in the most jarring manner possible. I incorporated some uncomfortably long pauses, back out on the main shot, to keep things off-balance throughout. Everything crescendos to a quasi-climax—until a final pause where the toaster is full frame, the sounds are at full volume, and you know it’s just a matter of time until that pop.

When it finally comes, I match cut to me, walking into the kitchen, terrified by our vicious toaster. For this shot I got the toast popping once, then reacted a dozen different ways. My favorite reaction was then masked together with the toast going off:

My professor commented that the lighting in this shot makes it seem like it happens at night. I thought this was an interesting note, since in my head I always imagined the jump scare taking place in the middle of the night—so I lit it that way! Now that I think about it, it definitely is bizarre to make toast in the middle of the night. But what horror film saves its best scares for the daytime?

Shot on a Canon C100 Mk2.

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