Per Merriam Webster:
an inscription at the end of a book or manuscript usually with facts about its production
I borrow the term here to disclose the inner details of this site’s technical bones. But first …
A Brief History
I registered the domain behindthecurtain.com in 1996, when it was actually possible to discover and license meaningful domains consisting of real words without taking out a loan. During my contracting years, it served as my professional resume site.
Circa 2011, I was working at a tech startup, spending, as we all did, too many hours consumed by work. I needed a hobby. Hopefully, something related to movies, which my wife and I always enjoyed (and still do) together in our evening hours. Part of my job was maintaining the corporate website, and I still found a lot of satisfaction in that work.
So I fired up WordPress. But, of course, I wanted to do this as much for the nerd satisfaction as an outlet for writing. I learned a scrap or two of a programming language called PHP, and dove into the guts of WordPress coding, so I could build the first site from the ground up. My understanding wife saw me working on something on my laptop as we watched the nightly movie or series, but knew that’s just the way I am.
Along about 2014, my team at work opted to replace our outdated web infrastructure with Umbraco. I decided I needed to understand any issues they brought to me. So … what did I do as a “hobby”? I migrated my PHP to .Net and rebuilt the site on Umbraco. Side note: In the computing world, this is the very definition of “technical debt.”
For several years I inventoried a lot of my viewings at least as quick takes, and did full reviews as I found time. As work chores became ever more involved when I went to another startup, and I then transitioned to a global F500-type company, I stopped posting. But I often kept notes offline, which I’ll be digging through and publishing. These run to the dozens … maybe the hundreds.
When retirement snuck up on me, I decided I’d revive the site, but not in its “from scratch” foundation. WordPress was once again an appealing choice, as it had a broad ecosystem of page builders, themes, and plugins to accomplish advanced tasks. And I was done wrangling with “the loop.” (WordPress developers will know what this means.)
Choosing all the pieces and knitting them together consumed quite a few months. But finally in late 2023 I re-released behindthecurtain.com in a somewhat slicker and more functional format.
A bit of final disclaimer: It is not the prettiest site in the world. And there are definitely rough spots and inconsistencies in presentation. I’ll work on those when they nag at me enough. I have tried to do the “right thing” when it comes to challenges like making the site look good on your phone and your 32-inch computer monitor. But endless tweaking lies ahead. (Yay!)
But for now I’m finally at the moment where I’m mostly writing, not coding.
Technical Bones: Foundational Components
Here are the foundational pieces, with explanations for any of my non-website-obsessed friends or acquaintances (or random visitors) who may want to know more.
WordPress, of course. It’s what you call a content management system. It’s the foundation on which the rest of the house is built. It stores all the writing I’ve done, and has templates that determine how it all gets spit onto a webpage when someone hits a link. That makes it possible to churn out pages that all look the same, and update them in bulk by updating a template, rather than hardcode each individual page.
GenerateBlocks Pro. This is a “block editor” in WordPress lingo. It’s like Legos for the web. You can add a “block” to a page to contain text, images, and other stuff, and you get a nice set of controls to pick and choose how you want it to look and behave. Much easier than writing PHP or dealing with native WordPress.
GeneratePress Premium. It’s a “theme editor,” which means you can construct those templates to give your site, in the governing cliche, a consistent “look and feel” based on reusable bit parts that you can style without having deep knowledge of web stuff like HTML and CSS. (This is a bit of a simplification. Knowing that nerd stuff definitely helps, and I did occasionally stick a finger into the works to tweak some of that stuff. See the Acknowledgements below for more on this.)
Advanced Custom Fields. This “plugin” helps you create custom fields in your WordPress database to hold stuff specific to your needs. Like the genre of each movie, or the star rating. It also provides a means to create a database of movie personnel and add them to the individual movies they directed, wrote, or acted in.
Other Helpful Components
These plugins provided additional umph when I wanted to go overboard:
Independent Analytics is a website reporting tool that tells me how many people have visited this website, how many times a particular post has been viewed, what countries they came from, and what web browser they were using. This info helps reinforce the humility I must show in acknowledging this is a hobby and not a profession. It also occasionally helps me see where I might need to invest some more effort. It’s important to point out, from a visitor privacy perspective, that this tool collects only aggregate, anonymous visitor statistics; it does not collect information that would identify a particular person, such as their IP address. Thus, it complies with privacy regulations such as GDPR
WP Grid Builder. You know how, on Amazon, you can click those checkboxes on the left side of the page to find XXL navy blue polyester socks that can be delivered tomorrow? That’s incredibly hard to do from scratch. This grand little widget makes it easy to produce this sort of Advanced Find feature.
WPvivid. You won’t notice this at work on the site. But that’s the point. It creates a “staging” site for me: a copy of the live site, where I can make updates and improvements without screwing up what you see here. When I’m done messing about, I can publish the new version. Then start over tweaking again on another hidden staging site.
Slim SEO. That stands for “search engine optimization,” which is the magic that enables you to Google for “best recipe for gluten-free brownies” and get about a hundred links to websites you’ve never heard of. (All with the same recipe, but that’s something else.) Follow the rules for SEO, and maybe you can work your way up the Google returns from position 250 to 100 to 75 to … well, I digress. This tool grabs info out of a movie review and inserts additional coding into the web page that Google (or other search engines, if indeed there are other search engines) can read to better understand what’s on the page and maybe include you in someone’s search. I do this because it’s the right thing to do. I certainly am not on a journey here to rival IMDB for search traffic.
Admin and Site Enhancements. Just another something under the covers that helps me customize the way the WordPress dashboard shows my stuff to me.
For this fourth generation of behindthecurtain.com, I’m posturing a bit when I imply I’ve done it all. In fact, some of the most challenging (and coolest) parts of the site were contributed by tech support at the various tool makers listed above. Among them, the tech support at GeneratePress/Blocks put in many hours and contributed code that made hard stuff like those lists of directors, writers, and cast members work. They were also generous in setting me on the right path for snippets of coding that simply confounded me. I highly recommend them!