Friday, January 28, 2011

augmented links

---a nice scene from Endhiran

---Adam Haslett's thoughts on how "theme and syntax" intertwine:

"[T]he form and rhythm of sentences communicates as much meaning as their factual content, whether we’re conscious of it or not. In 1863, when General Grant took the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last hindrance to free passage of Union supplies along the river, President Lincoln wrote in a letter to be read at a public meeting: “The father of waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” It’s a poem of a sentence, “The father of waters” and “unvexed to the sea” perfectly balanced on the unexpected pivot of “again goes” rather than “goes again”, and all in the service of a metaphor that figures the Union as an inevitable force and the Confederacy as a blight on nature, without mentioning either. If cadence had no content, “Union supplies lines are now clear” would have the same power. And what is obvious in rhetoric is true in literature, as well.

Take the first sentence of David Foster Wallace’s story, “The Depressed Person”: “The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.” By mixing heightened feeling and unrelenting repetition (“pain”, “pain”, “pain”) with a Latinate, clinically declarative voice (“component”, “contributing factor”), Wallace delivers his readers right where he wants them: inside the hellish disconnect between psychic pain and the modern means of describing it. The rhythm of the sentence is perfectly matched to its positive content. Indeed, from a writer’s point of view the two aren’t separate. If we could separate meaning from sound, we’d read plot summaries rather than novels.

---David McKenna on the changing face of men in movies

---Black Swan's visual effects

---William Martell describes the writing process for Robin Hood

---Skidelsky explores the limitations of fact-based fiction:

"What has prompted this flood of fact-based storytelling? The reasons for these kinds of cultural shift are never easy to pinpoint, but this one surely has a lot to do with changing ideas about privacy and truth. Over the past decade or so we have, as a culture, become much less attached to the idea that certain aspects of life should remain private. An increasingly intrusive press regards it as its job to sniff out the secrets of the rich and famous. Respect towards those in positions of authority has dramatically declined. The result is that a terrain to which entry was once largely barred – the private lives of those in the public gaze – has become accessible. And this has given new licence to artists. Even a decade ago, it would have been hard to imagine a film like The Queen – dealing with the relationship between a living monarch and a serving prime minister – being made. Now finding yourself in a novel or film is one of the hazards of being famous.

This scaling back of the private sphere has coincided with something else: a growing belief that it is in personal relationships and feelings that the important truths about the world are to be found. While the concept of a public facade has always existed, it has never held greater sway than it does today. Most people intuitively feel that the majority of what is reported – in newspapers, history books, government documents – is false, or only partly true, and that the important stuff happens behind closed doors, or inside people's heads. This is reflected in the way the New Labour epoch is discussed, with an overriding focus on the relationships between the protagonists and, often, their psychological states.

Yet this belief in a private domain where ultimate truth lies creates a problem. For we can be fed endless information – diaries and memoirs, leaked diplomatic documents – but none will necessarily tell us what went on. The apparatus of factual exposure habitually falls short. This, of course, is where art comes in. Artists may not be better acquainted with the truth than anyone else, but they can do something that others can't: describe plausibly what might have happened."

---the writing methods of Roald Dahl, Diablo Cody, and Charlie Kaufman

---Sophie Heawood's profile of Amy Adams

---Do we really want Google to augment us?--

" . . . augmented humanity implies inserting tech deliberately in the way of normal life, to better it. And Schmidt's unspoken line is that job should fall to Google--it has diverse tools that operate in all of these `augmented info' spaces and beyond, and if they were all centralized and presented to you seamlessly via Android smartphones, then it could improve the human race. After all, thanks to its vast user-info databases, Google already knows pretty much everything about you, and almost what you're thinking about where you're going next (as Schmidt has previously noted.) He caveated his argument with lots of references to the phrase `with your permission,' obviously concerned he was overstepping the user-privacy boundary. But do we trust Google with the future of 21st century humankind? There's a big assumption here that Google will always promise not to be evil."

---"WikiLeaks: the Back Story" and WikiLeaks as literature

---cinema's greatest slaps

---the falsifications of The King's Speech and the real thing (also the movie's sets and costumes)

---Onswipe and the reinvention of media for the iPad

---rediscovering John Cazale

---the grocery stores of Detroit and the "case against economic disaster porn"

---directors discuss directing and other Oscar-related roundtables

---the insanity of perpetual growth:

"Alongside the nut jobs, there are an awful lot of people who probably just don’t think about it: they simply absorb the perspective of the newscasters who say, `Economic growth, good; economic stagnation, bad.' And of course if you care more about the economic system than life on the planet, this is true. If, however, you care more about life than the economic system, it is not quite so true, because this economic system must constantly increase production to grow, and what, after all, is production? It is the conversion of the living to the dead, the conversion of living forests into two-by-fours, living rivers into stagnant pools for generating hydroelectricity, living fish into fish sticks, and ultimately all of these into money. And what, then, is gross national product? It is a measure of this conversion of the living to the dead. The more quickly the living world is converted into dead products, the higher the GNP. These simple equations are complicated by the fact that when GNP goes down, people often lose jobs. No wonder the world is getting killed."

---lastly, while novelists resist the web, Nicholas Carr describes the way the Internet affects our brains:

"The Internet, like all intellectual technologies has a trade off. As we train our brains to use it, as we adapt to the environment of the internet, which is an environment of kind of constant immersion and information and constant distractions, interruptions, juggling lots of messages, lots of bits of information. As we adapt to that information environment, so to speak, we gain certain skills, but we lose other ones. And if you look at the scientific evidence, it’s pretty clear particularly from studies of like video games, that use of online media enhances our – some of our visual cognitive ability. So our ability to spot patterns in arrays of visual information to keep track of lots of things going on at once on a screen but along with that, what we lose is the ability to pay deep attention to one thing for a sustained period of time, to filter out distractions.

And the ability to pay attention not only underpins kind of ways of thinking that are pretty obvious, contemplativeness, reflection, introspection, all of those kind of solitary ways of thinking, but what we know from brain studies is that the ability to pay attention also is very important for our ability to build memories, to transfer information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. And only when we do that do we weave new information into everything else we have stored in our brains. All the other facts we’ve learned, all the other experiences we’ve had, emotions we’ve felt. And that’s how you build, I think, a rich intellect and a rich intellectual life."

Friday, January 21, 2011


---Slavoj Zizek analyzes Children of Men

---a Saul Bass short about creativity

---revisiting Ferris Bueller:

"Ferris has mastered a technology newly emergent in the 1980s: the combination of computers, telephones, and digital audio sampling. We see answering machines that Ferris has rigged to play false messages; we see his stereo amplifying digital samples of his coughs and snores to create the illusion that he’s at home in bed. The director Hughes has cleverly divined what this new technology will come to be used for; it is for not being there. A few years after the movie, one imagines, Ferris will start a company that designs phone trees and voicemail systems; he will be a millionaire by 1990.The frustration, the sense of having been hoaxed, that is felt by the dean of students when he realizes that he isn’t really listening to Ferris through the intercom of the Bueller family home but only to a recording of Ferris, delivered to the intercom by a computer—you felt the same frustration yesterday when you dialed your health insurer and were led into a maze of cheerful, obtuse recorded voices that by design denied you an opportunity to say what had made you angry enough to call."

---visions of Kubrick's The Shining

---time for a tech detox?

---Apple's war against self-repair

---cyberlocker theft and NYPD policemen exposed to the wrong film

---John Carpenter returns to direct The Ward (which oddly resembles Sucker Punch)

---Sean Grady's A Century of Film

---Google's vision of augmented humanity:

"In a speech last September at the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin, Schmidt talked about “the age of augmented humanity,” a time when computers remember things for us, when they save us from getting lost, lonely, or bored, and when “you really do have all the world’s information at your fingertips in any language”—finally fulfilling Bill Gates’ famous 1990 forecast. This future, Schmidt says, will soon be accessible to everyone who can afford a smartphone—one billion people now, and as many as four billion by 2020, in his view.

It’s not that phones themselves are all that powerful, at least compared to laptop or desktop machines. But more and more of them are backed up by broadband networks that, in turn, connect to massively distributed computing clouds (some of which, of course, are operated by Google). “It’s like having a supercomputer in your pocket,” Schmidt said in Berlin. “When we do voice translation, when we do picture identification, all [the smartphone] does is send a request to the supercomputers that then do all the work.”

---in an interview, Evgeny Morozov questions how much Google should make choices for us:

"there is a quote from Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO, where he says that what you expect from Google is not to show you what your choices are, but to make the choices on your behalf. So it is interesting: it brings you to the question of agency and free will, and even if free will is being commodified."

---Adam Cosco argues in favor of Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) really being the marshall he thinks he is in Shutter Island (not how I remember the book by Dennis Lehane)

---Marilyn Ferdinand appreciates Criss Cross

---Howard Hawks and everyday chivalry

---Susan Orlean notes how one gets a book published these days

---Salinger, Caulfield, and the 2nd World War:

"Years later, Salinger’s counter-intelligence colleagues would remember him as constantly stealing away to write. One recalled a time when the unit came under heavy fire. Everyone began ducking for cover. Glancing over, the soldiers caught sight of Salinger typing away under a table."

---John Lydon in 1978

---deadly data overload

---the title sequence of Days of Heaven

---Marc Savlov celebrates Richard Linklater's 20 year old Slacker:

"Watching Slacker now, you're struck by just how revolutionary a film it was at the time and how obviously influential it remains. Cinematographer Lee Daniel's camera doesn't so much follow the (often nameless) characters and laconic or loquacious nonevents as flow around them, the way the water at Twin Falls breaks around and reveals or highlights the semisubmerged detritus poking up into the sunlight on a shady summer day. Nothing much happens in Slacker, but – and here's the secret to the film's initial appeal and lasting impact – anything can happen. Watching Slackerfrom the futuristic vantage point of today, you get the distinct sensation of awesomeness in potentia. Something's coming – something big, maybe – and you can feel it in the restless, caffeine-and-alcohol-fueled dialogue that sprawls out of Captain Quackenbush's, wanders up the Drag to Les Amis, and then tools up to Mount Bonnell, where Linklater's lovely cri de coeur finally, literally, takes flight and tumbles end over end into the unknown, into the future."

---Tag Ghallagher asks "Why Samuel Fuller?"

---Sheila O'Malley considers the evolution of Cary Grant

---anticipating the next cyberwar

---lastly, future-Catholicism--Bettany and the Priest trailer

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Enter the void: 8 notes on The Green Hornet

1) Watching The Green Hornet was like sitting in an expansive tent and noting the wind blow through a large hole in the back of the canvas. The nihilistic emptiness of the entire enterprise has one discernable purpose: Columbia Pictures desires a profit.

2) As a newspaper baron's spoiled son Britt Reid, Seth Rogen revels in immature buffoonery. He's an entitled boorish slob. His initial motto: "Never stop the party!" His method of seduction consists of making out with women inside his father's fancy cars (moving from car to car in frenetic fast motion). He happens upon his career as a "hero" when he tells Kato "Let's go get ourselves some goddamned justice!" He's a 29 year old man acting like a 12 year old in the hopes of appealing to a predominantly 16 year old male audience. His character's father says "Trying doesn't matter when you always fail," a rather apt line for the entire movie.

3) Why is Cameron Diaz (as Lenore Chase) involved? She is ten years older than Seth Rogen, so his character makes a crack about how Lenore Chase is perhaps more suitable for Cocoon, but he lusts for her anyway, and she threatens him with a sexual harassment suit (the one semi-realistic scene in the film). Knight and Day also showed how Diaz is having difficulty moving beyond the ditzier Tweetie Bird persona of her twenties (now that she's nearly 40). Here, her character, Lenore Chase, is, by the way, very intelligent, so the casting psychodynamics are confusing. Did the filmmakers mean for her to play den mother for Britt's arrested development?

4) Why is the storyline chiefly concerned with a newspaper The Daily Sentinel, run by Britt's dad (a pained-looking Tom Wilkinson)? I noticed that the 1930's children's radio show version of The Green Hornet featured a newspaper publisher hero, but this new version only makes one reference to the contemporary news situation, and that's when Britt decides to place some incriminating information about an evil district attorney on the Internet. Otherwise, this Sentinel is huge, loaded with employees, and director Michel Gondry even includes a Citizen Kane reference when everyone on one floor of the Sentinel building stands up when Britt arrives to take over his father's business. The newspaper world depicted in this film might have come from the 1950s.

5) At one point, the villain Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) asks a fellow villain, "You truly don't think I'm scary?" Chudnofsky is so insecure about his evil status, he changes his name to Reign of Bloodnofsky and affects a red outfit with a gas mask that somehow corresponds to the Green Hornet's get-up. After Waltz's triumph in Inglourious Basterds, this jokey meta-super-villain debasement is very sad.

6) Seth Rogen, as co-writer of The Green Hornet, keeps including dialogue that indicates how we're supposed to react to what's on screen. At one point, he says "I'm feeling conflicting emotions, Kato." At another time, he says, "These guys are good." Situations are either "Incredibly dangerous" or "really very intense." Kato is a "complex man." All of these verbal cues make the movie gratingly self-aggrandizing. A gang fight becomes, for Britt, "the greatest moment of my entire life!" One can assume the audience is supposed to feel the same way.

7) And what of Kato (Jay Chou)? Proficient in making fancy coffee and equipping muscle cars with weaponry, Kato can also fight by slowing down time in order to note in infra-red the different weapons of various bad guys menacing him simultaneously. Otherwise, his role still carries a hint of the casual racism of the old comics that birthed him (Britt wants to keep him as his "sidekick," not his partner. He calls him "Little Stinger" and other derogatory names). My friend Dr. K., a comics scholar, told me recently that he found it difficult to find a comic from the Golden Age that doesn't include some racist caricature. Kato could, perhaps, be a self-possessed character except for one glaring problem: he befriends Britt, thus becoming something of a hanger-on, a toady, and a stooge for rich swine. In real life, Kato wouldn't suffer Britt's presence.

8) In the frenetic, endless climax (spoiler alert), Kato and Britt lead the bad guys on one last long chase back to a large building that gets demolished in the firefight. Their 1965 Chrysler Imperial, the Black Beauty, suffers much wear and tear. Britt comes to terms with his dead tyrannical father, but it's all a bunch of concussively futile motion that attempts, and fails, to mask the void.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

digital landscape links

---Roberts' "Everything will be reinvented":

"Reinvention is happening in every market at an accelerating pace. Just in the last two years we’ve seen fundamental shifts in music, gaming, banking, education, government, automobiles, energy, coupons, payments, retail, rental cars, manufacturing, publishing, journalism, just to name a few. My own industry, venture capital, is being reinvented by upstart funds (like OATV) and entirely new funding models, like DST.

Even the mighty Google is looking ripe for disruption in their untouchable search business. As Jeff Atwood points out:

`The idea that there could be something wrong with Google was inconceivable to me. Google is gravity on the web, an omnipresent constant; blaming Google would be like blaming gravity for my own clumsiness. But, this is the first time since 2000 that I can recall Google search quality ever declining, and it has inspired some rather heretical thoughts in me — are we seeing the first signs that algorithmic search has failed as a strategy? Is the next generation of search destined to be less algorithmic and more social? It’s a scary thing to even entertain, but maybe gravity really is broken.'

The cracks in the foundations of innovations past are becoming more and more apparent. A digital landscape is emerging that is not only opening up new paths to reinvent incumbent businesses, but mashing them up in ways that weren’t possible even 18 months ago."

---Paul featurette

---"Bytes and Beethoven"

---frozen heist

---Kuersten's best work of 2010

---are you ready for The Rapture?

---deadly images

---the global economy won't recover:

"Virtually everyone everywhere-economists, politicians, pundits -- agrees that the world has been in some kind of economic trouble since at least 2008. And virtually everyone seems to believe that in the next few years the world will somehow "recover" from these difficulties. After all, upturns always occur after downturns. The remedies recommended vary considerably, but the idea that the system shall continue in its essential features is a deeply rooted faith.

But it is wrong. All systems have lives. When their processes move too far from equilibrium, they fluctuate chaotically and bifurcate. Our existing system, what I call a capitalist world-economy, has been in existence for some 500 years and has for at least a century encompassed the entire globe. It has functioned remarkably well. But like all systems, it has moved steadily further and further from equilibrium. For a while now, it has moved too far from equilibrium, such that it is today in structural crisis."

---urban apocalypse

---Sam Shaw's photos

---Ben Craig's Modern Times

---David Bordwell's Planet Hong Kong

---a Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents:

"Let's acknowledge that blogs are a fantastic tool for freedom of expression. They have unloosed the tongues of ordinary citizens. People who were until now only consumers of news have become players in a new form of journalism, a "grassroots" journalism, as expressed by Dan Gillmor (Grassroots journalism — see the chapter What ethics should bloggers have?), that is "by the people for the people".

Blogs are more or less controllable for those who want to keep them under surveillance. Governments that are most up to do date with new technology use the most sophisticated filtering or blocking techniques, preventing them from appearing on the Web at all. But bloggers don't just sit back and let it happen. The essential question becomes how to blog in complete safety."

---product placement in films

---top 10 brains of the digital future:

"When we refer to something digital—a film, a book, a song—we simply mean that it exists as a string of ones and zeroes within a machine. As ever more of our cultural and intellectual life migrates towards digital media, however, the staggering implications are becoming clear: that to live in a digital age is to live in an era of instantaneous and infinite reproduction, communication and creation.

Change has rarely been at once so rapid and so universal; and many ideas that will shape the 21st century are emerging from the digital realm. In the past 12 months, the total number of global internet users has swept past the 2bn mark. Thanks to the explosive growth of mobile phones, we live for the first time in a culture where being part of a globally interconnected group is normal for most of the world’s adults. The last major medium not to have gone digital—books—has begun to make the transition in earnest. Apple’s iPad has sold over 1m units a month since its launch in April, and helped define a new kind of computing device, the tablet. The population of the world’s largest virtual social network, Facebook, has passed the half billion mark—while human-machine interactions took another leap forward with the launch in November of Microsoft’s Kinect: an affordable device that allows users to interact with a games console through movement alone."

---From the Woods

---movie theft and one possible solution for the studios

---the last Lester Bangs interview:

"I went to see that movie the other night, The Last Waltz, and you sit through something like that in 1982 and you really see why New Wave was necessary. There they are, so smugly thanking that they're brilliant musicians or even jazz musicians just because a guy can play a solo for 10 minutes that's just scales. It's real pompous. The only trouble with New Wave is that nobody followed up on it. Everybody thought that the initial gesture was all they had to make. Richard Hell made that one album and got too lazy to make another one, or the Sex Pistols breaking up. Although it's good they broke up. But very few of them followed through. But it was really an exciting burst there for like a year, year and a half."

---Araki's Kaboom

---"Eternal Fascism" by Umberto Eco

---the classy-looking Drive Angry 3D

---lastly, William Eubank's Love trailer

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 8: grim citified grunge

After a morning of showing off scenes of Godard and Rohmer at work, teaching three point lighting techniques, and taking inventory, I let the two remaining film crews shoot scenes all day. In a way, teaching this kind of class is effortless. The students will learn from the experience of shooting badly, and Lord knows they had trouble coming up with a simple conversation between two characters in the lunchroom.After 12 takes, Eva had ground up her bagel into small pieces, but she still labored at looking shy and withdrawn (because she isn't), just as John took many takes to speak his lines more slowly, with natural pauses, and keep himself within the camera's frame. Shooting a given shot teaches one to appreciate the artistry and professionalism of any established film crew. How do they figure out how to not cut off people at the waist when they stand up? How do they get rid of every ambient noise--a crash of dishes in the distance, a coach talking as he walks by? Shooting helps one appreciate both sun (and the extreme brevity of good outdoor lighting) and quiet. Who knew that a heating vent can ruin a scene?

I spent much of the day hanging out with Afterglow films. The lead actor Alex reminded me a little of Travis Bickle with his green army jacket and '70s mirror shades. The residue of melting snow and ice added a grim citified grunge to the scene as Alex muttered hackneyed dialogue on his cell phone with his dealer: "I don't know. . . . gin, vodka, (sniff) Do you think you could get me some of the usual, man?" Where to place the microphone? Over his shoulder? We then travelled to the alley where Afterglow will shoot their stabbing scene tomorrow at dusk. The students were smart enough to ask permission at the local police station to use the alley at 4:30 tomorrow, and the policeman on duty was very nice about it.

For a time we considered various movies for them to make during an independent study next semester: a Blair Witch-esque documentary of a local abandoned warehouse? or how a doc about a local murder at a feed store? How about remakes of films made in previous classes, but this time limited to point of view single shot versions? Isn't it about time somebody shot a musical? We all agreed that really only one kind of film absolutely needs to be made, of course: a dream heist zombie romantic comedy.

By later afternoon, I followed the school minibus to a student's house, where Afterglow used the last sunlit moments to shoot a crass encounter between Erica and Steve. Erica just wants to use Steve to get liquor from his coke-addicted brother, so after some sweet talk and a kiss of the cheek, she obtains what she's after. This film has two murders (a stabbing and a shooting), a cocaine deal gone bad, a manipulative femme fatale, and one sap who just wants to not eat alone in the cafeteria.

When Afterglow ran the storyline past one of my colleagues, he asked "Why are you making this?" It was a good question. Because the movie portrays illicit behavior for a jaded, terminally distracted audience in need of cheap sensation? Perhaps. But it still seems right to be on the side of the few who make the spectacle instead of the many who merely succumb to it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 5, 6, and 7: snow, zombies, etc.

Last Friday, after writing for much of the morning, the filmmaking class began shooting two action films simultaneously on different sides of campus as the weather clouded over. I was obliged to help with both. For the first group, I mimicked driving over a student in my Hyundai Accent (some dubious advice from the director: "Just drive up normally and he will dodge out of the way").

I then rushed over to another group whose members were beginning to shoot a meta zombie attack sequence. They didn't have much of a script, so I trained the camera on one fellow named Max who discussed the film crew in mockumentary-style as they waited for the zombies to arrive for a scene. The idea was to make both the director and the cameraman annoying enough to warrant their upcoming death, so these two were complaining as the three zombies approached, no one supposedly knowing that they were real zombies. They thought they were just shooting a scene with actors.

Incidentally, I learned something about how to make fake blood from corn syrup, corn starch, and food dye. The director mixed it all in a big skillet, then applied the blood with grey and green and brown ground-up chalk to create the proper zombie patina. The zombie extras took awhile to learn the proper shuffling walk and growling sounds.

By smearing a measure of blood on their clothes, all three zombies looked convincing, so I got to yell "Zombies Attack!" to cue their slow distant approach from behind a wall. The various film crew members muttered stuff about how they "looked convincing," until the camera man walked up to one and was promptly attacked and killed. The zombies then attacked the director, knocking her down on the lawn. By this point, the remaining now-frightened crew rushed through a conveniently open window into the film class, and the zombies chased them inside. The crew had by then boiled down to two people, Max and Sarah. They ran down a hallway and then worked their way outside again. When they realized how easily they could outrun the zombies, Max asked Sarah if she would like to get some coffee. She said sure, and they walked off. The zombies in the distance, meanwhile, stumbled off in the wrong direction, one of them pausing to eat a tree.

Then, early Monday morning, a big snow storm hit the area. I managed to drive over to work early enough to avoid the first onslaught of the snow, but unfortunately, no other teachers arrived, so I was placed in the awkward position of the one authority figure asking students to work while everyone else played in the snow (some even made a special point of throwing snowballs outside our classroom). I looked through several screenplays and storyboards, but I could sense an ugly situation evolving if I kept them much longer, so I cancelled class. I ended up driving in the snow storm about 25 miles back home with the windshield wipers freezing up, very poor visibility, and cars stranded on the side of the road (South Carolinians are not all that used to this kind of weather). After finally getting home (the trip took me three times longer than usual), I sent an e-mail to the students announcing the cancellation for the next day's class, as well.

Today, however, the snow stopped, and except for some icy patches, the roads had cleared by mid-afternoon, so I visited the school to find Afterglow Films shooting a scene in the lunchroom with extras. Los Jefes, Inc. had already shot a montage showing the evolving friendship between a woman and her imaginary friend, Amy (who wears different colored sweaters that darken as she becomes evil). The students were frustrated by their inability to shoot movies on location downtown, due to the problems with ice, snow, and continuity, but I suggested that if the weather continued to interfere, they could still shoot scenes on campus, in part to practice the acting. The class has now finished a video version of "The Egg," a Dodgeball video, the zombie film called "Zombehs," and others.

I also visited an igloo that the students had built on campus. Tomorrow, we will resume class, and see what we can do with only three shooting days of class remaining.

filmmaking-related links:

---Godard directing Band a part

---Eric Rohmer at work on A Summer's Tale

---making Scott Pilgrim

---Jeff Bridges visits the Little Lebowski store

---Ben Stiller asks "Why is Tom Cruise?"

---Scott Pilgrim's title sequence

Saturday, January 8, 2011

hypermedia links

---an ad for Intel

---Kevin Smith's thoughts on writing and filmmaking

---Christopher Nolan's writing process

---recession changes:

"Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, nearly every state faces a budget shortfall, and hundreds of banks have shut their doors. The young are unemployed, living at home, and playing video games. The ranks of third-party candidates have swollen, militias have proliferated, and national leaders of both parties have seen their support decline."

---WikiLeaks, the murder of civilians, and military metaphysics

---talking with Danny Trejo:

“You have to learn how to act. If you’re standing out in the yard in San Quentin and something’s going to come down, you’re scared to death and you can’t show it. Inside, you’re dying, but outside you’re [saying] ‘Bring it!’ I think that was the first way of trying to cover up a feeling that is inside. [Anger is fear] turned outward. That’s automatic. Some people don’t even play with fear, they just go straight to rage and that’s the best weapon anybody can have if you’re under attack.”

---Brody celebrates Pickup on South Street

---the elements of clunk and electrifying language

---the critics who differed

---oil and the "recovery" (two articles curiously free of the term "peak oil")

---David Byrne considers Detroit

---@nathanielr interviews Kirsten Dunst

---David Thomson sizes up the stars:

"DREW BARRYMORE: I can't help finding it shocking, as well as startling, that Drew Barrymore was born so recently (in 1975), and yet seems to have been here, and a problem, for so long.

GEORGE CLOONEY: It’s clear, as he approaches 50, that George Clooney is the most liked actor in U.S. ­pictures. And it is also clear that he knows it.

MATT DAMON: What’s most interesting about Damon is the very lack of good looks — and the feeling of a squashed and rebuilt face.

BRUCE WILLIS: The ­mystery continues. Willis makes ­quantities of commercial junk, where his raised eyebrows soar into the space left by his ­receding hairline. And then he produces something that unmistakably reveals a tender, wise actor.

---Star Wars kitsch

---a True Grit making of featurette

---on the set of George Stevens' Giant

---Michael Newman's favs for 2010

---Dan North deconstructs Enter the Void

---the revolution in artificial intelligence:

"AI researchers began to devise a raft of new techniques that were decidedly not modeled on human intelligence. By using probability-based algorithms to derive meaning from huge amounts of data, researchers discovered that they didn’t need to teach a computer how to accomplish a task; they could just show it what people did and let the machine figure out how to emulate that behavior under similar circumstances. They used genetic algorithms, which comb through randomly generated chunks of code, skim the highest-performing ones, and splice them together to spawn new code. As the process is repeated, the evolved programs become amazingly effective, often comparable to the output of the most experienced coders."

---lastly, the 10 best ways to consume the news

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 4: the doll auditions

"It begins with alertness to visual possibilities. Artists and photographers generally agree that their visual memory improves when practicing their crafts. This ability to remember the past is an aid to envisioning in the present. After alertness comes exploration. The first line in the panel of a storyboard should be made with a sense of freedom. There is no such thing as a mistake in visualization, only alternative ideas. And exploration ultimately leads to discovery." ---Steve Katz

Today, it rained, limiting our ability to go to a nearby lake for the shoot of "The Egg" this morning, so I showed off some sample storyboards from Steve Katz's Film Directing Shot by Shot on the Elmo.

We then turned to the pitches. Each group sat across from the rest of the class and tried to convey its narratives quickly. Each group tended to have over-ambitious storylines that involve death and insanity (an accurate portrait of modern-day America). Los Jefes's pitch turned our school into an insane asylum with the use of Photoshop. It also ended with a scene where an imaginary friend kills a young man inside of an abandoned caboose. Our delusional heroine(?) emerges from the window of the train car with her hands covered with blood and walks off with her arm over the imaginary friend's shoulders. Bad Horse Productions shared their Black Swan-esque demented doll idea. I recommended that they ultimately hold some doll auditions and film them for the director's cut DVD. Afterglow Pictures insists upon fashioning a film involving a cocaine dealer, a stabbing, a gunfight, and, incongruously, a young femme fatale who manipulates the smitten hero into trying to obtaining alcohol for her, no doubt all before breakfast.

Then, we wrote and storyboarded. I was struck by the sense of languor amongst some of the students. One director thought it would be best to not include dialogue.

"Not include dialogue?" I asked.


"How will your characters communicate?"

"By using gestures."


"I think that you should use dialogue."

In the scene, a real estate broker sells a house to a brother and a sister, so he says "Please pay the mortgage every second Thursday." Then he walks away, looking aghast and happy, no doubt due to having successfully avoided the spooky doll up the attic.

I asked, "Do the brother and sister say anything back to the broker?" The students in the group looked at me. "How about `Thanks!'"

Now the two characters stand in their new house, mute. What would they say? It occurred to me that writing semi-realistic efficient dialogue may be one of the toughest things to ask for in this class. Their resulting scenes so often end up being too brief, dry, and formulaic. How do people actually talk?

They eventually worked out this beginning interchange:

Sister: "Will you go get the boxes out of the truck?"

Brother: (sarcastic) "Will you go get the boxes out of the truck?"

She slaps him.

He gets the boxes.

By the afternoon, Afterglow Productions returned from their boating expedition. (the weather did clear up in the afternoon). They showed me a serene scene involving God (wearing tweed) gently guiding the disciple into the boat, whereupon she slowly drifts away toward the woods. It looked much more gentle than the stabbing of a cocaine addict.

Tomorrow, we will watch the opening credits of Vertigo (because some of the students were filming something similar today) and the pool/hotel extended montage in The Graduate in the hopes of trying to solve the basic question: how do I get my character from the car to the bedroom of an insane asylum quickly?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 3: the art of the edit

Today, in part, we learned about how to edit with iMovie and Premiere Pro.

After years of having our computers seize up and get bogged down with other editing software like Pinnacle, students learned how to edit quickly and successfully with iMovie even as they acknowledged some limitations of the program. Premiere Pro lets you tinker more with transitions, music, title cards, sound effects, and file options, etc. iMovie allows you work with the fundamentals, and that's mostly what the lesser-trained students needed. I found the software amazingly convenient for instructional purposes. Students edited three complete short films today. A couple of the guys were especially impressive as they showed off their knowledge of the intricacies of Premiere Pro on the big screen.

Meanwhile, Afterglow Productions somehow managed to get another sports class to perform as extras for their film Dodgeball: the Working Title. The storyline concerns two students, call them Bob and Alice, who are both chosen dead last to play on their respective teams. As the more macho teammates chest-bump each other in preparation, Bob looks on, alone, pensive. On the other team, standing on the other side of the gym, Alice mostly works on her nails. After the dodgeball game commences, balls are thrown in all directions, beaning some students on the head, knocking one guy out, until only Bob, one other fellow, and Alice are left. Bob squares off against the other fellow until he clobbers him.

Then, just when Bob feels as if he might attain total victory, Alice nonchalantly walks up and drops a ball on his stomach, thereby winning for her team. Then, the camera tilts up to one lone fan in the bleachers who claps maniacally, an homage to the Citizen Kane scene when Kane keeps applauding all alone for his opera "star" Susan Alexander Kane (I should give extra credit for fancy film allusions).

Meanwhile, I learned more about our new Sony Alpha digital camera with "translucent mirror technology" and an interchangeable lens. The students fashioned a new boom for the microphone with two PVC pipes conjoined in such a way that it can hang over whatever is being recorded for sound. Another student mentioned that he plans on building a crude steadicam possibly this evening for a film shoot of "The Egg" by Andy Weir that will take place near some nice garden park on the edge of town tomorrow. The students of that group have borrowed a flat-bottomed boat for that shoot. They call it their avant-garde artistic project. I just hope that they don't freeze to death in the woods.

Meanwhile, all of the groups are now (in theory) preparing their pitches for the larger film projects. I will hear those first thing tomorrow morning.
I found an unused classroom where another faculty member and I will pretend to be bored sinister film executives as in Robert Altman's The Player (I may show a scene from that film beforehand), impatiently sitting through their miserable attempts at getting their screenplay accepted.

We will see if they succeed.

some filmmaking-related links:

---David Bordwell considers how to edit one scene.

---Boardwalk Empire's special effects

---new year's resolutions for filmmakers

---the good, bad, and ugly of DIY independent filmmaking

---sword-tip video camera

---"a tougher climb to studio executive ranks"

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 2: "Kill the body, the head will die"

Today's class went well, although I still felt out of it. For example, over lunch, as an administrator discussed how civilization began when people had to learn to help others carry around larger babies, I found myself fading in and out over tomato basil soup and a BLT with pimento cheese. In spite of these brain lapses, I can reasonably say that the filmmaking day went well enough, or at least, it appeared so.

First thing, at 8:30 am, we discussed shooting techniques (keeping enough head room in shots, not cutting off actors at the knees when framing, making sure you have enough footage before and after a shot, employing basic editing techniques that move from an establishing shot to the close up, setting up the lighting to help create a dominant impression, making sure you have enough coverage, etc.). Then, each group figured out how to use a camera and took off to start filming. One group shot an epic rock, paper, scissors match under a flag pole in the middle of campus. Another group filmed something about two rabid Steelers fans who become exasperated over the crappy game and the lack of munchies in the fridge. Lastly, the advanced senior gang couldn't arrange for the extras to appear for their beginning dodge ball video just yet, so they went off in a van to visit the Kalmia Gardens to scout some locations for their production involving cocaine, a canoe, and under-aged alcohol-consumption.

I found myself wandering from the Los Jefes, Inc. group to the Bad Horse Productions group, and back again, realizing at times that I should not interfere too much with advice for the beginning directors ("You sure you want the mise-en-scene of this room? Shouldn't you move the camera? What's the continuity here?" etc.) During the Steelers shoot, I recommended that the sports fans run and jump off a staircase to enliven the ending.

Then, in the afternoon, back in the messy, equipment-strewn classroom, I said a few words about the need for a hook, an economical exposition (for a 12 minute film), and the usefulness of panning the camera around a room looking at objects (as in the beginning of Rear Window) to prepare the viewer for the story to come. Directors think in images! The three groups passed much of the afternoon workshopping ideas for their longer projects. Here is what I gathered their films might be based on their rough drafts:

1) A young woman finds that a doll keeps appearing--behind her, in a store, out on the street. When the doll gets run over by a car, it turns out that the doll has been her all along.

2) A disturbed newcomer at a school has a friend named Amy, but then it turns out that the friend is imaginary. Somehow Amy causes her to kill someone in an abandoned caboose near a YMCA.

3) For some reason, a young man shoots a drug dealer and then eludes the law even as a under-aged pseudo-friend of his tries to persuade him to buy alcohol for her. And, his older brother has a cocaine problem.

We will work on these stories and start learning how to edit the beginning footage tomorrow. By Thursday, all three groups will pitch their story ideas (3 each) for the class's consideration.

Any practical advice for beginning digital filmmakers?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 1

"Many of today's filmmakers gain considerable experience at a very young age and have a wide variety of of digital equipment available to them." ---Tyler Cullen's Digital Moviemaking

"Everybody's a filmmaker today." ---John Milius

Weary from grading too many essays over Christmas break, I began teaching a two week special digital filmmaking class for a select group of 13 students in a school in South Carolina.

I've kept daily weblogs about this class before. The most successful group of previous posts (I think) can be found lower on this page on the right hand side, from two years ago. Last year, the class was hampered by a big midnight bust (for unmentionable reasons) that obliged two students to suddenly disappear from the class. Another one got sick, so the remaining students regrouped into one bunch, and eventually made a film called "Third Night" about an evil photograph that makes a guy obsess over the girl who's featured in it. After following her around dreamily, the guy eventually gets run over by a car. I liked the long film shoot of the guy getting run over the best. We obtained permission to use one of the student's homes in town and spent what seemed like hours out on the road in front, with the obsessed guy lying on the asphalt, facedown in the cold, as we waved at on-coming cars and told the people in them to not run him over. The resulting film worked out well enough, but I prefer it when we have enough students to compete on different projects. That group also shot a zombie film in the school's untouched new wing, but it was not a serious effort. I'm still gunning for a really serious scary zombie film this year. Some of the seniors put down the idea, saying the makeup would be too difficult, but then I say "Ha! What of the 12 year old girl who shot a full-length zombie film? Care to watch the documentary about it?"

Anyway, this year's new class has already had its first technical snafu. The IT administrator arranged for someone to install a beautiful new projector for the classroom, but the sound was screwed up in the process. So I spent the hour before class hanging around as the IT person kindly sought in his infinitely patient IT way to get some sound to assert itself on the overhead speakers. One of the students, named Ryan, has agreed to be my technical genius and assistant this year. He hauled all of the class equipment on a big cart into the classroom, and tomorrow he will show the class how to work the cameras (we have two new fancy ones) and edit using iMovie. Last year, after various snafus with Pinnacle software, we switched over to all Apple products (I'm writing this on a MacBook now). Three students are using their MacBooks for the editing this year, and I've become something of an Apple snob after years of wandering in the Dell hinterlands.

I also taught the students some beginning pointers about the need to be concerned about lighting (with daylight preferred). What other class leaves one happy to see a sunny day? I also stressed the tendency on their part to not pay enough attention to good dialogue, acting, shot composition, and sound. This year, we have two microphones that should help with the sound mix (in previous years we had to rely on the camera microphones).

Otherwise, I kept things light, not wanting to emphasize right away how much work they may plunge themselves into soon enough. I told them to think of me as the executive producer of their work, and I will do what I can to stay out of their way.

They formed three groups with the names Afterglow Films, Los Jefes, Inc., and Bad Horse Productions. They also figured out who would direct this year (two women and one guy). One of the guys in the female-directed group said "We are feminists!" They have begun to sketch out some preliminary ideas: a horror film involving a killer in the school hallways, a sinister (but not necessarily evil) doll that follows someone around, and the beginning of a two hour film involving a murder.

On the drive home I wondered, why not a dream heist film? I'm hoping this year for genre-defying, out-there, hallucinatory creativity. Why not a lipdub like this one from Emerson College? Shall we visit the Atlanta shoot of "Walking Dead"? We will see.