Friday, January 31, 2014

super bowl links

---Cinedrones

---Akira Kurosawa's favorite @Criterion films

---"None of this is supposed to matter, I guess, because Allen is counting on Cate Blanchett to seduce us with her neurotic-car-wreck magnetism, and she is watchable, if only to see what pathetic and cluelessly cruel attitudes she's going to foist on her fellow players next. But no one else in the cast seems any more than a placeholder in what passes for the story, from Peter Sarsgaard's moneyed would-be politician (the Karl Malden stand-in), to the mugs faintly echoing Stanley Kowalski-- Bobby Cannavale, good guy, Andrew Dice Clay, less-good guy-- to Sally Hawkins' adenoidal variation on Stella. I didn't even mind that the movie borrows so bluntly from the Tennessee Williams playbook, because I do think it finds its own voice. But that voice is shrill and obvious and short on illuminating perspective, and I was happy to leave it muttering on a park bench, at the award-wielding mercy of strangers who have been and will be far more kind to Blue Jasmine than it left me with any desire to be."  --Dennis Cozzalio

---Anna Kendrick rambles on for an Super Bowl ad that doesn't get made

---"Musicless music videos"

---revisiting the locations of The Godfather

---"Pauline was a poor Jewish girl who was at Berkeley with all these rich Pasadena WASPs with long blond hair, and the heartlessness of them got her.” --Meryl Streep

---Scorsese's cameos

---"These critics seem to me aesthetes pursuing modern beauty, though from various angles. Agee was a Romantic, Farber a post-Cezanne modernist, Tyler an avant-garde dandy in the Wilde-Cocteau tradition. Their attitudes had been well-established in the sacred precincts of literature and painting but hadn’t made their way to the criticism of mass art.

Moreover, the three critics understood that movies stretched the standards and premises of high art. Most critics thought that you couldn’t talk about Cary Grant in aesthetic terms; these three understood that you could, if you favored criteria like liveliness, poignancy, force, and arresting details. Most intellectuals couldn’t recognize art in mass-market movies because Hollywood had redefined what artistry was. In some cases it had taken creativity beyond art, into a realm that Tyler called 'hallucination.'" --David Bordwell

---Grip It Good

---trailers for The Zero Theorem, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Not Another Sundance Movie

---Nathaniel R reacts to the trailer for Malificent

---propagandizing the kids

---@cinetrix's Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola class

---Best Visual Effects Oscar Winners

---"Hollywood, basically  . . . Defecates hundreds of millions of dollars, all so that everyone can chase after the little blue ribbon. The economics are insane. If you do the math, very few films get what's known as the Oscar bump." --James Schamus

---A Brief History of Sampling

---Scorsese's New York

---"Almost Everything in Dr. Strangelove Was True" by Eric Schlosser

---"the academic job market is a process that necessitates failure. Your application materials will end up in the slush pile at dozens of departments, regardless of how well suited you are for the position or how carefully you tailor your materials. Outstanding candidates can easily fail to find a position. And that's why, when I can't quite convey that grim reality, I tell my family and friends that if they want to know what the job market is like for Ph.D.'s, they should read (or watch) The Hunger Games." --Atlas Odinshoot

---rehearsing Reservoir Dogs

---Nouveau Parfum

Monday, January 20, 2014

16 reasons to like the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis

1) because Oscar neglect somehow makes it more endearing.

2) because the Coen brothers' use of light always falling "off into darkness" and 1950s frumpy fashions give the film a rumpled lived-in quality.

3) because it oddly makes one like folk music, in part because Davis has mixed feelings about it.

4) because everything in the movie leads to Bob Dylan, and yet Dylan remains a distant figure who hasn't arrived yet.

5) because Llewyn Davis depicts the absurd quest of an artist, and the integrity of that quest, even as it maintains its absurdity.

6) because Oscar Isaac (Davis) himself looks like the kind of guy who has always been passed over by others for leading roles, and, ironically, now that he has one, his character is still left out in the cold.

7) because Llewyn Davis does not compromise.

8) because the movie's Kafkaesque sense of nonarrival evokes the Coen brothers' 2010 A Serious Man.

9) because John Goodman plays Roland Turner, a grumpy, deeply unpleasant bastard with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever.

10) because Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan (as Jean) get to revisit their relationship in Drive (2011).

11) because Davis' constant attempts to sleep on other people's sofas resembles the itinerant lifestyle of Hunter S. Thompson.

12) because Davis' uneasy relationship with a cat reflects the universe's relationship with him.

13) because Inside Llewyn Davis mocks the facile hero-worship of the Beats in 2012's On the Road.

14) because Inside Llewyn Davis emphasizes the delusional end result of a doomed romantic quest.

15) because, like the blues, Inside Llewyn Davis is ultimately concerned with loss and failure that somehow proves to be far more affirmative than so many other recent movies with their programmatic built-in uplift.

16) because Davis is surrounded by total indifference, and yet the filmmakers care enough to depict him well. The film operates along the knife edge between these extremes.

indie links

---the Three Reasons collection of @Criterion

---Wes Anderson slow motion supercut

---behind the scenes of The Spectacular Now and Her

---The Inversion and Symmetry

---Martin Scorsese: A Personal Journey Through American Movies 

---David Foster Wallace discusses slavery and ambition

---The Wolf of Wall Street VFX reel

---"I don't think there's an independent movie business anymore, there are only a few distributors, and they are not financing the films; they only agree to distribute them."  --John Sayles

---“We now live in a society in which a person can be accused of any number of crimes without knowing what exactly he has done. He might be apprehended in the middle of the night by a roving band of Swat police. He might find himself on a no-fly list, unable to travel for reasons undisclosed. He might have his phones or internet tapped based upon a secret order handed down by a secret court, with no recourse to discover why he was targeted. Indeed, this is Kafka’s nightmare and it is slowly becoming America’s reality.”

---Three Reasons: Thief

---"On Robert Bresson" by Masha Tupitsyn

---the end of The Last Days of Disco

---"Jordan, in The Wolf of Wall Street, has an opportunity to confess, return the money he fleeced from his clients, and take his punishment. Instead, he insists that everything he’s done has been for his friends—the staff of the firm—and they deserve to succeed as he has. (Even though he is deceiving them too; he buys shares in their own IPO and orders the salespeople to push that stock.) What shocks many viewers about the film, I suspect, is that Jordan doesn’t become a better person in the course of his adventures. His punishment is light, he learns nothing, and by the end of the film he’s as amoral as he was when he started the company. ('Sell me this pen.') As sometimes happens, the interest of the plot comes from watching a gifted, resourceful scoundrel adapt his techniques to changing situations." --David Bordwell

---About Nicholson

---Evolution of the Dolly Zoom

---"One day Will and I rode past a white Queen Anne in Poletown on a quiet corner. Next to it sat two empty lots, plenty of space for a dog and a garden, a shed and a pond. The neighbors were friendly and kept their homes well-maintained, but there were four other abandoned houses on the block. The neighbors said the Queen Anne had been abandoned for a decade, simply left behind by the previous owner like a shredded tire on the highway, anything of value stolen long ago. It had a mangy wraparound porch and a big kitchen, but no chimney — I could build one of those — and the first time I cautiously walked inside, I knew it would be my home." --Drew Philip

---Ti West discusses Peggy Sue Got Married

---Six Men Getting Sick Six Times

---"Rewind: Joe Swanberg"

---10 literary blogs

---The Problem with Facebook

---trailers for A Most Wanted Man, Blue Ruin, Free Ride, The Pretty Oneand Listen Up Philip

---"'It's all a lie,' Solomon tells Epps after being double-crossed by Armsby. He might as well be talking about the pretenses we cling to anytime we ignore suffering and inequality around us, which for many of us is pretty often. There is a significant difference, it must be noted, between those who are legally and forcibly enslaved and those who held down "merely" by poverty, prejudice, inadequate education, limited opportunity and so on. Alas, there's less of a difference between those who looked suffering in the face and accepted it 170 years ago and those who do the same today, which is why I'm chilled to think that when I'm looking at Mistress Ford looking at a man hanging by his neck in plain view, I'm looking at me. All that's changed are the circumstances." --Jason Bellamy

Friday, January 17, 2014

Interview with a filmmaker--Morgan Honaker

Morgan Honaker came by to visit as students shot a scene with an unruly dog by a lake near our school. We spoke on a park bench near a fountain. Morgan just finished her first semester at the University of Texas in Austin. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

FD: We are here to talk about careers in film. How are you liking it in Austin?

MH: Austin's great. I thought that after I get out of school that I'd go to LA, but now I'll probably stay in Austin because so many directors are moving down there now. Malick's moving down there. Tarantino's already there. Michael Bay is going to start shooting Transformers 4 in a couple of weeks in Austin.

FD: Why do you suppose that that is a good location for recent films?

MH: Austin has a lot of personality. It is very different out there. No one part of the city looks like the other. It's also not as crowded as LA. LA is getting just kind of overloaded with young actors and actresses and filmmakers. And Austin, although there's tons of people wanting to go into the business, it's not as crowded. I got accepted into UCLA, but Texas has the advantage that you can immediately start your RTF degree, where with UCLA you have to wait a year to start taking those classes.

FD: Some would say that you shouldn't need to go to film school. Instead, you should enter the film industry directly.

MH: I think it's a valid argument. If you want to teach film, then college can be good. Honestly, for doing film, college is not even necessary. Just to get your name out there is what's important. Even now, as I'm focusing on my studies, and making sure to get the grades that I want, I spend most of my time looking around Austin for opportunities to work in film.

FD: How did my filmmaking class help?

MH: Any hands on filmmaking experience is good. Before, I was kind of leaning towards film, but I didn't really know. What we're filming here may not be as organized as films produced in Austin, but they largely use the same equipment, taking about the same sort of time frame. Most of the movies I've been involved in take about two weeks to film.

FD: What kind of equipment would you recommend for student films?

MH: People predominately use the Canon Ti series because they provide good quality. They're expensive, but not outrageous. Rode microphones only cost about $100, and they have good quality for what you are paying for.

FD: What has been your recent project in Austin? How does it fit in with your school schedule?

MH: The school schedule is pretty easy to get around. My friends and I just finished with making a music video for a competition. We were randomly given a song, and had to make a video that was under five minutes. Now, we're working on some sort of psycho thriller horror thing that we're going to submit to horror film festivals next year, possibly South by Southwest this coming year.

FD: How did your group form?

MH: We mostly all live in the same residence hall. It's nice to have five people. That's just enough.

FD: Do you have different students with different specialties? How are the responsibilities divided?

MH: I usually take on writing and sound. My friends are more interested in doing visuals. One of them is really good with Final Cut Pro. The other two are good at the actual production part where we film and edit. We all brainstorm for the storyboards.

FD: How about money? I guess this is mostly done cheaply?

MH: On the video, we didn't spend any money. We didn't have lights so we carted around 15 desk lamps.

FD: Do you all have critical differences, problems?

MH: Yeah, we do. Three of us tend to think alike. Two of them, in particular, are more interested in making action films, so we butt heads about that alot.

FD: What tends to happen to these groups over time, such as, say, during their fourth year, or after graduation?

MH: Most people, unless they plan on teaching film, do not go to grad school. You have as much schooling as you want, but unless you go out to the field, you are not going to get hired. Students go to LA later for a semester, set up their own internship, graduate, and then return to that internship afterward. We have a couple people at Disney. Some people at Fox. Some people work for South by Southwest who stay in Austin. And there are a lot of little production companies like the Cage in Austin.

FD: You have directed movies before. Where do you find yourself leaning now?

MH: Probably something in the sound field. I think Foley artistry is really cool, especially because not a lot of people do that. Sound mixing, sound editing. I'd also like to try my hand at art direction, so I will take some theater design classes. School is useful for developing skills. Anything after four years, I wouldn't say is useless, but...

FD: Just more, when you could be getting direct experience.

MH: Right.

FD: How do you feel about the competition given your experience recently? The job opportunities, or opportunities for creativity?

MH: The biggest factor is determination in general. I took an acting class, and the acting professor's son is one of the main writers of Sons of Anarchy right now. He went to LA and stayed there for seven years before he got a job, and now he's an executive producer and writer for the show. You've got to stick with it.

FD: Anything else that you'd like to add?

MH: The three films that you assign for your Interim class--the one minute, the five minute, and the ten minute larger project are all useful, but I recommend that you include more exercises like where you take six photographs and tell the story through the images. The better you tell the story, the more the audience will know what was going on in just six frames.

FD: That reminds me of poetry assignments, where you have to limit yourself to a stanza form, a certain rhyme scheme, a few key topics, and such.

MH: The hardest thing is the way that often student's have their stories fall apart in the third act. Exercises that force you to convey a story with very limited resources can make your stories crisper and more concise, and make them flow better.

FD: What kind of tips do you have other younger filmmakers who are just getting started?

MH: I think the most important thing, when you are sitting down to make a movie, is to storyboard as thoroughly as you can. Preparation is key. It will save you so much time later on. Aside from that, the biggest thing you should focus on is telling the story and telling it well.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Spike Jonze's Her and the Intimacy Machine

Her is concerned with our relationship with machines, how one can be closer to one's iPhone than with a family member or a lover. As if to balance out this alienating subject with the audience's desire to connect with a movie, Spike Jonze crafted many many intimate scenes, mostly with the nebbish Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) opening his face emotionally to the camera as he interacts with a highly intelligent operating system named Samantha with the voice of Scarlett Johansson. (There is something slightly nightmarish, especially after one sits through The Master, in watching Phoenix go all soft and sensitive as he dominates most every close up shot with his mustache.) In Her, characters or operating systems are constantly asking each other "Are you okay?" and "What's wrong?" the question arising from the barest hint of hesitation in the other person's voice or affect. Since Jonze wrote and directed the film, one can ask "What kind of geeky cinematic muzak hipster chic is this?" I kept hoping the film would evolve into full scale horror, but even as it flirts with science fiction and melodrama, the movie eludes genre classification.

Often, Her works best when it raises questions it never answers. In this indeterminate and seemingly prosperous near-future, have all of mankind's and nature's ills (war, climate change, poverty, ignorance) been solved? Why does Jonze keep reminding us of an essential nerdiness in this vision with its rounded glasses, its high-waisted pants, and its many characters being so bloody sensitive to each other's needs? I enjoyed Lee Marvin rampaging around in the 1967 Point Blank last night on DVD, and in comparison Her comes across as bizarrely emasculated. At one point, Olivia Wilde, as Theo's nameless blind date, describes him as being puppy-like, and while Theo takes umbrage, the label does suit him. Theo, like the movie itself, can lean towards the safe and the bland, even as its most radical implications lie in its Lost in Translation-esque cityscape mise en scene, its elaborate pastel color schemes, and its crowd scenes where nearly everyone interacts with a private computer voice whispering in his/her ear as he/she walks on by.    

One can imagine that future humans may look back on our period in history as a fundamentally bizarre time when people routinely allow themselves to be mesmerized by devices, often to the detriment of their relationships not only with others, but also with the world around them. Something has lately begun to creep me out, because I hear it so often: a colleague or a family member suddenly laughs out of the blue in the next room due to some video on the Internet. What are they laughing at? What is a movie, anyway, but an intimacy machine, a means for filmmakers to coax emotion out of an audience? Spike Jonze implies that we are heading to a near future when humanity gets most of its emotional satisfaction from simulated situations. Have we reached a tipping point of near-total dependency on the reproduction of artificial images to make us feel important or alive? How does one define the appeal of Facebook, or the pleasure one gets from a reaction to a tweet?  Can these moments seem preferable to a conversation with a person in analog space and time?

Ultimately, Her made me feel self-conscious when I walk out of the cineplex and immediately want to check my iPhone. Afterwards, when I entered the living room, my wife (who was watching a movie) immediately assumed that I wanted to gaze at the MacBook and pointed to it. As Neil Postman asked back in 1985, how much are we amusing ourselves to death as we look at screens all day? And how much are future films, when they bother to reflect our dull postmodern condition, just going to depict humans increasingly and delusively isolated by intimacy machines? 

Video production class weblog--Day 5, 2014: story development and the pitch

Yesterday, D6 Productions and Average Film Studios edited their action videos and brainstormed ideas for their big story lines. After spending four hours trying to hash out a continuing story out of their post-apocalyptic hook, D6 Productions were getting frustrated with the whole idea, but with O.K. Keyes' help, they came up with this treatment:

A young man named John wakes from a nap to discover that everyone has vanished from his school. Desks are overturned, pieces of paper lie scattered everywhere. As he looks for his sister Lilian, he finds a sheet of paper with a bloody handprint on it and her name written in pencil. Calling out her name in desperation, he runs around the school until he collapses by a bathroom. He hears weeping, and when he enters the bathroom, he finds her curled up in a corner behind the sinks. She says "Thank you for saving me," and as they are walking out, one can see that only his shadow appears in the mirrors.

As they wander around the school, they discuss possible scenarios as to what happened. A neutron bomb? Some deadly chemical from overseas that they are strangely immune to? John notices that Lilian seems disengaged, emotionally disconnected, with a tendency to stare off into space when she should be paying attention. They decide to work their way home, but they have to pass through downtown first, and they keep thinking that they're finding someone still alive amongst the scattered cars, the drifting sheets of paper, and the eerie piles of ashes on the sidewalk. What seems to be a human will suddenly become a mannequin in a shop window, a fallen branch, or a laptop blinking in an otherwise empty hallway.

After they become used to the silence and the isolation, John hits upon the idea of investigating various random homes with the hopes that someone may be holed up inside.  In the midst of this search, he locates some crackers, peanut butter, and bottled water, but when they sit down to eat in someone's backyard, he notices that Lilian isn't hungry. She just stares at the food as if she didn't know how to pick it up. She also refuses to drink anything. Again, concerned, John prompts her with one of the favorite songs of their youth "Hush little baby, don't say a word / Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird," but Lilian looks away not comprehending at all. Alarmed, John tries to shake her into being more awake and aware. "What do you mean, you don't remember it?" he asks.

Soon after, they arrive back home, but there's no one inside. Again, John tries to jogs his sister's memory by reminding her of a favorite Operation board game, but she just looks at him helplessly. They both end up taking a nap, and when they awake a neighboring girl named Denise has appeared at the doorway. While they are silent, Denise joins them joyfully. It turns out that she has been alone at home for the entire day, and she's just as concerned about what happened as they are. Still, both John and Lilian fail to respond, and when she asks them what's going on, they reply in unison, "Thank you for saving me." As the camera moves around the living room, we can see that, of the three of them, only Denise appears in the mirror.

When it came time for D6 Productions to pitch their 3 story lines the rest of the class, they also mentioned a home invasion-type idea involving two sisters who hate each other, but are forced to work together to stop a strange man from getting inside their house. When the group brought up the Lilian story, immediately people began to question it. Is there really a plot? Will the ending make any sense? After some discussion, I proposed that the entire class (except for one) close their eyes and vote for one story or the other. After some confusion of a split vote with 6 - 6, the class then chose the home invasion story over the Lilian one by a margin of 7 - 6. So, after all of that time working out a semi-coherent ending to their narrative, D6 Productions switched to something else altogether! Screenplay writing is a bitch.

Over the weekend, both production companies will write out scenes, storyboard, and plan out their shooting schedule. Principal photography of the two major videos (in a park and in an antebellum mansion) will probably begin on Monday afternoon.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Video production class weblog--Day 4, 2014: cinematography and gender

Today, noted alumna O.K. Keyes showed up to discuss cinematography and her many recent filmmaking projects. Recently, she shot a feature length film, footage of a Civil War reenactment that involved hiding her camera inside a device tied to her hip, a short that has done well with various film festivals, and who knows what else (I interviewed her for a post next week). As D6 Productions continued with their shoot in the woods, OK showed them how to lie down in the leaves to get proper sunny backlighting as D bludgeoned a savage with a parasol. While Average Films Studio settled on a making-of-squirrel documentary that devolves into a Blair Witch Project fight for survival in the woods, D6 Productions and I and OK discussed at length various ways to extend their apocalyptic film storyline. When Joe finds Lilian wimpering behind the sinks in a bathroom, we discover that only he shows up in the mirror as they walk by. They then go on a quest to find anyone else alive in the suddenly deserted city. As the afternoon wears on, they take to visiting various homes in the hopes of finding someone holed up inside, but meanwhile Joe's sister has taken to staring spells and moments of disconnection that implies that something's wrong. Why can't she remember their favorite childhood song? Why isn't she ever hungry or thirsty? What happened to all of their friends and family as loose sheets of paper fly over the empty streets? It took us over an hour to begin to figure out some answers to these questions.

As I've been talking to OK and Morgan, I've been surprised by their repeated refrain concerning the male-dominated world of filmmaking even today. Here's a sample of OK's thoughts as we walked away from one of the shoots this morning:

FD: "You were just saying that if you were in LA, they are just not hiring female cinematographers."

OK: "We are starting to see a lot of female directors, writers, and executive producers, which is very important positions, and I'm not saying that cinematography is the most important thing."

FD: "Why do you suppose this happens?"

OK: "Part of it is a tech thing. Historically, cameras have been very heavy. So, women did not just have access to the technology, so you started seeing a lot more female cinematographers during the video revolution when cameras got compact."

FD: "As in the 60s with cinema verite."

OK: "Yep. Agnes Varda. New Wave. So, you have a lot of feminist filmmakers in the '60s and '70s that started popping up, and they would work with documentaries, but it was difficult for them to dive into narrative when that was very much controlled by male Hollywood. You didn't have the kind of independent films like they do today. Today, you can find a handful of female cinematographers who do independent film. The Wrestler was shot by Maryse Alberti. That was a beautiful film, and everyone thought that she would get the Oscar buzz for the best cinematography, but that never happened. That was the last time there was Oscar buzz for a female. A woman cinematography has never even been nominated."

FD: "Really?"

OK: "Now we have the digital revolution when cameras are getting tinier, in a lot of DIY productions I see a lot of women. I've worked on some all-female sets. Still, part of the problem is that we have to prove ourselves as cinematographers. Men don't necessarily need specialized skill sets to get a job. So there's this pressure. I could perhaps invent something, maybe? Invent a technique, or get known for a certain style and I could possibly get put on projects, but that would require me to buy a really fancy camera, and I would still needs lots of money to do that. Who are they going to go with if they hear of a female Steadicam operator who's going to have to be on their feet for 60 hours on a given week or a male Steadicam operator? They are going to go with the male because there's this built-in sexist notion that the men can last longer. The equipment itself is sexist. Steadicam rigs are not very accomodating to a female torso, and people have actually invented hipcams or devices that use the center of gravity at the hip, and no one's using it because it was designed by women."

We also talked about the importance working an any project to get experience and the need to carry an iPhone so that you can show off your minute and a half demo reel or sizzle reel to impatient clients quickly. OK kept suggesting that cinematographers must be willing to lie on ice, endure 100+ degree temperatures, dangle off of precipices, and suffer all kinds of privations in order to get the best take.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Video production class weblog: Day 3, 2014: hallucinations in the woods

After falling asleep for two hours, I just woke up this evening to the sound of our SC heat pump still not handling the freezing temperatures very well. The Interim video production class worked hard today, but the class proved hallucinatory. Using my iPhone voice memo app, I interviewed a young filmmaker on a park bench next to what we call the irradiated pond (because it has a weird green color) as a film crew shot GoPro footage of a dog's eye view running around the area. She (a former student/director named Morgan) talked about how Quentin Tarantino will shoot a film in Austin soon near where she works on her Radio-Television-Film degree at the University of Texas. I was happy to learn that my filmmaking class had prepared her well. Apparently, the independent filmmakers in Austin also tend to use the same Canon Rebel DSLR cameras that we have.

Another crew headed out into the woods near a local park and shot some scenes involving a Lord Colonel Pim (who wears a bowler hat and an argyle sweater) who explains in a snooty voiceover that, with his dear assistant, Jane, he's investigating a wild man from West Virginia. That group (D6 Productions) had just written the movie that morning, and suddenly I find myself in the cold wet woods on a sunny afternoon as I watch their cinematographer lie in a cold wet ditch on her back as she films the wild man (with red, black, and white "savage" facial makeup) screaming overhead on top of a log as he wields a stick.

I enjoy this aspect of the class, the fact that I never know where I'll be next. Sometimes I'll find myself in some random family's bedroom, hanging out and looking at strange cartoons on the wall as a film crew nearby keeps shooting the same scene of a fellow sitting down to a bowl of Fruit Loops in the living room nearby. Or I'll spend a long cold afternoon as another team films a young man getting run over on a suburban street in his pajamas. I'll have to stop traffic from running over the man as he lies there in a tangled position, face down on the asphalt for what seems like several hours, as the crew films him from various angles as the sun goes down. On another day, I witnessed a kind of sword fight by two masked figures in the dark basement of a museum. At another time, a crew managed to procure an actual policeman who volunteered to "investigate a murder" in front of a house by a lake (I wondered what kinds of actual crimes he was missing as the students shot him bending over the body and taking notes as the flashing multicolored lights of his police car provided atmosphere behind him). Yesterday, a current student lay on the cold concrete near the town theater so that a cheerful couple could discover a body after a performance.

Part of the weirdness of the class occurs during story conferences. I liked Average Film studio's science fiction sketch of the year 2100, when women rule with telekinetic powers. When a band of frustrated men threaten a coup, the formally dressed women briefly interrupt their meeting in the boardroom to dispatch one of their kind to stand out front of the conference hall where we see a growing mass of men with weapons amassing out of the woods. When the men get close and menacing enough, she makes a simple hand circling hand gesture, thereby scattering all of the men with her mind powers, so she can return to her meeting. That idea is still under baked, but it appears to have potential. The two male students in that particular crew are not enthused about that storyline.

Later, on Friday, or Monday, D6 Productions and Average Film studio will pitch three story lines apiece before we choose their big projects for next week. One of their ideas involves a Ten Little Indians-type storyline where a nature documentary film crew keeps shrinking mysteriously as they try to depict the world of a certain type of squirrel. I'll look into publishing the interview with a young filmmaker over the weekend.      

Video production class weblog: Day 2, 2014: the first shoot

". . . for the very first time in the history of the art form, movies really can be made for very little money. This was unheard of when I was growing up, and extremely low budget movies have always been the exception rather than the rule. Now, it’s the reverse. You can get beautiful images with affordable cameras. You can record sound. You can edit and mix and color-correct at home. This has all come to pass." --Martin Scorsese

Every year, for about a two week period, I teach an Interim filmmaking class, and every year new students consider pursuing film as a career afterwards (three of them have.) At any rate, this year's class has started well as they formed two groups: the Average Film studio, and G6 Productions. We spent much of the past two days learning filmmaking terms and watching all kinds of videos from previous years: a horror film set in an antebellum mansion, a zombie film this morning, my practice slasher film (which received respectful attention), an artier production involving an abandoned mall, a Mortal Kombat-esque fight scene, a science fiction piece involving a man who cannot love, and so on. Today, the two groups began shooting their preliminary practice videos around town. Here's the hook for one:

A man falls asleep to take a nap between classes. He wakes to find everyone gone, and when he returns to his class, the place has been disrupted, and books lie scattered around. An overturned desk has pieces of paper floating around it, including one with the bloody hand print of his friend. He runs all around the suddenly abandoned building, screaming for his friend, and eventually he collapses, overcome with grief, outside of a bathroom. Then, he hears someone weeping. He enters, he finds a strange woman shaking and curled up in the corner behind the sinks. When he lifts her up and walks her hesitantly out of the room, we notice (but he doesn't) that she doesn't have a reflection in the mirror.

I don't think that anyone, at this point, knows why she doesn't appear in the mirror. Since this group (G6 Productions) doesn't have as much experience as the other one, I tended to help them out more. They took an amusingly long time to shoot the first scene complete with extras walking about the man sleeping in a nook between classes, but they caught on soon enough. I enjoyed helping them set up the flying-pieces-of-paper shot in a classroom (we opened a window as the camera panned across the room). Their short has an indeterminate Twilight Zone horror feel that could be developed into something longer with lots of "abandoned" locations downtown, various people's homes, cotton warehouses, and questions as to why they survive and everyone else has disappeared. All of this may culminate to a bloody climax in a farmhouse.

The other group went downtown in the freezing cold sunlight by the theater to shoot a silent film involving a skipping formally dressed glamorous couple stumbling across a corpse in a park. A policeman apprehends them when they were, innocently enough, checking the body's pulse, which leads to a chase scene into an alley nearby. Eventually, the man turns in his girlfriend, and the policeman leads her away in handcuffs.  He smiles and winks at the camera.

Both studios will need to pitch longer story ideas later this week. One is considering a scenario where all of the characters gradually turn into robots until only a few have feelings left. That idea, at least, sounded better than the one that was very similar to the plot of The Fight Club. I'm concerned that someone will pitch something in the Harry Potter vein.

It seems to me that the major challenge of the class is to allow for creativity while still striving for excellence.

One student also showed up with a GoPro Hero3 camera, and I was very impressed with its wide angle footage of a dog's eye perspective as a student ran around around the building with the camera attached to some baton. That group will shoot a dog's point of view action scene (with an actual dog) tomorrow in a local park.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Video production class weblog: Day 0, 2014--terms and questions

On the evening before this year's interim video production class begins, I am, as usual, wondering if I'm ready. Yesterday I shot a sample 5 minute horror film entitled Slasher with a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR. Even though we had lots of good sunlight, the practice video helped remind me of all that tends to go wrong with a quick, sloppy shoot--problems with automatic focus, leaving the shadows of the cameraman in the shot, continuity errors (my footwear changed from Sperry topsiders to running shoes between shots), ambient noise from a heat pump, eyeline mismatching, etc. I did enjoy throwing the last bit of earth on the grave, wiping my hands, and walking away. Afterwards, I edited the movie using the new iMovie software and that went comparatively smoothly.

For opening class discussion, I assembled a list of terms:

Pre-production:
Storyboard, Framing the Shot, Location Scouting (getting permission), Costume and Makeup,
Shot Log, Scheduling, Organization, Dialogue, Props
Writing – “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out” --Hitchcock, 3 Act Structure, Genre, The Hook, Scene, Sequence, Character Archetypes, The Pitch, Screenplay, Treatment, Allusions, Story Coherence and Unity, Emotional Payoff
Acting Rehearsals
The Shoot: “We’re losing the light.”
Shot Types - Establishing Shot, Close-Up, Extreme Close-Up, Medium Shot, Full Shot
Over-the-Shoulder, Tracking (Dolly) Shot, Pan, Tilt, POV Shots, Eyeline Match, Handheld Shot, Composition, Continuity, Reverse Shot, Eye-Level Shot  
Tripod, Telephoto Lens, Wide Angle Lens, Rack Focusing, Auto Focus vs. Manual Focus
Mise en Scene, Room Tone, Head Room, Magic Hour, Coverage, Boom Mic Operator, External Microphone, Cinematographer, Header and Footer, Zoom (NO!), Director,
Dominant, Subsidiary Contrasts, Placement Within the Frame, Improvisation, Blocking


Fluorescent Lights, Camera Batteries, Ambient Noise, Shadows, Daylight, 3 Point Lighting, Wrap
Post-production: “Editing continues the writing process.”
Editing, Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Sound, Montage, Special Effects, Foley,
Dubbing, Rough Cut, Final Cut, Credits, Outtakes, Trailer, Voice Over, DVD Burning, Jump Cut
Seamless Transitions – Dissolves, Fade to Colors, Cut, Sound, Corrupted Memory Cards 

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I'm mostly trying to anticipate classic student video production problems in advance.

Some opening questions:

What is the best digital filmmaking textbook these days? I've been reading Ted Jones' and Chris Patmore's Movie Making Course, 2nd Edition and Clifford Thurlow's Making Short Films.

What is the best iPhone app for help with video production?

What new video technology could come in handy? Should we pick up a GoPro Hero 2 and make a timelapse?

What is the best substitute for a Steadicam these days?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

new year's links

---"Last Dance" by World Order

---DiCaprio endorsing Jordan Belfort

---behind the scenes of The Wolf of Wall Street

---"All years are terrible years; the predicament of being human tends towards the negative. We read the news and are left feeling nothing more noble than 'only I have escaped to tell thee.' A given year can be pronounced good only in a solipsistic sense."  --Teju Cole

---from Out of the Past

---"Under the Circumstances: 12 Years a Slave" by Jason Bellamy

---"No more painters, no more writers, no more musicians, no more sculptors, no more religions, no more republicans, no more royalists, no more imperialists, no more anarchists, no more socialists, no more Bolsheviks, no more politicians, no more proletarians, no more democrats, no more armies, no more police, no more nations, no more of these idiocies, no more, no more, NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING."

---filmmaking using still images

---It's Not Just You, Murray!

---"What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited cloud and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: 'The feed is so pixelated, what if it's a shovel, and not a weapon?' I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian's life all because of a bad image or angle." --Heather Linebaugh

---"Turning Point: The Year in Video Essays" by Kevin B. Lee

---"American Hustle and the Art of the Homage" by Bilge Ebiri

---"The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread. All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy." --Dahr Jamail

---30 camera shots

---"There are a handful of firms still holding out and doing the whole yelling into the phones while wearing Armani suits thing. A big one was taken down this past summer, but the brokers simply jump to a new firm and start all over again. These days, they can’t take inside rips in penny stocks, so it’s more about churning accounts using real stocks or selling clients private placements. There’s a good chance you’re talking to a boiler room broker if his office is actually located on actual Wall Street. But these guys are dying out. Their licenses are swiss cheese and potential suckers don’t answer their landline phones anymore anyway – hard to con someone over the phone you can’t get in touch with. It’s been over for a while but what else are they going to do?" --Joshua M. Brown

---The Coen Canon

---"What eludes Mr Snowden – along with most of his detractors and supporters – is that we might be living through a transformation in how capitalism works, with personal data emerging as an alternative payment regime. The benefits to consumers are already obvious; the potential costs to citizens are not. As markets in personal information proliferate, so do the externalities – with democracy the main victim.

This ongoing transition from money to data is unlikely to weaken the clout of the NSA; on the contrary, it might create more and stronger intermediaries that can indulge its data obsession. So to remain relevant and have some political teeth, the surveillance debate must be linked to debates about capitalism – or risk obscurity in the highly legalistic ghetto of the privacy debate." --Evgeny Morosov

--"the devil comes with a smile, you know? That's the idea, you know? The confidence man's got the charm! [laughs]"  --Martin Scorsese