Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Follow the instructions or you'll be put to sleep": 13 questions about The Lego Movie

1) How can a children's film about toys be so thought-provokingly metamodern, postmodern, self-reflexive, and hyper-referential?

2) Is The Lego Movie profound?

3) How does The Lego Movie advertise for a toy company and simultaneously intrigue the adult viewer with its coded references? Shouldn't we be objecting to a film with the bald crassly commercial title of The Lego Movie? How can such a terminally ironic title prove so liberating?

4) How does The Lego Movie riff on the trippy color scheme of Speed Racer (2008)? Is The Lego Movie the first major psychedelic film of the new millennium?

5) How does the brainwashed conformist figures (including our hero Emmet) in Bricksburg reflect the dystopian world view of They Live (1988)? How much does The Lego Movie suggest that we are all brainwashed by corporate-controlled popular culture (which would logically include the advertisements to go watch The Lego Movie)? For example, when Wildstyle asks Emmet about his favorite restaurant, Emmet replies "Any chain restaurant."

6) How much is Bricksburg a testament to the moronic homogenization of corporate-controlled culture? Is the movie's TV show Honey, Where Are My Pants? a reference to the futuristic stupidity of Idiocracy (2006)?

7) How does Henrik Ibsen's 1892 play The Master Builder pave the way for the Master Builders of The Lego Movie?

8) How does the free-wheeling seemingly-subversive ideology of The Lego Movie make the lumpen militaristic Navy-advertising stupidity of Battleship (2012) and the sterile plastic machismo of G. I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (2009) that much more despicable?

9) How do President Business' robot micromanagers comment on the evils of repressive corporate domination?

10) Why does Bad Cop's snarl strongly resemble that of Dick Cheney? Does President Business' nefarious practices (which include torture) mirror Bush-era foreign policy?

11) What is the ideology of The Lego Movie? As President Business says, "Follow the instructions or you'll be put to sleep." Does the film suggest that creative play is the only way to break free from the thought control of corporate co-optation?

12) When one visits a Toys"R"Us, one finds a massive amount of its shelf space devoted to expensive box sets of Lego toys. How much does The Lego Movie reinforce its parent company's agenda?

13) Jonathan Franzen writes that "Technological consumerism is an infernal machine." Is The Lego Movie compelling because it pretends to subvert the very thing that lies behind its creation? 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

counter-hegemonic links

---The Lego Movie's blooper reel

---Mise en scene and the visual themes of Wes Anderson

---State of the Union

---The Art of the Close-Up

---"Her presents a future in which what Shanghai-based neo-reactionary British philosopher Nick Land calls Dark Enlightenment has won. A post-democratic world comprising an archipelago of capitalist city-states that culturally favor a highly self-controlled and therefore free elite with relatively Classical and/or Confucian aesthetic values has become the new normal. This reactionary-modernist Enlightenment is not dark in Her because it’s not counter-hegemonic in the film’s world. Its power frees it up to be an object of disinterested artistic representation, shorn of Dark Enlightenment’s present and rather ludicrous Gothic trappings, its pretense that poor H. P. Lovecraft wasn’t a wretched writer for morose children: call it the Pastel Enlightenment. Spike Jonze evidently wants to be for World War III what Virginia Woolf was for World War I: the elegiac lyricist of the settlement."  --John Pistelli

---a film shoot accident

---a TV spot

---behind the scenes of The Lego Movie and A Field in England

---Women in the works of Martin Scorsese

---Does the camera describe or devour?

---"HULK SPENDS A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT THE EFFECT OF SURFACES.

THAT MAY SOUND WEIRD, BUT IT'S KIND OF PERTINENT TO MODERN LIFE. HULK'S AN AVID FAN OF THE BOOK PRESENT SHOCK, WHICH POSTULATES, WELL, A LOT THINGS, BUT ONE OF THEM IS THAT THE FASTER WE MOVE THROUGH LIFE, THE MORE DEPENDENT WE BECOME ON SURFACES FOR OUR QUICK INTERACTIONS IN GENERAL. IT'S NOT REALLY SOMETHING WE DO WITH MALICIOUS INTENTION, MIND YOU. IT'S MORE SOMETHING PEOPLE USE AS A KIND OF SHORTHAND, GIVEN THAT WE ARE HAVING MORE AND MORE INTERACTIONS THAT ARE EACH TAKING UP LESS AND LESS TIME, ALL TO A KIND OF INSIDIOUS EFFECT. STILL, THE SILVER LINING OF THIS TREND IS THAT THE MORE YOU ARE AWARE OF HOW THESE SURFACES WORK, THE MORE YOU CAN USE THEM TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. FOR PLAYING WITH SURFACES IS REALLY JUST A CHANCE TO PLAY WITH EXPECTATIONS; A CHANCE FOR YOU TO DECIDE WHAT IT IS YOU WANT TO SAY ONCE THE PERSON SITS DOWN TO ACTUALLY LOOK AT WHAT MIGHT BE BEHIND SAID SURFACE. WHICH IS ACTUALLY GREAT FOR STORYTELLING, BECAUSE WHAT IS DRAMA BUT THE VARIOUS WAYS WE PLAY WITH SOMEONE'S EXPECTATIONS? APOLOGIES FOR GETTING SELF-REFERENTIAL HERE, BUT HULK'S WHOLE FASCINATION WITH THE DYNAMIC IS SOMETHING THAT HULK SORT OF STUMBLED INTO THROUGH HULK'S ENTIRE ONLINE LIFE; ONE THAT HAS BEEN NOTHING BUT A JOURNEY OF LOVELY DISCOVERY. THIS WHOLE HULK BUSINESS HAS GONE ON LONG ENOUGH AND GONE THROUGH ENOUGH CYCLES THAT HULK HAS GOTTEN A SUBSTANTIAL LOOK INTO THE PATTERNS THAT EMERGE WHEN IT COMES TO HOW PEOPLE PROCESS 'A THING' THAT IS TRYING EXPRESS ITSELF THROUGH SEVERAL DIFFERENT LAYERS. AS SUCH, HULK'S HONESTLY GOTTEN A REAL INVESTIGATION INTO THE WAY THAT EXPECTATIONS AND SURFACES (AND THE EVENTUAL FLIPPING OF THEM) COMPLETELY AFFECT ONE'S TONE AND MESSAGE... HINT: IT'S WAY MORE THAN YOU THINK.

THE REASON HULK BRINGS THIS UP IS BECAUSE OF PHIL LORD and CHRIS MILLER'S OEUVRE."

---Interpreting Synecdoche, New York

---Jimi Hendrix's Final Interview

---Cahiers du Cinema, Vol. 1-4

---"If 21 Jump Street was proof that Lord and Miller could make a terrific, funny movie within the confines of Hollywood’s constricting business model, their follow-up, The Lego Movie released last weekend, proves something more ambitious: that the two men can take their industry’s obsession with pre-existing properties, sequels, Chosen One narratives, and overhyped emotions and make a surprising soulful movie out of all these tacky little pieces of plastic." --Alyssa Rosenberg

---filmmaking tips from Federico Fellini

---Richard Brody considers Lost in Translation

---Stainless, Alexanderplatz

---Everything is Awesome

---"They’ve made a clever, vividly imagined, consistently funny, eye-poppingly pretty and oddly profound movie … about Legos. Miller and Lord do not grovel before their corporate overlords, and at times even appear to be conveying the subversive message that, when it comes to Legos, less may be more (or at least that a random bucket of unsorted blocks may be preferable to a brand-new boxed set)."  --Dana Stevens

---The Flaneur on Film

---"5 Essential Indie-Run Film and Filmmaking Resources"

---the interface components of Her

---“Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there,” he says. “But we don’t know who’s behind it, who’s holding it. It’s of course assumed that the phone belongs to a human being who is nefarious and considered an ‘unlawful enemy combatant.’ This is where it gets very shady.”

---trailers for The Purge: Anarchy, Teenage, The Two Faces of January, Enemy, and Under the Skin

Monday, February 10, 2014

7 tips for getting great footage on the Canon EOS Rebel T3i

[Note: a colleague wrote this for my video production class, and I thought that other beginning filmmakers may find it useful.]

1) Frame rate: frame rate refers to number of frames per second. The frame rate remains the same throughout the project, but should be double-checked each day before shooting.

a. press [Q].
b. scroll down to "set recording quality . . . "
c. set to 24 fps for the most "film-like" look.

2) Shutter speed: shutter speed is the speed in which the shutter opens and closes. The shutter speed remains the same throughout the project, but should be double-checked each day of shooting.

a. for video, it should be roughly double the frame rate.
b. on the main screen, use the rotor to change shutter speed to 50.

3) ISO: in general, set the ISO as low as possible to maintain film clarity and reduce graininess. ISO should be reset every time lighting conditions change.

a. point the camera, press the ISO button, set as low as you think you can get away with. OR:
b. press the ISO button, set to auto.
c. point camera.
d. press the shutter button halfway to see the ISO number.
e. press the ISO button again, and set it to the ISO number (this prevents the camera from changing ISO on you.)

4. White Balance: white balance should be reset every time lighting conditions change.

a. for outside shots, use daylight setting (even when shooting in shadows).
b. for Lowes lights, use the tungsten setting.
c. for mixed lighting, use custom setting:

   i. set white balance to auto.
   ii. take a photo of a white piece of paper, which should fill your screen, avoiding any shadows.
   iii. press the menu button, and locate "custom white balance"; select the photo.

5. Audio: recording levels are critical, and need to be adjusted for each new shot.

a. make sure the camera is set to manual recording levels.
b. test audio with actors, and adjust the recording level to approximately -12db or somewhat higher. Test the loudest volume you expect to record, and avoid getting into the red.

6. Aperture: aperture size determines how much light the camera lets in, but also affects the focus. You want the aperture to balance nice exposure with the depth of focus you want. It needs to be set for every shot.

a. press the [AV +/-] and use the rotor to adjust.
b. check settings for exposure: look at the histogram, and check the exposure meter along the bottom of the display.
c. depth of field: lower f-stop gives you a shallower depth of field, and vice versa. If you'd like to adjust depth of field and run into exposure problems, you can try adjusting lighting or adding an ND filter.

7. Focus: focus needs to be set for every shot.

a. focus manually to where it looks crisp.
b. use the digital zoom button to get up close, and get the image super sharp.
c. hit the digital zoom button again to get back.

For nice demos, take a look at these:

a. ISO, frame rate, shutter speed, and aperture.
b. focus
c. white balance