Saturday, January 30, 2010

All About Ego, In At Least Two Senses

Back in October, I made a post about shooting a mini-documentary on the New York Marathon as it streamed through my neighborhood.

"I'm jotting this down because, as always, when I start a film (no matter how short or casual) it seems rather imaginary. It takes a while for anything to be gathered, anything to be put together, and for it to be shaped into anything at all. And then, if it is made into something watchable, there's a huge lag for it to go somewhere."
Later, on January 20th of this year, I posted a followup:
"It's done. It's six minutes and ten seconds long, and sort of quirky. I'm sending it off to a few festivals in tomorrow's mail. I'll post more details soon, and we'll see how it goes."
Well, the first results are back, and To Get to the Other Side is heading to EgoFest in Brainerd, MN, for a one-day program featuring about 40 shorts.

Cool. Soon enough, we'll find out if it makes a few other festival stops as well, but for now, back to work.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

TV Party Tonight

Today was the first day of the term for my Television Studio class. I hate to have students wait to get their hands on the equipment, so we went right into switching.

I set up three cameras, then got the students into pairs: a Director and a Technical Director. They would call what camera to prepare, then what camera to cut to.

"Ready Camera 3. Take Camera 3. Ready Camera 1. Take Camera 1."

It's relatively easy to direct that sort of live switching -- until the pressure is on and you are trying to time which shot should be up. So we set the clock for 60 seconds, and tried to bring the show in from black, follow a conversation (always deciding if we should see the speaker or the reaction shot) and then back out to black on the dot.

It's harder than it sounds, in a good way.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Photography in the News, Incessant Hack Edition

To be said in best Inigo Montoya voice: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Look, there's a long tradition relating to installation art. It means something. It's not just a word you can slap onto hackwork and expect it will improve it.

Spencer Tunick keeps doing the same thing. Over, and over. Often, when an artist does that, the work grows in context and gets deeper, more meaningful, getter. Not in this case. It's just the same thing over and over, and it becomes less interesting each time. Except he's taken to calling his snapshots "installations."

Tunick's work is now less remarkable than a Geico ad, and twice as annoying. I've written about his always-the-damn-same work previously, and I guess I can stop hoping it will ever stop, grow, improve or vary in the slightest.

Nude volunteers needed for Opera House strip

"New York photographer Spencer Tunick is looking for thousands of Australians to disrobe in the name of art on the steps of the Sydney Opera House."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Today was my first trip back to The Bronx in about a month. The new term starts this week, and I'm teaching a television production class and a combined Photoshop / After Effects class.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Photography in the News, Street Protest Edition

I think historians of the future will ignore most of what we say or write today and instead look at our actions. The fastest growing artform in our society is photography, yet it's become closely associated with our biggest cultural fears: terrorism, loss of privacy, and the abuse of children. Some undergrad in 2064, then, will likely have to write a paper or two about our changing relationship to photography on the street.

Are there any items in today's news related to that thought? I'm glad you asked, because there is in fact something you may find interesting:

Photographers protest against police use of anti-terror laws

"Trafalgar Square was lit up by flash bulbs this lunchtime as thousands of photographers demonstrated against police use of stop and search. The event was organised by the campaign group, I’m a photographer, not a terrorist, following a series of high-profile detentions of photographers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Official estimates indicate that around 2,000 amateur and professional photographers joined the protest."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Documentaries in the News, Pantsuit Edition

Well, it looks like there will be a bright shiny future for documentary filmmakers. As long you really want to be a corporate shill when you grow up.

That's right: one channel for influence peddling in the decade ahead will certainly be political documentaries funded by corporations. If you realize a particular candidate might restrict your Widget sales, just because they tend to be unsafe, unhealthy, unwholesome Widgets that maybe could use the tiniest bit of regulation, well: get a hit piece going. You probably only need to sway a small percentage of minds. So what a cost-effective way to buy an election: a whole fleet of "documentary" Swift Boats. A little fleet of films that "question" if that candidate isn't really hiding a taste for cannibalism, or a secret past filled with much, much worse. No real evidence needed.

You know, the type of film that wouldn't get out into the world without someone who benefits from creating fear, doubt and uncertainty wildly tossing distribution money around to clear the path ahead.

(Later, the opposition candidate -- who coincidentally supports a policy of complete deregulation of Widget production -- will say "I don't know why my opponent won't answer these charges of devouring children in Satanic rituals.")

You're probably way ahead of me here, because I know you keep up on your Supreme Court decisions. But just in case, let's review why a documentary film was at the heart of today's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to overturn limits for corporate spending for or against political candidates.

Citizens United used 'Hillary: The Movie' to take on McCain-Feingold

'David Bossie, a veteran Republican campaign operative who made his mark investigating the Clintons, thought his group could offer a conservative answer to Michael Moore's successful films. After Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" premiered in 2004, Bossie's Citizens United group released "Celsius 41.11."

And after it became clear that Bossie's longtime enemy Hillary Rodham Clinton would run for president, Citizens United released another flick: "Hillary: The Movie." Featuring a who's-who cast of right-wing commentators, the 2008 film takes viewers on a savaging journey through Clinton's scandals. The sole compliment about the then-senator comes from conservative firebrand Ann Coulter: "Looks good in a pantsuit."'
Follow the link, read the rest.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hoop Springs Eternal

Here's our short documentary Hoop Springs Eternal. Enjoy, and share with your hooping friends. Feel free to embed it on a blog, Tweet it, Facebook it, or complain about it to your circle of friends.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Working with the Canon 7D

Redrock Captain Stubing - Setup from matt conway on Vimeo.

Matt Conway and Kirk Dilley completed the first interview on our new short documentary yesterday, shooting with a Canon 7D. I'll be posting a bit on the process soon (including specifics on file processing and sizes), but for those interested in this way of shooting, here's Matt showing his 7D setup.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Second Canon 7D Test

Back to the Grind from matt conway on Vimeo.

Today, Matt Conway and Kirk Dilley are scheduled to shoot the first interview session for a short documentary we're working on. They are using a Canon 7D for the project, and above you'll find another test shoot with the camera giving an idea of the look of the piece.

Monday, January 11, 2010

First Canon 7D Test

Redrock Captain Stubing Test from matt conway on Vimeo.

I'm remotely producing (and later will edit) a short documentary. It's interview-based, and it's being being shot in California.

So, big whoop. What's new about it?

Well, one thing that's new is that it will be shot on the Canon 7D. As you may know, a lot of folks are very excited about the possibilities DSLR cameras now offer for video. Since this can be particularly interesting for documentary, I've developed an idea for a short that I think is a good match for the strengths of the camera.

Above: a first test with the Canon. More soon, and thanks to Matt Conway and Kirk Dilley.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chez Stacks

My wife is preparing for a very important step toward her Ph.D. Which means I currently live in the middle of huge stacks of books on the history of photography.

Which isn't so bad.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

On my other blog, I've posted a seven part series on Narration and Titling.

I know, I know: you can hardly control yourself and want to start to read that immediately.

Wait one second, though. Why have I posted it? That's because I'm editing a piece where narration and titling is central to the documentary. For a lot of people, partially because of the "virtuous" influence of Cinema Verite, voiceover and titling are sins. I can understand that view. But this just isn't that type of Doc.

So the question became: if I'm going to use these out-of-favor elements, what's the right way to use them? I went back and re-read a paper I wrote on the subject as a way of refreshing my ideas. That paper then became seven idea posts on the subject.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Behold the Power of Twitter

Back in the summer of 2008, I ordered Chinese food from our usual place on First Avenue and got a laugh when I received this fortune.

As you can imagine, I sort of forgot about that, eventually.

Then tonight, about a year-and-a-half later, I saw the following fortune posted by musician Ted Leo.

So, one can only speculate. Is there a disgruntled fortune-maker? Someone who grew up with dreams of being a writer, but because of poor spelling was only able to acquire a job in a fortune-making factory? Has a small typo been printed in a huge stack, inserted into fortune cookies all over the world for years?

Good luch figuring that one out.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Shake It Up: Photography in the News

I'm really from the "let it go, man, cause it's gone" school of thought. But not everyone is. Which is why this story of last-century's technology is in today's edition of Photography in the News.

CES: Polaroid film cameras come back

"Digital is the future, but the market has screamed for the return of Polaroid film," says Jon Pollock, Polaroid's chief marketing officer. The film is targeted toward artists and enthusiasts, and the cost per photo will be "pretty expensive," he acknowledges. No exact price was announced.

The re-introduction of film was made possible by a group of Polaroid fans in Denmark who call themselves the Impossible Project. They banded together to put a factory together to make the film again.
Apparently: not so impossible.

Think Outside the Box Office

It's fair to say that the hottest book in Documentary and Independent Filmmaking circles is currently Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era by Jon Reiss.

With everyone interested in how distribution models are changing––some would say collapsing, some would say evolving––it's a book that has come along at just the right time.

Wondering where you know that name from? Well, I used to show my students scenes from Better Living Through Circuitry, or you may have seen his more recent film Bomb It.

I don't own this one yet––where's the Kindle Edition?––but take a glance at the reviews on Amazon and you'll see it's highly recommended. If it suits your goals for filmmaking, buy it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Not Up To Speed: Documentaries in the News

Pop quiz, hotshot.

There's a bomb in your theater. No, not a literal bomb. A bomb in the sense of a faux documentary. One of those anti-scientific gibberish-friendly films, allegedly filled with discredited arguments given by allegedly highly-paid Discovery Institute think-tankers, "finding" what they're allegedly paid to find. (Which is? "God did it." Writing abstracts for their "research" papers must be fairly simple, really. Allegedly.) You know the kind: the banana fits so well in your hand, it must have been designed to be there. That kind of bomb.

Once the Discovery Institute press release goes out, allegedly trying to make it sound like a Smithsonian sponsored event, the bomb is armed. If you show the film, somewhere down the road folks will say: part of the funding we gave you went to .... Intelligent Design documentary screenings? Then somewhere else, on an internet discussion board you don't really want to visit, someone will pause from posting about the government disclosure of aliens and post about the screening and how it shows even the Smithsonian doubts evolution. Which, they know, was really engineered by aliens, anyway.

But -- ha! -- here's the catch. If you slow this thing down, there will be a holy cry arising about how you're suppressing dissenting views. Whatsa matter, afraid someone will find out your whole Darwin thing doesn't even mention the shape of the banana?

So you're moving forward, 50 miles an hour, toward certain doom. If you drop below 50, the whole story blows up. What do you do? What do you do?

The L.A. Times has full story.

California Science Center is sued for canceling a film promoting intelligent design

L.A.'s California Science Center will start the new year defending itself in court for canceling a documentary film attacking Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. A lawsuit alleges that the state-owned center improperly bowed to pressure from the Smithsonian Institution, as well as e-mailed complaints from USC professors and others. It contends that the center violated both the 1st Amendment and a contract to rent the museum's Imax Theater when it canceled the screening of "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record."