Earlier this week Greta and I went to see the new climate change film The Age of Stupid. It's a documentary with a speculative fiction frame around it, and that's what I want to talk about, the form, rather than the content of the film. I've blogged before several times about climate change. You know where I stand on that.
The thing I'd like to note about the film is that the documentary part of it is probably only 3 to 3 1/2 stars. If it had been only that it wouldn't have been a complete failure but it would have been quite a substandard film. The nonfiction portions consist of 6 interweaving stories of 6 people or groups of people, in New Orleans, the UK, India, Africa, Syria, and France. They all are effected somehow or other or have some goals or activities that are somehow resonant with the theme of human-induced climate change. But this resonance is at times, for some of the plotlines, very very tenuous.
We were at a special global premiere screening event that was happening in 400-some theaters around the world, and one thing we saw before the film itself was some interview segments with the Director. She said that in fact they had originally planned the film to be pure documentary, with just these 6 storylines intercutting each other - a structure, she admitted, that they stole from Soderburghs's film "Traffic" (though I can name many films, especially recently, that have a similar structure, so many that I actually feel at least a little underwhelmed these days when a film only has 1 simple narrative!).
But when they had that version done she realized it wasn't going to work, and they came up with this science-fiction framing story that served as a sort of fancy and scary meta-narration: an old guy in 2050 looking at video clips from the early part of the century, wondering where the human race went wrong and why, as the ruined planet seethes and burns outside.
I think this idea works, much better than the straight doc would have. But it's still not quite working like I was hoping. The film is a great attempt at taking up where "An Inconvenient Truth" left off, of being something more compelling and eye-grabbing than that, but something more real and believable than The Day After Tomorrow. But, The Age of Stupid is not a total success. Something about it didn't quite click for me, and in the end, I guess it was still another documentary that pleaded and howled and moaned, and even entertained, but didn't really get over some line, some hilltop of inspiration that would have produced the desired mass activation that the filmmakers were hoping for - or maybe I'm wrong and even now hundreds of thousands of filmgoers are drafting passionate letters to their elected officials, demanding the radical agreement the world needs at Copenhagen this December, and planning thousands of direct actions across the globe and coal plants and mines and oil wells and car factories.
Maybe that's happening. But, I fear not. However, the film is a valiant and extremely intriguing step in the continuing evolution of hybrid fiction/fact works. I hope people continue making climate change films, on all points in that doc-narrative spectrum, and continue fighting to get people off their asses while they continue to explore their craft as moving-picture storytellers.
One final point, a digression into the content of the film even though I said I wouldnt talk about that: one thing I fear is that the film is way TOO scary. Especially the point, which is sort of never returned to but is still there like the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the point where they interview the guy who wrote the book "Six Degrees" (I forget his name), and he says basically that we have till 2015 to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees - if we don't do that we will have passed a tipping point from which there is no return and we're basically completely screwed (my wording, but you get the gist).
To me this is dark, dark news. So dark that it almost makes me think, "well, hell with it, there's absolutely no way we can do that, get that much done in that little time, it just can't be done, so if that's true it's hopeless, throw in the towel." And I wondered, how many people left the theater thinking basically the same thing? Did the film go too far and convince people that there's nothing they can do, so why bother? If so, is that reason, justification, for NOT mentioning that dark bit of statistic, that doomsday deadline, leaving out that interview, basically lying and telling people, like they hollowly (for me) do at the end of the film right before the credits "there is just BARELY enough time to do something...."
The film is amazingly low on factual, scientific backing for the claims and warnings it makes, amazingly absent of high-powered scientists, such as that cool dude at NASA whose name I also forget right now. But I hope that Six Degrees writer is wrong, and I hope someone proves him wrong and tells us all soon that we have at least till 2020. Because otherwise, i mean, c'mon - we can't even get a few windmills built cuz of the NIMBY syndrome, how can we possibly save the world in 5 years?
Last night I went to see District 9, the new semi-sleeper science fiction action film that movie industry wonks are salivating over for its relatively cheap budget and efficient production. I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed.
In short, I really like the concept, and I enjoyed the first 20 minutes or so. But then, the film turned into a nerve-wracking, over-the-top action flick that had me clawing the upholstry off the armrests and wishing I'd brought some valium. It ramped up to a fever pitch to the point where for the last 40 minutes or so it was nonstop explosions, gunfire, bodies bursting into splashes of red goo, robots and aliens ripping things apart, and lots of screaming and yelling. Basically, it became pretty much just like every other Hollywood summer action blockbuster. Oh but it only cost $30 million to make! hurrah!
I went to see it because the premise was interesting. It was clearly an allegory about racism, xenophobia, and immigration, along with a healthy dose of criticism about privatization of public spheres, arms dealing, and multinational capitalist corporatism. But it went from biting social criticism to largely gratuitous and pointless ultra-violence. The story could have easily been told without 90% of the death and gore that was graphically displayed, singeing the eyeballs of viewers and inducing PTSD for days to come.
Can't a story be science fiction without also being a "thriller" or "horror"? Can't we just explore ideas without pumping ourselves full of adrenalin with guts and things blowing up?
I guess the secret bright side is this: all the teenagers and other immature moviegoers who actually LIKE that sort of crapola might also be encouraged by the film to think about some of the social issues it brings up. Like is it okay to treat differently people that don't look like us? Or is everyone entitled to basic decency? If middle-american dork-boys can be persuaded to feel that even the gnarly greenish insectoid creatures in the movie deserve to not be abused and oppressed, maybe that will be an important step forward for human rights.
For a little over 2 weeks, we've been in production for Truth On The Line, the new project I'm directing (and wrote). It's been very exciting, and things are going quite well other than feeling like each shoot is very rushed.
We have been shooting at quite a speed - an average of 6 script pages a day. Usually 5 is a good rule of thumb for an "indie" project. We've been pressured by time constraints involving the location and the natural light, as well as my own inexperience at scheduling, but for other shoots coming up I'm hoping that we can have things be a little more relaxed.
However, as I said, things are going well, and I'm quite happy with the performances of all the cast, as well as the look of all the footage we've shot. I've started to put together some of the footage into rough edits to make sure I have what I need, and it is working! I'd like to have a little more coverage, and more takes, so that's another reason to try to relax the shoot velocity, if possible.
We've been blessed to have the help of 2 very cool local establishments here in Tucson: BICAS, the non-profit bicycle repair and education collective, let us use their 4-wheeled bicycle-car, which we put to work as a dolly and which functioned great as such!
Also, Revolutionary Grounds Books and Coffee was our wonderful location for the 3 cafe scenes in this pilot episode. Many many thanks to Joy, the generous proprietor, and to Matthew, the amazing barista who opened up early for us at 5am on 2 mornings, and also to Diana, another barista there who had utmost patience for us and makes a great iced americano.
I'm having a great time, it's wonderful working with all these actors and the extremely talented and helpful crew, and i'm looking forward to cutting it all together and seeing the story we're creating unfold.
See http://www.flickr.com/photos/steev/sets/72157620097751914/ for more production stills.
Here's a great behind-the-scenes clip (shot by Ryn) of us shooting at the cafe, which I hope will be a location for many great encounters and dialogues during future episodes of the show.
We're still in pre-production for the pilot of Truth On The Line, the TV/web series that I've been developing for the last 2 years. I finished casting a couple of weeks ago and I'm now trying to schedule rehearsals and shoots, and it's really really challenging. There are 14 speaking parts, so trying to arrive at times where even most of the cast can be there has been crazy.
We did have one meeting where we did a first read-through and I managed to have all but 2 or 3 actors there. That was impressive and it went really well. A photo from that is above.
I'm in the middle of pre-production for a new project which I do not think I've mentioned before on this blog. Truth On The Line is a TV/web show which will be a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, news journalism and drama. I like to say that it's a cross between "Slacker" and "Broadcast News", and the news will be real.
I first came up with the idea for this project almost 2 years ago, and have been gradually thinking about it and keeping it simmering on the back burner of my creative stove every since. It was this spring that I finally finished the script for the pilot episode and began.
I cast 5 of the 15 speaking parts first, people I knew. Then I did a casting call about a week and a half ago. Since then I've been working a lot on casting, sorting through the dozens of responses to my call and holding auditions. It's been incredible. Fun, but lots of work. It's great though just to meet some very creative actors, and I find myself wishing I could work with almost all of them, but of course, I can't and I have to make some choices. Hopefully a week from today, or so, I will have made those choices.
The other thing I'm doing is trying to decide if I should create a new blog for the project. It will eventually need a website. I'm tweeting in twitter about it using the #totl tag. But should it have its own blog?
I'm very inspired lately reading the blog of Christopher Sharpe. He's been diligently blogging and tweeting about his film, The Spider Babies, which is in pre-production too. He plans to ask his main castmembers to tweet from the set as well. That's a really cool idea. But he hasn't created separate site or blog for the film yet, as far as i know. So, maybe I shouldn't either. Yet, at least.
Anyway, stay tuned for more on this project as it progresses.
"Happy" Tax Day, everyone!
A month ago I started an online fundraising effort to raise additional
funds for the war tax resistance film that I've been working on.
(See this blog post for more background.)
Anyway I just wrote up something for the Facebook folks and spruced up my
spiffier, flashier fundraising web page: http://deathandtaxes.detritus.net/
Here's the FB cause announcement I just sent out this morning:
Today is the day, more than any other, when citizens of the U.S. think
about where their taxes get spent.
On this day, which is also 1 month after creating this Facebook cause
and starting this experiment in online fundraising, I'm sending you
this reminder about taxes and to remind you that I'm still trying to
fund the completion of my film about taxes and war. Since starting the
fundraising campaign, I've raised a little over $400, which means I
only need less than $3200 more to finish the film. That $400 is
already going toward work on the film, because every time I raise
$100, that pays for one more day of editing, and I sit down at my
editing station and get to work! With that $400, I will soon be 4
more days closer to finishing "Death and Taxes"!
So for you on this day, I've uploaded a 7-minute excerpt from the
rough cut of the film which should give you a better idea of what the
film will be like. I've also re-vamped the fundraising webpage with
lots of exciting stills from the film, and given the page a new URL: http://deathandtaxes.detritus.net
Check out the page and the clip and think about this day, and our
wars, and this film, "Death and Taxes". Maybe while you're thinking
of all that money going for all that killing, you can find it in your
hearts and pocketbooks to channel some dollars toward this important
film. And maybe you can tell others about this film and it's need for
Just think, if the 33 of the 36 members of this Cause who have not
donated yet were to recruit one more member each, and then if they and
all those recruits were to each donate $50, that would be enough!
That's all we'd need to finish the film, and in 2 months, it would be
all done. Kind of cool to think about it that way, isn't it?
Thanks for your support,
Director, "Death and Taxes"
Today I'm heading down to Arivaca, a little town near the border, about an hour southwest of Tucson, to show "Wild Versus Wall" at the Arivaca Independent Film Exposition. I think this is the third year that I've had something in this yearly 1-day festival, but I've never actually been present for it, so I figured it's about time I show up. It looks like there are quite a few interesting films, both documentary, and narrative, shorts and features, so it should be fun. The only thing is that just like with the Sedona fest last week, it feels like I'm taking time out that I don't have, but at least in this case it's only an afternoon.
I'm starting the 2nd to last day of the Sedona Intl Film Festival and I for once got plenty of sleep last night since I made a successful effort to skip the nightly party.
In a few minutes I have to head off to a 9:30 film but I want to quickly mention something I realized yesterday: there is one thing that sort of in a way magically makes up for all the things I've been cynically and grumpily griping about for the last few days regarding the fest and film fests in general. The thing is THE FILMS THEMSELVES, or at least the cream of the crop of them, the few that really stand out and you see and you think, wow, that is one of the best films I've seen in a long time, or maybe ever, and I may have never seen it ever, because so many films in festivals never get distribution, never even get to DVD, or if they do they perhaps don't get the proper promotion and you never hear about them.
So I glad I'm here, namely for 2 films in particular that I have seen and really stand out: The Speed of Life by Ed Radtke and Selfless by the Pander Brothers - both of these film totally blew me away and made me happy to be here. And I should add that the Pander Brothers are from Portland (and are good friends of my Tucson pal Carl Hanni), and have been an absolute pleasure to meet and talk with at the various festival parties, and their film has lots of beautiful art direction and locations from Portland - but it's a sort of dark, soulless version of Portland, a critical vision of the yuppified, gentrified, "creative class" zones of Portland. And there's lots of great music and score by Portland music folks including Auditory Sculpture.
Neither of these film have distribution yet, but I pray that they will because you all need to see them!
Every night is literally a party here at the SIFF. Other than getting to bed later than is probably healthy, that and all the other fun and free stuff is mostly what it's all about, for me. From the start I never thought the festival would lead to anything particularly useful to me or my career - like "a big break" or something. My goal has been just to see some possibly good indie films and have fun and enjoy the food and hotel and stuff.
But it's funny how many people go through the hollywood-style motions of schmoozing and offering help and networking, like anyone you meet might have a phone number that will lead to your or your film's ship coming in.
Last night I met a local Sedona couple who, acccording to them, were making a new reality TV series called "The Truth" that will start airing on Fox this June. The guy, who is one of the hosts of the show and whose gregariousness borders on obnoxiousness, commented quietly to me at one point, "let's stop talking about work. Why is everyone working? There's no studios or distributors here that I've seen. Everyone's just jerking each other off." And it's true, as far as I could tell - there are no big companies represented here, waiting to offer deals or even hand out business cards with instructions to "call, let's talk." It's just a bunch of filmmakers gabbing to each other, and a few rich local businessmen and retirees who donated to the fest for a chance to pretend like their little festival is something important. For a chance to pretend that cool culture happens in their little slice of boring paradise. And it does, for one week, and only because they pay for it.
But it's not important. It's a 2nd- or 3rd-rate fest. Nothing will come from this festival for any of these filmmakers, other than another fest to put on a list of fests their film was in, whatever proto-friendships they make, and whatever lessons they may learn from the workshops, the panels, and watching each other's films.
For instance, today is the all-day documentary workshop, which is one of the main things I've been looking forward to. But I have no illusions that the fest will be any sort of boost for my film. It's a semi-fun little game to play, with full consciousness that that is really all it is.
I'm not sure what the definition of "live-blogging" actually is and I'm too tired to look it up, but I'm going to just claim that that is what I'm doing right now even if it might not be really true (after all what is truth?). I'm in Sedona, Arizona, for their film festival, the 15th annual. I have a film in the festival, Wild Versus Wall,
and I have a computer that's on the internet and I'm posting something to my blog. Right now. Boo-ya!
And it's way later than I usually am awake so I'm going to keep this short and in list form. Grumpy, snarky observances I will now make about this festival: 1) as I tweeted a few hours ago, Sedona is really just a big ugly strip mall, painted in tasteful earth tones, surrounded by beautiful nature that would be a lot more beautiful if the town were not there; 2) Our schwag bags that the festival gave out contain many wondrous ads and products, including not 1 but 2 containers of something called "coconut water" - which tastes like if you mixed a few drops of really spoiled milk into 6 ounces of tepid tap water. Mmm. 3) I really hate fast-talking hollywood types but sometimes it's hard to tell from a distance which people they are; 4) They put me in a nice hotel with a nice view of "the red rocks," and under the red rocks is a nice view of a new hotel they're building in the mud down by the river. It's beautiful; 5) said hotels (mine and the one down in the mud) are 2 miles from where all the festival is happening, and there's no shuttle or other transit between. And taxis cost $10. Yes, to drive 5 minutes, 2 miles. I assert that this is inconsiderate. 6) Did I mention the strip mall? Yes, even the theater, a Harkins multiplex, where the festival is happening, is literally in a strip mall. 7) the cost of taxis and soul might be offset by the money I save on the special VIP dinners, which doubtless are a 10 dollar value (20 if you're in Sedona). 8) Festival director Patrick Something stated in Red Rock Tourist Trap Ragazine that the festival's "dark" film to "light" film ratio is down somewhat to 50/50 this year, compared to the usual 70/30. Is this a race thing, Patrick? No, he says it's beacause people have been "challenged" in the last year. Yay lightness! Yay lightness and beauty!
Anyway, back to you, Joe. I'll be here all week, snarkblogging live from the SIFF. Stay tuned.
P.S. I think I might have at least the 2nd most disturbing mustache at the festival. boo-ya.
Last night Greta and I went to see the celebrated animation about the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war, "Waltz with Bashir" - for one thing, if you don't like disturbing or violent films, don't go. Greta had to leave in the middle and was shaken for hours afterward.
Some have criticized the film for breaking from its beautiful animation at the end and showing real video of the aftermath of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
I didnt have a problem with the use of actual footage at the end, but overall, and I will probably get yelled at for saying this, but I don't thinkg WwB was such a great film. It was beautifully drawn, yes. It drew attention to one of many atrocities in the history of Israel, yes. But narratively the film was disappointing. It "contracted with the audience" at the beginning that it would be about one man's transformative journey to remember his past, but in the end it broke that contract - there was no sign of how he reacted and grew and changed from re-discovering his memories. Which is fine if it was a straight documentary, but we were set up to read the film as a story, a personal, character-driven story.
Also, I don't think the film did enough to put the massacre in context and call Israel to task for it. At this point it's not enough to make yet another film about the horrors of war in general - if it's about Israel's wars it must specifically address the details of Israel's crimes and why they are crimes, not just the unavoidable consequences of unavoidable international conflict.
I am frantically, desperately, sadly, still editing "Death and Taxes," the documentary about war tax resistance that I've been working on for a year, if we count it from funding acquisition, or over 5 years, if we count from first conception and footage shot. Even though there's so much footage, and I've been doing this for so long, I've still learned so much as I edit these last 7 months or so. Every time I edit I learn or re-learn more about how to shoot. Here is a selection of key or not-so-key shooting tips:
- during interview, keep zooming in and out slowly, so that when you edit you can cut it up and the jump cuts won't be so jarring.
- don't be afraid to reshoot something, and to order people around (this is the hardest and probably the most important in documentary making).
- better to get it right during the shoot than try to fix it in post.
- you never have too much b-roll.
- if you have time and a camera that can do it, iterate the hour on the camera's time code as you shoot through tapes. That way when you capture, all your footage from a certain shoot will have unique timecode, makes it slightly easier to organize.
- watch as much footage as possible between shoots. Mistakes made or holes in coverage can be fixed if you know what you got or didn't get last time. If you wait till post to look, it's too late, probably.
There's probably more I could go into but it's late. very late.
I finally got around to editing some video I shot at this year's All Souls Procession here in Tucson (link):
The video features many friends of Sali Eiler, who was murdered recently in Oaxaca. She was a tireless volunteer and organizer who was involved with No More Deaths here in southern Arizona and had spent many months in Oaxaca working with CIPO-RFM and women's groups there. On November 9, her friends and family came together in Tucson, had a memorial at Dry River Radical Resource Center, and participated together in the All Souls Procession. This video documents their presence in the procession and some footage of the spectacular performance spectacle after the procession. [More info about Sali and her work: http://arizona.indymedia.org/archives/archive_by_id.php?id=509&category_id=1 ]
I like how it turned out and I'm glad I was able to document it.
So I've lately been following this great blog/portal site called The Workbook Project. It's all about DIY filmmaking and actually mostly about DIY distribution and marketing of films, going around the middlemen of big distributors, festivals, etc. It's great. But today an entry came up that rubbed me the wrong way. It's about these 6 men (boys?) who are all filmmakers, made 4 films under some indie "company" or group called "New Breed" I guess, and now are on a tour around the country in a van, screening their films.
Ok, great. That's cool. But they're video-blogging the trip and the first video is kind of stupid. First of all it introduces it as "6 dudes and 4 films in a van" or something like that, and nowhere in this video does it talk about what the films are about. Instead it's full of dumb little "dude" moments where they're standing outside of the van cracking dumb jokes and making fun of each other about totally irrelevant shit. Is that supposed to make me want to go see these films? Why?
Interestingly enough, a glance at their tour schedule reveals that they were already in Tucson for a few days last week, but I never heard about the screenings nor do any of the film titles ring a bell at all. I probably saw them listed in the Loft's calendar and had no interest in them at all. Maybe they're trying to cover up the fact that these are mediocre films by surrounding them with ridiculous buzz. But c'mon, this is just the kind of buzz that would drive me screaming in the opposite direction from wherever these "dudes" are heading. If they wanted me to learn, or re-learn once again, that most males, even most indie filmmaker males, are obnoxious dorks who spend most of their time just trying to prove how cool they are, well, they've succeeded, but that's about all I've learned from their vlog so far.
It just disappoints me given the level of material usually posted on The Workbook Project.
For some months now I've been toying with, debating with myself about, the idea of going back to grad school and studying film. Each time I go back to the idea, I do research and think about it and conclude that, no, I don't need/want to go back to school, for many and various reasons.
I came across one more really great and reassuring reason not to go, in a book I've been reading about Werner Herzog, one of my favorite directors, whom I respect a lot. In this book, "Herzog on Herzog," he says "I personally do not believe in the kind of film schools you find all over the world today... It has always seemed to me that almost everything you learn at school you forget in a couple of years. But the things you set out to learn yourself in order to quench a thirst, these are the things you never forget... academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion."
I've been working hard on Death and Taxes, including some stop-motion animation to help illustrate the connection between our money and war. Playing with toy soldiers, plastic tanks, stacks of dollar bills and piles of coins. The results so far are pretty cool. Tons of work to go though. Still trying to get the whole film done by early November, but we'll see.
I'm in perhaps the most exciting yet frustrating stage in my work on the documentary about war tax resistance that I'm making. I'm basically trying to make sense of all the footage and figure out how to present it in a compelling way - the big question is: what is the story? I've been struggling with this for about 4 years, ever since I started thinking about the challenges of making a film about this subject - Put another way, how do I tell the story of war tax resistance in a way that's interesting and exciting?
I decided to go all the way back to Michael Rabiger's excellent, wise, super book, Directing the Documentary, which I originally read in 2003 and which helped me enormously to first learn the art and craft of non-fiction filmmaking - actually, I'm really still learning, of course, but this book was my early training, my film school. I returned to it this week to re-read the chapters on the beginnings of post-production and the first assembly.
The advice I keep coming back to that he gives is: start organizing the material with the action, and then layer on the interviews, because if you start with the interviews, you will have talking heads as the primary spine of the film. Of course most of what I've ever done, and a lot of documentarians have done, has been reluctantly not following this advice - because most of almost any documentary film's central material is in fact people telling their stories. It's very rare that you can capture the actual stuff of life that you're talking about, or at least all of it - I've been acutely aware of this since I was doing the paper edit of my Juarez film 3 years ago.
Yet I tried to find a way out of that conundrum with an experiment in narrative that I had not tried before, which I thought of in very early pre-production and which I tried to follow during shooting: follow real people as THEY learn about the subject and meet people that do war tax resistance.
How sad is it when you have something like 50 hours of footage shot over 5 years and you still don't feel like it's enough "coverage"? [i need more "action" material that is relevant to the topic - demonstrations, press conferences, protests, street theater, tax day rallies, even stuff like relevant signs or banners being held up (or t-shirts being worn, etc) at more general anti-war events. Have you shot anything like this over the years anywhere? Do you know anyone who has? If so, please get in touch.]
However, I might have the seed of a narrative that focuses on action, on movement through space and time, and I want to try to make that into the backbone of the film. Perhaps it will need to be augmented with judicious narration, and animation, but i think it's there, basically... Almost every other film longer than 10 minutes that I've made has instead been organized by subject section - can this finally be a film that is a chronology? Is there hope that the story can really be based on a classic, time-based model of story? I'm going to try.
The war tax resistance documentary is taking me out of town again, for 9 whole days. I'll be flying to New York City tomorrow and we'll be shooting Sunday and Monday there, and then heading down to DC for the big anti-war demo there on Wednesday. Activists will be blocking the IRS building that morning, and all sorts of other things will be happening. Later in the week we'll head up to Western Mass. to talk to WTRs there.
I'm kind of tired of travelling so much, and i'm not looking forward to cold and snow out there just when it's starting to really be nice and warm here in Tucson... although a side effect of that is that the pollen count has been crazy high and my sinuses are under assault to an almost intolerable degree.. so in that sense it will be good to get away....
I'm up in Berkeley at the moment working on a film about war tax resistance. (I posted a rough first trailer on the Pan Left site the day before I left to come here.) The shooting is going pretty well, given that I have a very minimal crew. I tried to recruit some volunteer skilled help from the ranks of bay area indymedia-connected videoactivists. A few people responded with interest but with questions about schedule, and then begged off. I'm frankly kind of surprised and disappointed. I thought there would be enough activist videographers in the area that I could find sufficient help - why is it so hard? Is it that all those people around here are moving on into trying to do it professionally and so can't be bothered to do something for lunch and a good cause?
I guess when I put the shoe on the other foot and imagine some random activist filmmaker visiting Tucson to do a shoot, I don't think I'd help out for free unless it was a subject I was really really personally interested in - I'm just too busy. So I shouldn't be surprised. But it's a shame, because the concept and logistics of this film make it important to have a crew, and a skilled crew.
Anyway, it was an interesting day yesterday. We went to a workshop in the city about WTR put together by Northern California War Tax Resisters, and then back to the east bay to visit famous activist and war tax resister Julia Butterfly Hill, who happened to be back in town, resting and refusing most interview requests but who had said yes to us since it was about war tax resistance. Then we went across the bay again to talk to David Gross, a WTR who has a blog about the subject and is very knowledgable.
We "wrapped" for the day and the evening led to thai food and drinks in the Mission with an old friend. Being back there, my old hood, made me feel a little wistful - San Francisco is so cool and beautiful. It's changed a lot though, and those memories that bring up that well of emotion are just memories, flowing on.
Today we head up to Sonoma county to meet some WTRs there. Lots of driving but I'm hoping for some beautiful scenery as backdrops.
I'm working on 3 different major (to me), funded video projects right now. Pretty exciting, but all 3 of them are in pre-production, though for one of them I have already shot some preliminary material. This means that I've been spending hours and hours every day for weeks just planning shoots and associated travel and logistics. Calling, emailing, asking for location permissions, poring over maps, looking at calendars, buying plane tickets, renting cars, etc etc etc.
I'm sick of it. This is why, I now viscerally understand, there are producers, as a role separate from directors. I need one, or 2 or 3. I'm exhausted and I haven't even shot anything. Dammit.
Josh Wolf, the Bay Area blogger (and current San Francisco mayoral candidate) who was jailed by a grand jury for not turning over footage he shot at a local protest, is now free and running a 2-hour TV program called RUNtv - RUN standing for Rise Up Network. It airs on Peralta TV, which is evidently a cable channel run by Peralta Community College in Oakland.
For each installment of the show, he includes segments from radical videographers around the country, and then places them online and lets people vote on their favorite. The winners receive cash prizes and a chance to compete in the end of season contest.
The latest episode of the show includes my short doc about Sandhill Cranes. Go check it out and cast your vote.
I've been working for the last week on a newish project: a DVD/doc about Dry River.The 2nd anniversary of DR having a physical space is coming up November 3, and i thought it would be fitting to get it done in time for that. I've been recording video and audio of various events, mostly music shows, at the space for 2 years, since it opened. So it seemed a simple process to pull all that together with some stills, add some interviews, and voila, a quick and dirty documentary. But, it's not as quick as I thought. there's so much footage to sift through. and i have keep reminding myself that i said it would be quick and dirty and sloppy. my natural tendency is to labor over edits and get fancy and, maybe even get arty, and in general, well, have some pride in my work.
Anyway, I hope I can resist spending too much time on it because there many other projects i should be spending time on, especially ones that might earn me money. It's just like me to get excited about something that's completely voluntary and unpaid, and neglect other things that might be more lucrative, or even more important to the world.
But for what it's worth, I have uploaded a rough draft of the first 30 seconds or so.
Lately, for a few reasons I won't go into, I've had occasion, as an editor, to look at a lot of video footage shot by others. Some of it is just atrocious. It is just stunning how badly people handle a camera sometimes.
All it takes is just a few minutes watching TV or a movie to get the basics, and it really is the basics that people seem to be missing (Maybe that's the problem, many activists don't watch TV, so they've forgotten what good camera technique looks like). The boiled down rule of thumb: Hold the shot for awhile. That's all you need to know. Everything else comes from that: Don't pan and tilt around constantly. Don't zoom in and out all the time. Just fricking find a shot and stay on it. Even if it might not be the best, perfect composition, just stick with it for at least 5 seconds, 10 seconds, hell, 30 seconds, and THEN move and find your next shot. If you're worried about missing some action, then pull out and stick with a long shot and stay on it. Just stop waving the damn camera around for god's sake. Just stop. Please!!!
(All this advice and more is readily available online, for example at the excellent Video Activist Network site.)
For the past week or so, since my brother told me about it, I've been starting to get into this super cool video blog called "The Show with Ze Frank." It's an amazingly entertaining daily videocast that consists of mostly just this guy, Ze, camera close-upped on his face, as he rants in this really witty but spastic, tweaker kind of way. like the the smartest funniest speedfreak you'll ever meet.
Friday's episode was a rare political one, mostly about what's been happening in Somalia. He has a great way of mixing the standard news take on something with his own little comedic asides.
I want to do a videoblog sort of like that. A continuation of my so-far still secret series "Meditations on Nature with Esteban Caliente" - it would be sort of mix of Ze Frank, Geraldo Rivera, Nick Broomfield, and.... myself, i guess. yeah.
FWIW, I really hate it when people call documentaries and other films "videos." It bothers me for some reason.
I'm getting more into You Tube. I like it. I hate Myspace (tho i have an account), but I love Flickr and I like You Tube. I think it's a function of 2 things: interface and intention. Myspace's interface just sucks, and also the purpse is nebulous. It's a sort of trendy friendster substitute with no requirement for sharing any creative material. Flickr and YouTube are social sites that involve the sharing of what I think a friend recently called 'tokens of value.' There's a reason you're there besides the networking, schmoozing, macking. Myspace, tho it originally was about bands, is now mostly people just macking. Plus it's owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Anyway, here's my 2nd upload to YouTube, a video I just finished about Arizona Earthfirst!'s response to the hunting of sandhill cranes.
If my blogging software permitted, this post would be marked not only in the personal category but in every other category that I've defined, and more. That's because this entry is about how many different things I'm involved with and how that's a problem.
But before I get too far into that I will link to a post i just published on another blog that I seldom use, on the delete the border site, relating recent news about arizona border crossing deaths and stuff.
Now I move on into saying this: I'm doing too much and I need to figure out how to jettision some stuff if i intend to feel better about myself and stay sane, because very little of it is getting done in a quality way. Here's the list, or everything i can think of now:
The most important things are 2, 7, 11, and 12. A few other things are impossible to get rid of right now. The rest I need to just tell people "sorry, I can't be there." Sigh.
The nice thing, though is that, as usual, just making a list of everything makes it seem like a lot less of a problem. so, yay....
I uploaded the newsreal to video.indymedia.org. enjoy.
I don't think I've mentioned here that I was selected about a month ago to be the new editor for Indymedia Newsreal.
It means getting submissions from producers in the mail and assembling from them a 28-minute package that then gets sent off to Free Speech TV and the newsreal dubbers in Seattle, who send out copies to all the subscribers. I may start authoring a DVD also.
The May Newsreal will be my first in this role. I'm excited but it's proving difficult because I've only recieved one 8-minute submission. Now sure what to do. If you're an indymedia videographer and want to submit something at the last minute via Internet, get in touch. gracias.
I'm against driving, but if you have to commute in a car, at least doing something creative like this mitigates things somewhat. Plus, hey, it's car-pooling.
This is already one of my favorite vlogs. not just because of the gimmick, but the guy is really charismatic, and a good interviewer. And a good driver, too, I guess.
(via We Are The Media)
Video geek alert. Yesterday I installed Final Cut Pro 5 and one really cool new feature is "multiclips." Basically you can link together multiple clips shot with different cameras of the same thing and then really easily make an edit, clicking back and forth between the different angles like a TV producer doing live Superbowl coverage. (you know: "ready camera 2... camera 2. Camera 3, find me a close up of a ref... ready camera 3... camera 3... ready camera 1.... camera 1...")
So I tested it out with some footage I already had captured of an Earth First demonstration. It was super cool. Something that would have taken a day to piece together took about about 30 minutes. The results are not perfect, and I purposely cut back and forth too often just to demonstrate how easy it is. But it works, and it's a fun little clip; about 5 minutes and 11 MB.
About 2 years ago the Portland Indymedia video collective made a really cool and funny little video about dumpster-diving. The group has made a lot of cool videos, but right now the only way to get them online is using bit torrent and other peer-to-peer technology, and though I have always liked these methods in principle and in theory, sometimes it's a pain. The good thing about them is that you can save on bandwidth, and users get a fast download, because the download gets split up amongst a bunch of people who have the file.
The bad news is that as time passes, less people are sharing the file, until there might be zero peers that have it, or maybe just 1, if you have a reliable tracker/seeder that keeps offering the file. So then you have real slow downloads. There ought to be alternatives. We should be making better use of resources like archive.org, and we should, after an initial wave of popularity for new stuff, be offering stuff as regular http downloads.
Right now on my hosting service I have more drive space and bandwidth than I know what to do with, so as an experiment I'm going to offer DIY Dumpstering 101 right now as a good ol' http download. We'll see how my bandwidth usage goes up and if it's not crazygonuts then maybe I'll procede with more of the old pdx stuff. I also want to gather and upload a bunch of my older stuff too.
note that the file is huge (about 100 megs) and it's in DIVX format. For more information about how to play such files, see the page on portland indymedia about that. Also see more about the video on the portland indymedia site.
Here's my second (or third if you count the little test clip) video piece included, embedded, enclosed, in this blog. It's not a vlog, it's a blog that can, does, and will include media, and you'll be able to look at it with iTunes or FireAnt or that sorta thing.
Anyway, this little piece is called "Probot vs. The Postal Service." - it's basically a mashup, a juxtaposition of a video with a a different song than what original went with it. Probot is a sort of metal supergroup that includes Lemmy from Motorhead and Dave Grolsch of Nirvana. The original video also includes local Portland softporn legends The Suicide Girls and the original song was called "Shake Your Blood," I think. It's typical cockrock bullshit. I couldn't stand it, and even though the imagery raised my blood pressure, I also just got angry every time I saw it. So I got the idea of layering a totally different sort of song over it, as an experiment in detournement. The song - well, you'll see. I think it worked pretty well and it's pretty funny. I didn't change the audio at all, and I only changed the video by altering the speed in about 5 places in order to make some things sync up for more humorous effect.
I was just about to post this and then decided maybe it needs more explanation. Why did I do this? Aren't I just replacing one pop song with another and by using the visuals as-is just perpetuating the sexism in the original? I think to think that one would have to not really pay attention to the lyrics and feel of the new song. The Postal Service song is a great example of "Emo", which, in case you haven't heard, is a sort of sub-genre of independent pop music that is well-known for the open, honest display of feelings. It's antithetical to the sort of macho, chauvinist posturing that bands like Probot, and so much other rock music, display all the time, especially the medium of music videos, depending on objectification of women and a front of power and domination. So just the idea of Lemmy mouthing lines like "when I'm missing you to death" is really funny and thought-provoking, making a critique of the sexist fantasy in the original video just by drawing attention to the contast.
So, there you go, that's why I did it.
By the way, a technical note - I haven't had very many complaints about being able to play these files; I've been encoding them in mpeg-4 format, which is supposedly a standard, but, somehow mpeg-4s made on a Mac are different than those made on Windoze. So some windoze users have trouble, especially if they don't have a recent installation of Quicktime. Other (free) cross-platform players that should work are VLC and mPlayer.
I should have been continuing to wrap up my Juarez doc, but I spent a couple hours last night and today doing a little video that I've been planning to do for a week or so, made from clips I've shot with my digital still camera (which can take little videos) over the last few months.
I call it "Incidental Music."
It's all music that I just sort of accidentally experienced, and was able to whip out my camera to capture.
All of the bits are from Portland except for the first one, which is from Mexico, on the way from Mexico City to the ruins of Teotihuancan. The second is shot from the east bank of the Williamette River, looking across the water towards downtown and hearing, all that way, the Violent Femmes play at the Bite of Oregon festival. Then there's the bike/dance troupe called The Sprockettes, and then some members of The Trash Mountain Boys, and other musicians, doing a little improv bicyclized version of La Bamba - "Zoo Bomba" at a brunch a couple weekends ago, and finally some footage of The Golden Greats, some friends that started a pretty entertaining funk band while I was out of town. I got to see them play at a party I was at.
This is one of the only videos I have edited completely outside of the world of DV. So it was kind of weird. I'm not too happy with the crunchiness of the titles as they turned out on the encoded-for-interweb file. But the whole thing is pretty lo-fi. my still cam shoots in some AVI photojpeg codec, 15 fps, half-res, mono 8-bit audio. but despite these specs it sounds and looks okay in its original form. and not even that bad here. I just with the titles were a little sharper. oh well.
anyway, enjoy. This represents slices of some of the really fun times I've had this summer, symbolized and epitomized by live musical serendipity. There's almost nothing better than just stumbliing across great music.