Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Prospect.1 #1

The New York Times has a big story about Prospect.1 in New Orleans.

We're working with Gail Levin to make little documentaries profiling several of the artists involved.

These bits bring up several interesting editorial issues. Cutting a piece is distilling and structuring what something is "about". For this project a few questions are already there, given the specific nature of this biennial: What is the art's relationship to the city of New Orleans? What is the process of creation (especially charged given the city's recent destruction)? Who is the artist, what makes them interesting?

Those questions swirl before a single frame is shot -then they tell you something else on top of that.

Here are a few rough clips.

The above is different from anything I've cut before. The voice track is completely divorced from the picture until the final shot. There are a few moments where we "fake it" to make it seem like he's synched.

This one was my best editing ever. Janine Antoni was so charming, the set up so much fun and Ben Shapiro's camera work so intimate and friendly that the only thing to do was pull one take.

Oh, and animators -especially CG and motion capture types -listen closely to what she says about her experience filming her eyeball, there's profound insight in there.

Being There

As the 8 year Chauncey Gardner administration winds down, Western Culture -the United States, at least -finds itself fostering a new way of "experiencing" by younger generations.

We're working on a project with the publisher of some terrific guide books to U. S. National Parks.

He tells us of a study in which teens click through websites about National Parks. When asked if they "liked" the parks, most said yes. When asked if the would like to visit, most said "no". The reason -they had already been there (on the computer).

The culture of watching, born in the late 19th Century, has matured. Watching is experiencing.

There were a number of reports last year about the popularity of pornography amongst teens (boys and girls- who doesn't "like to watch"?). Many teens in a particular study were uninterested in "actual" sex. The men and women they experienced online were better.

The first step in a Post-McLuhan era.

The viewer is no longer the creator of mass entertainment. Mass entertainment will be personalized.

Instead of the media resulting in a shared common experience, experience will be the result of access to media.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fall Reel

We've decided to update and recut our demo reel.

This happens every few months. Here's the first version, initial reactions are welcome.

The oldest piece of work in here is the Kurt Busch "Sharpie" clip (around 1:42). That's from September 2003. The newest is Flava Flav at :23 which is from the forthcoming "Make 'Em Laugh" mini series on PBS.

In five years we've worked on 65 projects. Many of those project we're multiple films (18 pieces for Between The Lions, or over 50 shots for Thirteen/WNET's "Curious", or The Naked Campaign which will have spawned a few dozen two to five minute films, etc.).

In a science show or a documentary each shot can be like its own discreet film -unique design, unique technical approach, self-contained story. If you count these with all the series work we've produced, the number of films we've made in the past 5 years is well over 200. A couple are actually O. K.

We should be freaking millionaires! The world is unjust.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Naked Campaign #27 and counting- Twilight of the Gods

I feel like I missed something editing this latest piece for The Naked Campaign.

Somehow it doesn't have the grand build up that the story wants. Maybe it was a case of too many square pegs and nothing but round holes.

It also shows how even a little resistance can prevent and editor or a director from letting an idea blossom. In this case, this proposition contends that McCain's campaign signifies the death of the "gods" of the Republican Party -Reagan, Gingrich, Bush.

Let's accept this statement, even with reservations (1. The Reagan Myth hasn't died, it's being incorporated in to the legend of our next Great Communicator. 2) McCain relied on the radical Gingrich Revolution to both purge himself of past transgressions and as foil to hang his "maverick" hat against. 3) Bush is disliked by nearly 80% of America, including Republicans.) .

The issue then arises, "how true is the thesis of the film?". It may be true three weeks from now, but at this moment its awful premature to declare the light at the end of this long campaign tunnel to be the dawning of a new era.

So it was like editing a hypothetical.

I still think it's a pretty good little film, but I failed to really ramp up the momentum and drive it home.

Compare this to our send off of Hillary Clinton. That piece is a little more elegiac, more lilting in remembrance of her career -but ultimately more scathing. Is this because it was a film that reported something that actually happened (even though she would continue her campaign for a couple weeks)? Is it because she's a concrete figure and it's easier for a person to drift into the sunset than it is for an idea? Maybe the loathing for Senator Clinton runs deeper than the pity for Senator McCain and his inept, cynical campaign?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Writer of Light

Went to the mall on Saturday night.

It's been a long time since I was in a legitimate, good ol' Main Street USA-busting shopping complex.

The last time was in around 1994 in Southern Ontario on a quest for Orange Julius. By that time the mall was far below retail capacity and had even leased it top floor to one of those colleges that advertises during Gilligan's Island reruns.

I had imagined that America's malls had experienced a steady decline since then, that by now they practically suburban Thunderdomes with parking lot moats.

What I hadn't counted on was Thomas Kinkade.

Prior to this weekend I had never actually seen any of Kinkade's work. Sure I read all about him -trademarked "painter of light", QVC record setter.

I had even defended him- forming an opinion based solely on the arguments surrounding his work. The stuff is fluff, sure, but so it Snow White, everything touched by Chuck Jones and practically anything I've ever worked on -those things are given pedestals and academic credibility (at least Disney and Bugs Bunny, anyway).

By many reports, he's a hilarious drunk -a prerequisite for art school idols. And, man, he's come up with a gimmick to bilk Christians out of their dough that rivals the efficacy of Focus on the Family.

On top of that I love baseball, I'm eating apple pie for breakfast right now and have a less than strained relationship with my mother. Me and Kinkade- we're like ideological twins!

To tie into the animation business, my theoretical appreciation expanded when I read an interview with Ralph Bakshi commenting on Kinkade's work as a background painter for Fire and Ice
and praising his skills and unparalleled salesmanship.

Naysayers, I figured, were feasting on sour grapes -sorry they didn't come up with a scheme to become a famous millionaire artist themselves.

Maybe they are, but that doesn't change the fact the this is some pretty mediocre work.
As a guy who has been to at least 500 baseball games (only one a Yankee Stadium) I can say there are few paintings which capture the feeling of a ballgame worse than this. Is it supposed to be a chilly afternoon game in early April? Shouldn't the "painter of light" understand the effect the shadow across the infield has not only on the game but the experience of the crowd. The encroaching shadow creates an ominous mood which is distinctly un-baseball like.

The kitsch factor isn't what degrades the work -its the failure to capture the spirit of the image being represented. We're given no insight into the scene, the sport, the fans, nothing. These are the things that separate Norman Rockwell -who was most clearly "just an illustrator". Rockwell creates scenes and gives them a certain edge, he offers opinion and insight.

Rockwell didn't have the technical chops, that's for sure. He was even open about his technique -everything was traced, he worked large so that it would "reduce" better (painting something at 4 feet by 3 feet which would get shrunk down to 12 inchs in a magazine).

Is the glaze technique kitsch when employed by Frederich Church or Bierstadt? These guys "painted light" too. They hid their brush strokes. They were landscape painters of Americana.

(above) Fredric Church's "Morning in the Tropics". Click for the full screen.

There are so many things to say about this; the sun fighting through the clouds and burning an otherworldly, yet real, pink onto the lagoon, the popped highlight of the hanging leave that draws the eye to the red bird perched there, the jungle shadows which hint at teeming life, the foggy shape in the distance -fellow traveler, angry native, branch adrift in the current?

It is a landscape, but it is full of life.

(above) Albert Bierstadt's "Storm in the Rocky Mountains"

This is one of those "holy cow" paintings (to borrow a baseball catchphrase). The color, the shadow, the blackness playing against the clouds and the craggy mountain. Holy freaking cow.

(above) This painting was in the mall, too.

I guess what bugs me is the dishonesty of it all. Disneyland doesn't look like that, it doesn't feel like that and in essence it's just a kiddie park. Further, the technique is nothing after looking at any Hudson River School artist. It's OK, but nothing special.

Growing up I was always a little repulsed by jigsaw puzzle art -the romantic landscapes of Thomas Cole, et c. At this point in my life I appreciate and enjoy it. In another 30 years will I regard the paintings which revived the American mall with same appreciation?

I hope so, its better to like everything than to constantly find things to gripe about. In this spirit, I will officially re-brand myself as the "Writer of Light".

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Can You Believe This - MORE SELF PROMOTION!

Just found out that another documentary we worked on will be having a festival screening next week.

Two Worlds, One Planet was directed by Gail Levin. We did the title design and provided moral support.

It's screening at the Hot Springs Documentary Festival on Monday and Tuesday (10/20 and 10/21).

The film profiles several students from Gateway Academy in Scottsdale, AZ. The school is a refuge for children who have difficulty socializing in standard school environments -they're primarily autistic.

The photography crew followed the kids for a few weeks. I only saw about 20% of the hours upon hours of footage. Most of the kids struck me as pretty normal. Sure some were spazzes, others couldn't stand the touch of paper, and none of them had particular good interpersonal skills. But who does, really? Especially if you're 8 years old and really, really like insects.

My reaction to the kids is colored by my general feeling that children in general are weird and that pre-pubescents are completely inscrutable anyway.

Anyhow, we started to so title design before the film actually had a title.

The working title was "A is for..." We worked up four or five treatments. This is my favorite.

That titles was nixed (as they say in the business) and the film was without a name for a time.

I suggested "Star Children", inspired by a kook I heard on Art Bell rhapsodizing about a new generation of superchildren. This was a great title. I won't go into the many reasons, but foremost is that it could help give shape to the story. All of these kids were performers in one way or another.

The title was too smart, I guess. So they went with "Two Worlds, One Planet", which I kind of like because it makes me think of "Another Girl, Another Planet."

We did several treatments for this too. The wound up going with a standard panning type thing.

But here's what they should've used.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More Self Promotion!

Apparently the world-famous Sundance Channel is airing new Naked Campaign episodes.

They've started something called "Voices of the Election" that run as interstitials. The Naked Campaign is one of five series of shorts included in the compilation.

We also understand films from the series will be definitely broadcast at 9:00 on Mondays in conjuction with some political documentaries.

But wait! There's more!

You can now possess your very own "Naked Campaign, vol 1.: Road to Primary"!!!!

Click Here! And offer up you credit card number for hours of private home enjoyment in pristine NTSC quality!!!

Act now!!!!

Nursery University in the Hamptons

This weekend Nursery University is making its US premiere at The Hamptons Film Festival.

We did the title design, a few bits of drawn in crayon animation and a couple motion graphics sequences like this:

It was a fun project to work on- even if we did have a roller coaster involvement (at first we were planning on doing about 7 minutes of character animation).

The directors, Marc Simon and Matt Makar are good guys -even if Marc is a lawyer (at least he's not a stockbroker).

The film is pretty compelling. It follows several families and their efforts to get their Manhattanite children into fancy nursery schools. Yes, it's insane. Their insanity probably makes the people even more interesting, and even the craziest people are shown with sympathy. Ultimately, the situation these folks put themselves in derives from fear, aspiration, social status (both climbing and maintaining) and love for their offspring. Marc and Matt do a good job of being both kind and critical.

Oh, these schools cost like $15,000 a year. Those are some fancy coloring books!

So if you're sitting around P. Diddy's pool this weekend looking for some non-booty shaking entertainment, roll with your homies to see our work on Friday or Saturday.

Brian will definitely be there -to keep it real. Rumors have it he may also pose for photos and autographs. I might show, and I'll happily chat with fans but you'll need to get past my goons first (HINT: show some leg).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just Like Me...

A few years ago Ian Marshall gave me this hand towel he found at an estate auction in Los Angeles.It was originally Richard Carpenter's personalized bowling towel.

I can only imagine the wistful melancholy that this linen has witnessed. Did a 10th frame gutterball ruin his game one stormy night? Maybe it was used to wipe up the quaalude induced puddle of saliva that pooled under his mouth as he stared blankly at the shag carpet, dreaming of tiny civilizations living there... looking down on creation...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Signs of the Oncoming Depression

Kate Hambrecht is making preserves from the wild berries in her back yard.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Naked Campaining on Campus

Rutgers University invited us down to talk about "The Naked Campaign".

Here's a clip of Steve Brodner and Gail Levin talking about documentary and ways of seeing.

At one point Gail mentioned "animated documentary" which is hot catch phrase in film and academia.

It's also a spectacular oxymoron. By nature, animation is a process. That process is fundamentally and essentially contrived. Documentary is a recorded revelation of actuality. When the process of animation is applied to the genre of documentary, the result is still animation but the form is no longer documentary.

Yes, animation can "reveal" just as documentary does -but the method of revelation is different. Animation reveals through artifice- like Picasso showing the truth of war in "Guernica".

Ultimately, documentary captures and displays a moment that actually happened. This is true of Ken Burns, Agnes Varda, Errol Morris, or Michael Moore. The process of animation takes the experience outside of the moment, rebranding the instance as whole new experience from the event under discussion.

Animation has always been an important part of documentary -especially educational films. Taking animation as the primary narrative element of "documentary" removes the "documenting" entirely and replaces it with "opinion" and "fiction". The stories become personal narratives, which is fine. Personal narratives are by their very nature untrustworthy, documentary needs the willing approval of its viewers to be successful.

Waltz with Bashir, for example, is a "talking head" documentary where the talking heads are animated and the re-enactments are also animated. The very act of animation removes it from "documenting" the story of the massacre and the lead character's quest for memory and places the film in a world of historic fiction. Despite its first person accounts its less a documentary experience than Battle of Algiers- a purely fictional story which has the resonance of a breaking news report.

Animation, for the most part, does not offer tools for "documenting". Animation expresses choice and opinion. This is what makes the technique interesting in non-fiction film.