Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tom Curley asks "Would you pay for a great production sound crew?"

Tom Curley, a friend and fine production sound mixer in Hollywood recently asked some fellow film folks this question...

"Would you pay for a great production sound crew? Why or why not?"

Because I think this is a important issue and indicative of a larger cultural malaise, I thought I'd post his query here, add my reply and ask for your opinion.

Tom continues...
"This lament is not directed at any one person or company, but more of an observation of a trend...

"I am a professional location sound engineer who has years of experience, on films up to $70Million budget. I make my living doing this, and have spent [a LOT of money] on gear. I find it bewildering that a lot of production companies I run into are hemorrhaging money on the camera crew (A loader for an HD camera?) but offer me insultingly low rates, with equipment rental, and no boom operator. I might be looking at the wrong production companies, so if you know the value of a good sound crew, or the horrors of a poor sound crew, please let me know your experience?"

Here's my reply...
I most certainly would pay for a quality sound crew. I feel for sound guys! I have seen what you describe in practice as well. I've seen sound crews understaffed, run over, pushed around and left completely out of the loop even while shooting. "We'll fix it post" is something often heard by VFX Supervisors. Now, it seems the same is being directed at the Sound Mixer. I suppose when Producers and Directors hear films like Fellowship of the Ring were 98% ADR, they think they can do it as well. They don't consider the time and money involved in doing ADR nor the quality of the actor needed to at least come close to the moment all over again in a voice over. If you're not being forced in some way (like making a trilogy of three-hour films simultaneously) I don't see why this method would be preferable. Like VFX, many practicals can be faster to build, look better and are much cheaper than CG. Why not dab a little makeup on an actor's pimple in a few seconds instead of having a VFX Artist spend hours painting it out? For sound, why spend weeks fixing and re-recording when all the actors were right there on set? I'm a director who loves sound. I also like to get everything I can while in production. It just makes sense for the time and money and it's not difficult to include the sound department in the process. That process is of course the traditional process that I learned, not the contemporary process now taking hold. The rush of and for technology is widely to blame. Most leaders are informed by the hype around tech, but they lack knowledge to implement it properly. Additionally, when they defer such decisions to their "experts" many times those "experts" aren't informed about film practices. For instance, filmmakers who have been brought up on video have a simplified view of the process that does not match the nuance of true, budgeted feature production. To many of them, the sound department is a boom operator who plugs into the camera. This techno-phage of oversimplification is affecting every creative endeavor from advertising to web design. Many people are so worried about getting or keeping a job that they extend themselves beyond their knowledge and over-commit themselves instead of saying they don't know and need to ask someone who does. Worse than that perhaps are the people who simply refuse to believe or listen to more knowledgeable people. This is a serious problem especially when that person is a producer, director, CEO, CTO, manager etc-- the people who make the decisions. And they can get incredulous, mean and insulting about it; probably out of fear of looking they don't know something. That sounds backwards to me; I highly value of experts like yourself because I don't know much, let alone everything! This is a problem facing whole industries and if it's not fixed, I don't know what will happen. This idea that "a monkey could do it" could mean the fall of our economy and our culture entirely.

So, we've done a lot to define the situation and possible causes. What about a solution to this problem? I don't know. If a leader was unwilling to listen, I surmised they wouldn't be a leader for long, but I guess I overestimate the system and underestimate the abilities of these people to talk/convince/cajole/lie. I do hear some older film pros talk about bringing tradition back, but many are not in a position to make that happen (or they film overseas.) I guess we just have to continue whispering into the ears of those who will listen while we try to keep our standards as high as we can and still make enough money to get by. I still consider the sound dept a crucial part of a production. As I'm sure you know, the human ear can pick out audio mistakes far more readily than visual ones. Even with filmmakers like Lucas, Spielberg and Jackson who have proven time and time again how much sound is a part of the movie experience, many people ignore it. And the funny thing is we spend thousands on home surround sound systems! I guess they don't remember their Grandpa always saying "Garbage in, garbage out."

Thanks for asking, Tom! So what about you all out there...?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Is There a Market For Thought-Provoking Content?

"Television is the first truly democratic culture - the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want."
-Clive Barnes, British-born drama critic.

With the overwhelming popularity of "reality TV," I think Mr. Barnes sentiment is heard loud an clear by many. But, does that mean people don't want to watch thought-provoking television or movies anymore?

A friend and I were talking about this subject in reference to science fiction and fantasy as those two genres are perfect for exploring the human condition. We were commiserating about the dwindling number of sci fi shows and films. Sci fi somewhere along the line was infiltrated by other genres and took over. Sci fi is now mostly an element of some other major genre like horror or drama. Horror/Slasher with sci fi elements like Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. A over-sexed political drama with sci fi elements like Battlestar Galactica. Or a lame attempt at Flash Gordon which is more like a contemporary cop show than it is sci fi. These shows and films do not put their sci fi roots first, they only use elements. Gone are Firefly, Farscape and Enterprise prematurely. Gone is Masters of Science Fiction. We have to look to the Brits with Doctor Who and Torchwood to get new sci fi. Stargate: Atlantis has had some really smashing shows and I look forward to more, but how many years do they have left? Bionic Woman will undoubtedly be another cop show. And in the theater, what's coming? There are a few interesting children's fantasies coming, but I don't know of anything sci fi save Star Trek 11. So, is there a reason for this?

I think there is certainly a market for (real) sci fi and fantasy. I just don't know if networks are willing to fund them because they don't usually get very high ratings. They get millions of people watching, but it seems they can't get the viewership of Survivor or Dancing With the Stars. It's the same deal with any thought provoking show that's not a cop show. It's the same at the theater, too. Studios want shapely teen butts in seats at the mall googaplex because that's where the big money is (they think.) They want Wedding Crashers and remakes and cheap horror flicks because they make a bigger percentage than most all thought provoking films. They consider Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as aberrations and similar projects far too risky. Of course, they're right. They are risky and it's likely that some of the Hollywood fodder will make a larger percentage than it cost to make, but they forget that there is a good chance that well written and executed sci fi will make at least some profit and have video sales from now until doomsday. Wedding Crashers will fade into obscurity, while some fans will have a SelectaVision, VHS, DVD and BluRay of Blade Runner. (They may also have the 2nd release --or is it 3rd-- DVD set coming out in December... oh and the HD DVD.) Oh, and yes I said SelectaVision which was indeed the coolest thing.

It's very possible for a thoughtful show or film to be successful, but networks and studios really have to be reminded of that over and over. For networks, sci fi is expensive to make. Reality TV is super cheap. And reality TV has been getting a massive viewership way beyond many thoughtful shows. That short term history is what they see. And the viewership has a large contingent of impressionable McDonald's eating people and advertisers like that. So, it's a really hard sell on TV because other reality-based shows are selling very well, too. Cop shows, lawyer shows and special agents are huge. It's a tough nut to crack. Of course, sci fi is sometimes too hard for marketers to grasp anyhow. And marketers rule the roost. And who knows if we'll still have an ally with Scifi Channel. They aren't producing very many new original shows and the ones they are creating are mostly cheap crap. Of course, the original movies also have not improved-- rather those crews are probably the ones who are making the shows now. Atlantis is the only good show being made except for Doctor Who, which is bought in syndication. They picked up Enterprise and Jake 2.0 which originally aired on failed UPN, but their running out of old shows to buy. NBC has already put at least one WWE show on Scifi and uses the space for repeats of their main network shows. I'm afraid NBC is just going to transition it into something other than Scifi because they think advertisers will like it more if it didn't say sci fi anymore. I'm not sure.

For film, it's a little less bleak. Wedding Crashers made 400% more money than it took to shoot and promote. Holy wow what a bargain, right? Well, Star Wars Episode III made over 500%. Return of the King, 660%. When it's good and appeals to a wide audience, the film puts butts in seats. (Heh, the LotR trilogy grossed $2,923,933,388. Yeah, that's billion with a "B." And last I knew New Line still hadn't paid the cast and crew for the reshoots.) Marketers still rule the roost, but maybe they can be more easily convinced than on TV.

I guess the bottom line is we have to figure out how to remind those in power (marketers) that thoughtful content makes money, too. And then we have to make sure they stay out of making creative decisions! The level of trust given to creators by studios and networks may be at an all-time low. Or, maybe creators are just capitulating or simply aren't getting hired because they're... too creative? Too interested in making good content? Or is it that they're just not getting enough funding? I don't know, but something has to inform the powers that we're all in this together and new, progressive content is the only thing that will ensure a long future for filmed entertainment. Wouldn't that be a kicker if video games overtake TV and film because they're stories are deeper and more entertaining...

So what do you guys think? Are there movies or shows coming up that I don't know about? Is there hope on the horizon that I can't see? I want to know! As always, thanks much for reading.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Three Keys to Happiness & Successful Relationships

A little change of pace today. I was debating some points about life, love and happiness with a good friend of mine and ended up writing out some of my thoughts and feelings. Since I had done so, I thought perhaps others might find the exploration useful. I’m not normally in the business of self-help, but here’s a summation of how I feel about creating a comfortable, peaceful and rewarding existence.

There are three keys to happiness and successful relationships:
Love, independence and take nothing personally. I believe to be truly happy, one must love ones self and become self reliant. You have to interpret the meaning of that for yourself, but what I don't mean is that someone must be self absorbed or narcissistic nor do I mean you must isolate yourself to find happiness. When we grow up, we're taught how to react to the world largely by those around us and our base reactions. This web of associations in our brains comprise not reality, but our reality; our "illusion." Many young adults in their twenties have a "start of life crisis" when they start life away from parents and college find that their illusion doesn't match reality. Even some find that reality #2 isn't actually reality either, but the illusion of society, a construct we all contribute to. A lot of young men and women turn to drugs, alcohol, sex and other unabated behavioral changes to avoid reality. This is an area of psychology almost entirely overlooked. The American illusion might be that in order to be happy, you must trust your government, get hired by a corporation, get married, buy a house with a mortgage, get a loan for an SUV and start having kids all before you're twenty-five. Interesting how that correlates exactly with when young adults have a crisis. In order for us to find a healthy way out of this crisis, and hopefully the illusion, is to find what really matters in life. In a world without war and famine right outside the door, it can be difficult to figure out what really matters. When you have the freedom to complain about cellular coverage to your friend on the cell phone, while you pick up packaged food, clothes and DVD's at Walmart, how can you ever make the connection to what really matters? Usually, it takes tragedy. Someone has to have a near-death experience, lose a loved one or has to be so utterly crushed by events that they take notice. What I believe will make that inkling last though is love. It will still take years for that person to deprogram themselves, if they ever do, but eventually, it's love that will lead them to truth. Love for everything and most especially, finally love for the self. So, what kind of love is this? Well, like the Tao says, it's impossible to explain, it just is. I can't really explain it and have someone understand it. If you're to believe it, you have to arrive at it yourself. But in trying to explain, loving yourself doesn't mean you don't love anything else, it means you finally love everything. You have to make yourself a priority and heal your wounds in order to grow which also means making yourself your first priority. Now, some would call that being self-centered and selfish, but it's not. In order to help others you must first help yourself. There are times where it's right to put your life on the line for others. There may not even be time to think about it. That means you have to make agreements with yourself on what it means to you. It might mean that you're not going to let people walk all over you simply because you're a person who likes to help out. There are always sacrifices to be made, but one must make them for the right reasons; ones that don't compromise the self. In part, to maintain happiness means one has to make sure he or she is healthy, fulfilling his or her needs, that no one is taking advantage of him/her and that he/she isn’t taking advantage of, have expectations of, impeding on or projecting on others. If one first loves ones self, the rest will come out in the wash. Part of this self-love is the realization that love comes from within. If people knew that there is an unlimited supply of love within them, they wouldn't be searching the landscape for it out there. Does this mean you have everything you need so, don't talk to anyone? No. Everyone needs companionship. At times, everyone needs people who care about them to rely on. But, if you love yourself you'll only need them at times of hardship. The rest of the time you spend with them is a bonus, you'll simply be able to enjoy their company. You won't need anything from them like a junkie needs a fix, which is really what emotional dependence is like. And, often people need the fix because they're still searching for themselves in others. You won't be dependent on them. Which brings us to independence.

What independence means to me is the ability to exist without something. I see personal independence as having two aspects: Self Reliance and Emotional Self Reliance. When we are young, we're dependent on our caregivers for our survival and companionship. When we leave the home, we have to learn how to live independent of them or we end up trying to find someone or something to replace them. The healthy way is to become self reliant. This means to establish a support network and knowledge base to serve your human needs. This doesn't mean you do everything yourself. It means that if someone is removed from the equation, you're not helpless and suddenly in crisis. If disaster hits, you have the ability to survive and maybe even help others. This could mean knowing basic first aid, keeping a stock of supplies, being friendly to your neighbors and keeping an ear on the news so you know if a storm is coming. Imagine if more people were more prepared and more self reliant before and after Hurricane Katrina hit. Being self reliant also can help build confidence, self esteem and the big one, emotional self reliance. Emotional Self Reliance is quite similar in that doesn't mean you can go without a support system of loved ones, it means that if your girlfriend or boyfriend dumps you, you don't do something drastic. If a loved one dies, it means that although it hurts, you go through all the stages of mourning until you come out safely on the other side. In other words, you don't commit suicide or immediately trade your healthy habits for unhealthy ones. You not only have an outside support system, but also an inner one with a core of infinite love. So, in this way you have to consider yourself first in as much that you don't do something to harm yourself or others. And, since you're still alive and mostly functional, you can share your strength with others, help them with their grief and allow them to help you with yours. So, you are an island, but you're also part of an archipelago.

The last component I'll include is to take nothing personally. If someone calls you a jerk, it's either because you were or she/he sees it that way because of her/his current state of mind. Either way, there is no reason to take it personally. The only thing that does is hurt you. You also can't take praise personally. The thought there is if someone says how wonderful you are and you come to rely on that praise for your happiness, if they suddenly change their mind, the rug is pulled out from under you. The easiest example is a rock singer. Many singers get addicted to the roar of the crowd and without it, they feel small and worthless. Now, taking nothing personally may sound cold and calculating, but it really isn't. It doesn't mean you no longer have emotion, just that you're not internalizing what people say and trying to rely on it to make you happy. The Tao, Buddhism, the Toltec teachings and more say that you have to rid yourself of your passions. I don't think they mean that you shouldn't ever get excited; I think they mean that you can't let your passions rule you. This means anything that blinds you in some way, makes you exclude or avoid options or positive experiences, makes you focus on something to the exclusion of other things and/or makes you act in a way a healthy person wouldn't; pretty much anything that pushes you to unhealthy habits. So, I'm not saying men shouldn't be passionate with their wives and vice versa, I mean passions that make people fight over nothing and to stop listening. Passions like this are usually taking things personally. One guy insults another guy's mom and boom, they're families are at war. Emotional associations are also very unreliable. Just because one blonde boyfriend treats his girlfriend poorly, doesn't mean that all blonde guys will do the same. Without these emotional links that connect an action or event to an emotion, we're freed from reliving past pains and treat everything as a new experience. If you take nothing personally, you can to roll with whatever comes whether it's positive or negative. Getting insulted isn't fun, but if you're not preoccupied by taking it personally, you'll not only be able to see the situation objectively, but you also won't be hurt and won't reflect the negativity; a never ending cycle. Your objectivity might even enable you to help the person or yourself even if it’s not readily apparent. In the other instance, receiving praise and rewards are great, but if you don't need them to be happy, you won't be killing yourself doggedly looking for them and complaining when you don't get them.

So, I don't see self love as being selfish, but a necessity. It's not that you should only love yourself, but love yourself so you may grow and love others truly; just like the old saying goes "You can't truly love someone until you love yourself." It's a way of unlocking your true self by stopping your search for yourself somewhere out there. It's also about forgiving yourself for your mistakes and accepting yourself for who you are. That's really what it's all about because if you can do that for yourself, you can do it towards someone else in the form of unconditional love. People must place themselves first if they're ever going to make the time to figure themselves out. Once they're free and know their love is unlimited, they can share it with everyone.

As far as personal independence goes, I don't see it as being inherently insular although there are times for introspection and for being alone. I see it as being free from needing your friends and family in unhealthy ways. Achieving independence doesn't mean you reject everyone, it means you're no longer indebted to anyone in an unhealthy way (now that I've gifted you, you owe me) and you're freed from expectation. You're free to give as much as you feel you can; including an unlimited supply of love. And, you can just love the people close to you for who they are and not be constantly pulling and pushing your unresolved issues on one and other.

And lastly, by not taking anything personally, you're no longer ruled by your positive or negative passions. You can withstand insult and don't need rewards to be happy. You can live life without drama and mood swings and function with a clear mind and spirit. And you won't go to war for emotionally-linked reasons.

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Thanks for reading. Please note that learning, understanding and integrating any life lessons can take many years. Take your time and find the ones that work for you. And be prepared to re-learn lessons in time and to be reminded of them when you forget. And above all, have fun! If you have any comments or personal experiences to share, please feel free to share.

Recommended Reading and Viewing:
The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff
Tao Te Ching, Lao-tsu
The Mastery of Love, don Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz
The Path of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman
What the *BLEEP* Do We Know?, 20th Century Fox

Perhaps also:
Without Remorse, Tom Clancy
Faith of the Fallen, Terry Goodkind (you may want to read the preceding books first)
Trainspotting, Miramax Home Entertainment
Fight Club, 20th Century Fox
300, Warner Bros. Pictures
Tao of Steve, Sony Pictures

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Star Trek to be 'Re-Imagined' for More Curb Appeal

I recently saw the IFC show "Dinner for Five" (normally hosted by Jon Favearu, this one by Kevin Smith) and J.J. Abrams was one of the great guests. Seeing him in this casual round table multi-interview, I really got to like him. He described how his connections and writing skills ended up creating a cascade effect for his career he would never had anticipated. This doesn't mean I take back my open questions from my earlier Star Trek XI post, but I was glad to see that Mr. Abrams seems like a nice, humble guy. Unfortunately, the questions I had about Trek XI are becoming more apparent at the least, dire at the most. According to recent interviews, it's apparent that this production is not doing what I prescribed (not that they would, I don't think they read my wee blog) and they are doing as I feared. For the creative team behind this film, they're gathering together a who's-worked-with-who-before line up of folks that have worked on previous Abrams projects. I'm not saying these people aren't talented or capable, but what do they know about Trek? Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were writers on two campy favorites of mine, "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Jack of All Trades," but no Trek, no sci fi. They did however write my favorite film in the world, The Island (please note my sarcasm). Scott Chambliss, production designer, no Trek, no sci fi. Jennifer Garner is now rumored to be Spock's love interest. Double huh?? I'm not saying that you have to fill the crew with Trek alums, but the closest they've come is a conversation with the venerable Marc Zicree. There is such a wealth of amazing people who have contributed to Trek and to science fiction over the years, I just think it's simply nearsighted to hire all your buds. I totally understand that it's best to know who you're working with personally, but this Hollywood form of "cronyism" is probably the reason we have so few great studio films these days. Even with my relatively deep familiarity with Star Trek, I would at least consult the people who know more than I. Not doing so would be like making a Spider-man movie without ever talking to Stan Lee-- simply unthinkable! I've never met Stan (although I'd love to), but that doesn't mean I'd be afraid to include him. And now the Orci/Kurtzman team have commented that ST:XI will not be a prequel to the Original Series, but a 're-imaging' of the mythos. They've been watching and reading Trek all their lives, they said. It makes perfect sense then that the first thing they want to do is change it.

It seems to be the new buzz word in Hollywood--"re-imaging." This is what they did to James Bond in Casino Royal. Casino Royal is a gritty updated-pre-sequel (I'm coining that one) where it's set now-a-days, but Bond is as young and green as… okay, so in the film he's only young. The first film to do this in recent memory is The Sum of All Fears in which Ben Affleck plays a young-again Jack Ryan and the Tom Clancey Cold War story is brought to present day. The next was probably Batman Begins which tells a slightly more realistic and detailed story of Bruce Wayne's evolution into The Batman. That film also brought Bats, with an amazing cast lead by Christian Bale, up to the present day although there was still a timelessness of Gotham as a nior forward-backward Metropolis. The problem with Casino is that they took out everything that comprises a Bond flick (the mystique, the swagger, the ladies, the super-spy gadgets and the humor) which made the film generic. Truly, the only real resemblance to Bond was the name which makes me wish they had just started a new franchise and called the characters something else. This is what I don't want to happen to Trek. The writers talk about how they want to be "100 percent true to the fanbase," yet make the films more "accessible." That frightens me. They're talking about actively attempting to write the film to so it appeals to a wider audience. How narrow is the appeal? I personally don't know anyone who won't watch Trek, but watches other sci fi content. Usually, people either like sci fi or they don't. Trek or no Trek. Unlike space operas like Star Wars, these films are specifically intended to be explorations into the human condition through science fiction. Star Wars may appeal to a wider audience because it's not intended to be science fiction, but a fun and exciting serial with roots in myth and legend, just like early opera. To make Trek 'more appealing' would be like making Battlestar Galactica into a sex-driven soap opera about "who's baby is it?" Huh? They already did that? Okay, it would be like making The Doctor in "Doctor Who" twenty years old, giving him a hot blonde companion and a libido… What's that? They have? Oh dear lord, is nothing sacred?! I think you get the picture folks. There is no way to force Star Trek to appeal to everyone and it still be Trek. All you can do is spend some time and money and write a truly stellar script that speaks to the human (or Vulcan) in all of us. Then, have a strong advertising campaign that gets the word out that no matter who you are, this is a movie to see. Then, maybe they won't mind that it's not Armageddon. Like I've said before, a deep, dramatic, star blazing adventure about Kirk getting his wings with Spock by his side will appeal to a lot of non-Trekkies/ers regardless. Buddy films put butts in seats, too (Shawshank Redemption). But, if getting more Trek on the big screen means dumbing it down, adding soapy love interests and visceral violence, you can just count me out.

If you'll allow me to digress, I have to wonder if this is the trend to succeed remake mania. Not only remake films and adapt old TV shows, but rewrite the essence of whole franchises so maybe they will appeal to more people or another, larger segment of the population. Do they think by changing it all around will make it seem more like an original film and somehow have more credibility? "Sure it's another remake, but we changed it all around this time, see?" It feels like they're buying the license to a character or franchise just so they can make a knock-off and not get sued.

Of course, studios questioning the size of the sci fi viewership is nothing new. It's probably the reason we haven't seen many sci fi or space films/shows in a while. It's the same old rhetoric that potential audience is too small to make sci fi. Just like there supposedly isn't enough money in the school budget for music or art. At least internationally, history shows that most all sci fi makes it's money back and some even make gobs of cash. But that's not really the point, what I really mean is, so what? Should we ONLY make films to sell tickets on opening weekend? And since when did they think it would be smart to alienate the locked-in fanbase? If you make an excellent Trek film (and by "Trek film" I mean one that fits the established mythos, characterizations and vision), you may not make number one on the first weekend, but if it's released at a fitting time and it really IS good, it will rise to it's true value. Even if that didn't happen, it would quickly reach "cult status" and become a blockbuster video release (Donnie Darko). It's just that in my opinion, no film should be made simply to appeal to the most people possible. That's just pissing on the creator's grave (i.e. It's disrespectful). Comedies are very successful and most have a very wide potential audience. Should we make "CSI" or "24" into comedies in an effort to expand their appeal? Should we remake Citizen Kane or Gone With the Wind, but as comedies? ‘Will Ferrell is Charles Foster Kane! In this re-imagined epic laugh fest you won't know what to do with your rosebud or where to put your Xanadu! Citizen Kane, coming this Christmas.' What do you hold sacred? Would you like it bastardized? Reprocessed to sell, sell, sell? Would you like it if William Petersen(Grissom), Marg Helgenberger(Catherine), Gary Dourdan(Warrick) and the rest of the cast of CSI were suddenly replaced with more widely known faces? ‘Yeah, they may not fit the parts, but we've gone seven seasons so, I think our fans will give Tom Delay, Paris Hilton and La Toya Jackson a chance.' That's what it feels like to me when people mess with Trek.

Okay, that's all from me… for now! Thank YOU for reading and PLEASE share your thoughts. And be ready because next month I'm going to rewrite this post, but with more sex, more explosions, gory accounts of torture, shorter words and I'll name it the same dang thing. Oh heck yeah, stay glued!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cinéma Vérité: Distraction!

Okay so, I’m a director and as such I have styles I like. I like traditional camera moves with some modern innovation mixed in (a mounted camera, smooth pans plus, rack focus and dollies.) So, when it comes to hand held, steadcam shots and zoom lens pushes, I widely reserve them for action, if someone/thing is watching from afar and if I’m trying to imitate a mechanical/remote camera respectively. You guessed it, Enter: Cinéma Vérité. Or, as I like to call what it’s turned into, the Tourettes Style.

The style, which featured long takes and handheld shots, was popularized by Hill Street Blues as a way to add realism to the show; sorta as if the characters were always being observed by a documentary camera crew. The style has been widely adopted by many cop shows from NYPD Blue to 24 as well as sci fi shows like X-Files and Battlestar Galactica. The thing I dislike is what the style has turned into which is a constantly moving, jiggling, jostling, swish panning camera with quick zooms. It completely distracts me from the story and pulls my attention to the camera itself. Case in point, in 24 Jack Bauer watches helplessly as a nuclear explosion (effects by Zoic) erupts in the distance. He couldn’t get there in time! He’s uhhh…crushed… I think, wait… I can’t seem to tell… the camera’s moving all over, can’t see Kiefer’s face… the shot is now an extreme close-up of Kiefer’s nostril… no his eye… GAH! I could not keep myself in the moment because the camera operator keeps messing with the shot! Not only is the shot moving around enough to make me sea sick, it keeps zooming-in in mechanical little increments; the kind of tweaking you might see while a camera operator sets up a shot. It ends up looking like the camera has Tourettes Syndrome. I don’t understand how this is supposed to make anything more realistic or more dramatic. I mean, it’s like they’re trying to use the camera to produce tension, which really isn’t possible per se. I mean, you can heighten the drama of a scene by using the correct camera angle or move, but it can’t inherently produce tension. For that you need story, acting, light, sound and editing as well. The whole point of film making is to draw you in and make you forget that you’re watching a projected image; a two dimensional flipping of images that fools the eye into thinking it’s motion. Instead, this style completely draws my attention to the camera instead of where it’s supposed to be, in the moment and watching the actors. I have nothing against a unique or beautiful shot although some may say such shots put too much emphasis on the image rather than the characters. But today’s cinéma vérité is a constant distraction with takes that are entirely too long. With takes this long, only a heck of an actor can hold the moment. Unfortunately, and this really isn’t anything against them, most actors on television can’t do it. If 24 was made more conventionally, I think I’d love it. But with the crazy cameras and, what ends up being, mediocre acting (and the silly who’s-going-to-backstab-who-next writing) I just can’t. The same goes for Battlestar Galactica, but that show has a LOT further to go to bring me back. I love the cast (Aaron Douglas is the man) but the fact that it’s written as a by-the-book soap opera will never work for me.

So please, to all you camera operators, DP’s and directors out there, please reconsider if you want to use the cinéma vérité style. Make it more subtle and bring the focus back to the image, not its creation.

Thanks for reading! What do you guys think?

Friday, February 2, 2007

Which Flavor of Vista?

I was peering at Windows Vista at and found there are like 10 different versions. There's uhh Blue, Green, Light Green, Baby Blue and Blue-Green I think... I'm not sure, but you may have to buy all of them to get a complete OS. I wouldn't count on it though.

Others seem to agree with this sentiment...

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog
. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by Eric on Friday, February 02, 2007 at 2:06 PM
The boys at Penny Arcade had a similar riff, too.

Posted by Naughty by N8ture on Friday, February 02, 2007 at 2:52 PM
Haha... Ain't it the truth! ;)

Posted by james on Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 4:27 AM
Brillant! And yes aint that the truth!!LOL

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Microsoft to Kill Industry with Copy Protection

Microsoft is set to constrict and disable parts of your computer if you install Vista. I'm NOT kidding. Extensive research has been done by Peter Gutmann digging into the developer's guidelines and what he has found is nothing short of amazing. Or, amazingly bad. Perhaps even silly and certainly overboard. His article is over 30 pages long and is largely written for tech persons. What I'll try to do here is boil it down not point for point, but down to more "what it means to you." I think everyone needs to know about this. I've verified his findings with other sources although none of them go into this much detail. I still recommend reading it for yourself and looking into more sources (just Google "Vista copy protection" and you'll get lots).

Microsoft Vista intends to protect any and all "premium content" on your computer from piracy. It is attempting to force manufacturers to conform to an extreme set of standards that will ultimately make using a Vista PC a slow, limited, costly and low quality experience. What is "premium content?" It's hard to say right now because some older technology (like Super Audio Discs) seem to be included, but certainly included will be HD video discs.

In the new age of High Definition TV and discs like Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, it's understandable that the creators of shows and movies are concerned about having such a high quality version of their work in customer's hands. I would be! With an HD copy of a film, counterfeiters would have a field day selling pristine bootlegs which could kill the industry and then, no more shows or movies. What will happen when you pop in a HD-DVD movie into your Vista PC? Well, Vista will first recognize it, then it will go through and disable everything on your computer that could possibly be used to copy information. This is set to include any cables you may have sending a signal out to a TV or stereo receiver. That means if you have your computer set up like a DVD player (like one you may have built with with Windows XP Media Center) with a digital optical audio cable piping Dolby Digital Surround Sound to your reciever and one of many cables piping out video to your TV, those ports will be disabled and will not work. Why? Because there is the slightest of chances that maybe you've figured out a way to copy the picture or sound. 'Well, if it's disabling all these ports, what about my monitor?' Perhaps most interestingly, the "premium" picture and sound will be displayed on your monitor and out your speakers, but will actually be purposely filtered to be "slightly fuzzy". 'That's crazy! Vista is going to DECREASE the quality of the picture and sound?'Yes. All in the name of copy protection.

If you think that's enough to tempt you to moving to a Mac, there's more. The other thing this will likely effect for Windows customers is their wallets. You may have heard that you will likely have to upgrade your computer just to run Vista at it's minimum requirements. Pretty much anything over a year old will need to be upgraded. I had my 98/NT/Win2000/XP PC for 6 years before upgrading recently and it wasn't even close to to top of the line when I bought it. Now, I'll have to upgrade my 6 MONTH old computer in order to run Vista well. You may have also heard that Vista will require internet access so it can "call home" regularly to authenticate itself and upload hardware information about your computer (and we all know net access will be required to make Vista work correctly with umpteen "critical updates"). This includes businesses as well as consumers and some corporations are already refusing to adopt Vista until the "call home" function is removed. What you may not have heard however is that Windows is "asking" hardware makers to change how they make their computer parts in order to conform to Microsoft's copy protection requirements. One big sector that will be affected are video cards, which are "add-on" cards that many of us use to get better graphics in games and will be required to run Vista. Video cards have graphics processors which computes all video-related information on your computer. This greatly speeds all your graphics and reduces the strain on you're computer's central processor. Currently, most video cards have processors made by either NVIDIA or ATI and the circuit boards that are sold with the processors attached are made by someone else. Popular 3rd party board makers include XFX, EVGA, ASUS and BFG. To run a video card (and any piece of hardware) you need to install "driver." A driver is a little software application that "plugs" the device into the operating system and coordinates the two so they can work together. Right now, if you buy an NVIDIA or ATI-based video card, you can download a single universal NVIDIA or ATI driver that will make all cards with those processors work properly. This covers hundreds of cards from the last 4 years at least. How BFG or EVGA make video cards now, as noted in the article, is similar to a car. They make a universal body for a car to go around the engine with all the nice options and then remove options to decrease the price. "Options" are often extra functionality provided by an added chip. When the chip is taken away, it leaves a little empty conduit on the board. This void, so Microsoft says, is a security risk. So, instead of making a one-size-fits-all board with options-or-no, Microsoft is "asking" board makers to make custom boards for every price-level of a card. Furthermore, they're requiring that every graphics processor and every version of that processor (right now, NVIDIA has 12 in their popular GeForce 7 Series alone) must have its own driver. What this all translates to is more money for manufacture and that means either less choice for the consumer or a higher price, perhaps both. It also means that makers will have to create all new drivers for existing cards in order for them to work with Vista and from now on, make custom per-card drivers. (Many GeForce 8 Series users have complained about there being no Vista Drivers yet. I guess now we know why.) Not only does that mean that we'll have to dig through a ton of drivers to find the one that matches our video card, it means additional costs for makers and higher costs for us. And it means that there are thousands older of cards out there that manufacturers won't be willing to write new drivers for. I have a machine that runs on a 4 year old NVIDIA 5200. If I upgrade to Vista, it won't work anymore (and would be deemed a security risk, of course). There are thousands of businesses that have cards even older than mine in computers running Windows XP and simple programs like word processors just fine. If upgraded to Vista, it would mean possibly thousands upon thousands of "out moded" computers. The film Robots comes to mind. Every little variation of every device out there will have to have custom drivers and this includes every universal piece manufacturers have thoughtfully built-in over the years. Think of this as well, this could mean that my motherboard may not work either because that also has drivers and unused little spots on it-- your motherboard is the mama of your whole computer. Without her, you have no computer! Your DVD drive and your hard drives also have drivers. Will they be effected?

I also have to mention that Vista will only allow you to make a limited number of hardware changes to your computer before it must check your software license online. That means you'll have to be hooked up to the net and the new hardware will have to be approved by Microsoft in order to work. In not, your new hardware will be disabled. If you're a gamer and upgrade your video card often, Vista may soon require you to re-authenticate your copy of Vista or you won't be able to use the new device. In addition, if you're computer happens to have too many data hiccups or little electrical oops's from power fluctuations, outages or just plain who-knows-what, that will also trigger Vista's watchdog program and require you to connect to them online to show them your papers. This also means more info than ever before will be sent to Microsoft. The book 1984 comes to mind.

Wait, there's more! I mentioned Vista would slow your computer (nope, I don't just mean installing hardware). Mainly, it'll slow things down with its new copy protection system called Hardware Functionality Scan. This is yet another one of those "background services" that slow your computer although this one us supposed to be even worse. See, the HFS process is dynamic, meaning that it adapts to changes in your computer in real time. So, if you're playing "premium" music, the detection "fades" in and out when the music fades in and out. So, no only will the song be "fuzzy with less detail" because it's being purposely degraded, but your computer will be enabling and disabling components between every song! A Christmas tree comes to mind. All this activity will slow your computer and there's no way to turn off this "service."

I have no idea what all this will do to software and hardware makers. ATI has already stated that it's spent more in the last 6 months in legal fees related to this than it ever has before. These requirements promise to make software makers lives more difficult because they must conform to a very narrow and strict (and sometimes extremely vague!) set of guidelines. If you're a software maker of copy protection for films, it looks like you'll have to get your software approved by experts in the field, Hollywood studios. These changes are already making producers of open-source software wonder. As far as content producers like artists and musicians, instead of this being a simple and rewarding upgrade, there are thousands of hardware issues to consider. It also raises a lot of questions like, if you're like me and you create HD content, will it be degraded because it's HD? Heck, will we be able to watch HD trailers with Quicktime at full resolution? Will Quicktime even work on Vista? And who actually decides what is "premium content?" Will all your software and drivers have to pass a Microsoft approval process? Also, will Vista run on Macintosh computers with Bootcamp if we so chose?

What this all boils down to is a long list of limitations that borders on fanaticism that will ultimately degrade your computing experience. And Microsoft isn't asking anyone's permission. It's simply suggesting that businesses fall in line or else they'll be failing their customers (because we'll make your content look like crap). Personally, I haven't seen any copy protection that's ever worked. If things don't change, you will be paying for this copy protection no matter what because of all the dollars that manufacturers will have to spend to achieve the glory of a 'Microsoft Approved' certificate. From what I'm reading it will take a lot of hoop jumping and rigid, difficult programming. I think it's absolutely incredible that Microsoft would do this especially since the industry has been moving more towards open source (open source meaning anyone can create and contribute to software like Mozilla FireFox). It will likely encourage some people to make the leap to Apple, which isn't much of a leap being Vista largely imitates Apple's current operating system OSX. This effort by Microsoft is more strict and limiting than anything ever in computing and woe to anyone who simply goes along with it. It restricts your rights and violates your privacy no matter how your slice it. "Non identifiable information" just means they haven't put the pieces together yet. Years ago, there was a HUGE outcry when Intel put a "call home" capability into their Pentium III chips that sent them info about your computer. This is far worse than that.

I encourage everyone to look harder and deeper than I have and get the facts. And then make them and your opinion known. Don't just send your findings and feelings to tech mags and websites either, send them to national news outlets and to your congressperson. Our daily living should be about freedom and choice, not about artificial limitations supposedly in the name of security. And no business should be able to gathering information on us personally. If we want to build computers without having to study computer science, use them without being slowed down because of superfluous background services, if we want to enjoy high quality content without degradation, if we want to use it as our media center and if we don't want to have to pay premiums on top of premiums for these things we must get the word out. Consumers and business both must make their opinions known about this.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully your curiosity is piqued. Please do let me know what you've found out and what you think. I think I'm going to browse for my new Mac with a nice HD monitor.

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by Naughty by N8ture on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 11:12 AM
All I can say is I hope Apple is prepared for all the new business they'll be racking up from this one!

Posted by Eric on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 3:33 PM
I've maintained for a while that Vista is, in many ways, MS putting the barrel of the biggest gun it can find right into it's gaping, voracious mouth.

An analyst on NPR a few weeks ago ran some numbers -- for corporate/pro users, Vista would require, in order to function at maximum efficiency (and factoring in pro user software costs and the purchase of hardware that can actually RUN the damn thing), somwhere in the neighborhood of $5,000.00USD.


It obviously won't cost that much to home users, but it'll still be pricy.

This could actually, once and for all, cost them a significant number of corporate/business users, because it's no longer cost effective in any reasonable way. Home users were always the bastard stepchild of the MS market (we're essentially the biggest, free software testing bed in the universe), but business users are the company's bread and butter.

It'll be interesting, to say the least.


Thursday, January 4, 2007

Pres. Bush Iraq Policy Search: Agree to Agree?

Disclaimer: This blog contains approximations and feelings, not referenced facts.

Okay, now for quite a while President Bush has maintained that he would change his strategy in Iraq, even decrease troop levels, if his commanders told him he needed to. Back in December, as he was asking TV networks for airtime to deliver his promised speech about what his "course correction" would be (if it needed to be corrected, of course) he was continuing meetings with his generals and commanders (active and retired) and others for their advice on what to do. Well, all the interviews I saw, no I didn't view any on FOX News, these fellows, including commanders on-the-ground in Iraq, all said that a "troop surge" of some 15,000-30,000 troops to secure Baghdad was a bad idea. Even behind closed doors, Pentagon officials told reporters that a troop surge to confront a civil war would only result in a quagmire. Then something changed. Gloria Borger of CBS News (who I really can't stand) said the oddest thing. Although I can't find a transcript, I did rewind and re-watch what she said the night of. She said something to the effect of '...the President hasn't gotten the answers he's looking for yet...' (from his commanders) so, he's going to postpone his announcment. Soon after that, commanders in Iraq were quoted as saying a troop surge would work and the Pentagon was expected to recommend a troop surge. Now, top commanders in Iraq are "retiring". WHAT THE?!

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but this is just a little too weird not to point out. At first glance, Borger's reporting might seem normal, but if you look at it again, I think it contains an interesting idea. Could it really be that the President, instead of seeking the advice of his top people, just wanted someone to agree with him? And, when he heard all this "cut and run" talk, he postponed his speech until he could find people to agree with him? I'm sorry, but from the outside this sure looks like 'I've already made up my mind. Agree with me... or I'll find someone who will.' Of course, that would be followed by 'Ya fie-yud.'

Did anyone else out there notice the change of opinion of the Pentagon and commanders in Iraq? Anyone else find it somewhat odd?

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by B on Friday, January 05, 2007 at10:25 AM
I agree completely Ben ... but don't get me started on this administration. It's not good for my health.

... 726 days remaining ...

Posted by Ben'jamin on Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 1:54 PM
Haha. I hear ya, bud. Now he's addressed the nation and told us exactly what we thought he'd tell us a month ago. So, if he had already made up his mind, why did he consult with anyone? "If ya got a better idear, let's hear it."Uhh, well, I guess THAT depends on a.) Listening. and b.) Who is saying what is "better." I think he's already displayed his lack of "A" and he's the guy who has control over "B" so... I guess we're just going to do whatever he wants regardless.(If not even a bi-partisan study group of learned individuals can't sway him... Hey, wasn't Secretary of Defense Gates part of that group? Hmm... I guess the President must be pretty persuasive...). In the end, I guess I'd just like to know how much $$ it took to NOT listen to all those people he "consulted" with and how much it cost for the TV time to tell us what we already knew. Silliness!