Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

An Independent Business

I just read an interesting article on the business of independent film making. If I haven't mentioned it on this blog yet, it is a life ambition of mine to be a driving creative force behind a great film. I had the goal of making an award winning film initially, but I've done that now, and somehow don't feel the sense of satisfaction from the trophy we won at the Liberty Square Academy Awards that, so far to my knowledge, was an event held once, that we won by default, having had only one competitor in our (comedy) category, and they gave us both trophies. And a $100. The money was nice, but short lived.

I should post that movie up here, shouldn't I?

Review: House of Flying Daggers

I watched House of Flying Daggers on our kickin' home theater last night. The review is...well...brief.

It was made by some of the same people who did Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero. In my uneducated opinion...they're all the same movie.

Okay, I know that's not literally true, but the genre holds so true-to-form, that they are almost indistinguishable. They even have the same actors. They are forlorn soldier love story tragedies from ancient China. Pretty specific. And to a person as unacquainted with the history and culture as I am, and with such a similar story structure, and consistent (pristine, amazing) aesthetic, they look like the very same movie, done three times. That's perfect, if you're really into ancient Chinese soldier tragedies. But like I said, my ignorance is pretty limiting.

It is undeniably beautiful, though. They pay close attention to color and framing. If you're in the market for a pretty movie, check this one out. If you didn't really like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Hero, I wouldn't recommend the rerun.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Haven't had one of these in a while.

I dreamt last night that I was called to go on another mission. There was some technicality with my parents having been on a mission the same time as I had been, and I therefore could serve another two years. I was called to serve in Bangkok, but I would be speaking Chinese. I don't know why or what kind. I didn't get the call at home, I was someplace else, far away. I think it was Europe. Regardless, I went out in the town, and started seeing people I knew, and I would tell them, and some of them already knew, and they all congratulated me. I was so excited, and thought of how strange it would seem to get back from my second mission at 26 years old.

I had mission dreams all the time right when I got home, but I don't think I've had one for maybe two years.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Apologies to any Aspiring Advisement Councilors

I've not had good experience with academic advisement councilors. I met one adviser one time that was actually any help at all. 90% of the time, they make if feel like both of you are stupider for having met. And they don't care, or at least don't act like they do. Before I'd declared a major, I went in to the open major advisement center. They set me up with an "adviser" who was a girl younger than me, who only knew how to ask, "What do you like? What do you want to do?" THANK YOU SO MUCH, YOUR OBVIOUS QUESTIONS HAVE OPENED MY EYES TO THE FUTURE. I met with a Comms adviser when I thought I was ready to apply for the major. The only thing she had to tell me was the requirements had changed and I would have to wait and apply another semester. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE TO KNOW BEFORE I'D PLANNED THE REST OF MY COLLEGE CAREER. Today I was supposed to meet with another Comms adviser to figure out my graduation plan. I have a job, I like my job, I don't want to quit my job, but it is unavoidably full-time, which makes things like producing a news show, internships, or other broadcasting graduation requirements very difficult to schedule in. Well 1) I was late, but that hardly mattered because 2) I was only scheduled to meet with her for like 15 minutes. THAT'S RIGHT, WE ARE GOING TO PLAN HOW I'LL KEEP MY JOB, TAKE THE REQUISITE CLASSES IN THE EVENING AND/OR ONLINE, AND COMPLETE AN INTERNSHIP, ALL IN 15 MINUTES. What did they think I was coming in for that would only take 15 minutes?
They probably thought I'd come in hoping they'd ask what I like or what I want to do. I didn't even go in to see her. She had 5 minutes left before she had another meeting scheduled. What good are her 5 minutes, or her 15 for that matter? I swear, these people don't live up to their title at all. ADVISE me. Tell me my options. Tell me the probable outcomes. Tell me what you might do. Help me map it all out. Don't just look at me like I'm stupid. Don't expect me to have done it all already. You're the expert, remember? That's why I came. If I'd already done this, why would I ever waste time for both of us and come here to see you? All they do is talk to you like you're stupid.

P.S. If you ever...ever want to make me really angry, go ahead and talk to me like I'm stupid. Go ahead.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

This Needs to Happen

NOTE: You will have to click on the links to really understand any of this post.

One of my favorite features of science fiction is it's potential to leave the fiction world. It's hard not to see. Science fiction invented the flip-phone, cyberspace, space travel, the list goes on. I've decided it's high time to take some of my favorite fantastic stories and turn them into everyday reality. More specifically, I think it's time to start working on the super-suit.

Don't laugh, I'm serious. The technology is there, it just needs a good shot of R&D, and industry investment. In a year, we could have a fully functional super-suit to rival anything fiction could concoct.

1. The Suit Itself
The foundation of any good Hero aesthetic. The technology for an impact resistant suit seems...suitable...for our project at hand. Speaking of hands, climbing seems to be a regular activity of the super-crime fighter. He'll need something to conceal his identity, and give him an edge in the age of information. And of course he'll need some shoes.

2. Accessories
What is a super suit without some added toys? We could give him something for a quick vertical get-away. He'll need something to stop the bad guys in their tracks. And maybe some of these...I don't know, they look fun.

3. Transport
Our hero will be traveling in style. There are plenty of options. He could jet around, or take a leisurely flight in his flying saucer. He could go on one wheel, or many, if he wants HQ to come along.

4. Rivals?
Why villains, you ask? Super villains are sure to pop up as soon as the hero does. It's an immutable law. He could be a mecha-villain, like Dr. Claw or Darth Vader, or maybe a biological freak, like the Green Goblin.

Am I right or am I right? JOIN WITH ME PEOPLE!

Actually, like I mentioned, we'd need some kind of corporate sponsorship or government research grant. I'll...uhh...get on that...when I've got some time.

Rivals Real Life

Have you seen the BBC Documentary "Planet Earth"? It is truly remarkable. I've seen probably more than my share of documentaries, but this one is honestly one of the best pieces on nature that I've ever seen, probably the best. Some absurd amount of the things they shot had never been recorded before. These guys went to the highest mountains, the deepest jungles, and everywhere in between for five years to put it together.

My roommate Dave just bought it on Blu-ray, and we're going to watch it on our 92" projector screen with surround sound. Amazing.

And I'm not even a Sports Nut

I recently had the opportunity to meet some BYU Alumni, and I'm not talking about the Legends on campus. I've been helping with a BYU film project, something I'll talk about more in detail later. Let it suffice to say that I'm doing behind the scenes work.

We were shooting on Monday, and had a couple cameos by Steve Young and Robbie Bosco. I knew they were going to be there, I knew I was going to be there, I figured I'd take advantage of the situation.

It was a lot of fun, and honest, I'll tell you more about this project later on. It's too much to explain right now.

So the story goes, Steve was in town, and willing to appear with his friend Robbie. He was short on time because he had to go do some interview with ESPN, so we only had about an hour, 90 minutes tops. We filmed at break-neck speed, and when we were done with the last take, he took off. That's when I opened my backpack, got out the two football I'd just bought, and the silver Sharpie. I felt a little stupid, but was I ever going to have another chance at this? It's kinda cool, however you dice it, and a signed ball or two make it cooler.

I chased him down and asked, "Mr. Young, could you do me a huge favor? Could I ask you to sign a couple these?" He politely agreed, but asked that I walk with him to the BYU Broadcasting studios so he wouldn't have to stop (or he would be late). I told him I could follow all day.

I imagine the ball is worth something, though I'm not sure how much. Probably in the $100-$200 dollar range, but that is a guess, a shot in the dark really. It would be more if it had a certificate of authenticity, but that's not something I had really thought about. I should have just filmed him sign it, I had a camera with me. That's proof enough, right?

I gave one of the balls to my boss for the price of the ball. He loved it. The other one sits in front of me right now, and I have a bit of a plan for it.

I used to work at the BYU Dry Cleaners with my friend Brian. He called me today after he saw some pictures on facebook of the shoot, and wanted to hear about it. We chatted, then he offered this gem of advise:

"You know, LaVell Edwards comes in to the Dry Cleaners at least every couple weeks. He signed a ball for [Brian's wife] Kira. You should take that ball in to Andy [our old boss] and get him to have Lavell sign it next time he comes in."

I'll let you know how the plan turns out.

On a completely unrelated note: to get the pictures of the ball, I contemplated taking the batteries from my travel alarm. Then I realized: I don't think I've replaced the batteries on that for five years. Remarkable. I couldn't bring myself to end such a good run, so I charged a few dead batteries instead. Took longer, but worth preserving the record.

Work Party

About a week and a half ago, I went over to my boss's boss's boss's house. The man at the top of that ladder is a very wealthy man, and he has nice things. He is connoisseur of fine automobiles, and owns several that are absurdly expensive.

The whole reason we were there in the first place was because an independent film maker and his cohorts were trying to persuade Wade (the man at the top) to invest in the distribution of their film. We had a little private screening there, and it was actually a pretty good movie, with a couple bigger names. It was probably the most convincing portrayal of a really tough kid I'd ever seen, and had more action than a lot of major studio produced action flicks, aimed at an older audience. One of the main characters was 11 and I was afraid of him. It was co-written by Richard Dutcher who I am not a fan of, professionally. I've met him before. He came and spoke to a small class of mine. Very talented, for sure, and while he was certainly pleasant to us, I got the impression that we would have our personal differences. But I digress. This movie was great, lots of fun for a kid, but it was a bit over the top on vulgarity.

They pitched this movie to Wade, and got little to no response from him. He seems more one to watch than to speak. They talked cars for little bit, and Wade mentioned that he'd just bought Eleanor from Gone in Sixty Seconds. Not a replica, he bought the car from the movie, there are only 7 in the world I think. Everybody sounded like they wanted to go see it, but Wade didn't say much. The idea died. People started leaving, and I was about to take off, but Jon, one of the guys there who I actually know, said to stick around. I did. I stayed for a bit longer. But people were leaving, and I felt a little uncomfortable as a little outsider in the midst of big insiders. I mean, these guys had mostly known each other for years, and most of them are pretty wealthy. I tried to leave again, but Jon said again, "Don't leave yet."

I stayed till it was just Wade, Doug, Jon, and...me. Again, let me emphasize that these guys are old friends, older than me, married, and all drive some of the finest sports cars on the planet. Not really in my element, but I'll do my best to rub shoulders.

That is when we went to the garage. I guess Wade didn't want people around his million dollar car, because when it was just three guests, he seemed more than happy to show it off. It was pretty amazing, and I'm not even a personality to get to excited about cars. But that was a heck of a machine.

That's my story. I went to a private screening, hung out with the rich, and sat in the famous car. It seems the best thing I got from it all is the bragging rights. My gear-head friends are so jealous.

A Few from Hollywood

I went to L.A., and documented that pretty well, but there was plenty that I didn't include. Time to post some pictures.

We were shooting in several locations, on the boat, in the boat, in the desert, on the street.

We swung by the DC stages quickly, it was just across the street from where we were shooting and our producer know people there to show us around. It was set after set, meant to look like any number of places, be it a prison, a courtroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, a city alley, etc, etc. They filmed some of The Departed and Children of Men there. I'll have to watch those again and figure out what scenes were done there.

We got to be extras in a few shots. I played a New Yorker walking the streets. Some of our guys got to be Taliban. Ben Treasure was extremely convincing in his getup.

We went to the Universal Walkway. That was pretty cool.

We saw a street performer who had us all come in and dance with him.

The whole object of the Workshop was to have teachers learn about the film making process. It was good to learn from people who have been doing this their whole careers.

I had a blast. A part of me wants to go back for more.

Day of a Thousand Posts

It's been a while, and there is quite a bit I want to say, but not all at once, and not in one place. So while it won't be exactly a thousand, there will be many posts coming.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dissenting Opinion

One of the joys of blogging is the dialogue it promotes. A friend of mine at work maintains a consistently differing opinion than the average BYU student, and doesn't hesitate to tell it like he sees it. While we may hold views at variance, I appreciate his candor.

If you get bit, don't bother coming back.

I'm not sure you know this about me, but I dream more about zombies than the average person. It hasn't always been something I dreamt about. In fact, the first zombie movie I ever saw was Shaun of the Dead. Ever since then, the spectre of the undead has haunted my sleeping thoughts. It's not that bad, though, really. They can hardly be considered nightmares. I have much worse dreams about actual people.

Last night I dreamt that there was a zombie invasion, and a few friends and I were holed up in some empty house. The only one I can remember actually being there was Mandy Pratt, because she insisted on going out to get something. I didn't say it, but I was thinking, "If you get bit, don't bother coming back." Shortly after she left, a zombie woman came in the back door and walked into the kitchen where I was. I reached for a chair to take care of business. But then somehow, we got to talking, me and this zombie, and she tried to convince me that I was the zombie, not her.

Now that is just ridiculous, I thought. She wasn't convincing at all. Zombies aren't very smart. She didnt' have any argument, other than the simple accusation, "No, you're the zombie!" She did, however, have rotting flesh and a slow halting gait.

Silly zombie woman. Nobody is going to believe her.

Monday, August 20, 2007

continuing saga

Today, instead of rollerblades and a wheelchair, it was a shopping cart and a hog. Pulling out from work, I saw the homeless man who, everyday, wheels a shopping cart North on University (I have to assume he wheels it South at some point as well) filled with any number of odds and ends. But today he had a friend. Interesting considering I've heard he is incoherent. Today he had a man wheeling a chopper right along with him.
Wish I could have been privy to that conversation.


I talked previously about how bothered I was by The Bourne Ultimatum. I'm glad to see somebody with recognized expertise verifying some of my main arguments.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Not Every Day

Nobody else witnessed it, so you'll have to take my word, but I just saw a man in a straw hat and rollerblades pushing an empty wheelchair down the street past Smith's. Also, I saw a DeLorean today, driving down University. Also I sat in a million dollar car yesterday, But I'll tell you about that tomorrow. I'm tired right now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

You learn something new everyday.

I defer to the expertise of my dear friend, Roger.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Some Preliminary Pictures and Video

Before I even got any rest after my trip to L.A., some of the Workshop participants already posted about their experience there. Check it out.
I'm in the picture at Universal near the top of the page.

I'll post some pictures and video of my own when I get the chance. Until then, enjoy the SchoolTube post.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Postproduction Workshop

Sometimes it seems like most of the movie happens in post-production. When we were filming on the set, it was cool, but it wasn't movie magic. I was actually a little skeptical that it would come together. But then we heard about post-production.
We went to one of the schools that will be using our software and had our movies editor walk us all through the basics of editing. We were all watching on a projector as he put together a few sequences and showed us how it all should be organized. It was really informative, but I was so tired I fell asleep for a bit.
From there we went to the sound studios that created all the post productions sound on all the Bourne movies, all the Ridley Scott movies for the past ten years, and a lot of others. It's my understanding that it's the best. We talked to the sound supervisor there for a while, and she told us all about the business.
We went from there to the Universal Walkway. Everybody wanted to see the Bourne Ultimatum, especially after talking so much with the sound supervisor, But I've already seen it. I should have gone again, but instead just kinda walked around for too long. We got dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Jamal and I were going to go bowling, but the lanes sold out right before we got there. I got a characature drawn for too much money, mostly out of boredom.
Then we went back to the hotel. I'm getting exceptionally sleepy, more so as the week progresses. I'm going to sleep when I get back to Utah.
And I'll give you the update on today...tomorrow.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Final Shoot

Yesterday was our final day of shooting. We were filming some desert scenes outside L.A. in the hills. It was supposed to be Pakistan or Afghanistan. Close enough. I was all worried about getting sunburned or heatstroke, but turned out I wasn't even on the set for most of the hottest part of the day. I went with the art department girl to get some props from the Universal Studios prophouse. We drove in her car there, and it took a while. We talked, or rather, she talked most of the way there and back. We talked about movies, ISM, working for a startup, religion, families, moving, writing, and I'm sure a few other things I'm forgetting. Serious, we were driving for hours.
We pulled in the back of the studios. They checked to see that we were on the list of approved people. The prop-house was huge, a large building that from the outside would have looked like an office complex. But inside, they had everything imaginable. The floor I was on had every variety of furniture, from egyptian royal thrones, to victorian footstools, to psychologist couches, to the old dusty stained wooden foldout tables we were there to pick up.
We went back to our location in the hills, and shot some scenes of what was supposed to be an Afghani dinner and gambling joint. Somebody had built a set ther that looked like nondescript ruins from the outside, but the inside looked like...well...a nondescript old middle-eastern building. Cody, Jon, and Ben from ISM got to dress up as Terrorists. I was jealous, but there is no way I'd have been able to pull that off. Who ever heard of a blonde haired blue eyed Jihadist? Ben was actually very convincing in his garb.
Anyway, I'm beat, and I'll tell you about today tomorrow. Goodnight.


There was a 4.6 earthquake in L.A. two nights ago. Slept right through it.

The Snowstorm of L.A. August '07

Yesterday we were shooting our opening scenes to the movie. We're on a New York street side, with a newspaper stand, hurried pedestrians, and a headline for the ages. Our newspaper salesman was a big black guy who had a great deep voice. As soon as we were back at the hotel, I turned the TV on and there he was, a featured extra on Malcolm in the Middle. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was working with the grips. I learned this: I don't ever want to be a grip. It's skilled manual labor, but manual labor all the same. Sandbags, C-stands, reflectors, dollies and tracks, all the "etc." equipment it seems, is what the grips handle. I can't believe there are people who are career grips. It's a beating on the body, requires training and expertise, and seems largely thankless. I can't imagine grips make a huge fortune. But I'm glad somebody does it, they need it. Just not the place I want to be.
We got to try our hands at acting yesterday, too. Our scene is a busy NY street, so we all played busy New Yorkers. The shots were mostly of our legs and feet (pretty hard to mess that up). We walked back and forth, back and forth, in front of the newsstand, wearing winter jackets. There's a good chance you'll see me in the finished product, but almost unrecognizably.
It was a shorter shoot, and the next location was in a small room, so no space for lots of teachers and students. Three students went to the second shoot of the day while the rest of us hit up the town. We walked down Hollywood Blvd., watched a street performer who was dancing and popping and pulling people out of the audience to dance with him. He pulled a me and a few other people from our group into dance with him. He wanted to show people what white boys dance like. It was a pretty good street performance, but I've seen better. In Europe.
Still can't believe I forgot my video camera. I'll show you all the still pictures when I get back.
Also, another thought. When we went to the shooting of the new Will Smith movie, we just got a glimpse of him across the street. I was thinking about the idea of being star-struck the whole day thereafter, but really started to think about it when Cheryl, who was the one that got us there to begin with, stuck around for a bit afterwards with her finance. I guess after we left, Will Smith came across the street, and took pictures with fans. She was so glad to report to us that she got to "touch his sleeve". It was a big deal I guess. I'm sure I would have said the same thing if I had been there. But it reminded me of a certain biblical passage. Just something to think about in your own analyzation of the "star-struck" phenomenon.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dreams I never posted

-July 16ish, Dreamt that I was driving a truck, and I was going very fast, too fast, and I turned into a parking lot and fishtailed and hit the curb hard. I got out and looked at the tires and there were bulges where I had slammed the curb. I had pulled off University into the parking lot of Dr. Gary Morely, the podiatrist who operated on my left big toe two years ago.
-June 24, Dreamt that we were in the Middle East, and Dave Smith wore a uniform, like a Boy Scout uniform. He was playing ladder-ball, throwing the balls toward a wall seperating the Palestinians from the Isrealis, and there were people around us wearing different uniforms, of their respecive clans, and I was really worried Dave was going to accidentaly throw one of his balls over the wall (it wasn't very high) and inadvertently start a little war, gunfire, casualties and all.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Did I mention...

After we were done wrapping up yesterday, we went out to see the set of the movie Will Smith is shooting? It wasn't really planned, but one of the teachers here with us, Cheryl, her fiance's friend lives and works out here, and he called and said to bring the whole crew. So we went, and got dinner across the street from where he was shooting. We watched through the window, as Will Smith and Peter Berg the director we chatting. It's a movie tentatively titled John Hancock. I looked it up on IMDB, but get the feeling I'm just going to have to see it to understand it.
I guess I don't get all that starstruck, because I saw him and thought, "Yup, that's what he looks like. But some of our group couldn't stop gabbing and gawking. It was cool, but I was almost more inclined to watch the movie that was playing in the restaurant we were in. Something with Al Pacino, I couldn't figure out what it was.

P.A. - Also known as assistant to the assistant to the asistant to the assistant to the director!

Another long day, still shooting on the SS Lane Victory in San Pedro Harbor, where I guess they filmed some of the movie "The Thin Red Line". More interrogation scenes. We shot a couple others as well. A scene where our protagonist is almost told to get back onboard a ship in a Turkish harbor, till a friend of his comes to save the day by bribing the guard. On that scene, I was in charge of making sure the extras went in front of the camera at the right time. I'd turn the volume on my walkie down (everything is abbreviated, so no "talkie" on that), wait for the 1st A.D. To give me the signal, then tap the extras when it is their turn to go. I talked to them for a bit, the extras. One guy says he does extra work as much as he can, and if you can get a Union gig, it pays really well. He was supposed to carry a box in the scene though, and he was really, really careful about how he picked it up and put it down. Not that he was concerned about the box. Must have worried about his back. After a couple takes, it looked like he was struggling a bit, so I'd just pick up the box and hold it till he was supposed to go. Production work is grunt work.
Did I mention I worked in production yesterday? There are several different departments, and I imagine on a large production with a lot going on in the shots, there is a wide array of departments. Grip/electric, Hair/makeup, Camera, Props, Script Supervision, etc. It is productions job to make sure all the other departments can keep working. Production is the grease that makes the film machine run.
As an A.P. You're at the bottom of the pecking order. Anything that anybody needs, you go get. But if those instructions ever conflict with the 1st A.D., follow the 1st A.D. Our A.D. Seemed a little brusque, but I think that's part of the job. They want to keep things moving, so when people don't move on command, they let you know. But don't mistake the rigour for real rudeness. It's not. Just part of the job. Our A.D. Was good at what she did. She is from NYC and used to run a live theater there. It sat about 500 guests, but moved out here for one reason or another. She couldn't find too much work in stage theater, so got into film production.
Anyway, today we're shooting some street scenes in downtown L.A. I'll be working grip. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Day One: Clapboard Boy!

I wrote a long entry about day one, but I think the old Sidekick II is giving up the ghost. I hit post, and it just went away, said I needed to be logged in. I was logged in, but so it went, and here I start again.
Yesterday was long. 12 hours on the set, not including an hour of travel both ways to and from the airport. Educational, that's what I'd call it.
I jokingly said all I want is to do is run the slate. You know, the clapboard, the one you hold open in front of the camera before each take, shut, and yell "marker". Well, appearantly somebody heard me, because I was manning the slate all day.
I learned a couple things. Believe it or not, there is some technique to it. Never put your fingers over the chevrons on the clapping part when you're closing it. Hold it visible, in the light and at the right distance. Don't close it till the cinematographer says so. Don't pull it out as you close; close, then pull. When marking the scene, like "5-A" or "5-B" on the slate, never call it "5-A" or "5-B". Call it "5-apple" or "5-barney". Don't ask me why they don't use the military alphabet. I suppose these artistic film maker types want to do things differently.
That's another thing I noticed. They practically have their own language. There is so much lingo, nobody has a title they actually use. The 1st assistant director is the 1st A.D., the Script Supervisor is the Scriptie, etc. You catch on pretty quick, though.
We were filming in the belly of this old ship, the SS Lane Victory, a veteran of WWII, Korean, and Vietnam Wars. It's now a museum, but is still a seaworthy vessel they take out a few times a year. It's an interrogation scene, with an ethnically ambiguous interrogator toking a huge stogie, and our American protagonist, refusing to comply with the enemy. I think it's all pretty cliche, not film making brilliance, but it will be a quality product in the end. Just wish we could have done it without the cigar, I don't think any of us were enjoying the smoke.
Long day, interesting crew. Rough around the edges, almost all of them. But, hey, welcome to L.A. The guy who has charge over the ship itself is a fellow named Chris. Chris doesn't wear shoes. Hasn't since '76. Honest. He has some strange footness going on that prevents shoes, but I have to wonder if he stopped wearing shoes and then got the foot problem, or vice versa like he says. Regardless, he walks toe-to-heel on his left foot. Very strange.
Tiring. Educational. I'll get back to you later on day two.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Living the Dream. I Hope.

Well, I'm in LA. Did I mention that I would be here? Maybe not. Regardless, the story goes like this. The company I work for does a summer workshop production for teachers to come to. These are mostly teachers who have used or will soon use our online film making course for their classroom. They get to work side by side with Hollywood professionals on the set of a movie, and get to try their hand at every stage of the process. And as a valued employee, so do I. Cool.
We flew out of SLC early, had a layover in Phoenix, where I got to see my brother who happened to be flying out of the same airport at the same time (!), and then flew in to Burbank. I'd hoped we might try to catch a sacrament meeting somewhere, but that didn't happen. Instead, we did the exact opposite, we went out to eat (please forgive me) at this BBQ joint. It was't that great, to be honest, I could have made that meal, and my mom could have blown it out of the water. You know it isn't that great when the grub at the mall food court smells better.
We walked around some shops for a while. The Ramada Inn driver Randy told us where would be the cool places to see. Just stores, so far, though. Nothing too special.
We came back to the hotel, and I watched a little TV, then took a nap, knowing that my co-workers would wake me up before our meeting at 8:00. They didn't, though. I slept soundly from 6:30 to 10:30, and from the sound of it I was hardly missed at the meeting. Hhmph.
Tomorrow we're going to be filming an interrogation scene in the belly of some war ship. I still don't know the actors names, even though that is a detail I've been asking them about for literally months, and we're filming in a matter of hours. I think they secured the lead role only a few days ago. Crazyness.
I better get some sleep, or I won't be much good as a production assistant tomorrow. Cross your fingers and wish me luck that I get a credit on IMDB.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

New to You: Part 1, The Incredibles

I recently decided that not everything I put on my blog here needs to be newly written. I have lots of stuff that I've already written, drawn, filmed, etc., that the vast majority of my not-vast audience has never seen. I'll use some of that to augment my posting efforts. So, in line with my constant blogging on film, here is a paper I wrote for my Intro to Film class a couple years ago. I still like it.

The Incredibles
The Incredibles is one of Pixar's masterpieces. As an animated film, it has a natural appeal to children, but the film also deals with material that is very significant to a "grown-up" world. It shows the fantasy of super heroes, the embodiment of American idealism, the archetype of our moral sense, and then shows their deconstruction through a "value added" paradigm. By adding "value" to individuals simply so nobody feels left out, the new world of the supers negated excellence. Their society demanded homogeneity and called it "equality". We see in them that when good is taken for granted and mediocrity glorified, that good is well on its way to being rejected. This theme is exemplified through the editing, production design, and acting.

At the beginning of the film we see the main characters in a "talking-head" documentary style interview. This communicates to the audience the supers' status as subjects of the public eye. People know who they are. They are celebrities of sorts. They are not new, but are well established public figures, probably household names. The good they provide has been there for long enough that it is no longer novel. It is something that is being taken for granted. This fact, as we will see, is communicated several ways throughout the rest of the film, but the interviews at the beginning of the film help set the stage. We understand their place in their society enough to understand how they got to where they are during the rest of the film.

In a similar fashion, when the newsreel rolls, we see the transformation taking place. The illustrations of court proceedings, the headlines of newspapers, and the news footage all let the audience understand that the supers are no longer welcome among their neighbors. This mantagist editing technique is a powerful communicator. We see the theme unfolding. This is the beginning of their rejection. Comparing their society to our own, it is almost laughable to think that a people would demand crime fighters to cease and desist, to end their services and fall into the background. But however absurd this may seem, the same thing happens in modern America. Think about the recent headlines concerning displays of the Ten Commandments in public places.
Just as the supers embodied the ideals and moral good of their world, so the Ten Commandments represent the ideals and moral good of ours. This is just one example, though, of a theme that touches upon some of our most cherished values.

While nothing we see in the Incredibles exists in reality, almost all of the aspects of traditional production are still necessary, including production design. It is also interesting to note that the objects in an intangible computer animation are only slightly less real than the fake backdrops and fake props of some of our favorite films. They are representations that further communicate the theme to the audience. One of the best examples of this in The Incredibles is when Robert Parr (Mr. Incredible) is relegated to work as an insurance claims agent. His cubicle is one among scores of identical cubicles. They are small, drab and cramped. The only thing that sets his cubicle apart from the rest is the oversized pillar taking up already precious real estate in his workspace. There is obviously no special care taken to give him a larger cubicle (or even prevent him from getting the smallest one) because he is a larger man. His differences are not recognized; he is only supposed to fit in.

Everything in the office has a gray hue. There are very few well defined blacks and whites in the office. This is indicative of the theme in several ways. Just as the diegetic society of the Incredibles has rejected good and permitted evil to survive, so the office colors evade a clear distinction. This is all the perfect backdrop for the short scene where Robert Parr is supposed to deny an old woman her insurance claim. Mr. Incredible has, through no fault of his own, gone from protecting people from harm to denying them help after they have been harmed. Shortly after this scene, we see Robert called into his boss' office. The room is the same numb gray as the rest of the office. There is a charted line-graph on one of the walls that does not rise or fall, indicating no change over time. Again, homogeneity, sameness. There are four clocks behind the desk set to the exact same time. And the boss sharpens four pencils to the exact same length and lines them up exactly to the lines on his desk calendar. The obvious production design decisions here were for a reason. Everything is the same, and the philosophy is explained in the boss' speech to Bob. "A Company is like an enormous clock. It only works if all the cogs mesh together!" What he is failing to remember is that the company is also supposed to serve a purpose, in his case provide financial reimbursement to those who have undergone unforeseen expenses. No matter how well the clock is working, it doesn't do any good unless it helps people who need to know the time.

Another aspect of the production design is the overall retro feel to the Incredibles. The interior of their home and their manner of dress recall the 1950's, a time often thought of as "simpler". It is now seen as a golden era, when everything was in its right place. The black-and-white footage of public hearings in the newsreels also is reminiscent of the 50's. McCarthyism looked and sounded very similar. The ideas of a secret menace, secret identities, and questionable allegiances that threatened the common good apply to both situations, the one drawing inspiration from the other. Many of the scenes on Syndrome's island take their queues from the Sean Connery James Bond films of that same time period. And who was James Bond fighting in those films? The same Communism that Joseph McCarthy used to incite a modern witch hunt. The threat that faced the people in the Incredibles was the same that faced the people of that time. Yes, there was a real threat of foreign aggressors, as in James Bond, but the real menace was the enemy within the gates, the internal schism and deceiving philosophy, as in the McCarthy trials.

The "acting" in The Incredibles might seem a strange thing to consider, mostly because there are no real actors on camera. The vocal talent of several well known actors are employed, but they only contribute part of what results in convincing characters for an animated film. The character designers, the animators, and especially the writers all help create the "actors" in this kind of feature. They prove a convincing cast.

When Dash is coming home with his mother after being sent to the office at school, they have a discussion about him finding better outlets for his energy. "Maybe I could, if you'd let me go out for sports" is his reply. Helen Parr (Elastigirl) answers in her motherly and disciplining tone, "Dash, right now the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we just gotta be like everybody else.”
"But Dad said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers make us special."
"Everybody’s special, Dash."
"Which is another way of saying nobody is." Homogeneity in the guise of "equality" claims another victim.
Dash has here caught on to the real meaning of the situation. He is not allowed to be special in deed, only in word, along with everybody else. If he were to perform anywhere near his full potential, that would reveal how truly special he was. It would have meant praise from some and resentment from others. It may even have meant physical attack from those that fear him as a threat. Those with power are almost always feared by those without, weather it is deserved or not. Syndrome later on in the film makes the same observation. "When I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions, so everyone can be superheroes, everyone can be super. And when everyone is super...no one will be." Syndrome exemplifies the confusion of good and evil, the graying of right and wrong. His idea of a Hero is someone who provides drama and theatricality, someone who is on top, no matter how they got there. The good the supers did isn't even recognized by Syndrome, he mistakes it for some kind of self-aggrandizement. Because the good the supers provide has been rejected, Syndrome has plotted to create an artificial need for them again and provide a counterfeit solution, himself.

The layers of meaning and appeal in The Incredibles are impressive. The expert use of film techniques results in a movie that can be enjoyed by young and old and just about any demographic in between. And aside from the entertainment value, the theme is important to note and learn from. Though we may not have super heroes and villains in our world, the prejudices and false assumptions that are portrayed play a real role in our life and society. May our culture not fall prey to the “Syndrome” of confused morals.

Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

Let me start by saying there is a good chance you'll disagree with me. Most of America will. I didn't really like it. Let me tell you why. In two words.

Too much.

The camera was too jerky. That is almost a given with this franchise. The Bourne Supremacy was the same way. I understand why they did it. It enhances the feeling of motion (action) and the sensation that you are "actually there". I understand some people like it. I don't. It feels contrived to me. It seems amateur, even. And the feeling like you're actually there? If I were there, my head isn't bobbing around most of the time, I can usually hold a pretty steady look at something. It's a cheap trick, and in my opinion, ineffective. It doesn't enhance the action for me, it obscures it.

The character of Jason Bourne is an interesting specimen. He is one of the bad gone good. But what good does he do? It seems like anybody who gets involved with him gets a bullet in the back of the head. The journalist gets shot in the head, because he was flighty as a sparrow. Bourne does save some people, though. Good for him. I was actually surprised at the number of survivors in Ultimatum. The body count is usually much higher. But don't worry, there is plenty of brutal, gritty, hand to hand killing. Plenty. More than I like to see, actually. Call me old fashioned.

I don't really like portrayals of the U.S. government that are full of the evilest villains. This whole series pretty much centers around a state sponsored ministry of murder. It's not called that of course, they have a variety of cool code-names. But that is what it is. I think showing things like that are untrue and a dis-service to the country. Even if there are unsavory organizations in the top tiers of America, constant media portrayals of it do not make the audience appalled at the evil, they condition them to it. It is expected. It even glorifies it, because from that, you get supermen like Jason Bourne, who can not be killed. I swear, you could shoot lead bullets in his face, and he would karate chop them.

It is action packed, though. And suspenseful. A lot of what you would hope for from a flick like this. Truth is, if you're a red blooded guy, you'll probably like it. I didn't.

In the end, I'm making a lot of what might be called pseudo-logical arguments, but when it comes down to it, what I'm saying is the result of an emotional response. I didn't like it because I didn't feel good about it. So I make up reasons why.

I think it would probably be fair to recognize that, if you liked it, you're running off an emotional response as well. You liked it because it was exhilarating.

I hope we can understand where the other is coming from, and respect that.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Free Show

Went to a free Concert in SLC last night. We went to see Peter, Bjorn, and John. If you're not familiar with their work, they're great. They're great even when you are familiar with their work. I didn't find out about the show till that morning when a friend called and asked if my roommates and I wanted to go. I also didn't find out till after the show that another band I liked had opened for them (we got there late). A lot of people from school were there, but concerts also lure out the freaks. Bjorn dedicated one of their songs to my friend Katie.

I danced. I had a good time.