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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Experimental Psychology - Change Blindness

Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I REALLY think I WOULD notice the switch. Who knows.

Augmented Reality - Share

Remember that ad I did with Andrew Bagley a little while back? He mentioned that he had been working on a pretty cool Augmented Reality piece for a major national magazine that would come out soon. That magazine was WIRED magazine, and the augmented reality spot was a little widget calling attention to Vampire Power.

See my picture on the Vampire Power website.

Try it. It's fun. And on the intro page, you might recognize some of the faces they demo at the bottom.

Friday, December 04, 2009


I've asked this question a thousand times, no joke.

About This Video

An Italian singer wrote this song with gibberish to sound like English. If you've ever wondered what other people think Americans sound like, this is it.

It's like Beck, Weird Al, and Led Zeppelin played backwards. I keep instinctively trying to understand what they're saying, and have to try to remember that they're not saying anything.

Monday, November 23, 2009

TopTenREVIEWS Reviews.

My first videos from TopTenREVIEWS.com are up. Here are two links.

I’ll be honest, it's not my absolute best work. I need to smile more and put more energy into these. I think that’s why they hired me in the first place, after seeing the OraBrush ads.

It's time in front of a camera, though, and I'm glad for that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Litmus for Authenticity

I haven't written anything substantial in a long time. I'm a little afraid of that. Writing isn't like riding a bike, and in all honesty, I'm not entirely persuaded riding a bike is like riding a bike. Without practice and persistence in life, I think we each may simply melt into a puddle of loosely sentient flesh.

That being said, you may just as likely melt while watching this video.

From what I can gather, this group broadcasts on public access cable in central Florida.

The lack of sophistication reminds me oddly of Napoleon Dynamite. Their whole existence is anachronistic. I mean, if you had to guess, when might you place this broadcast on a timeline? They're also local, but without location. While P.T. Katt and M. Gormley are in Florida, they could as easily be in any rural minor American locale. The same is true of Jared and Jerusha Hess' most recent work, Gentlman Broncos.

Again, the characters are only vaguely aware of themselves. They lack the proverbial mirror to actually see themselves as others see them.

There is a character in Gentlemen Broncos who would be right at home on the "Uncharted Zone". Lonnie Donaho talks about "the industry" and his "feature films" shot on a home VHS camcorder. He might also get along well with the proprietor of this local outfit.

These men are AUTHENTICALLY poor performers in a way that I am entirely incapable of, in a way that I doubt can be duplicated by parody (Save by Jared Hess). I could not make something this bad if I tried. They'll never win awards or critical acclaim. They'd be lucky to come close to covering their costs, though they just might from gawkers paying money to see what is, by most accounts, an absolute train wreck. They seem to be entirely unaware of any developments in their field over the last twenty to thirty years. What's more, they are either OBLIVIOUS to or genuinely Do Not Care what people think of their work.

I can't tell if these are the most remarkable examples of hubris I've ever seen, or the complete absence. They don't presume to elevate their work over others, or even to compare. By all appearances they are doing this for their own enjoyment. If anybody else cares to watch, that's simply a bonus.

Hubris or not, regard for others work or none, these two groups present the most undeniable, clear cases of authenticity anywhere in media I know of. They are transparently bad, but you know it isn't a joke to them. Nobody would invest the time necessary to produce so much ostensibly unremarkable work. In being so transparent, they're also more true than almost any mainstream electronic culture. It's made by and for them and theirs. And that's tremendous.

Michel Gondry seems to understand this in a way many other filmmakers don't. It's reflected in his movies, and I love his movies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Copyright, Science, and Education

Larry Lessig is somebody I'd like to be more like. I know I've talked about him before. I admire his independent intellect and adaptability.

He makes more sense on the subject of Copyright than any other individual or institution I've ever encountered. Laws should Make Sense.

Shouldn't intellectual property be made more available with the passage of time? For a huge swath of archival footage, the opposite is true. After just a few years, all rights revert back to the owner of the copyright.

According to Lessig, that means that much of the 20th century's documentary work on film will literally decay and be obliterated instead of being digitized, democratized, and distributed for the good of those who could learn from and use it. Instead, it will literally rot.

Interestingly, the most progressive groups pertaining to open use of electronic media are not only very forward thinking artists like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Girl Talk, nut also Al-Jazeera, the Arabic language cable news network.

See video below:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I sincerely do want you to listen to the audio here. It's all Ronald Reagan. And he couldn't be more spot on if he were speaking today.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

It's real. I'm really done.

I'm done. I'm really finished with school. I'll never go to another day of formalized education if I don't want to. It's more bittersweet than I would have thought, but is certainly sweet.

I'm listening to Animal by Miike Snow right now.

from BYU Diploma Status
to Austin Michael Craig

date Fri, Oct 2, 2009 at 10:13 PM
subject Your BYU Bachelor of Arts has been mailed

Dear Austin,
Congratulations on receiving your Bachelor of Arts from Brigham Young University.
As of 10/2/2009 your diploma was mailed to:
Austin Michael Craig
4** N 2** E
Provo UT 84606

Please allow up to 10 days for delivery via 'First Class US Mail'.
Please do not call Brigham Young University at this time,
as your diploma has already been mailed.

Click the following link to VIEW YOUR DIPLOMA!

Congratulations again on your fine achievement!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Can't Stop Won't Stop

Really diggin' new stuff from some friend, Can't Stop Won't Stop.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

iGo Web Ad

This is the ad that a family friend had me come shoot about a month ago in Tempe, AZ.

It's a flash video without any embedding options, so go on over to the iGo.com website to check it out. I'm on the third line, the "Laptop Charger" spots.

There wasn't a lot of wiggle room on the script. When I wanted to get creative with it, the director reigned me back in. Hope you like it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

3DTV. Finally.

I say finally, but to be honest, it's not even here yet. Heaven knows it's been a long time coming. Hope it actually comes to market soon.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Find of the Day

Remember the note I found on campus? It's the FOUND magazine find of the day. Dope.

Hey Austin,

Let me be the first to congratulate you for passing along the finest
of the finds... we've just finished posting your submission as our
Find of the Day. Head on over to www.foundmagazine.com and take a look.

Thank you SO MUCH for passing your find along. Each year we get around
three million visitors to the site to check on these finds-- you can be
sure tons of people will appreciate the effort you took to scoop up the

Take a look at the text and double check that everything looks good to
you-- if you'd like something to be changed, let us know and we'll gladly
take care of it...

So thanks again and as always... SEND US YOUR FINDS!!

All the best,
Jason and Davy and all your friends here at FOUND

FOUND Magazine | www.foundmagazine.com

Friday, August 28, 2009

PS3 Slim - I want it.

For your money, hands down the best Blu-ray player available. Upgrade-proof through Sony's free network. And this is a rather clever ad.

And now that it's $300, I might be able to buy one some day.

Thursday, August 27, 2009



Very cool sculpture I saw on Vimeo. Already posted it on facebook, I think, but thought I'd share here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My time spent reading

We all have 24 hours in a day. That's it. No more, no less. I really should be spending my time figuring out how to preserve as much of it as I can.

Frequently, though, I spend that time reading. Books include the Omnivore's Dilemna, I am half-way through it. I read the screenplay to Being John Malkovich. Lunatic, that wonderful Charlie Kauffman. And I read a lot of blogs. Technology and society and politics and art and film. It takes in a broad swath of what we call culture.

Here is a sampling.

I, like everybody else who bought one, am disappointed with the lack of progression with the G1. A girl asked me recently when my phone was slow in taking numbers, why I would buy anything but the iPhone. In the past, I would have defended my phone. Not anymore. I'm just praying it'll handle the load of newer tech.

I know the clamour has died down, but I still think WolframAlpha will do some amazing things. You'll see.

I don't know what this is all about, but I'm excited for it.

Someday, the cameras on our phones will take gigapixel snapshots.

This may be the best wedding announcement I've ever seen.

I like to download music from the web, but I like to do it legally.

I have a very hard time trusting the methods, motivations, and integrity of government institutions anymore.

I'm really glad I found blogger.

I hope to someday build something of inherent value rather than chatter and hype.

Effective multimedia is all about production, the deliberate, careful synthesis of disparate many layered elements. That goes for movies, music, anything.

I've been proclaiming the advent of augmented reality for years, and now it looks like we might be gearing up for a rise in it's visibility. Bruce Sterling, whom I've mentioned before, says so. I'm afraid this might just be the Peak of Inflated Expectations of the Hype Cycle, though.

Right up there with Bruce Sterling is Kevin Kelly in my opinion. The man is a genius.

Telecoms are the biggest racket in the world. American's are paying through the nose, and Apple is making a killing. I hope to some day make enough money to turn that industry on it's head.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Sometimes Craig Fergusen knocks it out of the park.
I mean, LOOK at that face.

I'll be honest, I don't watch his show. At least not on broadcast TV. I don't own a television, despite majoring in broadcast journalism. But what I've seen online is brilliant.

Here is some of his ranting during the presidential election of last year.

And you know what? I think I might be able to do his job pretty well myself. I do lack that awesome accent, though.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Self Promotion

If there is the slightest chance any of you haven't seen this already, let me remedy that right now.

We shot this a week ago. It was fun and compared to my normal job, paid well. I should do this kind of thing more often. So feel free to hire me as your pitch-man.
Also, you can get a free Orabrush here. ---> ORABRUSH

Thursday, July 30, 2009


This is the man who, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, talks at me and about 100 other people about probabilities.

This is what I do to keep my sanity intact.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gothic High Tech

He cusses a couple times, about half-way through. I'm really sorry, but I felt like the content was too good to ignore.

I can all but promise that most of you will find this talk by Bruce Sterling long, confusing, boring nonsense. But it made good sense to me. Enough that I'd like to share it.

I first became aware of Bruce Sterling about ten years ago when I read a story of his in a collection of The Year's Best Science Fiction Short Stories. I bought it at D.I. for $2.00. It was a fantastic purchase.

In this talk, he touches on some points that I've personally noticed and thought about, such as the increasing anachronism of our society, our turning to cheerleaders instead of leaders, and transition to nowhere.

I hope that as I build a life beyond that of a college student, I can buck those trends.

A real accomplishment of this talk is this: he may have convinced me to de-clutter my life and living space. I've known in my head for years that I need to do this, but I didn't feel it, didn't understand it. I think I understand it better now.

Special Note to Katie and/or Ben if you happen to read this: I hope you'll find the last half of this interesting. He talks about a lifestyle of which I think you both are shining models .

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rest in Peace, Walter Cronkite

He was the best, and I hope and imagine we won't be able to forget him.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Note to Sunday School Teachers: Don't over-think the lesson. Understand it, share that, testify of it, but let's not shoot beyond the mark. Metaphors will always break down, no need to needle a point till it crumbles.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

News Alert: Google Plans to Introduce a PC Operating System

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "NYTimes.com News Alert" <nytdirect@nytimes.com>
Date: Jul 7, 2009 10:44 PM
Subject: News Alert: Google Plans to Introduce a PC Operating System

Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Wednesday, July 8, 2009 -- 12:39 AM ET

Google Plans to Introduce a PC Operating System

In a direct challenge to Microsoft, Google is expected to
announce on Wednesday that it is developing an operating
system for a personal computer based on its Chrome browser,
according to two people briefed on Google's plans.

The move would sharpen the already intense competition
between Google and Microsoft, whose Windows operating system
controls the basic functions of the vast majority of personal

Read More:

Now get the New York Times Breaking News to your mobile phone. Sign up
for the alerts by texting NEWSALERTS to 698698 (NYTNYT).

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Monday, June 29, 2009

NOT a Review: Why I won't be seeing "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

If you ever read my blog, you know that I love movies and robots. The casual observer might think I'd be head-over-heels for the new Transformers movie. But I can't and won't.

Because I saw the first one.

Because it is universally hated by everybody who cares what they see, but widely accepted by those trying to kill $8 and a weekend night with nothing else at the box office.

Because of this hysterically bad clip. This is what the PR people released as a solid representation of the film, to whet your appetite. An RC car robot doing his best Joe Pesci impression. Somehow, I'm not really hungry for that.

Because Jordan couldn't even write a review (and his reveiw for "17 Again" was spot on.

I imagine the greatest entertainment value available from this movie is indirect; i.e. reading the hysterical reviews. <=NOTE: The last link has some offensive (but well deserved) comparison to a baser genre of film, if you take my meaning.

But most of all, because I don't want to support it.

The following was written by a friend of a friend.
"Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" and its predecessor, aside from being devoid of any substantive narrative quality, are pointlessly violent, meaninglessly vulgar, and shockingly sexed-up movies despicably marketed to children. Ads for the film run during virtually every commercial break on Nickelodeon. Burger King is featuring Transformers kids' meals. Advertisements for myriad toys feature bright-eyed, curly headed tots. It is even included on Nick Junior's "Flicks for Kids" list! All this in spite of the production's claims that the target demographic is older teenagers and adults. My nephews (ages 4, 7, and 9) knew the exact date the film would be released long before the slated date. And they watch "Sponge Bob" and "iCarly", not Spike, Adult Swim or even major networks like ABC and Fox. The youngster networks run ads that, conveniently, skip the pin-up-esque shot of Megan Fox straddling a motorcycle in barely-there shorts.

KidsInMind.com, an online resource for "ratings that work" rated the film as follows on a 10 points scale: Sex/Nudity-6, Violence/Gore-7, Profanity-5. Compare to other action films with clearly much older target demographics: "Terminator Salvation", "X-Men Origins", "The Dark Knight", "Iron Man", etc. Each one listed rated lower in both profanity and sexual content though were comparable in violence. "Transformers" was even rated on par in sexual content with "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past", an inuendo-filled film, incidentally, marketed to adults. "Transformers" rated higher in sex/nudity than "Casino Royale". Reflect on that for a minute: a James Bond film ranks lower in sex/nudity than a film based on a Saturday morning cartoon!

I do not attack responsible and meaningful depictions of violence and sexuality or such use of profanity, but this film is irresponsible and superficial. Add the advertising of a more mature film to young children and you can tack on "exploitative" to the list of adjectives. This production does not deserve a contribution from you at the box office. Your admission ticket tells Bay and Spielberg that you think this is okay and you'll keep stuffing their pockets for being skeez bags.
So I'll never see it. Out of principle, I won't see it in the theater. And when the special effects glut is on a smaller screen home viewing, what's the point? Besides, I watched part of the first Transformers on a TV that displayed twice the regular frame rate. The special effects failed to be impressive at that picture clarity. It looked uncomfortably like a video game. No fun at that point.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I know I'm late on this one.

I'll try to remember the best.

Personally, I am a huge Thriller fan. Love that song. Listen to it year round. And Rock With You. Timeless, those.

You can hand this to the man: When his songs start, everyone hits the dance floor. Everyone.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day.

I love my Dad. He is as great a father as anybody could have. Hope you all have a wonderful Father's Day. http://bit.ly/H4k0p #fb

Friday, June 12, 2009

Stop. Motion. Stop. Motion.

It's the simple stuff that always gets me.

Stop motion has had a Web golden age over the last couple years. I've wanted to try, but it's just so time consuming.

Here are a couple that I rather like.

This one uses the ubiquitous post-it. Simple idea. Very effective.

If you like the tune, it's by Röyksopp, a Norwegian duo. It's called "Eple". Listen to the whole song below.

Eple (Original Edit) - Röyksopp

Nokia successfully coordinated a truly viral campaign, not an easy task, I can tell you from experience. As with the earlier video, there is a chiptune playing in the background. I think the makers understand their audience for this all too well.

If you like this, it's worth checking out the making of video on the campaign's site.

It's the simple stuff that always gets me. I think I may take the time to actually make one of these some day soon. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


I wanted to finish some thoughts I had on a couple previous topics. But I can't remember what I was going to say. I just can't remember.

The Department of Lost Souls

Replace "Wall Street" with "conventional newsroom journalism". That's where I am.

Friday, June 05, 2009


I drew this during class a few months ago when we had a guest lecturer.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


I stopped recording my dreams, so I don't remember them as well as I used to. But I appreciate how often I seem to show up in other peoples' dreams.

Got this message from a friend earlier today.

Had another weird dream about you. We were at graduation and your G1 turned into a Transformer. And then we were on a roller coaster.

Well, that about sums it up. That's the perfect day.


I just finished the fourth season of LOST. It took me just over two weeks from the first episode of the first season.

That J.J. Abrams. He knows how to weave a mystery. Or, at the very least, he knows how to keep you in suspense.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Android Video

I finally got the Cupcake update for my G1. This is the first video I've taken with my phone. Also, I can upload it directly to YouTube immediately after taking the video.

Lookout, world. I'm coming atcha' with a camera.

A Disciple, Scholar, and Gentleman

Truman G. Madsen died. He was a tremendous person. I saw him speak several times and had the chance once to speak to him myself. He'll be missed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reviews and More: Coraline (in 3D), Star Trek, Terminator Salvation

I haven't done reviews in a while. Been busy. So I'll speed through these.

Coraline was fun, if a little awkward at times. Not entirely sure I'd want young kids to see it, and older kids would probably boycott, thinking it too juvenile. Henry Selick delivers an eerie atmosphere on par with the Nightmare Before Christmas. The visual appeal is great. It's colorful, dynamic, and geometric. If you're excited for a dark but playful nightmare world, check it out. The 3D even helps the film, instead of distracting.

Star Trek is a blast. It is. It's just plain, simple, action fun. J.J. Abrams knows what he is doing, as I've mentioned before. You don't have to know a thing about the Star Trek back-story or mythology. You don't even have to like sci-fi, because while this uses the tropes of a sci-fi, at it's heart it's an action flick (even action-comedy). It's good-looking people doing really cool stuff, with chase scenes, fights, explosions, kissing, and jokes. It's the bread and butter of a Hollywood film, and in this case, that isn't a bad thing.

Terminator Salvation was entertaining, but ultimately a letdown. Next time I won't get my hopes up when the director calls himself McG and has an ouvre consisting mainly of Charlie's Angels. There seemed to be no consideration for the style and feel of the previous films, especially the well-loved first two.

I will say this. While it lacked any pacing, buildup, or subtlety, it was a very impressive wrecked world. The effects were seamless, the sound was immersive, and the actors did an effective job with what they were given. I guess that's all it takes for mainstream reviewers to like it, too.

Speaking of Terminator, Angela pointed out an interesting article on why the Terminators make us so uncomfortable. The Uncanny Valley is a concept I've known for years now. Though it's a common query today, it's not a new idea. It never seems to lose my interest, either. It's at the heart of a surprising amount of great fiction, I think because it begs the question of identity.

That Uncanny Valley might have seemed like an impossible chasm for some film-makers (you listening, Zemeckis?), but it may have finally been crossed, and did it so fluidly that we hardly noticed.

The possibility of photorealism with even the human face plays right in with the trending cinéma vérité fictional narrative style showing up so often. We're in a post-reality-TV world, well on our way through the maturation of YouTube. We see films like the Bourne series, where shaky camerawork "immerses" the audience, where you feel the uncontrolled reality of the situation (though I feel that particular example was excessive and alienating).

You'll see more and more films not only using the documentary aesthetic, but the form as well. The Blair Witch project broke that ground, showing how effective the technique is. Their mockumentary on the Sci-Fi channel took me in as a sixteen-year-old, hook, line, and sinker. I've talked before about the "found footage" techniques used in Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead. It was even recently featured in a BYU Film project manned by a class that unfortunately didn't fit in to my schedule. Would have been great to be a part of that.

The style is becoming recursive, with doctored videos showing up on YouTube as though they were home videos. Here is a recent example that's floated around the Web.

The same form is used for an upcoming sci-fi picture presented by Peter Jackson.

The trailer for District 9 plays out as though it were a documentary, with the only indication of fiction coming from the impossible premise. That same premise was used in a short film from the same director. District 9 is really an expansion of that short (seen below). I'm excited.

Of note is the fact that I can't think of a single major film in this style that didn't use some kind of ARG and/or viral marketing. Viral ARG is becoming more and more common, but is far from universal. It's the exception rather than the rule. However, when we see first person narratives, it's a must, a staple. The film form and the promotional techniques play together to draw the audience in, to have them not only watch, but experience the world of the film.

How is all this for some stream of consciousness?

I've got more to say on the matter. A lot more. But for now, I'll leave it as is.

Expect more on this and related topics soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time

This is somewhat out of the regular for this blog, but I thought it was worth sharing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fair Use

I'm blogging this as much so I can remember where it is when I want to refer to it as I am to share it.

Here is the full report.

See previous posts like The Pirate's Dilemma, XKCD on copyright, and Larry Lessig.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

>100 Days

I did number 21.

They probably made a healthy chunk of change from that.

C'est la vie.

UPDATE: I emailed them.

I made a remarkably similar design to the Barack On! print you guys have. I created and posted it to spreadshirt.com a year ago.
I did the design on number 21. Your design is at 39.
It's the same phrase and effectively the same image.
You tell me; is this just great minds thinking alike, or coincidence, or did you get the idea from my original design?
Do you think you could give me some kind of credit for that? Mention my name, or send me a check, or at least send me a shirt?
I know this is the Web and that's the nature of things, take, use, borrow, steal, whatever we want to call it, but I think you could at least give some kind of shout out.
Just a thought. Your design is better than mine, but you might consider giving me some kind of appreciation. Thanks, good job, good luck.

-Austin M. Craig

The Green Myth

I really appreciate and enjoy Bill Moyers Journal. I'm more and more convinced that PBS broadcasts much of the best journalism and socially responsible dialogue anywhere.

I particularly enjoyed his discussion with Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (and excellent book), Social Intelligence, and most recently, Ecological Intelligence. He explains why the idea of going green in largely a myth.

Moyers said Goleman's book was heartbreaking, but I thought their talk was enlightening and motivating. I recommend watching it. Just click here.

NOTE: Even if you don't watch the video, visit GoodGuide. It's a database of the ecological and social responsibility factor of the products we buy.  Skin Deep is the same thing for cosmetics.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Microsoft's Home of the Future

Last summer, I took a tour of the Home of the Future on the Microsoft Campus. They took a bunch of us interns and showed us around. I got to tramp all around this neat house.

I wasn't allowed to take pictures then, but it doesn't look like Microsoft's vision of the Future Home has changed much since then. Take a look.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Watch This.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Star Trek - Just a good, fun movie?

If you read this blog, you should know by now that I like that J.J. Abrams guy, and I like sci-fi, and I like movies.

So it should come as no surprise that I'm going with some friends to an advance screening of the new Star Trek movie. This should be good.

Early reviews are positive, though not everybody is happy with the outcome.

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Hunt for Gollum,

NOTE: This post is link heavy, but I didn't want the font color to distract from the content. Hover over a word to see if there is a related link.

NPR ran an interesting piece yesterday
. It's got a few notable angles.

The Lord of the Rings franchise has been wildly successful. Fans came from every demographic, flocking to theaters, to the web, and to the DVDs in their various iterations. It's been five and a half years since The Return of the King, the last of the trilogy, was released, and it's still a touchstone the industry tries to replicate (some with more taste than some [many] others).

Enter The Hunt for Gollum. The 40 minute featurette was written, directed, acted, and filmed by volunteer fans. Every aspect of pre-production, production, and post-production was coordinated and executed by people who simply loved Middle-earth and wanted to see another LOTR movie.

Fan fiction is notoriously...bad. There is a reason writers and filmmakers get paid to do what they do. They're very good at it. The average joe with his home video camera and PC (historically speaking) isn't. Even noble efforts lack the resources to put together high production value.

But The Hunt for Gollum crew seems to be a dedicated team. They took their time (two years) and scrapped together an impressive group of talent.

And from the looks of it, they deliver.

True, it's not indiscernible from the Hollywood hits. But you can be sure many fans of the series, myself included, will be checking this out when it's released on May 3 (in HD, no less).

Such an impressive feat, using widely recognized media, begs the question:
Is this legal? Doesn't this constitute piracy? Aren't there copyright issues at play here? Intellectual property? brand hijacking? Wholesale theft!?

The lawyers can (and likely will) argue both ways.

An apologist might say, "It's fair use, nobody is making money!"

The prosecution may answer, "It's copyright infringement that devalues a developing property!"

New Line is far from done with the Ring series. Why stop when it's still making money? The Lord of the Rings' prequel The Hobbit is being adapted for a 2012 release, directed by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth fame. Expect ticket sales to be big.

This kind of conflict has been, and will continue to be, a growing problem. Intellectual Property laws are in bad need of reform, but more than that, business modelers need to understand the new paradigm that cheap technology presents.

Technology is cheap. No, really. You may think it's pricey to get the latest and the greatest gear, but compared to only a few years ago, when that gear didn't exist, it's cheap.

Anybody can get the tools to create media. Good tools. An HD camera and a computer with video editing software doesn't cost that much. In fact, I'm planning on purchasing some this week.

What that means is there is no barrier to entry. Anyone can do this (probably very poorly) for very little cash.

Take a look at YouTube, Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, etc. Everybody is a writer, videographer, and artist. Everyone is a celebrity.

And nothing (short of a time machine) can change that.

With that reality in mind, media producers need to leverage the anxious crowd. User-Generated Content will be vitally important to most media outlets if they want to survive (and thrive) in coming years. Some early adopters are already putting that strategy to play, and making a hefty profit.

It even works for established brands. One American film maker has directed only six feature films since 1971, but his properties have become so popular, copied, and parodied, that his net worth is $3.9 billion (with a b). His name is George Lucas.

So, what do we say? Sue The Hunt for Gollum crew? I don't know why. They're drawing more eyes to a valuable franchise, keeping interest alive till the next installment is released (as if the viewers of The hunt for Gollum won't also go see The Hobbit opening weekend). The makers don't have any money; they're not making any money. But if producers play their cards right, the crew will make money for the studios.

I don't think honey bees ever stop to realize who ultimately reaps the harvest, but it's never far from the beekeeper's mind.

Or maybe it's just a matter of perspective.

What if we are all just pawns in corn's clever strategy game to rule the Earth? Author Michael Pollan asks us to see the world from a plant's-eye view.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Final Paper for Comms 482: Mass Media and World Religions

Contact is one of my favorite movies, and has been since I first saw it. I read the book immediately after. It still gets me, every time..

If you actually read this (I doubt anybody will) then let me know what you think.

Austin Craig
Dr. Quint Randle
Comms 482

From Skeptic to Evangelist: The Apologetics of Faith in the film Contact

Science fiction has almost always been the safe haven of outcasts, weirdos, and social dissidents. But whether that audience knows it or not, the genre has grown in popularity as (generic) conventions are adopted by more mainstream fare. Despite it's reputation for the outlandish, unbelievable, and often just silly, sci-fi will always be fertile grounds for broadly appealing and deeply meaningful material. At it's core, it's an outgrowth of Enlightenment ideas; that the natural world is a product of physical laws, and that the enlightened can learn virtually everything that is from observing the world with a logical, rational mind (CLARK 2005). By in large, the notion of some power or entity outside the natural system simply isn't grasping the size of the natural system. For most sci-fi, there is no truly supernatural, metaphysical, or divine. Some science fiction dealing directly with religion, either outright or in loosely veiled terms, makes the assumption pronounced rather than implicit, as in Frank Herbert's Dune series. But occasionally, a work comes along in the genre that defies the elitist convention, and explores religion and religiosity in earnest. Even noted theologian and scholar C.S. Lewis wrote a space trilogy featuring scientists and space explorers who mirror priests, angels, and demons (CLARK 2005). A more contemporary and recognizable example is the 1997 film Contact by Robert Zemeckis. Unlike the previously mentioned work, however, Contact originates with Carl Sagan, a popular astronomer and noted agnostic (HEAD 2006). Believers need not be defensive regarding Contact, however. The film is surprisingly apologetic toward religion. In fact, Contact presents academic science as a religion, complete with articles of faith, dogmas, and martyrs, and as fundamentally based on belief in unseen things as any of the Abrahamic creeds.

The film centers on Dr. Ellie Arroway, a gifted scientist searching for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Her mother died before Ellie can remember, and her father died unexpectedly when she was nine years old. Her penchant for reaching is shown in her precocious youth, searching for the furthest discernible signal on her CB radio. As an adult, her search for E.T. is ridiculed by the overwhelming majority of her peers, but Dr. Arroway's passion won't be subdued. The persistence pays off when a powerful interstellar signal is received, apparently proving that we are not alone, that our planet is not the only one harboring intelligent life.

Contact makes no pretense of its identity. It is science fiction with an eye toward religion. The science of Contact is clear. The filmmakers went to painstaking effort to portray a scenario that was entirely plausible. Ann Druyan, wife of Carl Sagan, co-author, and consultant on the film, said, “Carl's and my dream was to write something that would be a fictional representation of what contact would actually be like, that would convey something of the true grandeur of the universe” (DRUYAN 1997, emphasis added). The setting is primarily in real places, using real, even dated technology. The Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico was used by Ellie in Contact before losing funding, but was also used by the real life SETI initiative led by Carl Sagan for several years before it lost funding. The film even uses archival footage of President Bill Clinton, when he spoke following the discovery of supposed primitive Martian bacterial fossils on the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite in 1996 (DAY 1998).

The fiction of Contact is equally clear. The movie's namesake and center is the message received from an alien civilization. However, nothing whatsoever of this sort has ever even remotely happened. It would be, as Ellie says, the biggest discovery in “the history of history”.

The religion of Contact is almost as pervasive as the science. Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey) is a spiritualist and theologian, self described as “a man of the cloth...without the cloth” and characterized as “God's diplomat”. He is Ellie's love interest, and the movie's positive face of religious faith, just as Ellie is the image of a “good” scientist. They embody virtues we hold dear in fiction, virtues that enable societal advancement. These “substantive” virtues contrast what we see in the film's other characters, who are much more self serving (KUPFER 1999). They portray “bad” religion and science. After the alien message is decoded as instructions, blueprints for a machine, the first attempt to follow the instruction is thwarted by a religious extremist (a Christian suicide bomber from Panguitch, Utah, of all places). The ill-fated, would-be first interstellar traveler from Earth is David Drumlin, scientific aid to the U.S. President. Through the whole movie, he alternately derails, then overtakes Ellie's research. While Dr. Drumlin isn't ever framed as morally bad as the religious zealot is, he is shown as lacking the same faith that Ellie embodies. He demonstrates a lack of faith in scientific possibilities as well as humanity’s virtue, not unlike the religious extremist. Science and Religion are shown side by side as comparable quests for truth. Both have their faithful disciples and heretics (though the identity of each depends which camp the observer stands). Both are used for what others might see as Good or Evil purposes. Perhaps the surface conflict between the two approaches stems from their underlying similarity.

In Contact, we see the main character undergo a fundamental shift in her world view. She has always been a devout scientist, but maintained that science is objectively better than religion. That view may become a little less hard-lined after her voyage to the stars. Mike Alsford discusses in his book, What If? Religious Themes in Science Fiction, how frequently science fiction protagonists experience such a change. “Invariably, the catalyst that triggers the paradigm shift in these stories, a change from one world-view to another, is the introduction of an element which begins to break down the sense of order previously accepted by default” (ALSFORD 2000). The characters in these examples of sci-fi undergo a conversion of sorts. Near the end of the film, Dr. Arroway bears testimony as fervently as any evangelical missionary ever did. Her witness is challenged, and she is asked to concede that the whole voyage was a hallucination and the signal an elaborate hoax. To paraphrase her response would do the testimony injustice.
“Because I can't. I had an experience...I can't prove it, I can't even explain it. But everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me...a vision of the universe...that tells us undeniably how tiny and how insignificant and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us that we belong to something greater than ourselves, that we are not, that none of us are alone. I wish I could share that. I wish that everyone, if even for one moment, could feel that awe and humility and that hope. That continues to be my wish.”
The scene is a turning of the tables. It recalls earlier in the film when Ellie challenges Palmer Joss’ faith, saying he may have emotionally needed such a religious experience, so he unwittingly fabricated one. She cites Occam’s razor, the principle that, all factors being equal, the simplest answer is the most likely. Now the same logic is returned to her. Before the journey, she is asked if such a traveler would have “faith” in those sending the message. She responds that she’d rather say a sense of adventure. The same question is posed after her journey, and the answer is entirely changed. She perfectly plays out what Stephen Clark explains in his essay, Science Fiction and Religion. While organized religion itself is often derided, “There is nonetheless a religious theme that seems to be widely endorsed by science fiction fans and writers; that humanity, if only it can mature, will give the world, the universe, significance” (CLARK 2005). The meaning she finds is a perfect analog to the religion she so readily dismissed earlier. The role reversal manifests itself also during her journey, when scientific objectivity escapes her; “some celestial event...no worlds to describe...they should have sent a poet. I had no idea...” (ZEMECKIS 1998).

Zemeckis uses not only religious rhetoric throughout the film, but accompanying religious imagery. When Ellie is escorted to the second machine, she wears what can only be described as armor, a strange precaution for a space traveler. She is followed by two Japanese men, ostensibly technicians, but they appear almost as guards. She stands in as Joan of Ark, a fellow visionary and martyr for her cause, to be escorted to the fires of her doom and exaltation. She fills an archetypal role, as the strong woman. Similarly, Palmer Joss gives Ellie a pocket compass that ultimately saves her, at least from severe injury. The image of a compass is used by Freemasons and other ancient religious orders (GILKES 2004). It is pointed out by Palmer Joss after Ellie objects to the Christian Coalition demanding to know where the aliens stand on God, that she did in fact find a literal booming voice from the sky, just as any number of Biblical prophets. Ellie even offers an unwitting prayer of sorts after her father dies. On her CB radio, she calls out to the void for the only parent she has ever known. “Dad, come back.” The climax comes later, when she meets the alien as her father in their constructed ideal setting, her personal heaven. He explains to her a plan, and how those from all creation have grown to knowledge and become exalted as he is. Time ceases to hold meaning there, but the significance of her experience can't even be fully expressed by her afterward.

Contact intertwines so many religious symbols and dialog so densely, that to catch them all would require a careful scene by scene analysis. Yet the story is fluid enough and outside any traditional religious context that it could draw in religiously skeptical audiences. It may even be veiled enough to draw in, and change, people as skeptical and doubting as Ellie herself was until her converting interstellar (and spiritual) journey. As an audience, we take that journey too, and come away with greater a faith in science, god, humanity, or all of those and more.

Works Cited

Alsford, Mike. What If? Religious Themes in Science Fiction. London. Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd., 2000

Clark, Stephen R.L. “Science Fiction and Religion.” A Companion to Science Fiction. Malden: Blackwell Ltd., 2005. 96-97.

Contact. Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. DVD. Warner Home Video, 1998.

Druyan, Ann. “About the production.”Contact Production Notes. 1997. Warner Brothers. 21 Apr. 2009 .

Gilkes, Peter. Masonic ritual :Spoilt for Choice. 2004 Masonic Quarterly Magazine (10). 21 Apr. 2009

Head, Tom. Conversations with Carl Sagan. Skeptic 13 (1), pp.32-38 Univ. of Mississippi Press 2006.

Horsfield, Peter, Mary E. Hess, and Adan M. Medrano. Belief in Media. Burlington: Ashgate Company. 2004.

Johnson, Robert K. Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000

Kupfer, Joseph H. Visions of Virtue in Popular Film Boulder: Westview P, 1999

Marsh, Clive. Theology Goes to the Moview; An introduction to critical Christian thinking. New York: Routledge, 2007.

McClain, Carl. Morals and the Movies. Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1970.

Sagan, Carl. Contact: a novel. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985