What I'm Working On Now

Three short films are in Post-Production, soon to be submitting to film festivals.
Producing/editing a pilot for a new web-series inspired by the Alice in Wonderland tales.
Producing/editing a documentary on Gene Roddenberry and the genesis of Star Trek The Original Series.
There are a number of other projects in development, just waiting their turn to be produced.

Friday, August 30, 2013

POETRY: MEDLEY

Gray morn, grassy fields
Leafy trees with ferns below
All turn to face dawn

*

A lone figure stands
Calm atop a sloping hill
Watch the world burn

*

Every night's the same
Fearful of coming horrors
Oh what dreams may come

*     *     *

   These are pieces about my recent dreams.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BEWARE OF THE MONTAGE

   Sorry for missing Monday's post. I thought I'd combine my usual Monday post with today's since they go together so well.

   I've seen a number of films recently that use montage. some to great effect, others not so much. Montage shows up in writing as well, only not as frequently. For my purposes, I'll define a montage as any sequence incorporating several short scenes or images to express either a passage of time (incorporating growing up, training, building, etc.) or a state of mind (delirium, anger, ecstasy, etc.).

   Before using a montage, ask yourself why you're using it. Is this the best way to tell this part of the story? Let's look at the first Iron Man film. When Tony Stark is building the Iron Man suit in his workshop (in America after his escape in the proto-suit), there's a great montage of him trying different things, testing, failing, testing again, etc. There's some moments of dialogue to break up the montage a bit and added to the pacing as well as brought in some character and humor. It's quite common for these superhero movies to incorporate a suit-building-montage segment. Go watch just about any origin super hero movie and it'll have a suit montage (except for the X-Men movies). Spider-Man, Bat Man, Iron Man...the list goes on but those are the big ones that most people would have seen. Another famous montage is the one from Home Alone when Kevin is fortifying his house against the would-be thieves, ending with him calking the air rifle. Each of these show a definite progression in the story, are not confusing, and move the story along without getting bogged down. As interesting as it would be to watch the entire prep for the house, or the entire build of the super suit, or whatever, it takes too much time. The Hunger Games also uses montage to show the tributes training, as well as when Katniss is hallucinating from the Tracker Jacker's stings.

   Now then, after these examples of montage done right, you may be thinking they're always great. Not so. Like any tool for storytelling, there's a time and place for everything. I watched a film adaptation of the novel "Flowers for Algernon" not too long ago, and there were several times they used montage. Most of the time I had no idea if the montage was literal or symbolic. They left me confused, sometimes bored, sometimes frustrated. Not what you want in a film. Most of the time, the film could have done without the montage entirely. Other times it just needed to be cleaned up or explained a bit more. Since I've read the book I understood what was going on, but my wife who was unfamiliar with the story had to ask me for clarification.

   In books, as I said before, montage is less common. Even still, it happens and the same rule apply. Make sure it's important and not just filler. Don't jump into it without setting it up so you don't confuse your reader. If there's a more interesting way of telling that part of the story, use the other way. Sometimes you have to cut the montage entirely because it doesn't work in the overall story, even if the montage is a good one.

    So what's your favorite montage? What's your least favorite montage?

Friday, August 23, 2013

POETRY: SUMMER'S END

Cool breeze this morning
The some-time gust of autumn
Swishing through the trees

*

The stream is empty
It dried up early last month
Soon rain will fill it

*

The leaves are turning
Shades of yellow invading
Spinning round they fall

*     *     *

   Due to some bad joints, I've always had a hard time seeing to good side of changing seasons (except for Spring to Summer), but I've been trying to fix that. Fresh perspective and focusing on the good.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

FROGS AND TOADS; IMPULSE vs LOGIC

   Years ago I was watching a nature program about amphibians and a contrast between frogs and toads was drawn that has forever shaped my view of people. You see, when a frog is sitting on a lillypad and it decides to go back into the water, it just jumps...never bothering to check if there's a school of fish waiting to gobble it up. Toads on the other hand, look before they leap and are far less frequently munched by such opportunistic predators.

   People are much the same. Some of us look before we leap, considering the consequences of our actions and weighing the risks and benefits, whereas others of us jump right in without a thought in their head that things might not go according to plan.

   In the same vein as last Wednesday's post about Writing Character who are Emotional vs Passionate, this week I'm focusing on logical and impulsive (illogical) characters. So let me define a few things. Logic is the act of reasoning, considering outcomes, and basically thinking about what one is doing and why. Therefore, illogical behavior is behavior that lacks forethought. We all know people who fit into these categories. Most of us are a blend of the two with a slight lean towards one or the other; and most characters in stories are as well. However, when writing a character, it is important to remember which way he or she leans on this spectrum as it can make a huge difference in their behavior.

   This part of character creation happens organically for me. I write a character and their logical or illogical behavior comes out. It's not something I really have to think about (illogical writing?). From time to time I need to go back and fix a few choices that the character makes to bring them in line with their nature, but overall, once it becomes apparent to me which way a character is leaning, their voice has become strong enough to keep things going on their own.

   It's not usually a good idea to have a purely illogical or logical character unless you have a very good reason for doing so. Spock, for example, was famous for his logical behavior, and loved for it, because it strengthened his character. And before anyone tries to say that the Joker in The Dark Knight was purely illogical, think again. He was ALWAYS thinking about outcomes, always planning ahead. Regardless of what he might have said, he did have a plan.

  As a side note, there is also intuition which is based not on logic but on instinct. Sometimes, a character just knows that doing this or that will have a certain outcome, even though they can't explain it. Logic only comes into play when the time comes for them to decide if they will follow the intuitive prompting or not. Remember this line?
   "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Sometimes the characters in Star Wars heeded their gut feeling, other times they didn't. Now go and watch the movies and find each time this happened and figure out if they handled it logically or illogically.

Monday, August 19, 2013

COLOR

   Over the past few months I've been working on color correction for the two films I shot at the beginning of this summer. Now don't worry if you don't know what color correction is, because that's what this post is all about.

   First thing you need to understand is that a camera DOES NOT see things the same way our eyes do. As such, when filming a movie, the set will look unnatural to our eyes (either too bright, too dim, too much contrast, etc.) but when we play it back it looks just fine (so we hope). But even the best cinematographers, camera operators, and gaffers can't overcome the limitations of the camera. There's always some unwanted color loss/change or a scene that came out a touch too bright/dark/etc. So what's to be done? Color correction.

   The basic concept behind color correction is that you enhance an already good shot by bringing out some more vibrancy from the picture. If the shot was poorly done then there's only so much a colorist (someone who does color correction) can do. Green grass becomes emerald, orange-red hair becomes flaming-red, wane skin turns healthy. The other real benefit to color correction is the fact that it helps separate your subject from the background. Often times, lenses have the optical effect of flattening the image (removing the sense of depth) and thus the subject, often the actor, gets a bit lost or loses the focus that it needs. It can be the difference between a stunning shot and a forgettable shot.

   So the next time you're watching a movie, take a moment to pause it and look at it. Do the characters jump off the screen? Are the colors true? Are they a bit grey? Are they too vibrant?

*
   As a side note, this is often also how certain films get an overall color filter look (as an example, the Twilight films all have a blue-grey color filter added), and also how day-for-night works (film a scene in the day and then do heavy color correction to make it look like night.

Friday, August 16, 2013

POETRY: NIGHTMARES

Crying in the night
So weary, I toss and turn
Bad dreams for my son

*

A plague of nightmares
Followed me since early days
Is my curse now shared

*

It's hard to calm him
At least I understand why
I can be patient

*     *     *

     I've had night terrors for as long as I can remember. Every time my son has a nightmare, I worry that he's inherited them from me.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

WRITING CHARACTERS WHO ARE EMOTIONAL VS. PASSIONATE

   *Note: when I use the word passionate, I am not referring to the romantic variety.

   If you ask anyone who knows me, they will tell you I'm not a very emotional individual. I'm pretty mellow, never lose my temper, and I can't really remember the last time I was at any emotional extreme. That said, I am a very passionate person. I become veritably manic when working on a project or pursuing some goal or such. One of my sisters on the, other hand, is VERY emotional. Several highs and lows are reached in any given day. But as far as passion goes, she's pretty even on that scale.

   Now what does this have to do with writing characters?

   There are lots of different types of people in the world, some are passionate, some are emotional, and some are a mix of both (there are also logical and insane character, but lets not worry about those right now). In my writing, most of my characters start out leaning more towards the passionate and less towards the emotional side of things. That's fine for first draft, but then I have to go back in and pick out who's going to be my emotional characters and 'fix' them. Writing emotions is not an easy thing for me, as it's never featured much in my own personal experience (watching people being emotional is not the same as feeling emotional). To fill in my experience gap, I always find someone who fits the character(s) I'm fixing and have them take a look at it ( hurray for beta readers).

   What I discovered while going through this process surprised me. Both groups, the emotional character and the passionate characters, do things for different reasons (not a surprise) but that there are a lot of times when their actions aren't all that different from one another.

   Both Passionate and Emotional characters can behave irrationally, and will often act on impulse. However, the emotional character will be driven by external motivators (Person A did something I did/didn't like, and so I feel the need to do something about it) whereas the passionate character will be driven by internal motivators (I want a certain outcome and Person A will/won't help me so I feel the need to do something about it).

   Often, emotional characters are less concerned with the right or wrong of a situation and are more concerned with their own self. Passionate characters will generally adhere to some kind of moral code (not necessarily a good one) and will defend it to a fault.

   So what are you? Are you emotional or passionate?

Monday, August 12, 2013

I WATCHED HUGO

   I finally watched Martin Scorsese's film "Hugo" the other day. For those of you who haven't seen it, don't worry, I won't be spoiling much here. Oh, and I recommend watching it.

   The film made me think back to my film history days when we were learning about the rocky transition from silent to talking pictures. The silent movies were really becoming quite astounding (with a few exceptions) in their visual storytelling, and the talking pictures were (with a few exceptions) a huge step backward as far as the art of movie making was concerned. One of the main reasons for the loss in quality was the restrictions of the new camera and audio set up. Cameras of the day were noisy, and so had to be placed in a large soundproofed room with a glass wall to film through. The actors couldn't move around or turn their heads or else the audio recording would become useless.

   These restrictions frustrated most of the great silent film era film makers and, sadly, most of their careers didn't survive the transition. It took a couple of decades before movies could claw their way back to the quality of storytelling they had before the advent of sound.

   So go watch some late era silent films and early era talking films and let me know what you think. And while I always recommend watching "The Jazz Singer", it doesn't count for this exercise because it's mostly a silent movie with a few talking/singing scenes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

TEACHING ONCE MORE

   Once upon a time, I taught...a lot of things. I taught at an elementary school, I taught at a university, I taught at a middle school. I did a lot of teaching. I like teaching. However, I didn't get a teaching degree, and various rules and laws about teaching prevented me from pursuing a career in education after I graduated with my BS.

   Years passed, I went into film making, ended up getting an MFA, and suddenly I've found myself back in the world of education. I just finished teaching a Summer teen program and I'll be wrapping up an Intro to Editing course later this week. Neither of these classes are long term positions, and I am not planning to stop making movies in order to teach full time. Rather, I'm excited about the prospect to share with others, from time to time, my experience and knowledge of film making with others.

   I've heard it said that "those who can, do, and those who can't, teach". To me that is a terrible phrase. Don't get me wrong, I've known plenty of people who fit that description, but personally, I think those who can should also teach. They are the ones with the most to offer to their students, the most experience and success to share.

   Not everyone has the ability or desire to teach, and I understand that. It just seems wrong to me that there are so few working professionals in the film business who take the time to teach. Yes, they're busy making movies, but that doesn't mean they can't teach a class here and there.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

     Okay, so now I should be getting back on schedule...finally. Post-Production on "Merlin in Love" and "Scream for the Whisperer" has been going well, but taking up a lot of my time. I can't wait to show them to you. In addition to that I've been teaching some courses at the Seattle Film Institute (more on that tomorrow with my regular update) and having a blast. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I should be able to get back into a regular schedule once more...until mid-september, as that's when my wife is due...at which point all bets are off.