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SHARE at Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival

Fantastic news!

Laurels LALift-Off International Film Festival has selected my short film SHARE to be part of their prestigious line up of true independent cinema at this years Los Angeles Lift-Off 2014! It’s the first project I’ve written and directed myself, and it’s incredibly exciting to finally be getting it out in front of audiences.

Selected out of 700+ global entrants, my film will screen at the prestigious Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival, an indie event held annually in Venice Beach, California on September 4th, 2014. The screening forms part of the wider Lift-Off International Film Festivals, which have live indie screenings in four transatlantic cities held quarterly throughout the year.
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Gender Swap by The Machine to Be Another

The Coming Age of Technodelics

Last week Facebook bought Oculus VR, the company that’s been developing what many think is finally going to be the headset that brings VR mainstream. Oculus was already in a pretty exciting place, having raised $2,437,429 on kickstarter in 2012 and having secured John Carmack of id software fame as CTO. Facebook’s acquisition means they basically have unlimited resources behind them now. On top of that, Sony recently joined in the VR circus by announcing their own Project Morpheus headset for the PS4. Nearly two decades after the first wave of VR entered mainstream culture, phase two has clearly begun. Continue reading

wrigley

Everything has changed, absolutely nothing’s changed (Pearl Jam + Time = Magic)

Everything has changed, absolutely nothing’s changed

That’s not the correct line from Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy”, but for years I always thought it was and have settled on it being correct for me.

I actually don’t listen to Pearl Jam albums that much. During off season, months will usually pass in which I don’t put on a single record. In the back of my mind, I know how good they are and that they’ll always be there. So I start to take them for granted, and slowly start to forget. Continue reading

before midnight

Before Midnight (Cinema + Time = Magic)

I had the pleasure of seeing Before Midnight earlier this week and absolutely loved it. I was a bit late to the series, not seeing Before Sunrise until 2005 just as the sequel Before Sunset was being released. I quickly fell in love with the films (particularly the second one) and needless to say was eagerly anticipating the latest installment.

I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint, though it wasn’t quite what I had expected. I’ll spoil nothing after the amazing and utterly perfect cliffhanger that ended Before Sunset, which played off two of the greatest lines of dialogue ever uttered in film. Needless to say Celine and Jesse are both alive and we get the joy of again spending some time with them together, and the culmination of that time ties back in very moving ways to the two films that came before. While just a short slice of their lives, the film gives a perfect crystalization of where they’re each at and what’s been happening for them – I instantly felt like I knew exactly what the last 9 years had been like in their worlds. The perfect ebb and flow of their conversations that started in Before Sunrise and was perfected in Before Sunset continues in Midnight, as beat to beat there’s always what’s being said and what’s actually being felt, which rarely but occasionally do line up.

My screening was followed by a fantastic Q&A with co-writer and director Richard Linklater, who’s been one of my favorite filmmakers for quite some time. The most fascinating thing I learned from his discussion was that basically none of the entire trilogy involved improv. In fact, they rather slavishly worked from scripts down to the specific word and gesture, which is no small feat considering the amount of long takes and full conversations that make up the films.

What strikes me most about the series is how it’s actually very specific while being absolutely universal at the same time. Every line of dialogue is in some shape or fashion born from the life experiences of the writers or people they knew, which in my mind has a lot to do with why things often feel so real. Oddly enough, it’s the very specificity of the moments, and the real feelings of vulnerability, trust, love, doubt, and love they explore that end up creating situations utterly universal in how they portray the various up and downs of relationship and the passing of time and growing old. Continue reading

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My new short film SHARE

Excited to share that my short film SHARE is live on Kickstarter! Really proud of the script and excited to make it happen!


Here’s how you can help:

  1. Donate! – No amount is too small and I will be forever grateful to you for helping to jumpstart my career to the next level
  2. Share the campaign on your social networks and anyone offline you think might find the project interesting
  3. I’m looking for any kind of PRESS I can get – so if you know anyone that blogs, podcasts, or writes please send them my way. No interview is too small and I’ll talk about the film, technology, crowdfunding, whatever!
  4. Stay tuned, every day or so throughout the campaign I’ll be posting a short interview I’ve done with various luminaries from my life asking them, Would You Share? at the film’s website: WouldYouShare.com.
AW Awards

Love Sex God: Awakening World & Spirit of Evolution

One of the projects I’ve been focusing a lot on the last 3 years has been Sebastian Siegel’s Love Sex God documentary series. I co-produced, edited, and shot the first installment, Awakening World. It’s lighthearted and thought provoking short documentary about some of life’s deepest questions: Love, intimacy, heaven, hell, and purpose. It’s been playing the festival circuit recently and been received quite well where it has shown, so much so we’re now crowdfunding the resources to make the 2nd film in the series, Spirit of Evolution.  Spirit of Evolution will cover religion, god, spirituality, and how our beliefs can often change and evolve over time.  Get a DVD copy of the first film by supporting the 2nd one below!

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The Hobbit: 24FPS vs 48FPS & Other Problems…

I saw The Hobbit this morning in 3D HFR in order to give Peter Jackson the benefit of the doubt and see it as he most intended it to be seen. Do I regret seeing it like that? No. Would I recommend it? No.

There’s a lot of problems with this film, only one of which is the HFR. Narratively, it’s a bit of a mess. I was wary when Peter Jackson announced his two films were becoming three. For LOTR, it made sense, three books, three movies! But to take the single book of the Hobbit and make it into three films? Absurd, I thought. And I was right. While Jackson is drawing on appendices and other writings of Tolkien to flesh out the three film arc, the simple problem remains that the material just isn’t really there, and not just lengthwise. The Hobbit is far more of a children’s book, and narratively the stakes just aren’t as high. Now, my biggest problem is how Jackson looks to be dealing with that. Instead of making a lighter hearted movie, he quickly attempts to start bringing in some of the stakes from the LOTR trilogy into this trilogy. It sort of works, but mostly doesn’t. The Hobbit just isn’t the same beast. Bilbo goes on his journey mostly by choice, and so he can have an adventure! Frodo, on the other hand, goes on his because there’s basically no one else that can do it! It’s against his will in fact, which is much more dramatic.  Trying to elevate the narrative of The Hobbit to the epic status of LOTR was a mistake.

Now, excessive problems aside, here’s the problem with the 3d and HFR in my mind. Off the bat, I’m neither a particularly against nor for 3d. Seeing AVATAR in 3D was one of my favorite cinematic experiences of all time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the 3D in Life of PI this year. But would I have been crushed if I hadn’t seen either movie like that? No, and the why of that has much to do with my feelings towards HFR.

In my mind the process of going to the movies is forgetting yourself, and identifying with the characters on screen. It’s a process of entering that world, not tjat world entering ours. The HFR 48 FPS of The Hobbit did not make it easier for me to go into middle earth. It felt more like middle earth coming into my life. The same applies to the 3d. If it’s failing to suck me “into” the world, it has become a barrier to me entering into the screen world. I felt that both the 3D and HFR in this case ended up being the latter: barriers to entry, never letting me forget that I was watching a movie. And without the forgetting, it’s much harder to be identifying.

That being said, I know my perspective is HEAVILY culturally influenced. EVERYONE that has grown up in the US since the advent of television has been culturally conditioned to associate 24FPS 35mm film with high quality, and 60i video to be television (more real in some senses). There’s nothing particularly special about 24 FPS other than it’s roughly the rate at which Persistence of Vision in the human eye works “well enough”.

So there’s a few things going on that make The Hobbit troublesome. First off, high frames rates immediately make us think of Soap Operas. The first hour of the Hobbit will be JARRING to you if you see it in HFR. The second hour and a half are much better, as Jackson has noted in interviews. Your brain will adjust to a great extent. But still, everything is BUTTERY smooth, which is just very different from the more dreamy motion of 24.

Now, on top of the 3D and HFR, there’s also the fact that these films were all shot 100% digital on RED Epic Cinema cameras. The LOTR, while in the end a digitally effects laden film, was still shot on traditional 35mm. The Hobbit has NONE of the subtle film grain of 35, and as good as RED Epics are, the highlights just look like terrible blown out video at 48 FPS.  Then on top of that all, to get 48 FPS the shutter angle of the camera has to be different, and shorter.  So there’s no blur on motion, the whole thing is like Saving Private Ryan which doesn’t benefit a FANTASY movie in my mind.  Fantasy isn’t supposed to be real, that’s why it’s fantasy.

So in the Hobbit we have CRYSTAL clear images moving with twice the smoothness of traditional film. There’s literally TWICE as much information coming into your eyeball every second, and the clarity of that information is sharp beyond 35mm, which in the end is the biggest problem.

While I have no facts to back it up, I’d be willing to bet that if you analyzed a human brain while it watches 24fps that it would be very different from one watching 48fps.  I think it’s because of the “just enough” nature of 24fps. Since there’s more blanks to be filled, I have a hunch that the brain actually has to do more “work” than when watching higher frame rates.  It’s more actively engaged even though film going is a passive process. During the action sequences, 48 FPS is actually too much information in my opinion. It’s a LOT of data to sort, so instead of my brain having to work harder, it just gets overwhelmed. Then, on top of that, there’s the 3d which is completely unnatural for the human eye (focusing on a single plane while tricking it into thinking there’s depth).  End result is that I never felt like I was in middle earth.

In summary, for me  the Hobbit in 3D HFR 48 attempts to bring the shire into my world, not me into the world of middle earth.  Go see it in 24fps non 3D.

 

Nikon D700 HDR

The Perfect Camera is Finally Coming! Things will NEVER be the same

Forget DSLRs. Forget RED. Forget Alexa. Forget IMAX. The perfect camera is finally coming: under $10k, 16 bit, 4:4:4, RAW, 18 stops of latitude, a larger than full frame sensor, light-field technology for perfect focus, and up to 1200 FPS of over-cranking. More perfect than film, in fact, it’s more perfect than the human EYE, the ultimate image capture and acquisition tool.

It’s revolutionary. It’s cinematic. It’s the great democratizer of an industry. And of course, it’s not yet real.

But it will be.

Link bait aside, it seems like everyday a new camera is announced and a bunch of people begin arguing online about how it is or isn’t perfect. That is all fine and great, I’m addicted to the whole process myself. I love seeing technology evolve. I love seeing film evolve. So what’s up with this bullshit post?

There’s no doubt that the day is coming when we will have image acquisition tools that really do capture everything perfectly.  True “raw” in the sense that focus, resolution, color, and fidelity will be so finely captured, and with such complete flexibility that never again will we miss another scene because focus was off, never again will we have to use generators and miles of rigging to light a scene, never again will we make sacrifices in acquisition at the cost of the story.

Like it or not, it’s coming.  Crews will get smaller and the technical barriers to capturing stunning imagery will disappear.  And even well before that we’ll be at the point of good enough: the mp3 of filming will emerge and serve 99% of our needs (hell, you could even argue we’re already there in some respects).

And it’s not just in film that’s it’s going to happen, but in many many industries and sectors.  The perfect photo realistic game engine.  The home television or VR glasses that render at resolutions greater than the human eye can see, the car that drives itself and never needs maintenance.  The industrial age is passing, and will continue to slowly taper off and ultimately change everything.

Art. The Economy.  The Environment.  No aspect of reality will be left untouched.  The disappearance of manufacturing jobs in the last decades was only the beginning and it’s going to get much worse, and frankly, that’s scary.  30 years ago if you invented the ultimate toy and everyone wanted it, you had to DO more work to make more of that thing.  No more.  Next weekend I could crank out the next great game on the iphone and that 30 hours of work can be instantly and forever replicated without me putting in another second of my time, energy, or anything physical. I don’t have to build more factories, ship more stuff, or hire more people.  1′s and 0′s are easy to replicate.  (an exaggeration but you get the point)

Yet, as with anything, it’ll be at a tradeoff.  For decades cinema’s barrier to entry has been huge: massive crews, expensive gear, time consuming post production.

Boom.  That’s all going away.  It’s going to be easier than ever, in the technical sense, to make movies.  And the second that external “things” cease to be the barrier to entry, INTERIOR “things” suddenly skyrocket in value. Creativity, Integrity, and more than ever the ability to tell compelling stories that reflect a diversity of values that folks connect with.

Seth Godin put all this a bit more succinctly in a post earlier today:

When everyone has access to the same tools

…then having a tool isn’t much of an advantage.

The industrial age, the age of scarcity, depended in part on the advantages that came with owning tools others didn’t own.

Time for a new advantage. It might be your network, the connections that trust you. And it might be your expertise. But most of all, I’m betting it’s your attitude.

This is obviously spot on for the film industry, and for any industry that involves technology or a scarcity of knowledge. Jobs that once existed because only a few people had access to certain physical means of production are going to just keep vanishing. Staples will begin printing 3d objects next year. Need a follow focus? Print it. It breaks? Go make another. There’s already a whole world of torrenting going on for 3d printing designs and plans.

The point is, gear, and the means of production for most art are going to be “good enough” and “cheap enough” that almost anyone will be able to create world class content VERY soon outside of the traditional structures and systems that have already been built up. Now obviously there will always be amateurs and pros, huge companies and underdogs, and billion dollar marketing budgets vs single youtube channels, but things are changing.

The Attention oriented network economy is upon us. In the perfect (and yes still unlikely in many ways) world outlined above, INTERIORS become infinitely more valuable than EXTERIORS. If me and every person with a bit of spare cash can suddenly have the means to create stunning audio or visual content, it ENTIRELY shifts the premium from the EXTERNAL STUFF, the gear and production tools, to the INTERNAL stuff: the values, creativity, and ability of a group to work together to make something beautiful.

The days of being an asshole that no one wants to work with just because you know how to use some super exclusive piece of gear, or own some ridiculously expensive piece of equipment are ending. Learning is getting easier. No matter what you know how to do, there’s going to be someone else out there that can probably do it better than you and for less money to boot. Being the type of healthy, integrated, and creative person that people WANT to work with: because you communicate well, work hard, and have values that people respond to and want more of is only going to become more and more important.

STORY becomes the complete and utter king again. And what is story other that the ability to share a meaningful expression of what it means to be human. How can your next action movie mesmerize me in a way that I’ve never been before? So far we’ve been relying visuals to show us things we’ve never seen before. But soon that won’t even be enough. It’s going to take more. A new perspective on the world, a completely authentic emotion, a layer of reality never before witnessed. Frankly, I’m excited. We’re getting really close to having figured out how to do the “form” part of my favorite arts (cinema and video games), and when that’s off the table the pivot to “content” is one I’m hoping I’m in the right time and place for.

I’ve personally struggled since moving to LA and trying to “break into” the film industry. Many times I’ve questioned my wisdom in not heading out here straight out of college and working my way up a production ladder. There’s a LOT of technical “stuff” I just don’t know how to do, and certainly not as well as others.

Lately, however, as I shift more into creation mode, I’m starting to appreciate the fact that I took my 20′s to go “figure myself out” and do work to grow up a bit as a human being. The more I step into writing and directing, the more I’m finding having even a modicum of understanding about how we as humans behave is a tremendously useful.

My podcast, blogging here, writing screenplays, shooting short scenes, building a self owned sustainable business: everything I’ve been doing this year has hopefully been helping to the lay the foundations for not having to worry about the forms or systems of creation, but simply getting to focus on creating content that audiences find compelling.  Which is great because once I get that perfect camera I’ll finally have all the tools I need to tell an awesome story!

“The Death of Normal” / The Power of Perspectives

Those wishing to hold national office in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against the next, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens who demand to control their own bodies.

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense.

A brilliant post by David Simon about what he feels was truly groundbreaking about last week’s election: the disintegration of “normal” as more and more voices begin to come into play in the US political process. Go read it, then come back.

The idea of “the other” has always fascinated me, and it comes as no surprise to me that breakdowns of last week’s voting show that on the whole, the denser the population of an area the more liberal that area tends to vote.

Why? Simple in my mind, the more people you’re around, the less you fear the other. Being exposed to a variety of perspectives different from your own, and realizing each and every person behind them is a human being is about as big a catalyst for growth as I can think of. As “the other” becomes known, they become human, they become relatable to, and they become real. It’s easy to be a dick when you’re anonymous, Youtube is proof of that. But when you actually see others, and are actually seen by them, understanding emerges. It may not be agreement, there’s plenty of people whom I know and deeply disagree with, but I can at the very least begin to understand where they’re coming from, and once I have an idea of where someone is coming from, it’s much easier to see them as human beings.

So what’s all this have to do with film? Easy.  PERSPECTIVES.  I believe in perspectives, more perspectives = better informed decisions.  That’s what being liberal means to me.

It’s also why I *love* cinema– because of its amazing ability to give viewers NEW perspectives: on themselves, on others, on the world around, and on those feats of imagination that only exist in celluloid. Not only that, but it’s able to package and deliver those new perspectives in an EMOTIONAL context.

The corner stone of modern hollywood cinema, the CLOSE UP is one of the best delivery mechanisms for emotional perspectives that I think we’ve found yet. We’re literally wired to feel in ourselves what we see in others.  In most day to day life we have to buffer than resonance, and dampen it to survive.  We walk by the homeless person on the street, ignore the shouting match between our neighbors, and don’t blink an eye when a parent scolds their child.  Some of that is our biological wiring – strangers can be danger!  But in the movie theater, we’re safe.  We can drop all that.  We can fully merge with the other up there on the screen.  Our self is forgotten, even if temporarily, and we become our Self and experience things we never would otherwise.  That’s profound to me.  And literally millions of us are already doing it, everyday.  It works best with a really big screen, in a specially dedicated space that’s nice and dark and gets a bunch of selves together in the same place in the same moment (the theatrical experiences still matters!).   It makes “the other” into US, one scene at a time.

  • Create a character the audience can identify with.
  • Put that character through the full range of human experience, the good, the bad, the godly, the seedy, whatever.
  • The audience, if even only in a way that is a sliver as powerful as the “real” thing,  gets to experience that perspective without ever having done it, been there, or suffered through it.  Wisdom can be transmitted without the harm.

Movies let us practice being human.

ACTION!

Demo Reel Scenes

Demo Reel Scenes

Here’s some fun short demo reel style scenes I’ve been shooting for some actors out here in LA, written by some of the same people that star in them.  A crew of me and sometimes 1 or 2 others and generally blocked and shot on the fly.  Great practice for me as a director: blocking really does take some brain power, even for simple scenes.

Netflix

Netflix, Big Data, and what hollywood is missing out on.

Sarandos says Netflix makes more “data-centric decisions” than most networks. He was able to analyze how many subscribers like the series’ star, Kevin Spacey, as well as how many rented the BBC series on which the new production is based. “You get a very addressable audience. Better than that, I know exactly who they are.”

That’s Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos talking to his investors about one of the KEY advantages tech companies have over traditional media studios in the evolving film and television markets.

For a few years now I’ve been thinking that the real value of Netflix isn’t the content library per say, but the exhausting amount of specific data Netflix has on what its actual customers like and watch.  With one of the most famous recommendation algorithms around, Netflix has always encouraged users to rate movies since they first began shipping DVDs in the late 90s.  Since re-shifting their focus to streaming, they’ve also been able to collect even more default data – ie what shows and movies you started and whether or not you finished them, regardless of ratings.

As they shift into content production and with such vast knowledge of their users, Netflix can make FAR more intelligent and informed decisions about what to make than just about any company (save for Amazon) out there.  Compared to the traditional studios that have absolutely no feedback loops with their customers other than tickets sold and DVDs rented, Netflix is years ahead of the curve.  When Netflix now chooses to make a show or movie, they don’t have to GUESS what their customers want and don’t have to base their decisions off the hunch of programming executives.  Instead, they can see, DOWN TO THE ZIPCODE, what genre of shows and starring what actors their customers are already watching.  If they see that 10% of their customers devour Arrested Development’s 2 seasons in their entirety, it’s a no brainer for them to make season 3 – and at a budget that takes into account the actual numbers they can expect to see.

When I compare this to Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and the rest, it seems to me they’re in big trouble.  The single biggest cost for most “big hollywood” movies these days is marketing, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars for movies, and there’s little to NO actual data for how much a difference all those ads make.  They can pour all the money they want into Dark Shadows, Battleship, or John Carter – and if audiences aren’t interested they FLOP.

The traditional studios are at a MAJOR disadvantage on this technological side, mostly because they’ve resisted the transition to digital delivery for so long, meaning outside companies like Apple, Netflix, and Amazon have been able to gain a significant foothold in the emerging market.  They’ve built an infrastructure that can connect the data of what people are watching with the teams that are deciding what is being made.  While Ultraviolet was a bold attempt to reclaim some of this lost ground, it’s frankly just too little, too late.  As Amazon and Netflix continue their march towards original content creation, I’d suggest the studios find a way to partner up – and fast.

And if I was Netflix right now?  Embrace your opposite – I’d open a series of small cinema cafes in all the major cities to act as communal centers for cinema lovers.  I’d constantly be programming a diverse selection of screenings of classics, second runs, and indie movies that draw SPECIFICALLY from what the customers in that zip code like.  Got an abundance of people that LOVE Firefly living in Chicago…screen the whole series over the course of a month!  Have a coffee shop / bar attached so people stay and chat afterwards, and hang out to talk cinema there even when they aren’t see a movie.  Cinemaphiles LOVE going to the movies.  A home theater system still cannot replace the value of an audience sitting in a dark room together, seeing a picture projected larger then life.  Fill up all those empty Borders and Circuit City stores and bring some culture and art back to communities.  You’ve got the DATA to pretty much guarantee a healthy crowd at ANY screening in any major city, USE IT!  I’d go!