Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thoughts on Bones

So my girlfriend has been wanting me to watch Bones for a long time, probably about a year. So I started watching the show about a month ago. I'm currently towards the end of Season 2 and having watch this much so far I've got a few thoughts on the show that I've observed.

The first is that Jack Hodgins is the man. If you haven't watched the show then I recommend it solely because of him. Hodgins offers a bit of comic relief for the show, which in dealing with grizzly murders can get a little serious at times. With his sarcastic demeanor, Hodgins lightens the mood in the lab. He counters this sarcasticness with his obsession of bugs and soil, which he specializes in to help solve crimes.

The second is that you just absolutely want Booth and Brennan to get together. (SPOILER) I know they do get together in the series, but already in the first two seasons I keep asking myself why they aren't a couple yet. It drives me nuts seeing them with other people when you just know that the two are perfect for each other. Oh, and theres also the fact that Booth went to Ithaca, so maybe thats why I love Booth so much.

The last thing, and I can't find a picture of it currently, is that every episode ends with a bloom effect that transitions between two shots. Just something I've noticed.

How to not get the Rights to a Doors Song in 3 Easy Steps

Have you ever been fiddling around with a trailer for your thesis film and thought, "eh, what the hell, let me throw "Break on Through" in here until I get an original piece of music from our composer, just for shits and gigs."? Have you then thought, after hearing how weirdly well the song works with your compilation of clips, "Well damn, that sounds pretty good! It's probably completely impossible to get the rights to this song, but what if I tried anyways?" If, for some overly coincidental reason, you've had those exact thoughts, this short, fairly unhelpful blog post is for you.

1. Find a Loophole.

The first step in not getting the rights to a Doors song is to find a semi-shady legal loophole, cause god knows you're not going to get it any other way. The best way to go about doing this is to find the contact information for whoever owns the rights to the song you'd like to use. Turns out, ASCAP has the rights, but you should be able to find an email address to contact a third party at. Using this email address, explain how you'd like to use "Break on Through" for free - since you won't be making anything that even resembles a profit off of this project - and that the only use of the song won't be in the actual film, just in the promotional trailer. Be polite, but then also include this crucial statement: "If we don't hear back from you within a few days, we'll assume that the answer is yes, and will include the song in our trailer." Gotta love those loopholes.

2. Fill out an official request.

After a bit of time has passed, you should get an automated response from the owners of the song, asking you to please click on an additional link to fill out a request to use the song. "Ok," you'll think. "Now we're getting somewhere. Maybe I can use this after all." Don't worry, that's just the false hope. You will not get the rights to this Doors song.

But you keep trying! You fill out the whole form, explaining again how it's a non-profit student production. You offer to show them the content of the trailer and explain what the overall film is about. Butter them up a bit, and say that you think the song really exemplifies the tone you're going for in the trailer, blah blah blah, all that good stuff. Then submit the form, and keep your fingers crossed!

3. Get rejected.

Pretty self-explanatory, really. You will get an official looking email from Kim Stockemer, the Director of Copyright and Licensing for Wixen Music Publishing, Inc. that basically turns out to be a cease and desist letter. She'll include some copy and pasted line about how they carefully deliberated and seriously considered the proposal, but unfortunately won't be giving you the rights to use the song.

And that's it! That's how you (pretty predictably) can find yourself getting absolutely no rights to using a Doors song in a movie trailer. Hope that saves a very niche portion of you a couple minutes of your time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Close calls in downhill skateboarding and how they're portrayed/shared in the community

Downhill skateboarding is inherently dangerous, regardless of how you look at it. There are so many variables (cars, telephone poles, animals, other skaters, guardrails, rocks, road conditions etc) that skaters are doomed to fail eventually, and some of these fails happen to get caught on video.

While Ed remains completely safe and in control, there's a guard rail on one side of the road, a truck in the oncoming lane, and rocks to avoid in his own lane.

Everyone loves to watch videos of people failing, falling, getting hurt, you get the point. When it comes to downhill skateboarding its no different. However, downhill skateboarding is currently in limbo with legality and the public eye. Many people do not understand how "in control" we are while skateboarding, and how easy it is for us to stop quickly and in our lane. However, most of this knowledge stays within the downhill community, as does most of the standard videos. However, occasionally a video with someone hitting a car, guardrail, or extremely close call will go viral. 

The above video went semi-viral, and I chose not to share a video of someone getting hit by a car on purpose. When videos like this come out, its often the first and only video someone has seen of downhill skateboarding. They then get the impression that all downhill skateboarders have encounters like this very often and these things are unavoidable. 

This is a video that did go viral (3 Million + views), and features no unsafe riding. As a downhill skateboarder, watching videos where people mess up is fun, and I know not to judge all downhill skateboarding like this. However, I think it severely harms the sport when people do share those videos, which only hurts the downhills public image.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Music Videos of Kendrick Lamar

I'm going to make a (possibly) bold statement and say that the music videos that Kendrick Lamar has released to go along with his newest album are some of the greatest music videos ever made. Period. Not just some of the best rap videos, because that would be unnecessarily lumping them into a subcategory of music. The best ever, throughout all genres, all years, everything.

The videos in question - for the songs "i," "King Kunta," "Alright," "For Free?" and "These Walls" - have very little in common with each other, with the exception of an incredibly passionate Kendrick and the same themes that tie his (beautiful, sprawling, important) album "To Pimp a Butterfly" together. Unfortunately, all of the videos are on Vevo, so instead of posting those nice little Youtube boxes for this blog post, I'll just use some screenshots and throw the links down at the bottom of the page.

To Pimp a Butterfly is a dense album, and I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly what it was about. Some of it's about being sick of fame to the point where you're alone, screaming, in a hotel room. Some of it - as Billboard points out - is about self-actualization, appreciation, and what it takes to stay sane. A lot of it is about blackness, and social injustices, and race. But through it all, there's this bit of positivity that seeps through the cracks, this sometimes overwhelming sense that that, yeah, okay, maybe everything is going to be alright after all.

His videos, more so than any other music videos I've ever seen, are an extension of his album. They're more than just Kendrick mouthing the words to a rap, trying to make a couple extra bucks and maybe nab a VMA. A few of them have verses that never made it onto the album. And they're all incredibly beautiful.

His newest video for "These Walls" is an 8-minute long extravaganza that includes (what at least appears to be) a 2 minute tracking shot through a house full of people. Guys fight, someone falls down the stairs, and Kendrick gets twerked through a wall. But then all of a sudden, something changes, and Kendrick does something that you'll find seems to be another theme throughout his album/videos; he plays with our expectations. The camera is put in the backseat of a car with three guys talking about what could only be interpreted to be a breaking and entering. 30 seconds later, however, and we find out that they've been talking about a talent show, where they proceed to dance to a song - that isn't Kendrick's, by the way - for a good portion of the video.

Kendrick's crowning achievement, though, is his video for "Alright." Shot in black and white and featuring a floating, otherworldly Lamar throughout, the video opens with the poem that Kendrick refers to throughout the length of his album over some various B-roll shots: a skyline, smashing glass, police brutality. It transitions into a rap that, again, isn't even part of the actual song, featuring Kendrick and the rest of Black Hippy in a car carried on the shoulders of police officers, like they're carrying a throne. Kendrick throws money from cars, raps from on top of a lamppost, and dances with his friends, ending with one of the more powerful visuals I've seen in a long, long time; Kendrick, still on top of the lamppost, getting "shot down" by a white officer. Blood spurts out from his coat as he falls, re-reciting the poem from the beginning. And when he hits the ground? He smiles.

Maybe they're not the most beautifully shot, or maybe some people won't be able to get past the general goofiness or rap video tropes that Kendrick tends to play around with, but I think in light of current events, they're incredibly important. I honestly think that this is an example of art in it's purest form; imitating life, but also trying to transform it. Anyways, they've got some great messages, and you should check them out.

 - Alright - King Kunta - i - For Free? - These Walls

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Red Bull's Latest Video & Forced Perspective

Red Bull just released a new BMX video, and it plays heavily with forced perspective to add an interesting element for all viewers, BMX fans or not.

Wikipedia defines forced perspective as: A technique that employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than it actually is. It is used primarily in photography, filmmaking, and architecture.

Here's a picture for example:

and here's a video Arturo showed me a few years ago really highlighting forced perspective.

So after seeing some other examples of forced perspective, here's the BMX video:

Editing Comedy

This week my production hit a small roadblock that led to a great conclusion. After meeting with my editor the unfortunate truth was revealed, she didn't know how to edit comedy. It's something you don't always think about when picking an editor, the genre they're used to working in that is. However it soon became apparent when I saw a rough cut of some of the film. Jokes that the characters were saying were being cut off. Worse than that sometimes when the joke was being said the camera was put on the non-speakers face for a reaction. Jokes weren't landing because they weren't being given space to breath. It was a mess. Luckily my assistant director and I figured out a solution that will allows us to keep back on track but for me it was a learning experience I won't soon forget. Throughout writing, directing and producing the piece my mind was always focused on making sure that above all the comedy always came out on top. I tried to control the entire process but when it came time to edit I assumed it was best left in someone's hands who had more experience than I. It was a careless mistake and one I'm lucky to have been able to remedy but it's been an eye opening experience that has allowed me a more in depth look into making comedy.

Atmos Updates (or lack thereof)

As many of you may know, I sent my Ninja 2 in for repair a few weeks ago due to a faulty HDMI input that was no fault of any mistreatment on my behalf. When I sent it in (on a Wednesday) they confirmed that they had received it and promised me to have it returned within one to four business days. Theoretically, this means it should have been back to me over a week and a half ago.

Yesterday I sent an email their way, questioning what had happened with the unit since I hadn't received any updates on it yet. Today I received back a plethora of emails apologizing and confirming that my unit was officially moving along the repair process. It was put "on the bench" as they call it at around 7pm today, and had been shipped out with a new outer casing within 45 minutes. The kicker was the note they attached with the shipping confirmation - letting me know that there was "extensive damage to the outer case of the unit, but it has been repaired anyway and shipped out."

If this unit actually makes it back to me in the promised two days I will be absolutely amazed, 0/10 for customer service Atmos - zero out of ten.

Why Props Matter.

 A new, Doc/Spoken Word piece, focusing on the importance of props in cinema, will engage you fully. Using footage from classic cinema, edited together to a brilliant compilation of music, this project has made an incredible experimental film. In 10 minutes you learn an immense amount about story telling and symbolism. Please watch at least two minutes of it, I promise it will be worth your time.

Why Props Matter from Rishi Kaneria on Vimeo.

This beautifully scripted piece touched upon objects are universal to all. They can hold so much meaning and can be used to move the story along. A level of authenticity is needed in any film, in order to make audiences believe the story. Props hold so much value and can even be the sole desiring factor of the movie. Its filmmakers job to make it seem as nothing is out of the ordinary, if the audience isn't questioning anything, you've done your job!

Assistant Editors

Assistant editors are the unsung heroes of the post-production world. While the editor puts together the film and gets a lot of the credit for the film's final creation, their job would be a lot more difficult without the work of an assistant editor. Assistant editors are integral to the post-production process.

To be an assistant editor one must know a great deal about the editing system that is being used. Most post-production houses use Avid as their editing system. The AE must know the ins and outs of the editing program and know technical knowledge as well in order to maintain the system. Most day to day duties involve ingesting film, labeling footage, looking through selects, creating rushes, and other behind the scenes steps that help to make the editor's job run more smoothly. Organization is key when it comes to this job. You must figure out a system to stay organized and stick to it, or the project will be absolutely confusing. The job is less than glamorous, often because this is considered grunt work, compared to being the editor and cutting together the film. However, it is an integral part of the editing process. As assistant editors progress the opportunity for editing gigs becomes more and more likely to occur.

One day I want to work as an editor. After I graduate I plan on finding a job working as an assistant editor and getting my foot in the door. Only time and patience will land me where I want.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Star Wars Countdown

With the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere just about a month away and the release of the new trailer, it's clear it is all anyone can talk about. Continuing a franchise such as this can be a risky venture, with diehard fans analyzing every frame, worried their beloved series is going to be ruined with the addition of another film. In fact, many fans still have PTSD from the prequel franchise. So can you blame them for being worried? As a Star Wars nerd myself, I am not worried and feel confident in the direction JJ Abrams is taking the film. He recently announced that the 7th installment is a self-contained story, and is not about just trying to get more toys for the large corporations to sell. Most importantly, Abrams says the movie is "not about trying to appease anyone". That statement makes me the happiest, because in my opinion that's when movies fail. Of course it's probably the largest audience you have to cater to, but you can't cater to everyone. When movies try to please the audience too much than it becomes a mish-mosh of stories with little direction and depth. It's the directors who believe in their story and the process that have success because they stick to their own creative ideas.

Abrams also explains that because it is a self-contained story, you do not necessarily have had to see the previous Star Wars movies. It has a beginning, middle and end, but at the same time hints there is a rich past and potential for more stories to follow. These are new characters in new situations, so you do not have to be a diehard fan to enjoy the story. So in case you haven't seen the new trailer yet, here you go...and don't forget to get your customs ready for December 18th.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

SNL Breaks My Heart

This weekend Donald Trump will be hosting Saturday Night Live. A 40 year old institution Americans turn to for its take on the issues, SNL is known for its impact on elections. But in this case instead of going after the political agenda they're inviting one of the candidates to do it themselves. The reason they're doing this is hardly a questionable matter, ratings baby. People are going to watch Donald Trump on SNL. A trick that might be expected from any other show but from SNL? An institution that prides itself on its content and voice above cheap tricks, well so a seasoned comedy fan like myself would like to believe. But what's more upsetting is the lack of outrage surrounding his appearance. Donald Trump is known for his famous remarks, where he called illegal Mexican immigrants "rapists". Imagine instead of Mexican immigrants it was replaced with Jews or black people? Would NBC so quick to allow him onto one of their shows? Of course not. Because advertisers would be fleeing left and right. However because Trump's remarks were towards a group of people our country deems fitting to criticize without limit, there he will be on Saturday night, being as welcomed into our homes as Alec Baldwin or Steve Martin.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">A protester holds a sign reading "SNL stop the hate" in front of the entrance to NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center on Wednesday.</span> 

That's not to say there aren't some people taking a stand against his appearance. According to a report on the Huffington Post "Several dozen activists gathered Wednesday in front of NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center demanding the network rescind an invitation to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live" on Nov. 7 and vowing to pressure the network's advertisers to join their cause." The activists have gained over 500,000 signatures on their petition to get him off the network but to no avail. SNL has never been one to bow to pressure and with the network and the anticipated ratings on their side they're not likely to start now. As SNL fan myself, I just hope they have a few tricks up their sleeves, and knowing SNL they're likely to as well.

Spec Work

We will all be entering the workforce soon, if we have not already done so. For a lot of us this will mean freelancing. An inevitable part of freelancing is doing spec work. Google gives me the definition of spec work as "any job for which the client expects to see examples or a finished piece of design before agreeing to pay a fee or compensation."

Basically you make the video for the client, show them a preview, then they can decide if they want to use you for the full product. Which, personally I think is bullshit, and a lot of people are beginning to agree. To make the preview you are required to do preprod, prod, and postprod, to a high standard. Work you are typically paid for, and work that will cost you money to create. Which you may not be reimbursed for.

This is a pretty standard practice within the film industry. However, when applied to other industries this sounds completely ridiculous. Here's a video that shows just how ridiculous this sounds.

I'm curious to see what other people's thoughts on this are.

A New Way to Rent Gear!

As a student filmmaker, you typically only have so much gear at your disposal. Yeah, you probably have your DSLR, a few lenses, and a DIY soft box, but sometimes this isn't enough for your creative needs. As Ithaca College students, we are very lucky to have PPECS, but soon after we graduate we will just be poor college graduates who won't be able to afford the prices of large rental houses without a proper budget. HAVE NO FEAR! There is a new online rental house that may just be your saving grace.

KitSplit is a new rental company based out of New York City that functions very similar to Air BnB. Just like Air BnB, the site focuses around a specific area and the resources, in this case camera gear, available. On the site you can create a profile and list the gear that you own and are willing to rent. Other users can look at your gear posted and have the option to rent it from you. This is perfect for students to make a bit of cash on the side. Not only can you make the money back on your gear but this allows you to save up for future gear.

The delivery option is quite unique. You can either arrange a pick-up through KitSplit or directly from the owner of the gear. This option opens numerous opportunities for networking. Each time you would use this service you have potential to make new business connections, you could even get work because of the rental you were picking up for another gig.

This rental service is revolutionary. While it is only in New York currently, they plan to expand to the west coast as well, which is where I think it will do very well. However, the niche market they truly need to target is smaller cities throughout the country. Mainly cities with colleges and universities that have strong communication programs. My thinking is that if this company expanded to Central New York, this would be used as a rental service for colleges like Ithaca, Syracuse, and many more, when the rentals at their school could not provide what they needed.

Overall, I'm looking forward to watching this business grow and expand, hopefully in a direction that benefits, students and filmmakers a like.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Size 0

Finally an update about Size 0!! Now that I'm in the exciting process of editing, I can share some of my highs and lows of the documentary life. First, I've learned that no matter what vision you have at the beginning, it will not be the same as the final result. This is because all of my footage is based upon how non-actors act in front of a camera. This can yield some really unique moments that are so real and touching which could never be planned. This also means your final product is based on whatever your subjects say, and if they are awkward in front of the camera, then so be it. You take what you are given.

That being said, I've sorted through hours of footage and still came up short. My thesis talks about the importance of diet and exercise for weightloss or to simply maintain a healthy lifestyle. By editing a rough cut, I've discovered my lack of footage that represents the diet side of everything. I've got plenty of great work out footage, but little to balance out the importance of nutrition. Lucky for me, I still have time to fix that. This weekend the soccer team will be traveling to New Jersey for playoffs. This will give me plenty of opportunities to film the team eating and get great examples of what types of food they eat and how much. Once that is done, my thesis will look a lot better and will have a bigger impact.
Although things didn't end up like the vision I started with, I'm proud of the message I am trying to get across to people and I can't wait for the final result.
Oh, and here's a sneak peak....

Steve Jobs and Story Structure

Steve Jobs - the new Aaron Sorkin-scripted movie, not the person - is incredibly unique. Certainly not in its subject matter, since Jobs has been featured in like, four dramas/documentaries in the same amount of years, but in the way it's structured. Because of this (and the acting, and directing, and everything else that makes this movie great) I would venture to say that this movie, this iteration of possibly the most well know technological innovator of our time, should be considered the definitive screen version of Jobs and his life story. Everyone else wanting to make a Jobs movie, just stop. It's not worth it. You can't win this one. I don't care if it's not the most accurate, or if "Apple Experts" hate it, or even what your most basic opinion of the real Steve Jobs is. This is the one.

Even if you push aside most of the things that you'd normally focus on when seeing a movie, things like actors, direction, and cinematography, and focus solely on Sorkin's story structure, you've got something that is far more original than most films being made today. For a studio-backed biopic to break away from a more traditional "follow our main character throughout their entire life" story is huge. If you haven't seen it (and judging by the way it's doing at the box office, you probably haven't) Steve Jobs is broken down into three main scenes, with each one taking place before a major product launch. With the exception of a few brief, well placed flashback scenes, all exposition, all character introductions, everything is done in real time, within the boundaries of these three product launches. Is it what happened in real life? No, probably not. But Sorkin uses this structure to tell a damn good story.

There will always be movies that try to radically change the structure of a typical story, films like Memento, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. These can be fun, a nice break from the monotony of characters going from point A to point B over the course of a film, and some of them (these two may be some of the most notable) use non-linear storytelling to a stronger effect than just trying to confuse the audience. Other than these handfuls of non-linear scripts, movies tend to stick to the same basic structure. Sorkin broke this with Steve Jobs. It wasn't the most radical idea in the world, and you still see the development of Michael Fassbender's Jobs over the course of the film, but even Sorkin expressed his surprise at being allowed by the studio to follow through on such a different premise. In a way, it really mirrors its subject matter. A big part of the movie is how Jobs focused on adding a human component to a scary new machine (one of the major crises in the first act is how they can't get the Macintosh to say "hello) and that's more or less what Sorkin did with the script. Instead of of looking at the big picture, at Jobs' entire life, he narrows it down to five or six particular conflicts, and shows how they develop from '84-'88, and then again from '88-98.

It's also, in general, an overall compellingly human film. Again, was it totally accurate? Maybe not. But when you see the character of Steve Jobs struggling to admit that his daughter is actually his daughter, or when Wozniak is demanding that Jobs show some retroactive respect for the Apple II team, accuracy kind of stops mattering. It's a character portrait of a man who wants to change the world - who is actually in the very midst of that change - but of one who loses and finds his priorities along the way. And it's all done in a neatly wrapped, beautifully designed, three act package. It's aesthetically and emotionally fulfilling, and I'm sure Steve wouldn't have wanted it to be any other way.