Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Most Depressing Show About an Animated Horse

Imagine there are two shows. One is a cartoon comedy about a horse who is friends with a dog and a cat. The other is a drama about a washed up former 90s sitcom who is now a depressed alcoholic trying to get his life back on track while continuing to self destruct. What if I told you that both of those were the same show? They are, and that show is BoJack Horseman.
BoJack Horseman follows Arrested Development arnett Will Arnett as the titular anthropomorphic horse trying to get his life back together. The show takes place in a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals live side by side. What makes it interesting is that BoJack Horseman is much less of a comedy than it seems to be. The show is actually a dark character study of a group of deeply unhappy people dealing with depression and other mental health issues.  BoJack seeks happiness while trying to move past his dark childhood and overbearing, unloving parents. 
Most of the humor that is present in the series is derived from the background jokes and animal puns that are present while the drama takes place within the characters. The background of every scene is chock full of gags that require multiple viewings to catch. 

There are so many more

The shows first season was given mixed reviews mainly based off the show's first five episodes. However critics agreed that once the show found its footing it became critically acclaimed. Season two was highly praised as being one of the smartest shows on television. I highly recommend watching this show and giving it at least the first season to really get you hooked. Watch this show.

Why Drones Will Never Be As Good As Birds

The invention of drones opened up a million possibilities for the world of film. Actually, maybe even more than a million. With drones, you can get shots from angles that weren't possible before. You can follow things that weren't possible to follow before. You can even use drones to attract people to you by impressing them and you can actually make friendships with those people which might lead to connections in the industry.

There is however one thing that drones fail to do, and that is match the skill of a bird. Drones are limited by the motors and batteries that power them whereas birds can fly free with literally no limitations.

Watch this video that a bird took with a GoPro camera:

You might notice two things. 

First of all, you might have noticed that this bird has the ability to grab and drop the camera. This opens up the doors for amazing shots such as one where the camera is going and then it drops and is caught and keeps going. You can use your imagination to picture more shots like this. 

Secondly, you might have noticed how fast this bird flies with the camera. Accounting for the adrenaline that the bird had from the rush of thievery and running away from a predator, which may have affected its speed by up to 15%, it still flew faster than a drone ever could.

For these reasons, drones will always be a little worse than birds.

Boss Man at Tribeca

Last semester I had the opportunity to work for one of the most incredible minds in the music industry, Steve Aoki. With Steve's meteoric rise to fame and recent take over of the EDM scene and beyond, it was only a matter of time before he received his very own feature film. Lucky for dance music fans in the New York area, that day will soon be here. On April 15 at the Beacon Theatre, a new documentary centered on the life and pursuits of Aoki will be premiered at the esteemed Tribeca Film Festival. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead will follow his timeline from the very beginning, when Aoki remembers his father founding the popular restaurant chain Benihana, until the near-present when we played his biggest career showcase at New York’s Madison Square Garden. I'd love nothing more than to be there to get an even better glimpse into Steve's life but I'm sure it'll be well received regardless.

Documentary Now: Bending Fact and Fiction

When I sprawled out on Erica's bed last weekend to indulge in the luxury of her Roku TV while she was out of town, the last thing I expected to see on Netflix was a series of fake documentaries starring Bill Heder and Fred Armisen. I nearly spit out the sour gummy worm I was sucking on.

For those of you who don't know, Documentary Now! is an IFC series that has had just one season thus far. Helen Mirren is the host, and Lorne Michaels is attached (those are some big names, folks). Each episode is a self-contained mockumentary in the style of a well-known real one. The first episode, for example, entitled "Sandy Passage," parodies the mother-daughter hoarders of Grey Gardens. Cameras follow Hader and Armisen, both in drag, around their dusty, cat-ridden, sun-soaked cottage.

The show had me laughing at and loving it. I watched another episode, about the falling out of a rock band in the 70s, which was just as good as--though completely different from--"Sandy Passage." The combination of Heder and Armisen's comedic abilities + the overall format of the series is a win in my book, and I plan on continuing with the rest of the season. I recommend this show to anyone who likes documentaries or sketch comedy shows, as Documentary Now! feels like a little bit of both.

Directing is not easy

So, coming into this class, my main goal was to make something that I would find funny. Throughout my time here at Ithaca, and being a screenwriting concentration, I've written a lot of stupid short scripts. But I've never had the opportunity to make the stupidity come to life. That's why I decided to take thesis. I wanted to make something - 100% of the way - directing, filming, editing, maybe acting - instead of just writing the story and being done with it.

But, as I started to shoot, I soon realized that I totally underestimated the of challenges of actually making a film. And considering I haven't taken any production classes prior to thesis, it was either sink or swim.

Writing the script has always been easy for me (well, relatively speaking...). But actually taking the finished script to the locations, with a camera, and audio equipment, and actors, and unforeseen problems, and then filming it - well, that's fucking hard.

The biggest thing I worry about is making everything look good. So, I decided to re-watch some of my favorite shows and look at how they're directed and what makes them look so good. First, I watched Louie - probably my favorite show ever in the entire world of television. Since I want my film to have a very Louie-esque feel to it, I took close note to the camera work, the shot angles, what is in focus and what is out of focus, etc. Louie has a lot of hand held camera work. It gives a very "real" feel which is something I want to accomplish in my film. Another element that gives it the "real" feel is the use of natural lighting - street lights, lamps, sunlight, etc. There are also a lot of close ups on characters when they say or do something important, with the background out of focus.

A lot of what I'm saying is pretty self explanatory and obvious, but when it comes to actually implementing these elements in your own film, it becomes challenging. Not only did I watch Louie, but I watched specific scenes from other movies and television shows. For example, I have a scene where my main character gets mugged. So I researched all of the best mugging scenes in cinema to see how they did it. And the more I watched, the more I was able to take and use these techniques.

If I learned anything, it's that you have to steal. You have to steal from the best and make it your own. That's the only way you can make something of quality.


     Beginners is a movie that hides comedy in a multi-layered drama. Starring Ewan McGregor as Oliver, the film begins with a voice over about Oliver's father Hal. The monologue mentions the death of Oliver's mother and the announcement that Hal is gay. Also Hal has cancer.

    Hal is portrayed by Christopher Plummer, a role he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The movie talks deeply about the relationship between an adult man and his father and paints a realistic picture of both men who struggle with Hal's identity. This is not what the movie is about. The movie is about Oliver and Anna.

     The movie mostly focuses on Oliver's resurgence into the world via dating Anna. They meet at a costume party Oliver is reluctant to attend until he meets Anna. Their relationship grows organically from the moment she asks him:

     Oliver is an artist and Anna is an actor and their creative sadness drives them together. It is moments like these, that romanticize creative depression that are turn offs to me. However, these moments come few and far between. This is a movie that is full of hope, showcased by its eccentric directing style. This film brought Mike Mills into the spotlight. The story relies heavily on narration and fun elements, such as Baxter the dog.

Mills uses elements like Baxter, or a repeating shot of Christopher Plummer in different outfits. To weave the nonlinear storylines of Oliver and Hal, and Hal's new lover, and the story of Oliver and Anna. This postmodernist technique create a full character that is only full realized through past experiences. 

     Beginners is a drama with a lot of comedy elements. Baxter the dog being subtitled is funny in its surprise and uniqueness. But it is the dark sense of emotion that comes with complex characters that really makes this film work. Despite the cheesy artist language.


Learning What Not To Do

Confession: I used to hate watching documentaries. People used to ask me if I had seen a certain documentary and I would usually tell them no, I don't like watching documentaries. "But you're a documentary studies major," they would usually say in response. That's when I would explain to them that I'm always picking out the flaws in documentaries and that's why I stopped enjoying watching them. Then, this year, I realized how ridiculous I was being.

One of the best ways to learn is by learning what not to do. It's important to watch documentaries that are really well made in order to gain inspiration, but it's just as important to see what doesn't work so great in films. In order for a doc to be really great, you have to incorporate the good and keep out the bad. You can use some really awesome techniques, but if you also use bad ones it can completely break the entire film.

Sure, I sometimes long for the days when I could absentmindedly watch a film without being hyperaware of where the lighting is coming from, how many cuts are in a specific scene, or why a director made a certain production decision. I think that for a while, I resented the fact that it was hard for me to sit and enjoy a film like most spectators do, so I decided to stop watching them all together. Now I realize though, that I'll never grow as a filmmaker if I don't study and pay attention to what other people do. I try, in life, not to make the same mistake twice. What I've realized now, is that by seeing other people's mistakes, I can avoid making certain ones from the start. I can't watch documentaries like I used to, but I'm finally realizing that's a good thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Reel Injun


Reel Injun explores common stereotypical depictions of Native Americans in film, from the noble savage to the drunk indian. Even beyond stereotypes, Hollywood has commonly hired non-Native American actors to play Native American roles (particularly actors of Italian or Jewish descent). The mythic Indian character has evolved over history to fit the dominant culture’s narrative and contribute to an overall sense of “otherness” that the Native American’s embody. Through setting and location, Hollywood has built an unrealistic picture of what a Native Person looks like. The era of various films has played a large role in creating ideas around Native Persons, such as the classic western in creating a demonizing portrayal of Native Americans. These depictions have led to a conflict of identity within many of the Native actors, directors, and critics, however as more and more Natives are finding voices within the production of film the narrative is changing for the better.
When looking at how the setting and location has fueled many stereotypes, we look to the West. Westerns are notorious for their depiction of Native Americans, and it provides a cumulation of stereotypical behaviors, attitudes, and appearance that has fueled the dominant culture’s image of what a Native American should be and look like. The west combines aspects of various tribes into one. While it is mostly influenced by the look of the Plains native peoples through it’s use of feather headdresses and lavish dress, it also incorporates other aspects that is not a part of that tribe’s identity such as headdresses. The natural landscape of the west has also contributed to the mysticism and natural spirituality that the dominant culture believes Native American’s possess. The West was also a historical place of struggle and harsh conditions--therefore putting Native American’s at the helm for this struggle. They symbolically “stood in the way” of the white settler’s access to what rightfully “belonged” to them.
The era of which films were produced has played a large role in the “othering” of the Native American, particularly in early film depictions of the Native American. In the late 1800s-early 1900s, the feelings towards Native Americans were filled with immense amounts of tension. Native Americans were socially disliked and unwanted within society, and this played out in the creation of many myths such as the savage injun and the dead injun. These depictions helped fuel an acceptance of the real-life atrocities that Native American’s faced such as mass genocide and other forms of violence. By limiting portrayals of Native Americans, it created a lens through which Native People were seen as “less than”. By being stoic and emotionless, they were less than human, by being portrayed as a violent they were seen as a threat to white civilization.
The construction of the Hollywood Injun has had a major impact on Native American people in reality. The initial stereotypes such as spirituality have led many of the critics in the film to question their own identity and who they are. The depiction of cowboys vs indians in both play and film have led to an internalized self-loathing. An internalized notion that they are “other”. Starting in the seventies, cultural appropriation became a major problem. From hippy culture adopting the “groovy indian” lifestyle to white romanticism of Native American women, the absorption of mythological ideas of Native Americans has led to conflict between a real identity and that of a false one. Sacheen Littlefeather discusses in the film her confusion with white culture’s adaptation of “Native life”. From dress to way of living, she looked at the free spirited hippies and did not see herself--even though it was “her” they were trying to emulate.
Similar to what is found in Reel Injun, T* will aspire to participate in a dialogue that is currently missing--transgender voices discussing problems with media representation of transgender individuals. While my focus is on new and real life figures, it will nonetheless have a similar feel to it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman. The "Bird" Gotham Actually Needs

Superman dies
2:15  of crap
:15 of fight
Aquaman Cameo

That's the movie in a nutshell. I was so excited to see the movie and it was a big ol' waste of time. I think there are multiple reasons for this movie not being good. For one, I think the movie tried to cover more material than it could handle. Way too much information was shoved into the 2:30 movie, making it hard to separate the important information from "crap."
Another reason that I didn't enjoy the movie was because of how much of a build up there was for a very anticlimactic final battle. I am not lying when I say there was 2:15 of nothing but talking until the final fight. The only fight that you do see prior to that happens to be a dream that batman is having so its like it didn't even happen. And then batman and superman fight for like 5 minutes, wonder woman comes in and fights for 5 minutes, and then they all fight together for 5 minutes. Thats it.
But honestly, I think the main reason this movie was a flop is because, believe it or not, bats are not actually birds, they're mammals. This tactic of using a bird in the title of the film has been well investigated in a previous blog done by a student here at IC, and the results showed a shocking amount of evidence that by putting a bird's name in the title, the chances of if winning best picture increase by almost 45%. I think that the director of Batman V Superman was well aware of this too but missed the mark just by a hair and didn't do enough research to realize that bats actually aren't birds.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Hardest Parts About Filming Birds

As you may have read from earlier posts by Joe and I in this blog, using birds in your movie can be extremely beneficial. This may seem all well and good, but big problems may arise once you have committed to a movie about birds and realize the many problems with filming them. Although there are many complications when it comes to capturing birds on film, I will detail the three biggest problems that I have personally had while filming birds in my film.

1. They fly away

Birds have wings that allow them to fly, and that makes them some of the most elusive creatures on the planet. Being able to easily escape from situations is evolutionarily advantageous, but it is not a good trait when it comes to filming.

2. They are high up

My whole life, I've been used to filming people who live on the ground and I've taken it for granted. It wasn't until I had to film birds that lived really high up in trees that I appreciated how easy it is to film human counterparts. In order to film a bird successfully you either have to tilt your camera up really high or get really high up in a tree to film horizontally like you're used to.

3. They don't speak English

Unlike dogs who listen to you and know what you're saying, birds just fly away when you try to tell them what to do. This one kind of ties back into #1 because usually when you try to talk to a bird to calm them down they fly away. Not only do they not speak English, they don't speak any language except for bird calls.

Impressive Sound Design

Electronically produced music is a dime a dozen these days. As much as I hate to admit it, there are formulas to it and they exploited far too often. There are even a variety of producers who pay others to produce music for them so they can claim it as there own. Then there are the exceptions, the truly creative individuals in the mix. The ones who take sound design to the next level, go out of their way to create new and interesting sounds, as well as how to envision certain tracks. Those the types of producers and artists are the ones who get a second looks, and will always be the ones I support and who's music I share. This time around that comes in the form of the Luca Lush remix to Rihanna's hit 'Work.' Just do yourself a favor and listen to this hit again, reimagined.

B&W Bananas

While filming we learned that St. Lucian violence can be traced to its history as a colony of plantation systems. In order to illustrate this aspect of Caribbean history, we're looking into archive video footage to supplement our doc. I've had luck with the Prelinger Archives, the Kino Library, and Travel Film Archive thus far. What makes the search process difficult is the lack of tags attached to some videos, which renders them impossible to find without looking through droves and droves. What makes it cool is how eccentric and obscure the found footage involved can be.

One of my favorites is this video, "About Bananas," which is a silent black&white film about, well, bananas. See here:

Banana export was St. Lucia's largest source of income until recently, when shifts away from St. Lucia in the international trade put local banana growers out of work. Instead of being able to make a living on their land with their family, many Lucians now have to commute to work at the island's many tourist resorts, resulting in time away from home, money spent on transportation, children being left unsupervised, etc. This is one example of a riff that history has torn through St. Lucia and something we're going to work very carefully--with the help of archive footage--to visually explain.


I just got home from seeing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice...

I didn't like it...

At all...

But I wanted to so bad.

The problem with the movie was that it wasn't a horrible movie. It was so middling that it made me so goddamn frustrated thus why I hated it so much. It had really cool and interesting parts but also really stupid and unnecessary parts. 

I'm probably going to spoil a lot of the plot but who cares.


- Ben Affleck. I thought he was a great Batman. Tortured, dark and brutal. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing him in solo films. 
- Gal Gadot. She was awesome. Probably the best part of the movie. Especially when she was introduced in the final fight against Doomsday. 
- Jess Eisenberg. A lot of people gave him shit about playing Lex Luther. He's not the macho brute that Lex is usually portrayed as, but instead, he was smart, conniving and insane. I thought he was great. 
- Zack Snyder. Let's get one thing straight here. A lot of people give Zack Snyder shit about his films. But just stop. He is a great director. Everything looked great in the film. The opening scene (showing Bruce Wayne losing his parents in Crime Alley) was awesome. The fights were awesome. Special effects - awesome. He also (like in Watchmen and 300) knows how to make a movie look like you're watching a live action comic book - which I find very impressive. The problem does not lie with the direction but in the writing. The character arcs were lazy. The plot had many holes. And some of the dialogue was just stupid. Get some better writers for Snyder and he'll take the rest.


-  A weird scene with the Flash (maybe). There's an extremely unclear scene where a mysterious man in a red suit surrounded by lightning comes to the Batcave to tell Bruce information about Superman. But this information is never used later in the film and is completely pointless. 
- Pinning Batman and Superman against each other. Lex Luther is trying to get Batman and Superman to fight. But why? How? What? Yeah, none of those questions seem to be clear in the movie.
- Lois Lane retrieving the Kryptonite spear. Batman makes a spear of Kryptonite in order to defeat Superman. But after Batman and Superman realize that they’re not enemies, Batman throws the spear away in anger. Later, when Doomsday shows up, Batman realizes that he needs to get the spear back. But Lois is already on it. She’s already on her way to retrieve the spear. How she knows that the spear will help? I don’t know. It seemed like the writers just thought she needed more screen time.
- Superman's dumb death at the end. In the final battle, Superman must plunge the Kryptonite spear into Doomsday in order to kill him. Because Superman is weak against Kryptonite, he obviously can't carry the spear for very long periods of time. Nevertheless, instead of giving it to the super-powered Amazonian warrior woman who is clearly adept at all kinds of combat and basically invulnerable, or Batman who is also completely capable, Superman decides to charge at Doomsday to impale him with it and dies in the process. It's a completely avoidable death, and one that Superman will undoubtedly be resurrected from in the first Justice League movie.


- Doomsday. He was pretty ugly.
- The future of DC movies...

Drones For Life

One thing I have truly been fascinated by is the growth and development of drones for cinema. This past couple weeks I really got to get up close in personal with one, and see how they work. You would think that it would be pretty simple to fly because they are so attainable, but thats completely false.  The controller has two pannels, one that deals with the flight pattern and another controlling the camera. Im so proud that I developed a true appreciation for how difficult it is to pilot one. Now heres a sick fucking drone video

Documentary and Invasion of Privacy

Last week Evin and I spent most of our spring break in Buffalo. While our friends were posting pictures partying on beaches in Florida and Mexico, we were enjoying the beautiful upstate weather. If I'm being completely honest, I wasn't looking forward to filming during the week; but looking back, I wouldn't have wanted to spend my break any other way.

We went into the week not sure what to expect other than sit-down interviews. We had just watched a documentary where they were with refugees when they arrived in America, got to their house, and went shopping for the first time. We both agreed that while that would be amazing, it was very unlikely that we would get access like that. Fast forward to the end of the week and we got agency staff setting up an apartment for a refugee family that would be arriving soon, an Ethiopian couple on their first day in the United States, and a Burmese family arriving at the airport and being reunited with their family for the first time in 15 years.

We went from expecting a lot of sit-down interviews to being right in the middle of very intimate and vulnerable times for people. Once things calmed down, and we returned to our hotel each night, I couldn't help but feel a bit shocked. I couldn't figure out what it was about us that helped these people allow us to connect with them and follow them through such emotional experiences. I'm not sure I would have been so willing if I were on the other side of the camera.

But then, after returning to Ithaca, I went to a documentary screening on campus about sexual assault on college campuses. Afterward, a survivor who was a main character in the film did a Q&A with the people in attendance. One person asked her why she was so willing to share such an intimate experience in the film. She said it was a little uncomfortable at first, but then she realized how important it was for her voice to be heard. I think that is probably similar to the thought process the people we were working with had. I could tell they were a little uncomfortable having the camera around at first, but then they started to open up and really share their story. We all have a story to share, and I think that if anyone shows genuine interest in our story, it may be uncomfortable to open up at first, but in the end we want our voices to be heard. I'm beyond thankful that the people of Buffalo were willing to share their stories with us. 

Master of None and Organic Dramedy

    Last year Aziz Ansari stepped out of stand up comedy and became a showrunner. He released the first season of his Netflix show Master of None which focus on a fictionalized version of Aziz's life. Aziz plays Dev, an actor who predominately does commercial, who deals with a slew of social issues.   
The show features a diverse cast. Main characters include a black lesbian and an asian best friend. The only established name, besides Ansari, is Eric Wareheim. Eric, of Tim and Eric, brings an oddity to the show that mostly sits in reality. The romantic lead, Rachel, is played by Noel Wells, who was on SNL for a season.

The show is structured interestingly. Each episode stands on it's own for the most part and each deals with a social issues. Episode titles range from "Grandparents" to "Plan B". Dev talks about the first Indian person he saw on tv was actually a white actor in brown face. There are two plot lines that weave throughout the series: Dev has a small role in a major action film called The Sickening and Dev and Rachel's relationship.
Dev and Rachel's relationship is a microcosm of what the show makes the show so good. Dev and Rachel meet and hook up and after a condom malfunction they go to the pharmacy and get plan b. They meet a few months later at a party but Rachel has a boyfriend. This sort of complicated relationship beginnings are common today. It is these awkward realities that create comedy. It is also these realities that create drama. Dev and Rachel take a date to Nashville which showcases the couples' ability to work together and Dev's flaws. There is an episode the exists entirely in Dev's apartment that spans the stretch of time from when Rachel moves in until when she decides to move out. 

     Master of None takes issues of social justice such as minority and female representation and shows them in as a realistic light as its relationships. It's this reality that makes Master of None so funny and so sad. I think this blend of comedy, drama, and social awareness makes for something very powerful in just how real it can be. It's my favorite show on Netflix and a very promising start for a young showrunner/stand up comedian.

The Problem with Dark Superhero Films.

Ever since it was announced, there has been much speculation on whether Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice would be any good. Would director Zack Snyder be able to do better than the overly long, stupidly grim, terribly paced Man of Steel?
Much like it's title, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice appears to be overly long, awkward, and dumb. I feel like this is a troubling sign for the DC Cinematic Universe. All the films seem to be trying to go as dark and serious as possible, which causes them to forget the most important aspect of a superhero film; it's supposed to be fun. 

That's the biggest problem with Zack Snyder's films. They're not fun. Now that doesn't mean you can't be serious and dark, we all know what happens when a movie goes too far in the other direction...
But look at the Nolan Batman trilogy. It was able to be a dark and serious superhero film but it allowed itself to have fun while doing it. It's hard to take a world where there are a bunch of people running around in spandex, or in this case a man dressed like a bat, too seriously. That's partially why I think the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been much more successful. They are able to tackle serious topics and have very emotional moments and still have a lot of fun. 

Take a look at the first Avengers film. Throughout a massive battle on which the survival of Earth hangs in the balance, the heroes are still able to smartly quip at each other or even crack a joke. Even Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is perhaps the most serious of the MCU films still finds time to for fun and bits of humor. These bits of humor don't take away from the film, in fact they often help it out. If you have constant dismal darkness (cough cough Man of Steel cough cough) The audience will get so bogged down by the sullen teenager that is your movie that they won't be able to enjoy it. 

There are however instances where trying to be both dark and fun backfire. 

Exciting Innovations in the Crowdfunding World

A documentary called The Empowerment Project recently came to Ithaca College. In talking with the producers, they recommended a fairly new crowdfunding website, Seed & Spark. It's innovative, interesting and interactive! 

Seed & Spark describes films as business ventures, that require the seed of an idea and the sparks of human and capital investments to bring them to life. The website is different from any other crowdfunding website. Instead of asking for just one lump sum of money for lord knows what, the website allows you to build a wish list. Your wish list can be any items you want. The coolest part is that people can choose to contribute money to that item or loan you the item. Say you're looking for some audio equipment. Another filmmaker can reach out and loan you audio equipment. Or some wealthy person can give you money for that item specifically. Really neat!

My favorite project I've seen so far is Ordinary Women, an animation about real life female badasses. Their wish list is unique in that you can donate money to a certain story that you would like to see the most. In addition, they incorporate several graphics that make their campaign extremely dynamic. 

Another great part about this website is that it gives you movie recommendations! To watch the films on the website, you can pay in money or in "sparks". It's like a Blockbuster for the digital age. There are also blogs and forums where you can learn from other filmmakers and crowdfunders. 

Inspiration and Fair Use: How This Film Is Not Yet Rated Directly Inspires My Documentary

This Film Is Not Yet Rated was a documentary that has had a big impact on me and how I think about media and its impacts. For those who haven't seen it, the doc is an expose on the MPAA's rating system and the effect it has on American culture. It thoroughly examines the types of films that get the NC-17 rating and through that examination, shocking trends emerge. The disparity between sex and violence, sexuality, and sexual orientation and the ratings these depictions receive is astounding.

Through clips of media footage and interviews, I aim to illustrate the deep rooted problem in how the media reports on transgender individuals. Through my research, focus has been spent on the bodies of transgender indivdiuals and a complete disrespect for identities. I'm not saying that there are some reportings that are better than others, but how transgender individuals are treated in the media is repulsive. Just take a look at Caitlyn Jenner. Before coming out the media completely invaded her privacy and focused on how her body was looking different. For a transgender individual, how they transition and the timeline through which they transition is an incredibly personal decision, and that is completely disregarded through the media.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Kanye vs. Deadmau5: How it relates to my thesis

As some of you may or may not know, Twitter is a ridiculous place. So ridiculous in fact that there has recently been a Twitter war between a man who performs in a mouse head and a man who named his child North. Thats right, Kayne and Deadmau5 are beefing.

You may ask yourself why two equally successful yet equally egotistical men have gotten into it on the social media giant. In an attempt to make a long story short, a photo recently surfaced of Kanye West's laptop screen showing a Sufjan Stevens track. This is unimportant. What is important are the tabs open on Kanye's browser. You see a tab for the 50 best VST plugins, a tab for Xfer Records Serum (a VST plugin that Deadmau5 helped design) and tab for the pirate bay... a known torrenting website.

Deadmau5, otherwise known as Joel, took it upon himself to put the pieces together: Kanye was torrenting Serum. Kanye West, uber super star, reported 53 million dollars in debt (which his wife remedied) couldn't afford a $189 plugin. This is where the war began. Insults were thrown left and right (Kanye got REKT if you ask me) and we now have a piece of internet gold.

How does this relate to my thesis you ask? I used Serum to make a few of the sounds :)

The Most Photogenic Angles for Birds

Since the beginning of the internet, ugly people have been asking how they can make themselves look more attractive in pictures:

Because of this, there has been lots of research done on what a person can do to make themselves look most attractive in front of the camera.

Many factors can change how attractive you will look in a picture. The main factor is how ugly you actually are, but there are also many other factors such as the focal length of the camera:

Generally, the longer the focal length, the more attractive you will look because the distance required to use that focal length will flatten your face. This is why you look attractive in the mirror but gross in iPhone selfies - your eye's focal length is longer than the iPhone camera's focal length.

Another factor that contributes to a person's attractiveness on camera is the angle at which you position your face in relation to the camera:

Experts suggest that tilting your head slightly downwards and sticking your head forward will make you look slightly better. This is why you see people holding their iPhones up above their head to take selfies - that's their best angle.

Although lots of research has been done on the photogenics of people, none has been done on birds. So what is the best angle for birds?

The answer is: it depends.

Birds look best when their defining feature is highlighted. For example, a flamingos best angle is one in which its neck looks really long:

Attractive flamingo

A bald eagle's best angle is one in which it looks most American, by looking to one side with its body facing forward. It also helps to have an American flag behind it:

Attractive bald eagle

A peacocks best angle is the one in which its long, beautiful, colorful feathers are dragging on the ground the most:

Attractive peacock

As you can see, there is no golden rule when it comes to photogeniticity of birds. If you are going to follow one rule for photographing a bird it should be this: find your birds most defining trait and exploit it using your camera and directing skills.

Telling A Story Through Birds

Birds are generally positive creatures. They symbolize things such as the connection between the sky and the land, the heaven and the earth, offering a spiritual explanation for the bird’s presence. When their wings are spread and they are soaring through the air, they also symbolize eternal life and freedom. 
But could they be used to symbolize something much more specific? Could film directors use birds as another outlet for expression? 
The answer is yes.

And I'll explain how.     

Let's refer to this symbolism through birds as "Birdolism." There are two films that stick out to me indefinitely when it comes to Birdolism. The first:

Kung Fu Panda 2
Kung Fu Panda has to be one of my favorite movies in which the protagonist is a panda. There are plenty of animals that are personified throughout the movie but one in particular sticks out to me, and that is of course, the antagonist, Lord Shen
Lord Shen is white peacock that believes he is an unstoppable force. The peacock represents divinity, rank and power, while the color white symbolizes death in Chinese culture, making him a very intimating bad guy in my opinion.

Another childhood classic:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

A great film that reaches out to the deepest parts of every kid's imagination. A place with magic, adventure, risks and rewards. But we can't forget about one of Harry's strongest friendships while at Hogwarts, and of course I'm talking about Hedwig:

The wise owl. Nothing embodies freedom better than the owl. A wise and majestic creature that can turn its head almost 360 degrees (270 to be exact). Although the owl seems like a bird that could never be tamed, Hedwig decides to pledge his allegiance to Harry, thus creating one of the strongest friendships Harry makes while at Hogwarts.

So I'm thinking that I would like to take some of this Birdolism and sprinkle it into The Birdwatcherwatcher. Ithaca is a great location to spot all kinds of birds.

For instance:
The Hooded Merganser, a beautiful duck. Although this is a very small species of duck. Its darkened fur on its head and back almost look like a mask, giving off a mischievous vibe maybe? Or even evil?

Or maybe we could put a Red Winged Blackbird in:
His bright red epaulettes are used to attract females and to keep his territory free of other males. Their red blotched wings could possibly birdolize aggression or perhaps even danger.

Ithaca has a great resource of birds that can definitely be utilized to our advantage. 

Vito: Calling Out Hollywood's Portrayals of Gays and Lesbians

This week I watched HBO's documentary film "Vito", which tells the story of Vito Russo, a gay man from NYC who found his voices as an gay advocate in the aftermath of Stonewall. He was an active critic of LGBT portrayals in the media. In the 80s he published his book called "The Celluloid Closet", the first major book to critique these portrayals in Hollywood. When the AIDS epidemic shook the gay community, Vito formed ACT UP, an advocacy group for justice, before his death from the disease in the 90s.

The film is a classic-style documentary: a blend of historical images, clips, and interviews by those who new the subject best, but what makes it so captivating is it's relevance almost 50 years later. I was left wondering at the end of the film what Vito would think of the amount of progress we have made for LGBT individuals since, but also the amount of work we still have left to do--particularly when it comes to visibility and representation in the media.

We're All Animals

     Animals is a new HBO animated comedy executed produced by Mark and Jay Duplass. The mumblecore duo promotes the work of Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano, two unknown comedy writers who submitted Animals as a short film to Sundance in 2015. HBO picked up Animals at the festival and streams it exclusively on HBOGo, their mobile streaming platform. 

     Animals is a really good idea on paper. Human problems and stories as explained by animals who act human. Plus the animated element means that really anything can happen. If you look at the cast it's a list of alternative comedies biggest names such as: Eric Andre, Aziz Ansari, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, and Scott Aukerman. Mark and Jay Duplass are indie stars and them promoting a young comedians work it must be good for them and the comedians.

However Animals has gotten mixed reviews at best. Maureen Ryan at Variety said, "It is unfunny, its animation is unexceptional and the studied banality of its dialogue is excruciating." It has a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.8 on Imdb. 
But why the intense hate. Even Mark Duplass is a little confused, "Animals is the first time in history that people have gotten angry with us about something we’ve made." To be fair the show is weird. Very weird for HBO. Structurally the show follows one main plot but has several vignettes. 
     These vignettes aren't even necessarily non sequiturs, often these smaller sketches are tangentially related to something that happened earlier in the episode. For example in the first episode the main characters, a pair of rats that are obsessed with making babies, watch a couple have sex. Later in the episode the woman having sex is taken out in a stretcher which starts a sketch between two police horses which cuts back to the mice. 

Duplass says it's because the show was created separate from HBO. That they did it their own way and that might be why people are not responding to this like they would a traditional HBO comedy. 

     As a comedian who hates restrictions I have to side with Duplass. While Ryan is right at points the show becomes tedious and drags, often Animals shows a unique and funny perspective on mundane things in life. I'm excited that the show is weird and with this show being streaming only it is a good example of the future of tv. Shows made by unique people for a niche audience. While Animals might not be for everyone, I enjoy Animals and hope to watch the second season HBO ordered at Sundance.