The future is fast approaching

Caught up in an information culture.


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I really enjoyed Dan Mirvish’s tongue-in-cheek and immensely practical take on making small indie films, “8 Rules on Being a Locavore Filmmaker”.  Stay close to home, fake it with what you’ve got nearby, keep everyone’s commute short, don’t act like a big production company shipping people and things all over the country, and use your short commutes for badly-needed exercise during post.  It’s not just budget constraint (although it’s often that, too).  You pick your battles when you’re making a film, and there’s a lot of overhead that goes into the logistics of travelling.  When you’ve got a small team working on the film, moving things around can end up being a huge drain of both time and money, and the simpler you keep it, the more of your resources can go into what shows up on screen.  Joss Whedon’s making art films in his kitchen between Avengers movies; it’s not the minor leagues to think small and work out of your garage, it’s defining your resources and prioritizing where you put them.

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Glas (1959)

Still from Bert Haanstra's Glas (1959)

Still from Bert Haanstra’s Glas (1959)

Glas, winner of the 1959 Oscar for short subject documentary, is an improvised short doc by Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra about a glass factory.  Interesting and evocative invented sound collage midway through, and a wonderful illustration of the rhythmic, almost musical hand motions of the glass-blowers.  And, at the end, an amazing example of mid-century closing titles.

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Visualization of the Beach Boys’ Harmonies (2013)

Still from Alexander Chen's graphical visualization of the Beach Boys' Harmonies.

Still from Alexander Chen’s graphical visualization of the Beach Boys’ Harmonies.

Alexander Chen is a New-York-based designer for Google and a musician.  While experimenting with visually representing notes, he was inspired by the relationship between the diameter of a church bell and its pitch, and transcribed the harmonies of a Beach Boys tune to create a visualization that represents each pitch by a circle with related diameter.  It’s a lovely, minimalist representation of complex harmonies.

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One-Second Per Day Video Diaries, and Disobeying Editing Wisdom

A one-second-per-day video record from Seth‘s 29th to 30th birthdays:

I like the complete mundanity of Seth’s images and how they’re transformed by the way they’re edited, but I was even more impressed when I saw him agree to the statement that there was, “Something strangely familiar and banal about this. A year with the fear, anxiety, and alienation of modern life air-brushed out,” because there is something about this that’s right on the borderline of being completely relatable and real, and feeling like I’m about to see a Google Hangouts logo.  The interpretation of a video like this is incredibly dependent on the audio that ties it together, and at the same time, the audio here contributes to the sense of something being airbrushed out, in a way that, say, the ambient audio wouldn’t, or even some spoken interview audio would not.  But the audio track tying it together is unquestionably good editing, in the sense that it brings all the disparate clips together into a single document with a flow from beginning to end.  This is a complete story.

As a side note, I think that I enjoy this form of rapid-fire time-lapse documentary.  Compressing the memories of a year to one second per day, viewed all at once, brings out interesting patterns.

Kevin Kelly’s one-second-per-day trip in Asia:

This, on the other hand, does use the ambient sound, and feels more like a document – but not like a story.  There are moments, but they’re not ordered, and they transition abruptly.  There isn’t a climax and resolution of events.  But the ambient audio gives an incredible sense of place, which seems to be part of what’s missing from Seth’s.  (Gorgeous images and colors, too.  It’s much less of a day-in-the-life, but it’s still an interesting slice of real time.)

For all the editing advice to not cut together the audio in rapid montage, I suspect that when the montage is the full story, that strips away too much of the identifiable and specific elements of the story, and leaves that “air-brushed” feel that’s frequently associated with commercials and trailers.  Montage feels slightly anonymous, even in the center of a narrative.  There’s a middle ground here: tie together the footage with music, but also edit in a few moments of your ambient sound to round out the portrayals of the people and places.  In truth, I think that might be a description of virtually the entirety of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven – a long, glorious montage of images and events tied together by voiceover, and punctuated periodically by ambient sound and dialog.  (Although that is slightly glib: it’s certainly not rapid, it flows at quite a traditional narrative pace.)


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Guillermo del Toro speaks about Godzilla during an interview on Pacific Rim, his homage to the kaiju genre.  Godzilla gets a bad rap as schlocky 1950s B-movie (one unfortunately borne out by most of its sequels), but del Toro is spot-on here: there’s something dark and conceptually great at the heart of that first movie, this cloud of angst and nuclear fear, with humanity suffering the consequences of awakening these unthinking forces of nature, personified in a monster.


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The days of moving pictures flying on radio waves

Television pioneer C. Francis Jenkins with a motion picture prototype in 1925.

Television pioneer C. Francis Jenkins with a motion picture prototype in 1925.

This interesting historical sidenote comes via Shorpy.  This is inventor Charles Francis Jenkins, who later became an early pioneer of television and founder of SMPTE, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, who, though they may not be a household name, created color bars for calibrating screen color that everyone will recognize. He’s demonstrating a 1925 prototype of motion picture broadcasting that creates moving pictures when hooked up to the radio, which he first described it in 1913, but didn’t build and demonstrate till the early 1920s.

From the description, I believe that the box on the right is projecting onto the white space inside the frame on the wall, with a reflector in the raised portion of the box redirecting light from a bulb beneath it.  There’s most likely a spinning disk in the semi-circle, driven by a motor that takes up the rest of the box.  My initial thought was that the disk contained the frames of the animation of the girl, but after reading more, I don’t believe that’s the case – the image is actually being transmitted and created on the fly.  This is mechanical television, which is a different beast from the television technology that soon dominated, Farnsworth’s electronic television, and I’m not certain how the images are being created from the transmitted signal.

Jenkins’ history with motion pictures stretches back to 1894, when he started work on a project that would later be acquired by Edison, and hundreds of patents later, turned towards military and commercial modifications for aircraft and ships.  But he’s also responsible for that spiral-formed cardboard box your Quaker Oats come in.


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The Chandelier Tree of Los Angeles (2013)

Still image from Colin Kennedy's short doc on the chandelier tree.

Still image from Colin Kennedy’s short doc on the chandelier tree.

Filmmaker Colin Kennedy lives down the street from the chandelier tree, and had to document it.  The tree is photographer/designer Adam Tenenbaum‘s creation, and, aside from it being a lovely piece of art, Tenenbaum raises some points about the impact of lighting in public urban spaces: the tree isn’t just good art, but is also good neighborhood planning.

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“I tend to take liberties on the time in making the scene work.  If the actor did not continue with a certain prop, and I have to hide the fact that the cigarette is in the left hand in one shot and the right hand in the next, I try to misdirect the eye to something else that is moving in the next shot so that you don’t notice the mismatch.  Yes, matching is very, very important, you try to make sure that the action does the same from one shot to the next.  But as an editor, it’s part of the puzzle to make it work with or without that particular action or prop.    [I’m never aware of mismatches in other films.]  Never.  Unless I’m bored.  If the film is not working, your eye will start wandering the frame of he shot and you might see the mistakes in the shot.  But if it’s good storytelling, good acting, good editing, good directing… absolutely not.  I’m so engrossed in being part of that story.”

–Editor Sheldon Kahn, from Conversations with Film Editors


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So you’re making your weekend plans in New York, and you can’t decide between taking in some art or going to an open-source hackathon.  Dear reader, I sympathize; we all have these dilemmas.  Art and technology center Eyebeam have teamed up with internet technology giant Mozilla, and they have you covered.  From Eyebeam: “Open(Art) is a joint initiative launched by Eyebeam and Mozilla to support creativity at the intersection of art and the open web.”  Their exhibit runs from July 12 – August 10, 2013, with an opening reception on Friday, July 12 from 6-8pm and workshops on Saturday, July 13 from 12-3pm.  The workshops are free, but registration is required.  (Want more?  There’s a Mozilla Maker Party for teens on July 15th from 10am-3pm.  The Moving <img> Storytelling workshop  will cover stop-motion animation, rotoscoping, pixilation, and several types of animated GIF.)