Can We be a Little More Conscientious, Please

I'm okay with certain details being fudged in movies. Minor continuity errors always slip by. Little historical inconsistencies are impossible to avoid. Military protocol is never right.

Some things, though, really?

I just saw a movie in which a group of twenty-first century heroes are lauded with a ticker-tape parade. This was not faux ticker-tape, distributed to the people lining the streets for effect. No, the was ticker-tape being thrown from skyscraper windows and raining down to the street from on high.

We, don't use ticker-tape anymore!

What anachronism! Ticker-tape was a product of the pre-computer era. When was the last time you saw a functioning stock ticker anywhere but in a movie? Nobody has them; nobody uses them. Where did all this freaking ticker-tape come from? Did the people making this movie just presume that the people watching it would accept this? Think, people, think.

Alright, that passed.

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20 Weeks on the road.

I start a new show today, the longest of my career thus far, spanning some twenty weeks; twenty weeks that will all be spent on the road.

The production office is only a few hours drive from my home so I can return some weekends, especially early on and after photography has completed.

It's not the length of the show that bothers me but the one-eighty from what I've been doing for most of the winter. The nature of a freelance industry is that you often get swaths of down time. I've been off since Thanksgiving. That may sound great but all the time wondering about when the next gig is coming and the transition from eighty hour weeks to languid days can be stressful.

I've made good use of the time, caught up on sleep, caught up on TV, walked for miles and miles, spent time with much-neglected friends and loved ones. This has been some of the most productive writing time I've had in several years. Still, it will be good to get back. I realized this winter that, for as much as I complain about the hours and expectations of my career, I'm not really happy unless there's a script in my lap and a crew swirling around me.

I hope I'm up to the transition. Tomorrow I go from sleeping 'til I feel I need no more and back to punching a clock, to the twelve plus hours a day, to the frustration and elation of movie making.

Here's to the next twenty weeks.

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On Film Making: SAG, Noun, not a Verb

The SAG awards were this past weekend. Though not as well known as the Oscars, not as prolific as the Golden Globes and not nearly as ironic as the MTV Movie Awards, they carry a whiff of legitimacy and artistry that is lacking in most of the other major award shows.

While I don't really watch award shows,* I found myself catching snippets of the ceremony on the television at my local pub. Simultaneously, I caught snippets of conversation from two different groups of people who were watching the event with some attention. This brought me to the striking realization that most people have virtually no idea what SAG actually does.

The Screen Actors' Guild is not some sort of famous people's self-congratulation club. SAG, WGA, DGA and SAG's less notorious sibling AFTRA are labor unions, the primary purpose of which is to collectively bargain for the prosperity, safety and intellectual property of their members. Yes, Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and all the other superstars are members of SAG. Steven Spielberg is in the DGA; Charlie Kaufman is in the WGA and Alex Trebek is in AFTRA but these are not the people for whom these organizations exist, nor whom they most benefit.

SAG and the rest of the above-the-line unions exist for rank and file media professionals, for the salary writers, for the late-night DJ's, for the floor directors, for the junior AD's and for the working actors who's names you don't know. Without the work of these unions there would be no safety standards, no residuals, no guarantee of overtime. SAG's the one that makes sure that character actors, who may have fifty or more employers in a year, get all of their tax paperwork. SAG's the one that makes sure that a prospective movie isn't a second-rate investor scam prepping to issue bogus paychecks. SAG's the one that keeps unscrupulous producers from reselling B-films to foreign television, thus netting tens of thousands of dollars, without paying their performers for their image rights.

If you're a working actor, the one with two speaking lines, the one who's not famous, the one who makes scale, the one who drives a used car and has to worry about putting your kid through college one day, the one who lives paycheck to paycheck, SAG is important to your livelihood.

*Okay, I watch the Oscars and I still harbor the childhood dream of one day winning one. I've been eligible for nomination through number of different projects but have honestly never had a ghost of a chance. I'm sure I'll change my tune about the Oscars if I ever win one. More critically, I love the idea of the Oscars but have very little faith in the process behind them. Big Fish destroyed my Oscar idealism; the best major market film in years, also the last movie in which I cried, received only a single nomination and for Original Score at that.

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Angels in the Architecture

We have these adages. These base concepts that pervade our culture, our thinking and our understanding. I don't mean those penny wisdoms, those maxims that we pass out casually in the words of our day to day: birds of a feather, a penny saved, early to bed and early to rise, idle hands, if you aim at nothing and never judge a book. No, I mean those ideas that underlie our mythology. I mean the things that we consider to be fundamental truths. I mean the things that go beyond what we take for granted and that become what we take to be indispensable to our moral conceptions, the substrata of our collective lives.

Though, I wonder sometimes whether or not these things are true or whether we simply choose to believe them because because some cardinal part of our aggregate psyche needs to believe them in order to make sense of a senseless world. These are the morals of our fairy tales, the common assumptions that underly our movies. They are the things that we consider so deep seated that we are likely to forget them and often need to be reminded through apologue. Why do we never seem to question these ideas?

Are children really innocent? Does faith trump cynicism? Is balance and moderation really the path to wisdom? Is family as important as we pretend? Is honesty truly the best policy? I'm convinced that good stands, at best, an even chance against evil no matter what the storybooks say. Does human life really have intrinsic value or do we just convince ourselves that it does because the alternative is too uncomfortable or too inconvenient?

I don't know the answers and I can't pretend to but I'm inclined to think that anything believed by a large enough body of people cannot have been adequately unpacked. I wonder if these very ideas of family, honesty, good, evil, justice, duty, morality, moderation and faith have any true value as social axioms or if they are simply comfortable and convenient. It pains me that we may all be, in some small way, deluding ourselves.

I'm no nihilist. I'm just choosy about where I pin my heart.

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The hallmark of a society of excess, fashion combines all the worst aspects of the creative spirit with all the worst aspects of capitalist society. Elitist, cliquish and fundamentally useless, it perverts art, shackles self expression and abhors functionality, most often producing artifacts that are as ugly and useless as they are expensive.

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The News Today, oh Boy

I wanted to know what was going on in the world so I flipped on the TV.

I wanted news but all I could find were Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Nancy Grace and Bill O'Reilly.

I turned the TV off and off it has stayed.

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I Love BSG

I love it for the same reason I love Gattaca, for the same reason I love Ender's Game, For the same reason I love the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, Evangelion, "At the Mountains of Madness," Stranger in a Strange Land and for the same reason I re-read Frank Herbert's Dune every other year. I love it because it explores the greater themes of the human experience, because it asks the difficult questions about the universe around us, because it is challenging emotionally and intellectually, because simply, it's a substantial literary work and not just a work of science fiction.

Battlestar Galactica, though forces me to ask a question that none of my other favorites do.

Where does all the whiskey come from?

Seriously, in every single episode of BSG someone takes slugs from an octagonal bottle full of brown liquid. Virtually every character on the show, at one time or another, has been seen getting sloshed on this stuff. Twelve planets have been nuked into inhospitablity. The sum total of the human race is less than fifty thousand souls. There is virtually no means to find or exploit new resources and yet there are still cases and cases of whiskey to go around.

Someone, please, tell me, where can I get some of the Infinite Space Whiskey[TM]? I want some and I want to know where it comes from.

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On the Wall of the NYC Natural History Museum

Treat the world well. It was not given to you by your parents. It has been loaned to you by your grandchildren.

-- Kenyan Proverb

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It Was an Honor Just to be Nominated

Ron over at By-of-Fundie tapped me for a meme. Typically, I don't do these but I was tapped for this same meme some number of years ago when LiveJournal was king. Thusly, I have reposted that entry here:

Once you've been tagged, you have to write a blog with 6 weird facts/things/habits about yourself, saying who tagged you. In the end you need to choose the 5 people to be tagged and list their names. No tag backs.

1) I collect Bibles. I have about two dozen of them, mostly stolen from hotels.

2) I believe that most of the general assumptions we make about culture are precisely backwards. Funerals are for the sake of the living, not the deceased. Religion is man trying to control diety. Codified rules of conduct make the world a less stable place. Absolutely nothing in any society or power group can be explained by "Human Nature" as there is no such thing. Decadence is a way of enforcing conformity and anyone who wants a position of authority is probably the last person who should have it.

3) I bite my nails. I stopped biting my nails for several years but started aain about two years ago.

4) I have never broken a bone nor have I been hospitalized.

5) I once had a pistol put to my head. I survived through a rare moment of reflex training over coherent thought and afterward spent an hour vomiting. It was, possibly, the most unnerving experience of my adult life and it encapsulated one of the the only real life lessons I ever valued.

6) I am heir to a small fortune in fine china, crystal and rare pottery.

I am declining to tap others but I hope everyone found this informative.

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Cast of Characters

It has been brought to my attention that the euphemisms I use on this blog to identify friends, comrades, compatriots, colleagues and fellow makers of mischief are not universally understood. Going strictly on memory and in no particular order, my blog victims are:

A close friend and comrade in geekdom going back to my sophomore year in high school, Kitten is a staple of the Atlanta Industrial/Goth scene. He has a penchant for cyberpunk fiction, loves his Volvo and is vain about his hair in a manner unrivaled among heterosexual men. Our banter is erudite and laden with inside jokes to the point that listeners often wonder if we're actually speaking English or some strange syllogistic language akin to that in the TNG episode "Darmok."* This episode of TNG also comes up whenever we are confronted about the opaqueness of our communication. His blog, though rarely updated, is well worth the read.

Sadly, Kitten suffered a brain bleed and proved his un-rivaled Gothness by dying on Valentines' Day, 2010. He was one of my best friends and he is dearly missed.

Friendly Genius
My best friend from childhood, Friendly Genius and I lost touch when I moved cross country at the age of eleven. By a strange fluke of fate, he and I re-encountered each other entirely by accident at the age of 21. He is a mathematician by training and he has a disinterest in popular culture that I can only hope to emulate. He is the only person with whom I can interact for an entire day without resorting to banality and gossip. "Friendly Genius" was the name of his, now extinct, website and blog.

In adolescence and early adulthood, I and my two best friends formed an evil triumvirate that, in varying periods over the course of ten years devoted huge amounts of energy to vandalism, semi-professional theatre and being aimlessly 20-something; each in succession. Killyin is one of those two and the one with whom I remain in contact. He managed to be, simultaneously, the pretty one and the sensible one, a ladies man with a 3.8 average. He is also the only other of my old friends to have achieved some simulacrum of his youthful dreams. Like me, and like we promised each other as teenagers, he has grown up to make movies. He works at a post house in California and occasionally comments here.

White Lightning
The second of aforementioned friends, White Lightening and I are no longer in touch. In our young entente he was the wild one, the epicurean lover of life who often walked a bit too close to the third rail. He was also the first in my circle of friends to learn to drive and half of my high school memories that do not take place backstage took place in or near his dilapidated Honda. He morphed into a neo-hippy in college and tried a brief stint as a professional actor. He is currently an officer in the US Army. I last spoke to him just before Killyin's wedding nearly two years ago.

Between my two stints in college, I drifted a bit. During this time I made several enduring friends, Joker foremost among them. A fast liver who threatened to crash and burn so brightly as to be talked about in hushed tones for the next three decades, I met him on virtually the day he decided to turn his life around and join the Marines. A gifted rifleman, mechanical genius and social butterfly he oozes a confidence normally reserved for movie stars and high powered lawyers. He has a super human ability to attract the attention of women and an unenviable habit of dating those women that are worst for him. He is also a first order geek, proudly displaying his Star Wars and Superman memorabilia beside his military commendations. He is my favorite friend with whom to go carousing and I would ask Joker to speak at my funeral if I thought there was the remotest chance that he would outlive me.

More than ten years my senior, Bugsy is my closest professional colleague. He and I administrated an indie theatre troupe for several years. He ultimately hired me as an audio assistant and gave my my start in the world of film & TV. We've worked on over a dozen movies together. Perpetually tardy and almost always exhausted despite a daily Red Bull regimen that would frighten a meth-head, he is a master of his craft with audio experience going back twenty-odd years. He has taught me most of what I know about that end of the business. He can be insufferably neurotic and transcendently wise in the same breath. He also dates a stripper half his age.

The (Ex)Wife
Friend of twelve years and roommate of three, The Wife got her nickname when she and I realized that, under an archaic Georgia statute, we are common-law married. A grad student in art history, she is an expert on industrial fabrics. Unreasonably pretty and intellectually confident beyond her years, men become infatuated with unerring celerity. She is currently engaged in upsetting the balance of post modern culture through the revolutionary practice of home crafting. She is also the only person who can tolerate me without complaint for days on end.

-- Update, since the first writing of this FAQ, The (Ex)Wife has acquired solo lodgings and changed careers. She now joins me in the making of TV and movies. She works in the Art Department and is exceptional at it.

Finally, Rawkst'ahr, whom I mention more than anyone else and who's name I constantly find new ways to spell, was my girlfriend for nearly five years. Presently a junior editor on a 24 hour information channel, she is an aspiring entertainment journalist and full time pop music enthusiast. She is easily in the 98th percentile of both spunky and cute, forcing everyone around to wonder what she ever saw in me. Though we broke up in the fall of '10, I love her every bit as much as I frustrate her and we continue to be close.

I'm sure I've left some people out so if you find a nickname somewhere on the Blog, I invite you to ask with the caveat that I may have met that person only once and made up a name because it was convenient. Alternately, remembering that I am a storyteller by nature and make no pretense of honesty, I may have just made that person up. If you do email or comment with such an inquiry, please include the link for the post in which they are mentioned.

*If you don't know what "TNG" means, then you're not enough of a geek to care and you shouldn't trouble yourself wondering.


The Long Dark Road

Yesterday, the wife and I decided it would be a good idea to walk from our home, along the Atlanta PATH, to Stone Mountain Park. We left a little late in the day to set about walking eighteen miles and thus it was dark by the time we actually go to Stone Mountain and we weren't able to actually summit the rock.

On the other hand, it was great exercise and I'm only a bit sore because of it. We're going to try again in a few weeks if anyone wants to join us.

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Things Named Helena

Several times in the past year I've gone to the store to purchase some non-trivial item, an MP3 player, a dictaphone, a multi-tool, a laptop, a trail knife and myriad of audio gear all come to mind. Each of these items came encased in a sarcophagus of disposable packaging, boxes, blister packs, styrofoam, bubble wrap and paper.

Each of these items must be portable and thus require a means of storage during conveyance, a case. So I go to a different store and purchase sheaths, a shoulder carrier and pelican cases. Each of these things comes wrapped in packaging as well, often more packaging than came with the item that the case is meant to contain.

Is this really necessary?

Since a case is simply a permanent form of packaging, just sell me the item already in the case, thus saving me time and the world waste.* Trip, money, two sets of packaging, four birds with one stone.

The only thing I own that came with it's own convenient case is my set of poker chips. The one thing that, were I to take it anywhere, I could just throw in a shoebox.

Really, where did our sense of practicality go?

*I realize that this isn't entirely feasible with some items, laptops for instance. People are picky about how they transport such things. It works for most others since the cases for most electronics and virtually all outdoor gear have to be tailored to the item they contain.

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An Eye for an Oi!

I probably spend too much time nitpicking the technical details of the movies that I see. It's an occupational hazard. Once you've spent a few hundred days on movie sets, you get an eye for continuity errors, boom shadows, and those scenes that have too few camera angles that reek of a producer saying "I can't afford the overtime."

Generally, I just make a mental note and then tell myself to get over it. Movies aren't made for movie-makers, after all.

One thing, however, has been really bugging me lately. I've seen it over and over again and it really sticks in my craw.

Several films* that I've seen lately have had serious focus issues. Characters in close up drift in an out of focus. When the shot moves the focal point lags behind the action. Justified changes in light alter the depth of field in the middle of a scene and the focus is not adjusted accordingly. Occasionally, whole scenes go by without a single sharp frame.

Now, I'm not going to lay this all at the feet of 1st AC's. Pulling focus is a precise art that can take years to master. In my experience, the combination of judging distance, anticipating actors and simultaneously watching focus wheel, floor marks, talent and monitor is no small task and is very difficult to teach.

On the other hand, really?

Between the AC who pulls focus, the DP that monitors it, the director who chooses the takes, the editor who assembles them and the producer who gets final say, nobody stopped and said, "hey, that's a little blurry,"?

There are a number of reasons that this has been getting worse in recent years. A number of studio directors have been favoring forehead-to-chin closeups in combination with long lenses and low light. This makes the depth of field very narrow and gives the focus puller very little breathing room, especially when dealing with actors that tend to the frenetic.

For decades the artistic tendency of the industry has been shifting steadily away from the deep focus and more towards the use of the lens, itself, as a narrative tool, throwing focus between multiple planes to communicate a visual idea.

Additionally, the tools of the industry have changed in the last five years. Newer, digital capture cameras do not have exactly the same optical properties as older, celluloid based, models. More and more hi-tech tools such as laser and sonic range finders and remote follow-focus handsets may have caused some camera people to trust their tools over their own experience. Steadicam, probably the hardest platform from an AC's perspective, is rapidly replacing the dolly as the standard way to mount and move a camera.

On top of all of this, movie screens are getting larger, making soft images much more obviously so.

Honestly, I'm bothered by more than just soft pictures. This inconsistency in focus is syptomatic of a larger and longer trend in the industry away from technical excellence. "We'll fix it in post," was once a vulgar expression, a cop out made when the company was behind schedule or the producer was bored. We've now reached such virtuosity with the digital manipulation of images that virtually any imperfection can, in fact, be fixed in post, often for less than the cost of another handful of takes.

Unfortunately this lets technicians, myself included, get lazy. Eventually, we get to the point that we feel anything can be fixed by a guy with the right software; this is not the case and it's beginning to show.

*No, I'm not going to name these films. That would be rude to my friends and colleagues that worked on those shows.


Stasis of Spirit

I've given up on Pagan blogs almost entirely. There was a time that I read two dozen or more each week but now I restrict my reading to only two or three that tend to deal with political issues or news stories of interest to the community like Wren's Nest and Pagan Prattle. Most of the rest of what I've read is pretty useless.

This is symptomatic of a greater anti-curiousness that I've noticed growing in the community over the last few years. At festivals the theological discussion circles, lectures by authors and talks by political awareness organizations have been largely replaced by discussions of the importance of candle color, classes on dowsing, feng shui, and pointer sessions on how to have a good Pagan marriage, usually conducted by three-time divorcees who don't seem to like each other.

How did the vibrant spiritual, intellectual and political community that I so love devolve into a glorified sewing circle?

Can I even get someone to discuss the greater moral questions behind the Wiccan Rede? Is anyone willing to talk about how we should order our community as more and more sects proliferate and establish independent identities? Does anyone even care that our population, by some estimates as much as five million people nation wide, is probably enough to influence the national conversation, perhaps even sway elections?

No, everyone, both on blogs and at real world events seems much more concerned with decorating their ritual robes, making altar pieces and agreeing with each other about nothing of importance. No one argues theology. No one talks politics, or if they do they certainly don't talk about action or self-determination. No one seems particularly interested in the community, itself.

I want someone to tell me that I'm wrong, that there are better festivals to attend or better blogs to read that have somehow passed me by. If that's the case, please, please tell me what I'm missing and where it is. I want the community to be smart, daring, engaged and vibrant but that's just not what I'm seeing.

Maybe this is just a cultural winter in the ever turning wheel of our people. Maybe we wore ourselves out and we're collectively taking a rest before a yet greater push. Presently, I pray this is the case.

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Self-deluded ideologues, they seek to brainwash children, hamstring rational inquiry and force humanity kicking and screaming into the thirteenth century.

While it is tempting to dismiss them as outright stupid, the fact is that they are quite intelligent. They ignore or distort evidence by choice and deliberately discard every intellectual principle of the post-enlightenment world. Their world view is not simply the product of botched education. In point of fact, it is something much more insidious that must be corrected and resisted at every opportunity.

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Tomorrow is National Hangover Day

I have a toast that I have made every New Years for most of my adult life. I didn't write it, myself, I ripped it off from a song, in fact, but it's appropriate and poignant nonetheless.

"A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last."

Here's to 2009.

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