Note from Saint Basil Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles

May 26th, 2016
Posted in Fire and Light, It's life, Jim...
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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Vasco seems smaller today. It’s not just his absence. It’s a physical thing. I’m surprised how much smaller Vasco seems as he lies dead at the viewing at St Basil Catholic Church. Like all the life has been taken and it diminishes him physically.

The sun is shining yet it’s a hazy sun. It doesn’t shine as brightly today. The LA people wear smart black clothes and sunglasses. I think they don’t need the glasses to shield against the sun today. I think, at least maybe one or two, wish to hide their eyes and keep their feelings inside.

And of course, there’s a guy selling rosaries. $5. Can you help out with any change? I’d light a candle but you have to buy them from the Rectory and the Rectory is closed. Hazy sunlight is enough today.

I don’t really know anyone here. I just remember Vasco, meeting him just a few weeks ago and finding this person with all this incredible energy and zeal. And so I sit and listen to the people talk. And they talk about Vasco. And their memories of him, how they knew him.

A pigeon flies straight at me, startling me. It lands near my feet. I watch it strut, noticing the colors on its neck. Pigeons are beloved by some for their homing ability.

The people talk softly around me. In the church, people cross themselves with holy water. There’s lots of sniffing. Crying, softly. The organ begins to play and people file in quietly. A homeless woman stirs on a pew at the back of the church then goes back to sleep.

Beautiful colored light hits the plain concrete wall, streaming through a modern stained glass window. Orange purple green yellow, a touch of cyan, a mote of red. Now on the statues of St Joseph. Now diagonal bands on the wall. Some of the colors match the iridescent pigeon.

The priest exits and blesses the coffin, closed now. A final baptism. The coffin is draped in white and brought in, the processional. The rest of the mourners fill the church. There’s a hymn. The slashes of light are red and yellow. Joseph is the colors of the homing bird.

Beautiful singing, someone holds up their phone to record it. Just one among a hundred. Maybe two hundred. Actually they’re not recording. It’s a different face. A mourner who can’t make it. They’re streaming. Just the song. The homily. Parts.

Guy takes pictures because, I suppose, the lens is his fallback. I write because the written word is mine. Behind me, a woman sobs, completely. How can Vasco Nunes, this man so vibrant so alive be gone?

Siri shares directions to another place from an unsilenced cellphone in the pews ahead. People fluster and smile nervously. At the Eucharist, a second homeless woman comes in, makes her way near the front and prays for her wine fix. I don’t think she knows anyone. I’ve seen maybe two other African American people, the other homeless, the other well dressed. Communion lady wears a grey hoodie and carries a giant bag.

The priest invites us to share a sign of peace with those nearby. I shake two hands, peace be with you. There is peace. Communion begins. I quietly exit.

Afterward, I sit in Carl’s Jr inhaling a burger without really tasting or chewing before I go to meet writers. I’m glad I got to see Guy and Lisa and Jonathan. I’m glad I got to see Vasco one more time, although it was sad not to feel his presence. I reflect I’m probably too cynical. I hope the poor woman got a good draught of port. I hope everyone did. It’s a Catholic Church and this is a wake. It’s also communion.

Being present is being connected and at some point, it dawns on me, Vasco hasn’t shrunk. He’s grown, diffused. His spirit is all around me, kept alive through all these memories, these people, these friends. Vasco didn’t go. He’s still here, thanks to his spirit, and those who met him continue to feel his presence.

Don’t fear life, my friend. Life is fleeting. Life is good. And our spirits know how to get home after.

Content Theft

January 16th, 2013
Posted in Film making, Fire and Light
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We got an email today from an astroturfing (look it up) “charity” called Creative America. Creative America (funded by the studios and unions) wants to expand the movement for intellectual property security. That sounds like a good thing, right? Right?? Wrong.

When distributors regularly take producers’ works and make profits from those works but don’t pay the creative talent a realistic return because they allegedly spent all the money on distribution and marketing, that’s content theft. When Instagram asserts that it “does not claim ownership” of your pictures but claims a “fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license”, that’s content theft. When a studio takes taxpayer money (incentives) to produce a film but avoids paying taxes on a billion-dollar grossing movie by creating subsidiaries to hide the income, that’s another kind of theft. Maybe content theft should be the name given to the RIAA campaign to deprive recording artists of residuals from radio airplay. That one was pretty blatant theft because it’s not standard practice in most other countries. Or is content theft what happens when Disney perverts the law intended to encourage creativity by having the copyright term extended to life plus 75 years?

None of these things help me, the creative monkey who dances when someone pays the organ grinder. The only thing which helps me is when producers, distributors and/or studios or clients invest in NEW work and pay a realistic amount for that. That doesn’t mean bullshit tentpole sequel movies with overpriced stars and under-written scripts. Uwe Boll is the poster child for movies that fail despite big names, big marketing and being created on the backs of related successful franchises. That model doesn’t work. What actually works is new movies that the public can afford to see without add-on price-hyping gimmicks like 3D or IMAX, without outdated distribution methods and “windows”, and with realistic marketing and marketing budgets based on realistic expectations of the actual value of the intellectual property. New good work where everyone working gets paid at a realistic, reasonable rate.

And take that further, new work where everyone involved shares in the success through residuals. New work is the only thing which helps me. None of the posturing. None of the criminalizing. Not SOPA. Not PIPA. Not threats of 35 years of imprisonment which is what these companies demanded for Aaron Swartz, the co-creator of RSS who committed suicide this weekend after being hounded with legal threats generated by the interests of these parasites. None of that helps. Just bookings for work where the profits are shared equitably with the participants instead of siphoned off by a few at the top. That’s what helps me.

So, yes. Content theft. A red herring to fuck up the creative world of the internet. Where studios don’t have to produce a damn thing, just keep milking the money cow and attacking creativity in the world where the rest of us live. This attitude has become pervasive. Distributors and agents are demanding releases for images of property that is so far out of copyright it’s a joke (eg. European castles). Yet this protectionism only works in one direction. Getty Images pissed photographers off royally this week by freely giving pictures to Google for them to sublicense without attribution or recompense. Hollywood has enough money to employ shills but not to actually make movies without taxpayer handouts (aka incentives) while avoiding actually paying tax back into the system. It’s fucking remarkable.

How the did copyright law become this screwed up by companies that don’t actually pay fucking income tax? This nonsense has been tried since movies first began, with Edison and his compatriots seeking to monopolise the film industry through use of patents a century ago. Trying to control access didn’t work then and won’t work now. Independent artists, distributors and exhibitors have always been extremely important in the world of the arts but now we have threats of life incarceration for copying publicly available documents—not secrets, but academic journals; work in the public domain. Meanwhile bankers and CEOs blatantly destroy jobs, create homelessness, steal pensions and launder money for terrorists. Terrorists, you know, people who actually fucking blow other people to bits, shoot our troops, kill and maim for their cause—banks can help fund those guys and there are no consequences because something like “HSBC is too big to jail” so is therefore outside the law? But distributing the results of publicly funded research—papers actually in the public domain—might be grounds for effectively ending an individual’s life?

Current intellectual property law is outdated and nonsensical. Academics are showing support for Mr Swartz by actively tweeting links to PDF’s of their journal articles. [http://gizmo.do/UZL8zZG]. Did you know that the only reason prints of Nosferatu still exist is because of piracy and subverting copyright? In the real world, Disney should never get to own your arm just because you got a tattoo of Mickey Mouse. In the real world, the rules should apply equally to the little guy and the big corporation. The so-called creative industry needs to get sensible about what makes art, instead of hoping art “just happens” like a natural bodily function in a world where we see identical bland sedans being burped out by every single car company on the planet. And Government needs to embrace its role in this with better access to information in the digital age instead of trying to kill the messenger (or finding some dubious sex charges to keep him locked up in Scandinavia).

The GOP had a wonderful opportunity for real IP reform during last year’s elections. Imagine, a real platform that Republicans could use with strong appeal to young voters and the tech-savvy Generations X, Y and Z. This was a platform they could have used to actually change and improve lives. Instead, the paid-for politicians retracted the Republican Study Committee Intellectual Property Brief [http://www.scribd.com/doc/113633834/Republican-Study-Committee-Intellectual-Property-Brief], a report which would have simplified the legislation and actually encouraged creativity. And last month the GOP fired its author Derek Khanna.

Democrats are no better when it comes to embracing the potential of the internet and fair access to everything it can provide. Notwithstanding the attacks on investigative journalism through misuse of the Espionage Act of 1917, last year saw Obama’s Whitehouse demanding tougher federal penalties for suspected copyright infringement, including adding copyright to the list of serious crimes that can justify wiretapping in the expanded Patriot Act. Imagine, copyright is now as serious as blowing up a plane full of people. Unless you’re a banker.

Tough laws, harassment and life sentences for copying and distributing work, especially work in the public domain, is bullshit. If it didn’t work with the dismal failure of a war on drugs, how can it work in a war on access to artistic works? Obviously the old paradigm is dead in a world where everyone is connected, in the world of the internet. If a motion picture production company can’t make money within 10-20 years of creating a film, then chances are pretty high that it wasn’t commercially viable. You don’t need life plus 75 years to create a library of financial flops in the hopes of a long tail well after the author’s children are collecting pensions. And at the same time, we can clearly see that the Department of Justice doesn’t give a shit when an offender is rich, which just tells us that these so-called get-tough policies are really only about who is paying whom. The goal shouldn’t be to create bigger legal departments but to create art.

So, our message to Creative America is, no. No, you’re not. You’re not creative in any sense of the word other than creative lying, bullshit and ignorance. Get fucking real and we might have something to talk about. Right now, we don’t. Go back and read Derek Khanna’s RSC brief and start working towards that kind of system. You need to understand that copyright is a bargain between the public and the creators, trading some freedoms in return for more artistic works. Until you understand that copyright is ultimately about what benefits the public, first and foremost, you’re a bunch of astroturfing shills, riding the backs of truly creative people and doing nothing to help them.

Serious not serious

March 26th, 2009
Posted in Film making, Fire and Light
2 Comments »

I was thinking I might start this series of Wisdom From Laura. However, I’m fairly bad at blogging lately (you might have noticed) so who knows how many I’ll do. Here’s the first.

We were talking about Nicolas Cage the other day and Laura mentioned about how he’s gone from this good actor who didn’t take himself too seriously to an actor who is serious about his craft but also, unfortunately, seems to take himself way too seriously. And that’s the insight:

Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

I think I’ve been doing this for many years, just never saw it in those terms. I’m living the dream, man. Something like that, anyway.

Red Eye

November 9th, 2008
Posted in Film making
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Last week I worked on a short film, Raised Alone. We were shooting on the Red One and I was the gaffer, then stepped up to DP for three days while Rob, the original DP, went to look after his wife who had a baby during the shoot. I never usually have time to write up the experiences from what I’m doing, but here, for once, are some of the things I learned and some of the things I was reminded in the past week.

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Learning #1: this was my first shoot with the Red One and, yes, it’s a wonderful camera but… it has some serious problems, including the awful cables which trip off the power or the others that cause annoying flickering in the viewfinder. Cutting off power seems trivial–just switch it back on. You would think that until you realize it takes 90 seconds to reboot the camera. We had as much downtime for batteries and flaky cables as I’ve had with film loading issues. Having said that the picture quality is lovely. I’m sure the post folks will be extremely happy.

Reminder #1: being prepared is the best thing in the world. Scouting locations, planning shots, storyboarding, rehearsals, etc, etc. However, experience can still trump all of that because, in the light of the (inevitable) unforeseen, you have to stay flexible while still achieving the vision.

Learning #2: if you want to use a big light to create moonlight, you really do need a crane or a cherry picker. Related to that is…

Learning #3: when you’re using a Fisher dolly and have enough risers, a 10-foot jib doesn’t add that much to your shoot. I suppose that’s unless you rig the jib on the dolly’s arm and then add your risers. Not a very stable idea, however.

Reminder #2: you can’t expect a crew to work 12 hours on a meal of sandwiches every day. Feed the crew and work smart. Tired and/or hungry people aren’t creative or as productive.

Reminder #3: get a good gaffer, a good sound dept and an AD who knows what they’re doing and, if you’re prepped, you can achieve some pretty amazing things with a truck full of gear and tight schedule.

Reminder #4: always try to get a few really difficult shots because challenge motivates the crew and if you pull them off, your footage will be a cut above the ordinary. However, don’t sacrifice coverage when time is tight.

Reminder #5: location managing is actually incredibly important on a low-budget shoot. If the person doing that job doesn’t get film-making, then you’re going to waste a lot of time finding nearby parking, accessing the location, running around for craft services and staging gear in impractical places.

Reminder #6: there’s often more light than you realize and prime lenses rock.

Reminder #7: a very large Cooke zoom can also rock but a trombone shot is going to take at least an hour to get right, especially with your 450lb dolly set on a slope.

Reminder #8: there’s no substitute for an extras casting specialist if you’re casting extras. Promises that lots of friends/family/colleagues will show up never pay off.

Learning #4: when shooting digital files, use time of day timecode. What a simple but brilliant idea. I love it.

So, there you have it. More important that any of the above, my crew in both grip and electric and in the camera dept were totally awesome, and the lead actors were great. The director was ambitious and well-prepared. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Two Observations

October 4th, 2008
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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Observation One:
American bacon (done well) is really smokey. Smokey goodness. British bacon (done well) is salty. Salty bacony goodness. One is not necessarily better than the other. They’re both good.

Observation Two:
A country that “buys” Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as plausible may be at risk of “buying” the insult of a McCain-Palin fiscal and social disaster on that same weak plausibility.

These observations are not related. The Coen Brothers, however, are.

Filmmaking Focus

July 13th, 2008
Posted in Film making
2 Comments »

This is really simple. My focus from now on will be exclusively on creating moving pictures. That includes film development and production, all forms of digital video creation, editing, animation and compositing. It does not include film programming, film selection, teaching beyond a one-day specialized workshop or training outside on-the-job knowledge sharing.

There, I said it.

Video on the PSP 2000

January 13th, 2008
Posted in Film making
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So, I finally figured out, with a little help from the web and a lot of trial and error, how to get all my movies exported in a format that I can put on my new PSP. First off, you need to connect the PSP to your computer via a USB cable. Second, you need a Memory Stick Duo in your PSP. I put in a 4GB card, because I figure I can have all of my shorts and a ton of other stuff on there.

When the PSP is connected, the card appears as a drive/folder on my Mac. Add a folder called VIDEO at the top level. I added some sub-folders called SHORTS, DEMOS, TRAILERS and so on. The PSP recognised them all fine.

To get my videos in the right format, I used Quicktime Pro. Exporting as MP4, either MPEG-4 Basic or MPEG-4 Improved both seemed to work. Maximum size of 4×3 videos seems to be 320×240 on the PSP. Maximum size for 16×9 videos is apparently 368×208. I used the highest data rate, 1500 kbits/sec. Sound is AAC-LC, 128 kpbs, 44.1 kHz. Below are a couple of screen grabs of my export settings.

WIDESCREEN (16:9):
Export01

STANDARD (4:3):
Export02

Make sure the filename has the extension .mp4 (case doesn’t matter) and transfer to the VIDEO folder (and sub-folder, if you made one) on the PSP’s Memory Stick Duo.

And then the bit which nearly drove me crackers (Gromit); making a thumbnail image. It’s actually really bloody simple but nowhere in Sony’s documentation or anywhere online could I find it. Simply find an image (eg. export one out of Quicktime or do a screen grab) and make it the following dimensions (I used Photoshop): 160 x 120 pixels at 72 pixels/inch. Using Photoshop’s “Save for Web…” function, make sure it’s less than 8kb (so around medium resolution) and save a JPEG.

Give your thumbnail exactly the same name as your video file. For example, video.mp4 and video.jpg. Then simply put them both in the same VIDEO folder on the PSP. Voila! The PSP will create an additional weird “Corrupted Data” file when you look under the menu after disconnecting the computer/USB link. Delete this. You will then have just your nice video with a thumbnail. And it plays just fine. In fact, it looks really very very nice. Hurrah!

Breakfast Insights of the Day

December 2nd, 2007
Posted in Fire and Light
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Sarcasm, mon petite dejeuners, is a way of skating a fine line between humour and passive aggressiveness. And passive aggressiveness is damaging because it’s (a) not adult behaviour and (b) it leads to a lot of bottled up emotions that eventually culminate in an explosive outburst. All very unhealthy.

I believe passive aggressive behaviour or its opposite, outright confrontational behaviour, occur when someone’s confidence is less than a hundred percent. Witness that attractiveness is a by-product of someone’s confidence and you can see that any kind of graceless confrontation, passive or not, makes someone less attractive. The two–confidence and confrontation–are related. Passive aggressive is but a shade somewhere on that spectrum.

I’m not saying that my frequent rants are good either. However, I will say that I lead a generally happy life and that, my little breakfasts, is as much as anyone can wish.

Editing: notes

August 24th, 2007
Posted in Film making
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These are my notes from the SXSW 2007 mini meeting on editing. [Personal comments and observations are in square brackets].

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First off, it doesn’t really matter which format you shot on. It’s about story. [This comment from one of the editors on the panel].

David Lynch shot [parts of?] Inland Empire on a PD150.

Hardware: All brands of firewire drive have failures in a given 12 months. ATA drives are better. It’s really important to have back up drives and projects.

Directing: If you say everything is terrible, the editor will never go out on a limb and create something that’s never been seen before. Hopefully, you’re experimenting all the time.

Often a dialog scene will be too long; flexibility is needed. Reactions and body language can tell story as well as lines. You need different angles; coverage. A scene may not play in the context of the longer film. One shot masters don’t always work.

On set: Don’t just start shooting the close up at the point you think you’re going to cut in; actors can’t start at “intense” straightaway.

Fix small things first. Don’t edit from a place of panic.

The original Superman (and the new Casino Royale) reached a pinnacle of fast cutting. Also Don’t Look Now.

DD Allen [panellist]: Watch and learn about rhythmic editing, eg. Reds and The Limey, especially the conversations in the latter.

Label tapes correctly!

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Casting: notes

August 24th, 2007
Posted in Film making
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These are my notes from the SXSW 2007 mini meeting on Casting. [Personal comments and observations are in square brackets].

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Working with casting directors: First, you need to have a script. Then you need finances in place (sometimes a letter of intent is enough).

Casting directors work through word of mouth. Ten weeks notice is required at the very least to begin casting for a feature.

In casting a film, the casting director will have conversations with the director and will read the script. They will take pictures and resumes to the director. Also, it’s now usually the practice to upload auditions to the web.

Casting directors are there to direct the actors in the room and then the director has sessions with them. They are part of a collaboration between the director and the actors. They use standard and non-standard avenues, eg. agents and also schools, craigslist, etc. They are not the same as a casting facilitator.

A facilitator is an assistant who gets resumes, sets up auditions and the director makes decisions.

Great actors: come prepared, ready to work, are not too chatty but still very human. They make no excuses. They are people who really enjoy their work. They’re open, smart and can be given some direction.

Hire an LA casting director if you’re looking for name talent; it’s all about connections and relationships [note: this was from a professional casting director].

Jo [one of the panellists] almost always works with another casting director. They bring different things to the table.

Local. Local means no travel days, no per diem, hotel, etc. They have to have a local address and be able to show up on short notice.

Jo: “We do like smart actors.”
Lieblein: “Thinking actors are the coolest thing.”

Actors who haven’t watched the show are not wanted.

Kids: you’re also hiring the parent!

A good casting director should manage your expectations, which will depend on the quality of the script and the project.

You should have a plan, eg. five names and a set date for passes, then cast.