Friday, November 28, 2014

Jurassic World: A Sneak Peek

By now, most of us have seen this. And while it has been met with a not so surprising mix of negative and positive reviews, I have to say one of the things I’m looking forward to is seeing how Colin Trevorrow, Frank Marshall and Derek Connolly (director and producers, respectively) handle the legacy that the original films have set up. It looks like Spielberg is once again taking up the role of executive producer (as he did in the third film) which isn't something that is unexpected. The downside to this though, is that we may be getting a more hollywood-version of the script: something we can already see if the trailer is anything to go off from. 
From the looks of this teaser trailer, the newest film (aptly named Jurassic World) takes place many years after the events of the third film when humans have finally managed to create a fully-functioning dinosaur theme park. If this sounds bad than you've been paying attention, as the first three films literally and repeatedly set up the plot that "dinosaurs plus theme park equals not happy fun times." And as the gritty look of the film takes on a darker approach, with a haunting version of the original theme song playing overtop, we see that this plot anything but new. Of course, you have the "genetically modified" hybrid but what's another dinosaur loose in the park?
It's a film that's been anticipated for over a decade and from the looks of it, it's just barely holding onto expectations. Personally, I can't say too much based on roughly three minutes of footage, but from what I've seen it looks like the thing we need to worry about is that it's going to try too hard to be "different." And the thing is, people aren't really expecting different. The reason Jurassic Park is as iconic as it is, is because it took the time to sculpt a universe and look that catered to the plot of the film. It wasn't too over the top, it wasn't too action-packed, it didn't rely on gritty color-grading and cheap crowd noises. It took the time to develop and let each character do their own thing, and it circled everything back to the main theme: dinosaurs.
Hopefully, once more trailers emerge we'll be able to grab a closer look at what the future of the Jurassic Park series entails. But for now we'll have to sit back and enjoy Chris Pratt on a motorcycle, cruising with his velociraptor buddies.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not So (Inter)Stellar

     I recently went to see Christopher Nolan's most recent film, Interstellar. Produced by Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, and Lynda Obst Productions, this film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where food is scarce and nearly everyone is a farmer. The films leading character Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is a retired NASA pilot who finds himself led into circumstances that require him to take one last mission: to go through a wormhole and find an a planet for Earth to habit. The catch: he has to leave behind his son and daughter. In the end, he chooses to go through with the mission (leaving his family behind) and launches into the unending vastness of space to save humanity.
    Overall it was an entertaining film to watch, but it has a lot of flaws and I ended up coming out of it more disappointed than impressed. Here's a list of my personal experience when watching Interstellar:

The Visuals
    The visuals make the movie. From costumes, to camera-work, and to props, it really does scream "hey, we're in space." It's definitely a feast for the visual eye, and I have to give props to those in charge of art, special effects, and locations because they've definitely set up a very consistent atmosphere to the film. Unfortunately there are moments where the CGI just can't pull it off and it changes to "hey, we're in space, no really, you've got to believe us."

The Audio
     If you're thinking of seeing this, I would recommend going to the theater. There isn't anything like sitting in the already grand space of seats, surrounded by darkness, and getting that eery mix of dialogue/internal spacecraft noises and sudden bouts of completely silence. It's something that scientist and space junkies alike have been vying for in films that have gone intergalactic, and they'll find a pleasing satisfaction with this one. Unfortunately the lack of sound has been a topic of disgruntlement for a few, as it does slow down the already quite lethargic pacing of the movie.

The Characters
    The acting is good, the diversity is not. It fails to pass the Bechdel Test and it degrades its female and person of color character to essentially become token characters. One is pegged as the "emotional" sappy heart-driven character, and the other has a few lines here and there and then dies by fire. I bet you can guess which is which. It definitely had the potential to be revolutionary in its writing but its lack of stepping away from the cliched and stereotypical writing of hollywood, leaves it feeling like another cookie-cutter sci-fi than a unique twist of storytelling.

The Story
    This definitely makes you question life, in bad and good ways. For the first half of the movie I was very into the story. It was an interesting spin on the genre of (post)apocalyptic movies and presented a very chilling concept of time and space. Seeing Cooper's daughter go from spunky ten year old to feeble old woman, while he remains the around the same age as he left, sets your consciousness on edge. It almost pushes the theme of mortality and consequence in your face, but in a way that really makes you sympathize with the characters.
     Unfortunately, that's where my interest stopped. While again, the movie had a great potential to be something very philosophical in nature, it turned into something that seemed like they choose the ending from picking papers from a hat.  (here's where the spoilers start)

The Paradox
     Disregarding the science of the movie, it falls into what I like to label as a bad use of a paradox. Now, this is debatable amongst many and you don't necessarily have to agree with this but in my opinion, there is only one good type of paradox in writing: a multi-verse paradox. That means that in the event of time-travel, character A can change the time-line but only for a universe that is not their own. Meaning, Cooper's character could go back and save humanity by using the powers of fifth-dimensional humans (humans who have essentially become enlightened creatures) to code a message in the clock hand of his daughter's pocket watch, but not to his actual daughter.
      This theory stems from the fact that in order to start the paradox a character has to be effected by the outcome of the paradox already. So for Cooper's character in the past to find the coordinates to even start his whole adventure out into space, Cooper's character of the future has to know the circumstances of his past to change it. Thus a paradox. Because Cooper A couldn't have become Cooper B without Cooper B interacting with Cooper A. A multi-verse theory fixes the issue of there being a catalyst (ie. how does Cooper B become Cooper B if Cooper A doesn't know about Cooper B), because it says that Cooper B is an entirely different Cooper that is interacting with Cooper A's universe (one that is exactly identical but caters to two Coopers). It's slightly complicated but it solves the issue of things starting.
      The frustrating thing about Interstellar though is that Cooper A is Cooper B. And thus the paradox problem is that Cooper B can't have told Cooper A everything he needed to know without Cooper A already getting this information from a Cooper B who knows it already. It just doesn't work.

The Discovery
    Do you know that moment where something happens and you're just like, "how did they possibly even get to that solution?" That came up quite a bit for me. One of the major ones being the entire solution to saving humanity being Murphy (Cooper's daughter) realizing that the "ghost" in her room is actually her dad from the future sent back into a tessaract where he could interact with her dimension across years. There's a very tense (and very anticlimactic) moment where she and her friend are facing off with her brother, and she's racing to piece together the clues in her old bedroom. This doesn't entirely make sense without context but the point is there's a moment where she looks at the watch her dad gave her when he left and all of a sudden she just goes "oooh, all those cryptic messages I thought that a ghost was leaving for me by knocking books off my wall was actually my father come back to guide me." It's a moment that could've worked had it been set up properly but ended up pulling me out of the moment.
The Verdict
    There is quite a lot that still could be discussed but these were the immediate thoughts I had while watching it. It's not something I'd likely see again but I can't say I didn't enjoy watching at least part of it. There are problems, problems that need to be addressed, but it's an okay film if you find yourself at the theater looking to kill time.

Can an Animated Film Ever Win Best Picture?

Take a second and let this fact sink in: The Academy Awards have been around for 86 years, and over that entire stretch of time, an animated film has been nominated for best picture only 3 times. Full-feature animated films weren't around until 1937 when Walt Disney's Snow White blew everyone out of the water, but over those 77 years, the only animated movies to get recognized as having the potential to be the best film of the year were Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3. I'll buy the first two losses - Silence of the Lambs beat out Beast and the Hurt Locker beat Up, both really good films - but if you're trying to tell me that the King's Speech is better than Toy Story 3 in any single regard (apart from maybe the use of the word "fuck") than you're a liar and I hate you.

We're currently in the midst of an animated film "revival," of sorts, and I for one couldn't be more excited. Disney, in particular, is really hitting their stride with a string of great animated films, including Frozen, Wreck-it Ralph, and this year's Big Hero 6. There's some big films coming from Pixar too; they may have taken a few missteps by greenlighting unnecessary sequels to Cars and Monster's Inc, but they've got movies in the works about dinosaurs and emotions (which has the potential to be their best yet) that both look pretty incredible.

The question is: are they Oscar worthy? Academy voters tend to shy away from anything that's too - for lack of a better word - different. It's the same reason that Birdman probably won't win best picture this year; these movies are dangerous. The voters want something safe, like Colin Firth as a king with a speech impediment or literally any other British actor doing Britishy things; they don't want Michael Keaton marching in his underwear through times square or anthropomorphic toys teaching lessons about friendship, as sad as that may be. However, as the average age of Academy voters becomes younger (E.G. all the old people are dying), there's the potential to have more openness to the possibility of an animated movie taking home the big prize.

After all, there's nothing that "real" films do that animated films can't. I'm of the opinion that voice acting is still very much real acting, and story-wise, animated movies can pack as much of an emotional punch - hell, more usually - than traditional films. There's also more room for creativity. Sure, Matthew McConaughey can take a spaceship through a black hole, but Carl Fredrickson can attach his house to balloons and float to South America. We're willing to suspend our disbelief way more when we're watching animation, and this allows for basically endless situations and possibilities.

So, short answer, yes, I think it's possible that an animated film will win best pictures, for all that it matters. And I'm definitely not the only one. When it comes down to it, awards don't really mean shit; you should only judge a movie based on your overall enjoyment of it. That being said, I don't know anyone who hasn't immensely enjoyed a single animated film over the past 5-10 years, and I think it's about time the Academy reflected that.

I Fell In Love! With A Movie

       For whatever reason, the typical apathy that accompanies the near graduates of senior year of college has affected my movie watching. I will come home after a long day and instead of immediately putting on a movie or watching some tv show, I'll take it easy and listen to some new music. And when I do watch a movie, frequent bathroom breaks are taken. Phone is checked every five minutes. Friends don't believe me when I say this, family asks if I'm okay. This is all done in humor, but still. There's been some change and I'm unsure of where it came from. With this all in mind, Wednesday night I went to see Whiplash, a movie that folks at the Toronto International Film Festival loved. I had no other expectations other then for it to be good. And god damn. God daaaaaaaaamn.

       Whiplash is about a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who attends one of the best music schools in the country under the tutelage of the school's fearsome maestro of jazz (J.K. Simmons in a role that, for lack of a better role, kicks ass in every sense of the phrase). It's a misleadingly slight premise. Inside the typical constructs of that kind of plot is a passionate, kinetic exploration of the costs and rewards of dedication. Dreams require effort. Painful, soul-wrenching effort. And Whiplash understands this better then most. The drumming student is pushed to be great and he does not relent under such pressure. He gives himself over to his aspirations, spending every waking moment of his life trying to live up to his own perceived potential, sacrificing and destroying many of the things most people walk through life hoping for. Whiplash neither celebrates nor condemns this approach to life and this is part of what gives it such power.
        The movie also inspires on a basic technical level, often on all fronts. The camera work is stylish though not lavish, working hardest during the musical numbers to craft a sense of awe and energy that necessary us as a viewer to understand the passion this young man, hell anyone, feels for their craft. Music in film is easy to make interesting, but it takes a deft hand to make the meshing of image and music become truly singular, a stand out experience that could be experienced nowhere else. And god bless him, Damien Chazelle did just that. In the final scene alone, Chazelle makes a case for himself as a director with a fantastic understanding of kinetic filmmaking that is far beyond a man of his age.
          Acting wise, Simmons and Teller both commit straight murder with their respective role. Simmons in particular spits and yells and growls his way into the pantheon of Vulgar Guys Who Tell It Like It Is, alongside Alec Baldwin in Glenn Gary Glenn Ross and Lee Erney in Full Metal Jacket. Not to rob Teller of his achievement though. If Simmons is the fun of the movie, Teller is the heart. He anchors the proceedings. And I mean the man both acts well and actually play the drums. How cool is that?

       Typically when I fall in love with a movie, I can point to a specific moment when that happens. With Whiplash, that moment happened at least five different times. Helped me fall in love with movies all over again, which was somethng I needed. I'm not gonna demand you see it, but it'd be a good idea to do so.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Taylor Swift not only released a music video for her new song “Blank Space” but also an interactive app based on the music video. It’s an immersive technological experience. This is the regular music video: 
In the interactive tablet and smartphone app you can explore the virtual mansion for the length of the song. When using the app you are transported into a recreation of that setting for the course of the song where you can follow a realistic animated Taylor Swift and her love as they enter and exit new rooms of the mansion or you can leave the couple and explore.  You use the phone or tablet as your eyes, wherever you move it is the angle of your vision. The 360-degree action is very similar to the actual video. Aside from following the couple there are several trinkets placed in the virtual mansion. For example, a book on the coffee table includes exclusive, never-before-seen photos from Taylor’s childhood.

The app was created right after the video was completed. Once the video was wrapped another crew was brought in to photograph the mansion and created the interactive world. Taylor Swift talks about it in a short interview

After using this app I was very curious about how they did it so I researched and found a bunch of interesting information...

Immersive Media was the company responsible for the 360 camera systems, on set live-stitching/viewing, and 360 post services. The linear music video production was shot with a Red Dragon in 6K and used a DJI Ronin for a lot of the camera work. The 360 crew had the challenging task of recreating the key scenes from the music video after the linear crew was finished. During a 360 take the entire room must be clear of equipment, lights, and crew. The actors have their directions but are basically free to move where they want as the camera is capturing them from all angles. The 360 camera is placed on set and a cable connects the camera to the primary recorder. The camera used on this production is a called a Lady Bug and is made by Point Grey. There are basically two other types of 360 camera systems today including the GoPro version and the Red Epic version.


None of the GoPros allow for real time viewing of the stitched image. However, in some cases the small form factor of the GoPro rigs make them the only chose for 360 video capture. Most of the popular 360 videos online were shot with GoPro rigs.

The Red Epic version has way more resolution, allows for cinema lenses. However, their downsides are that they are very large and that they image plane of each camera is very far offset. Therefore, they are not ideal for stitching. This system doesn’t currently allow for real-time viewing of the final stitched image either.

The real strength of Immersive’s 360 camera system and workflow, is that you can view the 360 image roughly stitched together live while you are shooting. You also have control of the shutter, gain, and some other key controls.

I think this is a very cool idea and its going to become more prevalent. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Assistant Cameraperson-ing for Dummies!

Hello and welcome back! I hope everyone's weekends were filled with splendor and fascination. Keeping up with our century-long tradition, today I'll go into infinitely specific detail of a film crew position. Bet you can't guess what position it is! Can you? You can?! Wow, you're smart! Here's a cookie.

Last week, we discussed the importance of the 1st and 2nd Assistant Directors. Today, we'll be discussing a very similar topic. Like the director, the director of photography has two assistants. Can you guess what those assistants are called?...You're right! They're the 1st and 2nd Assistant Camerapersons.

The camera assistants' main responsibilities involve assisting the Director of Photography in camera operation and maintenance. They essentially help the DP with the execution of their (hopefully) well-planned shots. They assist. It's what they do. It's what they've always meant to do. It's their destiny.

More specifically, in helping the DP in camera operation and maintenance, the 1st Assistant Cameraperson's duties include:
      -Operation of cameras
      -Slating and loading
      -Focus marking and pulling
      -Preparation, maintenance and management of camera equipment
Where their responsibilities really differ from the 2nd AC is in the physical operation of the camera. A person may think, "Oh, they're just an assistant, what could they possibly be allowed to do?" Well, frankly, that's a very silly question. While 'assistant' is in their title, an AC is really anything but an assistant. They're practically part-time director of photography.

What about the 2nd AC? Where do they come into all of this madness? It turns out that the 2nd AC actually shares many of the responsibilities of the 1st AC. It'd be too much to do for one person, so the film industry thought it'd be good to get a second! The 2nd AC is responsible for:
      -Slating and loading
      -Preparation maintenance and management of camera equipment
      -Maintenance, labeling, logging, and safekeeping of reels and tapes
The last point is where the 2nd AC stands out from other AC's. Basically, they work in coordination with the script supervisor to make sure all the reels and tapes are labeled and organized so those who work with them later know what they're messing with. The process of digitizing the film would be a much more grueling process without this step.

So who are AC's? What do they do? Why are they here on Earth with us? What is their purpose in life? In layman's terms, they do everything the DP has to do but doesn't have the time for. While the DP is setting up the perfect shot, the 1st and 2nd AC's are busy doing everything else camera related. Thank you, AC's!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Storyboards: More Important Than You Think

          Today I want to introduce a blog that I've recently go into, run by former Pixar employee Emma Coats. Here blog is called Story Shots, and it caters to a curious audience who are interested in seeing what actually goes into developing and making films (animated or not).
          And an interesting piece that was brought up dealt with the technique of drawing storyboards from pre-existing films. Now you might think that that sounds silly. Why would you need to draw someone else's work? What if you can't draw? Isn't that just a waste of time better spent learning a more practical skill? Wrong, wrong, wrong!
          See, the underlying basis to making any film is knowing what exactly you're going to make. This ranges from how it's lit, how it's staged, how it's colored, even how the character interact within their environment. It may seem like storyboarding is just one of those "small" things you do in the pre-production process, but you have to understand that without a good storyboard you're film is basically lost.
          A storyboard is quite literally your film in its most negative form. Every single cut, transition, pan, tilt, etc., is captured in these drawings. But now you might be thinking, "cool, that makes sense. So this  means I should start storyboarding!" Yes...and no.
         You definitely don't have to be an artist when it comes to storyboarding, but knowing how light, shadows, colors, and perspectives interact with changing camera movements only helps in the preproduction process. And this is why this kind of technique should be encouraged for those looking to make a film (or to even just draw). Emma mentions that some movies that are famous for being "ground-breaking" in their genre are Jaws, E.T., Raiders, etc. are the best to draw from because it literally shows you what they did to make them.
          This can teach you about composition, lighting, camera position, and even the types of lenses you should consider for each shot. So storyboarding isn't just some off-hand thing you can get away with half-assing. It needs to be taken seriously because it what makes a good film great.

Run Bag

When Arturo brought in his run bag it inspired me to write a blog post about what is in my run bag and what should be in every good run bag. Every run bag will be different depending on what position you work on set, but from PA to director, every crew member should have a run bag.

I tend to Camera Assist more than anything else, so my runbag is built around that. Here are some of the most critical things in my run bag:
(from left to right)

Tape leash (with carabiner) - Great for holding multiple rolls of tape, and with the carabiner attached can be easily clipped to a belt or other things (Filmtools sells real tape leashes but I just used an old dog collar.) 

Tape -   This is all the tape I carry on me but many more styles and sizes (paper tape) come in handy
2" Black Gaff - for everything
1" Black Gaff - for everything else
1" White Gaff - great for camera stuff and  the slate
1/2" Colored Strike - for marking actors

Black Sharpies -  Come in handy for everything, especially marking waterbottles 

SD Card Case - Contains multiple SD cards of various sizes

Leatherman (with belt clip) - Swiss army knife x10

Interchangeable Screwdriver -  

Headlamp - Great for working in low light situations or before lights are struck

Flashlight - Various things, especially shining a light on slate when not enough light

Tape Measure - Measuring for focus & mirroring camera shots & detailed camera reports

Airblower - Cleaning lens & blowing dust off camera

Lens pen - Cleaning lens

Belt - Good to clip things on, holds your pouch, and keeps yo pants up

Pancro - Cleaning lens

Lens Tissue - Cleaning lens

Insert slate - Fits in AC pouch, used when a real slate can't fit or MOS shots to save time

Pouch - Keeps various things on your person, much more organized than pockets

Crafty - You WILL get hungry on set, and storing crafty in your run bag will keep you, and more importantly, the DP, satisfied

The rest of my run bag

Scissors, pens, C47s, HDMI, follow focus whip (no idea where that came from), power strip, hammer, pliers, wrench, grip gloves, cardellini clamp, cards, lighters, gum, towel, string/rope, box cutter, extra black t-shirt, phone charger, and many other things I'm forgetting right now. 

The Black and Blue has a great post about what's in his run bag.

Here's a video of Evan Luzi going through his bag: 


And to finish off the post, the most useful piece of set advice I've received:

If you wear pants to set bring shorts, if you wear shorts to set bring pants.

A Nice Little Music Video

Flying Lotus is a big underground name in music. If you're keyed in to the scene, chances are you either know of him or your favorite guy/band/whatever is into him. Hard to miss this guy. Part of this is cause the music is, well, fantastic and not like much else of what's being done today. But this isn't about the music, it's about a nice little music video he did released recently.

It's a really simple little thing. I'm not here to marvel at the production or anything like that. I just want to comment on my appreciation for it, and how it nails the exact feeling of the song without dipping into crazed antics.

The song Never Catch Me is basically about death and our attempts at trying to evade it. It will happen. But damn it if we won't spend every waking moment of our life in defiance of it. The song's far more impressive then that little description makes it seem but the point stands. Now, the music video for this could have been a bummer. The first minute or so kind of is. These two young kids lie dead in a casket and it's not exactly happy times. But they rise up and dance. And they dance their absolute asses off. I had listened to that song one hundred times before but the core sentiment of it never hit me quite as hard as it did until I watched the video. They dance their way out of the church and into the street and then end up in a hearse and drive off, smiles blazing. It's just fantastic all around. Just goes to show, sometimes simple is the way to go.

(P.S. On an execution level, it shows that the 4:3 aspect ratio should not be merely reserved for old television and that if utilized properly you can make some real interesting stuff happen.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Is Marco Polo the New Game of Thrones?

If you're one of the many people that feel like six months is far too long to wait for a new season of Game of Thrones, Netflix thinks they've got the perfect thing for you. Anyone that's been jonesing for a new old-timey, action-packed, inevitably sex-filled TV show, look no further: Marco Polo may be the answer to all of your prayers.

Apart from the fact that he had an awesome swimming pool game named after him, I know next to nothing about the famous 13th century explorer. I'd wager that I won't know a whole lot about him even if I end up watching all ten episodes of the new show's first season (from the trailer, the focus of the show doesn't exactly look to be aiming for total historical accuracy), but I think I'm ok with that, considering the subject matter.
Yeah, I see the similarity

If the first trailer is any indication of the overall tone and scope of the show, I think Netflix may be trying to give HBO a run for it's money. Already, we've got some beautiful landscapes shots of Mongolia and China, naked people performing martial arts, armies on horseback, and a strange amount of gigantic doors being opened. I don't know about the rest of you, but they've easily piqued my interest. The show is created and written by John Fusco, who actually has experience with both horses and martial arts, having written Hidalgo, Sprit: Stallion of the Cimarron, The Forbidden Kingdom, and the upcoming Netflix sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Fusco has no prior experience with serialized television, but Netflix obviously has some faith in him, as they've already begun to work on another one of his scripts.

The cast is comprised mostly of unknown actors, including the very Italian Lorenzo Richelmy as the titular explorer. Benedict Wong (Prometheus, Kick Ass 2) plays the menacing Kublai Kahn, and actress Zhu Zhu (Cloud Atlas) plays the "love interest" Kokachin.

So if you've got nothing better to do on December 12th (apart from attending the premiere of Prerequisites in Textor 102 at 6pm, obviously) it may be worth your while to go on a good old fashioned Netflix binge. After all, nothing says 'happy holidays' like lots of sex, violence, and ancient Italian explorers.