Friday, December 5, 2014

Shonda Rhimes

Over Thanksgiving Break I discovered the television show Scandal. It’s created by Shonda Rhimes who is also the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder”. All three are amazing shows. On Thursday nights, Twitter becomes a giant “Scandal” chat room, fans of the show dispatching around 200,000 tweets per episode. A good portion of these tweets contain “OMG.” Now the same goes for “How to get Away with Murder”. Shonda is running the show(s) at ABC!

Shonda is one of the most powerful African-American female show runner in television. She has three hit television shows on back to back to back on Thursday nights. Rhimes oversees around 550 actors, writers, crew members and producers. The televisions in her office and home are connected to a system that allows her to watch real-time editing by her editors. Basically she is AWESOME. The End.

Slumdog Millionaire's Hidden Slap

Anyone who knows me knows that I love action movies. I love em'. Spy Kids, Mulan, Harry Potter, you name it, I love it. In order to celebrate the awesomeness of action, I decided to look into some classic action-sequence editing techniques. 

But then, I started watching Slumdog Millionaire instead. And just as I was watching, I saw a flash! It was then that the fate of this post changed forever.  The first scene of Boyle and Tandan's Slumdog Millionaire required a transition the lead character to transition from a live television stage to a small torture chamber. Here's a short clip of the scene:

As you may have noticed, Jamal entered the torture chamber utilizing an advanced transition called the "fist train". At first glance, we see this--

However,  my friend, (who is a boy), noticed something flash through the frame mere milliseconds before the cut.  "What?" I asked serenely. My (boy) friend jerked his head away from the screen to meet my gaze. "I just saw a hand."



While I thought him crazy at first, upon further investigation I found Canon's claim valid. 

Here's the frame-by-frame of the transition:

...That's a hand alright. Someone on the crew got to be the guy who smacks Dev Patel. As eerie and ridiculous as it sounds, the offstage slap actually makes some sense. Cutting between static and moving shots often prove jarring to the viewer. While practically unnoticeable the naked eye, the quick movement of the slap smooths out the seam in the transition. The moral of the story is, when in doubt, slap your actors.

Terminator: He's Back

It all started with one word: Skynet. It was a system that launched a full-scale war between humankind and technology. A corrupt and wicked error that turned “living” weapons against us, masquerading as friends, family, and neighbors. A system rightly dubbed, the Terminators.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I practically grew up on the Terminator series. It was the perfect combination of butt-kicking heroines, power-hungry robots, and explosive action that I could have ever hoped to watch as a small child. And seeing the trailer for the newest addition to the multi-million dollar franchise, Terminator Genisys, brought the tiny part of me still emotionally attached to this series colliding out.
Originally written by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, the original Terminator series is about a bunch of futuristic cyborgs being sent back in time to try and kill the leader of the Resistance (back in their own time): be it by killing his mom, his dad, or he himself. The name John Connor might be familiar. It’s a series that dabbles in everything science fiction, in one of the most comprehensive ways that we know. True, it puts its roots in a type of paradox theory that isn’t altogether logical, it is arguably the movie that propelled the idea into mainstream.
It looks like Terminator Genisys, now directed by Alan Taylor, is once again putting Sarah Connor in the spotlight as Kyle Reese is sent back to “protect” her from being killed (given that she’ll come to be the mother of humanity’s leader). It’s not something that’s not often seen in Terminator adaptions: protect Sarah, save John, win the war. But, the film takes an interesting twist as this Kyle is sent back into a different timeline, one where Sarah Connor seems to be able to handle herself quite well (as she always has) and is determined to prevent Judgement Day from happening. Again, not a big plot difference but this time she has a little help from an unexpected mentor.
In a not so surprising twist, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to one of his most notorious roles as the Terminator. We can catch a glimpse of him, with his iconic deadpan, steel-eyed look, jumping into the fight of events as he is to do. But it also looks like this time, his Terminator self is leaning on the “living-tissue” spectrum of sci-fi elements, as we see his outside change into someone older.
Overall, the plot (while mildly recycled) looks interesting, Sarah Connor is flawless, and the Terminator is back.

The Late-Night Sausage Fest

CBS recently announced the weekly guest hosts of "The Late Late Show" for the three months between the end of Craig Ferguson's run and the beginning of James Corden's. The list includes Judd Apatow, Will Arnett, Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Jim Gaffigan, Billy Gardell, Sean Hayes, Thomas Lennon, John Mayer, and Kunal Nayyar. In other words, they're all men.

The "sausage fest" that is late-night television has received many complaints about it's lack of female representation, especially in the past year. And still, it appears as though CBS couldn't find even one singular funny woman to host the "Late Late Show" for a week. The only exception to this is the five woman who host CBS's daytime talk show, "The Talk." The group -- Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Aisha Tyler, and Sheryl Underwood -- will be doing a late-late-night version of their show during one of the weeks.

As you all probably guessed, I have a lot of issues with this. First of all, "The Talk" is a daytime talk show. Their content is not at all what audiences want during a late night talk show. I'm not saying that they can't pull it off. I'm just saying that it makes no sense to book them over other women in the industry. Furthermore, what message does it send that CBS thinks it takes five women to do the job of one man? The network could have just asked one of them to host (maybe Sheryl Underwood or Aisha Tyler, seeing as they are both established comedic performers. But apparently, CBS would prefer all five of them share the duty.

As for the men that will guest host, most of them are experienced comedic performers with connection to CBS or one of its sister cable channels. I will call it ridiculous, however, of CBS to hire Billy Gardell over his much more famous co-star, Melissa McCarthy. But I can get over that. What I can't get over is John Mayer. Last I checked, he isn't a comedian. How did CBS end up that far down the list of eligible performers to ask John Mayer and yet still couldn't come up with any women?!

Without women hosting late night shows, all shows in the genre seem to share a certain sameness. All of these shows share the same perspective, same humor, even same guests. Adding more women to the mix would expand the boundaries of what's possible in late-night. And give some new, fresh perspective.

Never Never(again)land

NBC has done it again. Last night, NBC debuted it's second live musical performance, "Peter Pan Live!". It's first live musical, "The Sound of Music Live!" brought in huge ratings for the network, but unfortunately the audience reaction wasn't as great. The event turned into "hate-watching", a guilty pleasure that I enjoy myself. Carrie Underwood just didn't cut it as Maria, and viewers came back this year to see if Allison Williams could pull off a convincing Peter Pan. Here's a highlight of the infamous "I'm Flying" scene from the performance:

The viewer ratings compared to last year's "Sound of Music Live!" went down 47%. As far as performance reviews, the general consensus seems to be that the actors did better than last year, but not by much. I didn't get to see "The Sound of Music Live!", but I was not impressed with this year's show. Maybe I'm biased because I was raised on Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan (2000), which was an incredible performance, but the casting for the new show was not believable. Allison Williams gave a deadpan performance to one of the most fun and rambunctious characters to ever come to the stage. Christopher Walken is well... Christopher Walken. I'm still not sure how someone came to the conclusion that he would be the best fit for Captain Hook. Although his dance moves were pretty smooth, he isn't energetic enough and his singing abilities just don't match up. I understand that big names bring more people, which brings more money, but there is no way there weren't better choices for both roles.

Besides the performances, there was also the controversial matter of racism and sexism in the casting. Peter Pan is originally a pretty offensive show when it came to Native Americans, depicting them as extreme stereotypes. NBC made steps to amend this by changing the most offensive song "Ug-A-Wug" to "True Blood Brothers", but did not realize their mistake in casting. "Peter Pan Live!" took a lot of criticism for casting an all-white ensemble of Lost Boys, and a tribe of mixed races for Tiger Lily's tribe. Not only was the segregation blatant, but there were also no women in the cast besides Wendy, Peter Pan, and Tiger Lily. Understandably, the Lost Boys and Pirates must be men, but there was plenty of room for women in Tiger Lily's tribe.

There were some good points in the show, namely the production value of the set and the singing capabilities of most of the actors. But it was difficult to appreciate when I was so displeased with the acting.

All in all, I commend NBC for trying to bring back musicals, but they need to stop casting film actors and use theatrically trained professionals, even if their names don't bring in most of the viewers. Let's hope they fix their mistakes and apply them to next year's performance of "The Music Man Live!". We can only hope. Rest assured I'll be there, hate-watching with the rest of America.

Celebration of Star Wars

Star Wars was THE movie that got me hooked on the process of making movies. Whenever people ask me who my favorite writer is, I tell them its George Lucas. His creative ideas such as Indiana Jones and of course Star Wars have stretched the minds of audiences everywhere beyond their wildest imaginations. Particularly in Star Wars Lucas has made some of the most creative characters, worlds and story lines  the world has ever seen. I mean, who would have thought a enormous talking slug would be the galaxy's most notorious thug or tiny teady bears would be responsible for the destruction of an evil empire.
But I digress, I think that Star Wars is a prime example of how something so imaginative can be brought to life through film. This is what filmmakers can look to as an example of a cast and crew working together to make someone's idea come to life. The cast and crew threw away their disbeliefs about this film and trusted each other to make a movie that many would say is their favorite of all time (me being one of them).
Now that the Star Wars saga has been passed down to J J Abrams one can only hope that the creativity and imagination magic of Star Wars continues. I will admit, there have been times when the series has lost its edge, but theres a very good chance we can have a new appreciation for the saga.
(I don't want to point any fingers but he definitely had something to do with losing some edge)   

And the recent trailer, In my opinion, didn't disappoint. If you haven't seen the trailer yet, I will tell you theres going to be some new things that look exciting and some familiar things that will have the fans jumping for joy. (Check out the trailer in the video below!) 

I ask you J. J Abrams please, please don't make this movie suck! Help us J.J Abrams you're our only hope!  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The SNL Title Sequence

Over thanksgiving break I had the glorious opportunity of joining some friends to a rehearsal screening of SNL (after sleeping overnight on the streets of New York waiting for tickets).

There's plenty I could say about the impressive studio performance, or how they managed to cram 5 separate stages in to a room just over half the size of a football field, but what I'm sharing today involves the one part of Saturday Night Live that is in fact not live – the title sequence.

My interest was sparked when I found a blog post by the creator of the title sequence, Alex Buono, just days after attending the rehearsal. Entitled "HOW WE DID IT – SNL TITLE SEQUENCE".

The full article has really useful information, including his stylistic techniques which were mostly (and most impressively) done in camera.

A few key points stuck out to me however:

1. Custom bokeh

Ah yes, that soft Japanese word we use to define the out of focus area of a photographic image. And to my latest discovery, how the out of focus light shines in to the camera can be manipulated into anything you want!

Bokeh is actually a reflection of the shape of the iris of the lens itself, which is usually why we see it as circular. In in its simplest terms, if you create a filter that's smaller than the diameter of the iris, the out-of-focus bokeh will magically take the shape of the filter in place of the iris. For Buono, the result came out something like this:

To have an effect like this coming strait into camera is just eff-ing cool.

2. A cool toy called "pixelstick"

Last year a company called Bitbanger Labs started a rather successful Kickstarter for their new product, "pixelstick". The page has so far brought in 571% of the initial goal...

...and for good reason, the capabilities of this device are incredible:

By slowly walking across screen several times, he accomplished this stop-motion clip that would be near impossible to accomplish with such accuracy just a few years ago.

In action:

Buono goes into great detail about how he accomplished the SNL title sequence, covering a range of equipment, lenses, and devices that gave the sequence its unique tone. I highly recommend it for any experimental or technical-oriented filmmaker.

Also, as this my last blog post for the class, I say adieu. It's not over yet, but this has already been an incredible experience. 

Teaching Filmmaking for Dummies!

It's finally here. After three consecutive semesters of blog posts, this is my final post. First Fiction Field Production 1, then Motion Graphics & Animation, and now Fiction Field Production 2, my journey is finally coming to an end. It's not that I haven't enjoyed writing dozens of posts about the fascinating things we all ought to know about the film industry--I have, mostly--but, nonetheless, every good thing must come to an end. That's why deciding what to write for my last post was such an easy decision. What's the point of it all? Why are we even here? The answer is simple: we want to make the best films we possibly can.

I've spent the last few months informing you all about the responsibilities of each and every one of the most prominent positions on a film crew. That's great and all, but what about those of you who don't quite know what you want to do with your life? What about those of you, like myself, who are still learning the basics of filmmaking? Don't fret! Because this week, I'll be focusing on Teaching Filmmaking for Dummies!

Everyone has had good teachers, professors, and mentors. Everyone has had bad ones as well. When it comes to filmmaking, there are very precise guidelines a teacher must follow to be good. Their methods may differ immensely, but the range of information must always be the same. Thankfully, it's only taken me three semesters to realize this. Here we go...

It's easy enough, isn't it? Nope. Writing a script. Creating a production schedule. Finding a crew. Visualizing the film's look. Finding and securing locations. Casting actors. Putting together the production design. Making a floorplan. Breaking down the script. Creating the storyboards. Making a shooting schedule. And that's it! I'm joking. That's a lot of stuff to get done in a reasonably short amount of time, so you've better do it right the first time. A good teacher (I say teacher because a person who furthers your knowledge doesn't necessarily have to be a professor) will help their students understand the importance of this preparation, and the students will usually ignore the teacher's recommendations and consequently realize its importance after they fail to give it the proper attention. A good teacher will say "oh well, hopefully you'll do better next time." And they'll tell you how to do better next time.

The concept is easy enough to understand. It's the part of the filmmaking process when you actually make the film. It's when all of your preparation pays off and you finally see your baby coming to life. Depending on the level of preparation, this step of the process can either go smoothly (or as smoothly as possible) or terribly. While things such as lighting and shot listing are often not prepared properly in student film productions, a good teacher will give you the knowledge to think on the fly. They will pass on all the information they posses on lighting, blocking, directing, shooting, etc. If they do a good enough job (and if you're paying enough attention), you'll have no problem having a good shoot despite your ill-preparation. A good teacher will make sure you know how to light a scene to give it the proper look. They'll teach you to frame a shot so that everything has meaning and nothing is where it shouldn't be.

We finally get to the part of the process when everything starts coming together. You take the "what the heck are we gonna do with this" and make it into the "I can't believe we made this." A good film teacher will make sure of this. They'll teach you the importance of coloring, sound, and each and every edit. After learning from this person, you'll comprehend the meaning of each of these aspects and how the slight alteration of just one of them can change the entire meaning of a scene. Most importantly, as a wise man once said, "Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut." What he meant by this is that anything that's not of absolute importance to the film should not be there. If it doesn't contribute to the progression of the story, get rid of it. Even when you think something may be important, try taking it out and see if the story changes without it. Chances are, it can often be thrown out. The leaner the film, the better it usually ends up being.

"Who could possibly meet these standards? A semester simply isn't enough time to get across all of this information to students without having their heads explode." You're not wrong. Well, not completely, anyway. Students' heads will most definitely explode, but it's more than possible to successfully cram all the necessary information into a short amount of time. Including typical information, a good teacher needs to hold certain characteristics...

Be blunt.
A good teacher won't make their students cry, but they tell them how they feel about the students' work. Nobody wants a film teacher who will coddle them. They'll never learn that way. They tell students what they did wrong and how they can fix it. How else will they learn?

Be demanding.
Set high standards. If a teacher expects a lot out of their students or protégés, the students will give better work. Nothing will hurt students more than low expectations, because they'll have nothing to aim for. Students don't want to disappoint their teachers, so they will try to meet those high expectations.

Be inspirational.
The hardest working students are the most inspired students. Fact. The most inspired students come from teachers who connect with them and who explain how their success began right where they are. Those who believe they can achieve success, will.

"Ok, this is simply ridiculous. How can you be blunt, demanding, and inspirational?" Well, I'm not the one to ask. It's a tricky equation that somehow makes total sense. If you'd really like to understand, I recommend you take a class with Arturo Sinclair. In the past year of my life, I've learned more about filmmaking than I ever imagined learning over the entire course of my college career. For that, I say 'thank you', Arturo. Thank you for [attempting] to teach me everything you know. Thank you for teaching me to think [way] outside the box. Most importantly, thank you for always having faith in me. I can't wait to put all the knowledge you've given me to work. After everything, one thing's for certain: you're certainly no dummy, Arturo.

Why You Should See Big Hero 6

Disney's new animated film, Big Hero 6, directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, left me giddy for the rest of the day after I saw it. Granted, I do tend to love all things Disney and animated films are my weakness, I truly believe this film is one that people of all ages and from all backgrounds would like. It has all the elements of a great animated film: relatable characters, humor, an intriguing plot, and, of course, beautiful animation. It is entertaining but also has a meaningful message.

The healthcare robot, Baymax, is designed by Tadashi, a young man working at a Technical Institute developing new technology. Baymax is programmed to help those who are sick or injured. Looking like a floatation device or balloon that turned into an adorable creature, Baymax is the glue of the entire film. He holds everything together and makes the film special and memorable. He provides comic relief and conveys important themes. One of the most easily lovable Disney characters I've seen in a while, Baymax is kind-hearted and reminds us of good moral values. Who knew a robot could teach us things about how to help people emotionally?

The movie really takes off after a mysterious fire breaks out causing tragic events. The main character, Tadashi's younger brother and a fourteen year old genius, Hiro, uses Baymax to help him figure out the truth. Hiro and Baymax bring together Tadashi's friends, a group of extremely intelligent students, to form a high-tech, ragtag team of heroes. Hiro learns there is a fine line between justice and revenge, and this is a major struggle throughout the movie.

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune explains another great thing about the film:

"Without making a big deal out of it, "Big Hero 6" features a shrewdly balanced and engaging group of male and female characters of various ethnic backgrounds. It'd be nice to live in a world where this wasn't worth a mention, but it is. And yet the movie belongs to the big guy. While Baymax has his limitations — "I am not fast," he says when urged to run by one of his human pals — somehow his face, delineated by two black dots connected by a straight line, expresses plenty of human emotion."

The beautiful animation is, as some would call, "eye candy." It's stunning and fun to watch, just for the colors and backgrounds. I immediately wanted to watch Big Hero 6 again after it was over (although that may be just my obsession with animated films talking).

Big Hero 6 first appeared as a Marvel Comic book series in 1998. It was unpopular compared to Marvel's other comic book series and was soon forgotten, until now. This is the first animated Disney movie based on a Marvel Comic, and I'm sure it won't be the last. With the lovable characters, humor, exciting story, and breath-taking animation, there are so many reasons why you should see Big Hero 6. Disney and Marvel lovers alike will relish in this heart-warming film.

Oh - and for the Marvel fans out there - you may want to wait until after the credits to leave.

Why More Movie Characters Should Just Stay Dead

There's begun to be a trend in big Hollywood blockbusters where a film will decide to kill off one it's most beloved characters, only to resurrect them before the credits role. The biggest offenders, obviously, have been super hero movies, and the list of characters who have been brought back to life is actually getting a little out of hand. If you don't want minor spoilers for both old and newer movies, stop now.

Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. Loki in Thor 2. Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3. Agent Coulson in the Avengers (who was technically brought back in the TV shows Agents of Shield). Baymax in Big Hero 6. Batman, kind of, in the Dark Knight Rises. Captain Kirk in Star Trek 2. I could go on.

There's a good article about the whole issue by Kyle Buchanan at Vulture that highlights a few of the problems that this trend creates. A lot of these movies are based off of comic books, he points out, and characters dying and inevitably getting brought back to life are a common occurrence. Killing Superman would be a huge, dramatic event, but no writer is actually going to get rid of such an iconic character forever. Still, the impact of such a death would have a more lasting effect on a reader, since they would most likely have months to think it over before any form of the character could be brought back to life.

Movies, on the other hand, are getting overly manipulative with audience members emotions. Once or twice is ok - I obviously didn't expect a kids movie like Big Hero 6 to kill off the funniest/most interesting/most action-figure makable character, and I didn't really want them to - but it's become something of a trope. Killing off a character at the end of the second act is fine; it's a good "dark moment" for the hero/rest of the characters and can vault a film into it's third act. Bringing them back 15 minutes later, however, is just toying with emotions. It's not enough time to fully reflect on the implications of a death. Even waiting for a sequel to bring back a character would be better than the immediacy that Hollywood has been banking on. It really tends to feel like a cop out. If I get all sad over a character dying, part of me wants that sadness to be justified by actually having that character stay dead.

I'm not sure if these writers and studio executives think that audiences won't be able to handle the implications of a beloved character staying dead or if they think they're just being clever. I, for one, want to see more Dumbledores; big, meaningful characters dying for good and seriously effecting the rest of the characters. If one of the Avengers dies? Really, truly, dies? Yeah, that's a movie I want to see. I think it's only a matter of time before the trend starts dissipate, and I can't wait to see who the writer or director is that has the balls to actually make death meaningful.