Saturday, April 25, 2009

And Sarah Palin is in Fourth

Just checked the Webby Awards "People's Voice" standings. Currently the Frugal Traveler: Budget Europe is in third.

Did I mention Your Vote is Appreciated?

Have a huge Twitter audience or fans who read your blog? Have them check out the series -- it was 14 solid episodes of Euro travel, and I'm not sure that's reflected in the link people who arrive cold at the Webbys get. Voting ends April 30th, so it's not over yet....

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bernie, Elliot, Madge

Sure, my neighborhood has one or two unsavory characters in it, like anywhere else. And questionable newcomers move in from time to time. That's fine.

Despite the downsides, you can't beat the tulips on Park Avenue when Spring decides to show up.

Above: iPhone snap from yesterday, taken while walking over to teach a photography class.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

But I've Never Been To Me

What type of news story would I like to read? Well, anything Ted-centric would be fine. And they say journalism's dead....

Indie Filmmakers Q&A Series: Part I

Now I Have to Look Up If He Won

Did I mention that Webby nomination, and how you should go vote for Frugal Traveler: Budget Europe immediately? I guess it slipped my mind. In any case, go vote now, it's going to be very close.

Your vote is needed. I'll wait.

Okay, now that you're back, a little humor at Slate. It's not necessarily accurate, and the article is a year old, but it's still pretty funny....

What? You've Not Been Honored by the Webbys?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Profluence shows up in the darndest places.

This time it's in a story on filmmaking contests -- a topic we know well -- and where they might fit into the future of filmmaking.

The future of storytelling - from Soderbergh to YouTube

"I used to roll my eyes … how could this serious life pursuit be reduced to a contest? Why would makers play directly in to the hands of needy promotional types? But years later, I’m starting to see the opportunities, and how it’s grown far beyond simple commercialization. In posing story as game, isn’t there value in simply inviting broader creativity? Aren’t there new types of opportunities for collaboration?"
Check out the full post, as it's the first column by Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson on Sundance Channel's new "SUNfiltered" blog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Documentaries in the News, Stripper Edition

This might be a good doc. Or not. It definitely needs a better title, though. Really, there have to be a couple dozen double-entendres just ready to go, and no end of possible puns.

Stripper Impersonates High School Alum: Classmates Learn About Reunion Prank on YouTube

So, rather than attend her reunion, Wachner, 31, sent someone else in her place, a stripper, and made a documentary about it. "I Remember Andrea" wasn't picked up by the film festivals this go-around, but Wachner did find a manager who took interest in her project. They are shopping it around as a reality TV show or a narrative feature.

Monday, April 20, 2009

ASU Screening Followup

I've screened films for small audiences before, and that's fine. I can think of a few times when there were only 30 people in the audience. No problem. So it's nice to see 1,300 turn out for the screening at ASU Art Museum. That's a good-sized audience.

ASU museum’s reel deal

Your Vote is Appreciated

The web series I produced / edited last summer -- Frugal Traveler: The Grand Tour -- is nominated for a 2009 Webby Award.

Please vote for the show at the People's Voice site.

It would be much appreciated.

How it works: click on "sign up now" and give an email address (you can opt out of receiving anything) and make up a password. They email you a link, then you follow that to a ballot.

"Frugal" is under "Online Film / Video" in the "Travel" category.
If you haven't seen it, here's the series:

2008: Frugal Traveler: The Grand Tour (14 Episodes)
Week 1: Dover to Calais
Week 2: Paris, France
Week 3: Southwestern France
Week 4: French Riviera
Week 5: Rome
Week 6: Malta
Week 7: Cyprus
Week 8: Bucharest
Week 9: Vilnius, Lithuania
Week 10: Gdansk, Poland
Week 11: Germany
Week 12: Dutch-Belgian Border
Week 13: Frugal Edinburgh
Frugal Traveler: Looking Back

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Editing by the Numbers

I've been grading papers by my students this week, and as usual there are many references to how editing has changed in the digital era. It makes sense: while the basic concepts are the same, editing on a computer can be significantly faster and allows a lot of room for quick experimentation.

I think they miss the bigger, more significant point, however.

Compare the same editor working in 1979 and 2009 and of course you'll see the power of computer-assisted editing. On some tasks, the digital editor will be amazingly faster, and will likely have less need of multiple assistants to sort the material.

On other tasks, though, they may in fact work at about the same pace. A decent film editor on a working pre-digital system is not inherently slow, and a digital system includes no magic wand.

The significance of digital technology is not found in comparing one editor (1979 version) to one editor (2009 version). The real change is this: the number of people with training in editing and a reasonable amount of practice is way, way up. The shift to computer-based editing has given the individual editor potentially more speed and power -- but it has also made it a more competitive field, with a much larger talent pool. How many 19-year-olds had edited a short film in 1979, compared to the number today?

The real effect, then, is that in our one-to-one comparison that 2009 editor would probably be better. Not because of the function of the tools, but because of the amount of practice and competition allowed by the tools.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Anthony Goicolea Documentary

Here's a short documentary on artist Anthony Goicolea I edited last year. It was directed and photographed by Richard Giles. It's done in a very slow, contemplative style that I really enjoy. We spend a lot of time experiencing his process of making art, and we get a sense of what it's like to hang out in his studio. It's 8 minutes and 30 seconds.

(It was done for Haunch of Venison, and you can see more about the artist on their site.)

Screening Tonight

Tonight at 8 p.m. our film 12th and 3rd in Brooklyn (by Ted Fisher, Iris Lee and Maya Mumma) will screen at the Thirteenth Annual ASU Art Museum Short Film and Video Festival in Tempe, Arizona.

I've seen the film with a number of audiences, and it usually goes over well, with one particular moment that gets a laugh / cheer. The ASU event looks like fun -- it's outdoors at night in Arizona -- so I wish I could be there to see how it plays....

Friday, April 17, 2009

Always Bring An Attorney

Ah, documentary production. Camera? Check. Tape? Check. Allegedly peering through Britney Spears windows? Check.

Just a ‘joke’ says woman caught at Britney’s

"The whole thing — it was all a joke in the beginning, everybody knew about it," the woman, who claims to be a student at the Art Institute of California, told Billy Bush for Access Hollywood and "The Billy Bush Show" on Friday. "It was supposed to be like a 'Paparazzi 101' documentary type deal."
At least she didn't get egged by Lindsay Lohan.

Or mistaken for a Zombie by Woody Harrelson.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Besides Depends commercials, what is Errol Morris making next? Variety knows.

Errol Morris tries icy tale

Documentarian Errol Morris is taking on a narrative feature for his next project. The "Fog of War" helmer will direct the Untitled Cryonics Project, which Zach Helm is writing. Mandate Pictures and Steve Zaillian's Film Rites are producing the dark comedy, which was inspired by both Robert F. Nelson's memoir "We Froze the First Man" and a story that aired on "This American Life" this week titled "You're as Cold as Ice."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Heddy Honigmann

One of my favorite documentaries is Heddy Honigmann's Forever. So I'm glad to see that her new film is out.... Indiewire has a good interview about the film and her process.

Interview | “Oblivion” Director Heddy Honigmann: “I need more than one lifetime…”

Some years ago, I visited my mother in Lima. We went to a chic restaurant. When the waiter came, I recognized him. He was still working in the same restaurant after forty years. “So,” I asked him, “have you seen many coups, have you served presidents and ministers, and have you suffered because of the continuos corruption, inflation and violence in Peru?” The waiter nodded smilingly and every time he served us he told us bits of what he remembered. And although I was on a vacation, a “film idea” was conceived.

Webby "People's Voice" Voting Open

If you enjoyed the Frugal Traveler: The Grand Tour series, you can vote for it at the People's Voice site.

How it works: click on "sign up now" and give an email address (you can opt out of receiving anything) and make up a password. They email you a link, then you follow that to a ballot.

Pick the shows you like. "Frugal" is under "Online Film / Video" in the "Travel" category.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Frugal Traveler Webby Nomination, 2009

It looks like last year's Frugal Traveler: The Grand Tour series is nominated for a 2009 Webby Award.

I notice the Webby Awards site has it listed as "Budget Europe," which it is, sorta, though that's not the official title. As well, it currently links to the "send off" episode (an episode I was not involved in -- I served as Producer and Editor on the 13 weekly episodes and the "Looking Back" episode) without really guiding you to the episodes of the series. I'm sure they'll update. (I'll post the series links in order below, so if you want to watch the series you can.)

Webby Awards, Online Film / Video, Travel Category

I'm glad to see it nominated -- I think it was a very good series and shows that organizations other than the big networks can produce high-quality shows.

(I believe there will be "People's Voice" voting enabled, also, and I will link to that later. I hope you'll give it a vote.)

2008: Frugal Traveler: The Grand Tour (14 Episodes)

Week 1: Dover to Calais
Week 2: Paris, France
Week 3: Southwestern France
Week 4: French Riviera
Week 5: Rome
Week 6: Malta
Week 7: Cyprus
Week 8: Bucharest
Week 9: Vilnius, Lithuania
Week 10: Gdansk, Poland
Week 11: Germany
Week 12: Dutch-Belgian Border
Week 13: Frugal Edinburgh
Frugal Traveler: Looking Back

Monday, April 13, 2009

This Saturday

On Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 8 p.m. our film 12th and 3rd in Brooklyn (by Ted Fisher, Iris Lee and Maya Mumma) will screen at the Thirteenth Annual ASU Art Museum Short Film and Video Festival in Tempe, Arizona. It's a very diverse program drawn from all over -- looks like great fun.

We won't be able to attend, but if you do (and happen to find this blog post) please give the film a rating at or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Went to Film Forum to see the new documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor. Excellent production values, seamless editing, strong cinematography, remarkable access. Very polished and entertaining.

After some reflection, my only complaint: there are no surprises. Everything is as it seems, and there's no particular transformation or moment where a challenge is overcome.

Still: the film is at least a match for the other four or five fashion docs that have come out in the last few years, and avoids the pitfalls so common to the genre. The filmmakers seem to realize that at a certain point, heroicizing a fashion designer becomes a little silly -- and they walk it right up to the limit, but no further.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Beer Wars

I can't drink. Well, not until Tuesday.

I went to the doctor a while back, and all the tests seemed fine except one. Probably nothing, I was told -- but don't drink anything until you come in for your physical, as that will throw the test off. It's taken a long time to schedule that physical, though, so I've been drier than a small town in Utah. For weeks and weeks and weeks.

Which makes a documentary on beer seem really appealing right now.

Small brewers battle ‘evil empire’ in ‘Beer Wars’ film

Though “Beer Wars” is Baron’s first documentary feature, she brings a unique perspective to the subject, with a background as both a beverage business executive and a Hollywood producer. And while “Beer Wars” might seem to be targeted at beer drinkers (something Baron is not), it’s ultimately a David and Goliath story about big beer companies vs. smaller beer companies and the current economic climate.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Speaking of "Dig!"

It turns out you can watch "Dig!" for free, via snagfilms. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ondi Timoner

I'm a big fan of Dig! -- and I'm definitely looking forward to We Live in Public. In fact, I'm slowly beginning to think the "available same day as theatrical release" model will win out -- when I hear about a film I want to see, I'm ready to see it immediately.

The "Public" Life of Ondi Timoner

So I set out to document all of life. I shot 2500 hours of footage [for “Dig!”]. I didn’t realize that would make me be in the edit bay for three and a half years. I was more economical with “We Live in Public,” only this time, my subject was obsessed with documentation -- he documented thousands of hours of footage. Suddenly, I’m with 5000 hours of footage again. And thank God because it’s all viscerally told and when I wasn’t filming, Josh [started] with his girlfriend. I should give surveillance cameras main [cinematography] credit on the film.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Last Book Read: Outliers

I've just finished Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. (The Kindle version, actually, read on my iPhone.)

I went through it with an eye to documentary production -- which makes it a very strange read. Some of his main points -- mastery of a craft will take 10,000 hours of work, practical intelligence is more important than I.Q., timing is critical regarding opportunities -- are fairly common-sense-based if we think about fields like music or computer programming or math.

But filmmaking?

A good argument can be made that he's wrong: the people with the "most" experience are often hacks, doing drudgery-work. The most "practical" folk end up making lowest-common-denominator work. The right-time-right-place filmmakers invariably fail on their second effort.

Clearly, his argument doesn't apply directly. Can we adapt it, though? It seems valuable, so can we filter it to work for doc production?


First, 10,000 hours isn't a figure to use when thinking about editing. Walter Murch seems to do about 1,000 hours of serious feature film editing a year, if we make a guess based on his books. That's probably the highest figure in the field -- I just don't think someone's hours cutting wedding videos, pre-structured television shows or anything that doesn't require high-level problem solving really count toward mastery. My guess is that someone like Murch could be said to get close to mastery after cutting three features -- 3,000 hours of work, give or take. I expect, though, that we're talking about a practice where pure hours don't matter above a certain point. Rather, Gladwell's 10,000 hours probably translates -- for those with the opportunity to work extended hours at the high levels of the craft -- into somewhere between 5 and 10 years of intense work. And that does seem to match reality, as far as I can tell.

Second, practical intelligence does seem to be more important than any raw I.Q. Making a documentary is dependent, in most cases, on one's ability to work with people -- whether a documentary subject or a crew. And the ability to get people to help you get what you need -- something Gladwell stresses -- is clearly more important than pure knowledge. So here Gladwell's notion is probably on target.

Gladwell's idea of being born to the right time and place for big success, however, is a little hard to apply to the field. Pick any doc maker with at least 2 big hits -- Barbara Kopple or Ondi Timoner, Al Maysles or Michael Moore -- and you'd be hard pressed to see a reason that success couldn't have happened in another time and place. There are always waves rising and falling: television supporting documentary production, then letting it go, film festivals rising, then falling, then rising again, DVD sales climbing then falling, and now the Web. There's been no "lucky elevator" to catch -- just films that are good enough to jump out of the box marked "documentary" onto the shelf for "new releases."

So why bother with Gladwell if he's just giving us common sense, and if it isn't a perfect match for documentary production?

My answer is that what he's really done in his book is to go against "common sense" -- the popular idea that success is a product of genius, that brilliance translates to productivity, that lightning can strike anywhere. He's instead pushed a very pragmatic take: put in long hours, find ways to work with people, and wait for a hittable pitch. There's nothing wrong with any of that advice, and nothing very surprising about it. His bigger point -- that if we as a society recognized these principles, we could produce twice as many "successful" students as our current "genius will out" model -- is the real value of this book.

Think about the current model: students go to film school, and those that do well earliest get the most access to higher training and resources. Everyone else is expected to bow to that glimmer of genius they've shown, and perhaps move toward "craft" -- serving those "natural Directors" as lighting crew, or as a camera loader. Just fantastic.

The main dent in that model came when computers became powerful enough to edit at home. Suddenly, a DV-camcorder and a copy of Final Cut Pro was a bit of an equalizer. But there's been a constant pushback since that revolution: the shift to HD production, the idea that "Dude, you've got to shoot on the Red camera!" and the idea of "production values" has returned us to that old-school model: get to USC, make the best short in your first class, and you're a "Director" with everyone else supporting your feature production and the school paying your way.

I'm with Gladwell: I think that existing model is the reason we get "The Fast and the Furious 18" as the tentpole of our culture. I'd rather have twenty of the people from the crew making their own shorts, and I think our culture would benefit more from that.

The takeaway? "Outliers" deflation of our expectation that "success comes from innate talent" is a perfect message for these times. We've lost our veneration for merit -- expecting instead that success will come from oversinging on a television reality show. All the hype in the world can't match what can be done with hard work -- and as a culture we don't seem to want to believe that.

What Gladwell does is pile up the evidence for it. I think it's worth considering.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ah, Politics: Documentaries in the News

I enjoyed "Religulous." It was entertaining.

I consider it more of an essay, though, than a documentary. Even if I agree with it, I don't appreciate one-sided films. Reality is messy, and that's my favorite thing about documentaries -- they struggle within that messiness.

Which is why I hate most advocacy films. Doubly so those that one could fairly consider expanded political ads.

It's interesting to see the Supreme Court get involved in a decision relating to documentary films, of course, and it will be very interesting to see what they decide.

Justices Seem Skeptical of Scope of Campaign Law

“Hillary: The Movie,” a documentary with elements of polemic and advocacy journalism, was produced by Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit corporation. It was released during the Democratic presidential primaries last year, and a lower court said it could not be broadcast within 30 days of those elections.
It's a bit disheartening, however, to know what we're in for....

Anti-Obama Film On the Way
A conservative group -– Citizens United -– that has produced a film now in distribution attacking Hillary Clinton called “Hillary, the Movie,” has its sights set on a new target: Barack Obama. The group has budgeted about $1 million to produce a documentary film about Mr. Obama that is set to be distributed this summer.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

IMDB Web Series Credits

I know a few of you Web producers will be interested in a comment received yesterday from Casey McKinnon (of Galacticast, A Comicbook Orange and Kitkast fame).

She makes it clear: it's time to dust off your Web Series resume and get ready to go through that IMDB submission process. If you recall, she asked Col Needham, IMDb founder and managing director, about this issue and -- to the relief of a zillion video makers -- the answer was yes.

Hi Ted,

The audio file I provided is really only half the story since I went to talk with him one-on-one after the Q&A. He confirmed that it's happening and said that it would roll out in the 2nd or 3rd quarter of this year (anytime between April 1-September 30).

We've been waiting a LONG time for this... looking forward to it.

Not yet known, however, is how IMDB will deal with its qualification requirements. I would expect factors will be the size of a program's audience, media coverage, and maybe awards.

So will the Webbys and the Streamys be competing to be the "official" award for Web shows? Will we see credits for daily web shows that list "412 episodes" and will there be a debate about what counts as a "significant" media source? Certainly.

It should be an interesting year....