Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twitter Quitter

Well, there's a lot going on. I don't have time to write it all up just now. But I thought I'd mention:

It's Not You, It's Me

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Soderbergh Speaks

I posted previously about Stephen Soderbergh use of the RED camera in "The Girlfriend Experience", so here's the word from the horse's mouth in an NYT audio slideshow.

I think the slideshow makes the movie feel darker than it reads on a television screen, but it's very interesting from the viewpoint of cinematography. As well, Soderbergh's approach here is very similar to that used in documentary production.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Know anyone looking for an intermediate photo class in NYC? My Seriously Fun Photography begins Thursday. I believe you can still register today.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Now on Netflix: Bend & Bow

The International Documentary Challenge DVD is now available on Netflix. So check it out. It's got 17 great short films, including our short documentary Bend & Bow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

RIP, Sid Laverents

I'm fascinated by the NYT obit for Sid Laverents -- a film "hobbyist" whose work is in the National Film Registry.

Sid Laverents, Auteur of Homemade Films, Dies at 100

Nine minutes long, “Multiple SIDosis” stars Mr. Laverents himself, and it begins as he opens a Christmas gift from his wife at the time, Adelaide: a recording device. For the rest of the film, Mr. Laverents puts to use not just the recorder but also his background as a one-man band, knitting together a soundtrack of several separate recordings of himself performing a jaunty Felix Arndt tune called “Nola.” He whistles, hums, blows across bottlenecks and plays instruments, including a banjo, a jew’s-harp and an ocarina.

It’s a witty performance, but what is really unusual is the imagery that accompanies the music. Using repeated exposures of the same piece of film, Mr. Laverents kept adding different shots of himself playing the different musical lines. By the end, there are 11 different Sids on the screen, including a couple wearing Mickey Mouse ears and fake whiskers.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Like Salinger, Except Reclusive

That last post on the Death of Indie Film got me thinking about those indie filmmakers who make a great low-budget film, hit it semi-big ... then disappear.

I'm thinking, for one, of Whit Stillman, maker of the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie trio: Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco. While there are rumors he'll be surfacing soon with a new film (currently listed as in pre-production), ten years is a long time away.

And I'm thinking also of Shane Carruth, who made Primer in 2004, did a few interviews, and then vanished. He surfaced a few times after -- one mention claims he was planning to make a "coming-of-age romance between an oceanography prodigy and the daughter of a commodities trader" -- but is seemingly hidden away today.

Filmmaker Magazine even wrote: SHANE CARRUTH, PHONE HOME.

Of course, they'll probably both be back. In 1998, I saw The Cruise and showed it to all my students. In fact, I did so for years -- and remember quite clearly wondering, circa 2004, where the hell Bennett Miller had disappeared to.

Death of the Indie Film?

I generally hate to point folks to Fox -- lest they begin to think torture isn't torture, the WMDs were found, and that ACORN is trying to kill Glenn Beck -- but I think it's safe to view this segment on Death of the Indie Film? featuring Ted Hope, Marina Zenovich and Reed Martin.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fiction, Non?

One of the problems that has plagued photography since the 1980s has been the idea that celebrity photographs need to be publicist-approved.

It's made a lot of the practice of photographing famous people a joke. Or, perhaps, made it a process of "getting away with" making something that's actually better than a publicist could envision. It's turned a lot of great photographers out of the field, and led others to make making weaker work.

Can the same hold true in documentary production?

A few months ago, I watched Shine a Light -- Martin Scorsese's "documentary" on the Rolling Stones -- and was left with two reasons why I'd rather call it a "concert film" than a doc:

1. The interview material was completely safe, and completely in the well-polished control of the Stones.

2. The concert was changed by the filmmaking process -- which to me is the opposite of a "documentary" process.

I'm more excited to see what Scorcese will do with the added freedom he'll clearly have on his next -- non-documentary -- picture. I don't think there'll be any need to please the subject or a publicist or any limits put on access....

Martin Scorsese Set to Direct Frank Sinatra Biopic

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Limited Time Offer

Today marked the last show for the term in my TV production class. We've done several somewhat sophisticated, timing-critical, multiple-camera setups.

With Summer in the air, however, the class decided to do a "home shopping channel" style show. Fairly simple, kinda fun. It was still three-camera, but really easy.

Above: iPhone snap of a runthrough.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seeing With Photography Collective in New Exhibition

Our short documentary Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing featured Victorine Floyd Fludd and the Seeing with Photography Collective back in 2007. Now work by these photographers is getting a lot of coverage.

Both are included in my friend Doug McCulloh's exhibition Sight Unseen, and now that's being covered in Time Magazine.

Glad this is going well, and I wish I could make it to the exhibition.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Since I'm not 12, I skipped right past the idea of seeing "Star Trek" in a theater this weekend. (Yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's good. I just think we're smothering all the new ideas by rehashing the old ones that seem comfortable and fun. I understand why people wanted that in the 1950s, after a few really tough decades, but I don't think that's where we should be now. I think we should be looking to the new.)

Instead, we took advantage of the fact that Stephen Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience is released on pay-per-view while it's still in theaters.

I'm not a reviewer, so I'll leave that to others. What I did want to mention, though, is that it's shot with the RED camera in a style that loosely connects to documentary: working in available light and going handheld. And it looks great, at least on television.

As Soderbergh told Filmmaker Magazine:

You know, I shot The Informant [with the Red] last spring, but I wasn’t really in a situation where sensitivity was as much of an issue as it was on GFE. So for me that [heightened sensitivity to light] was a big plus because we were shooting anamorphic and I was kind of restricted to shooting stuff at 2.8. Basically I can’t go much wider than that, stop-wise, and so I really needed that extra sensitivity. It meant I could go out on the street or be in a car, still be able to shoot available light and be really pleased with what we were getting. So, [the Red] just keeps getting better. ... There are only two shots in the film where I pulled out a light. ... And frankly I wish I hadn’t. They’re my two least favorite shots.
Above: Soderbergh talks about his experiences with the Red.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

And Then The Sequel to "The Civil War"

Well, we know what Errol Morris has planned next.

And we know that PBS will be showing Ken Burns' 12-parter: The National Parks: America's Best Idea in September. But these days, you can't just rest on your laurels: sure, making 12+ hours of TV is fine, but what's going to keep him busy once that's out?

Documentary film maker Ken Burns has a sequel to 'Baseball' in the works

But as he prepared to throw a strike to the Marlins' mascot before Florida faced Atlanta, he couldn't contain his excitement about one of his next projects, a sequel to his Emmy Award-winning 1994 series, Baseball.

"We just started editing what we're calling The Tenth Inning," he said of the project that he hopes will air on PBS in September 2010 as a pair of two-hour episodes. There's so much that's gone on and we're going to really tell the story, good and bad. There's been enough water under the baseball bridge since 1992, (which) was the last action we described.''

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Other Kind of Final Cut

I mentioned previously that I enjoyed the doc Valentino: The Last Emperor, and today the Dallas Morning News has a good interview with the director. One of the issues it touches on is that always-scary question: what does the subject think of the film?

Behind the scenes on Matt Tyrnauer's documentary, 'Valentino: The Last Emperor'

"I had the final cut, which was important to me. It was hard to get. When I showed it to them, they were caught off guard and freaked out. They were very undone by the film and they found themselves in a situation they couldn't control. It was an un-airbrushed version of a very airbrushed life. The movie is not just a little fashion film or a collection of runway shows. It's an in-depth movie exploring a meaningful relationship. Valentino and his partner (Giancarlo Giammetti) aren't used to having their lives examined by any closeness."

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I've been in a lot of discussions lately about the economics of documentary production. There's a lot of interest in online models, of course, but selling DVDs seems to still be resulting in bigger royalty checks. For the moment.

So I'm fascinated to watch (from semi-afar) how the Doc Challenge DVD is doing at Amazon. (It includes one of our short films.)

I just checked. It's ranked #48,323 in sales in Movies and TV. That seems a bit less than overwhelming, but I really don't know. I didn't make a note of where it was ranked when it was first released, but my impression was it's moved up a lot.

So, will it jump up the rankings when there's a new Doc Challenge screening at HotDocs? Is it a "long-tail" item that keeps going for years? What level of sales is enough for a product to turn a profit?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tell No One

Okay. I'm on Twitter. Stop telling me to get on Twitter. I'm there. Now stop it. Stop.

You can find me at if you really really want to know what I just did. Every darn minute of the day.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Brett Gaylor and Pay-What-You-Want

Wired has a good article on "RiP: A Remix Manifesto" director Brett Gaylor -- and the all-of-the-above release of the film. That includes a pay-what-you-want online model. It will be interesting to see what this shows for the future of documentary releases online....

Want a Remix Manifesto? Name Your Price, Says RiP Director The pay-what-you-want initiative makes perfect sense for this film, but I’m betting it wasn’t easy to pull off from a business perspective.

Brett Gaylor: It’s been a peculiar road to get to the point where we could release the film as a download, because obviously this is something we wanted to do right from the get go. But since we have so many partners that helped us make the film, including theatrical and television distributors, it was a delicate balancing act to make sure the good faith they showed in making the film would be rewarded, that we wouldn’t undercut their efforts to promote and recoup on the film by giving it away. So we waited a while before launching the various online permutations.

Webby Number Two

I didn't think they'd announce until Tuesday morning, but I took a glance at the Webby Awards just about midnight.

The Frugal Traveler: Budget Europe series won the Webby in the Online Film & Video / Travel category.

Congratulations to all the nominees and honorees and the winners in all the categories.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Ted's List of Five Annoying Editing "Ideas"

I see a lot of student edits. A lot. A whole lot.

If I had to guess the exact number ... well, last year I taught at least 10 online courses that required at least two edited projects, and I taught two face-to-face courses that required at least five edited projects.... Figure twenty students per class, and that's in the range of 600 edited videos I graded by watching at full speed and then frame-by-frame. More, if you count rough drafts.

So I'm aware of the usual editing mistakes, and the traditional gimmicks. I'm somewhat forgiving of those, at least in student work. Lately, though, I'm seeing that some of the bad ideas expected of first-time editors are working their way into "professional" work.

Here's my list of five crap ideas that I'm noticing more and more, as if they've escaped from jail...

5. The Martial Arts Whoosh Sound Cut
Adding swooshy sounds to give a reason for a cut doesn't actually give a motivation to a cut -- it just adds swooshy sounds. Every time I see this -- and it's on the increase -- I think of someone doing fake martial arts moves and making woosh sounds with their mouth. Whoom! Fshhhh! Bam! Just add the sounds, then cut on them, as if there's a reason for it.

4. The Record Scratch Effect "Joke"
This is a dumb joke with no actual humor in it. Start a list of anything, throw in an item that doesn't belong, add a record scratch sound on it and cut back to it. Dumb, and ever-increasingly-popular.

3. The Overemphasized Freeze Frame
Used well, a freeze frame can make sense. It emphasizes a moment. Combined with a graphic, it can introduce a character. I think it can be thought of like punctuation, though, and if you need exclamation points in every sentence, something's wrong.

2. The Unnecessary Flashback
Sure, the character certainly is motivated by that thing that happened a while back. But we were there, watching it with you. Do you really need to show it to us again? I didn't hear any Teletubbies say "again, again" -- and I really did pay attention when you showed it to me before. Why torment me?

1. Flashy Flashy Syndrome
Every once in a while, I get the sense that an editor thinks I'm a baby and that they need to flash shiny stuff at me or my attention may wander. Or maybe they're afraid I'll notice that not much is really happening? In any case, tossing in tons of unnecessary flashy transitional stuff isn't style, but its opposite.

So, where does this stuff come from? Is it simply that everyone has a computer and teachers are no longer able to say that certain things are lame? Is it a combination of access and too much self-esteem?

Maybe. Maybe the roots of this are in a few key films, though, that have influenced a lot of young editors. Maybe we're just seeing the diluted, low-quality version of a genuine attempt to stretch the practice of editing.

I can think of at least one film that abuses all five of these rules and is still really watchable. Embedded above, find Beat the Devil.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Live TV From Every Living Room

Boing Boing has a nice piece showing the Tricaster Studio -- a setup aimed at live Internet broadcast at a comparatively low pricepoint. Described as "a TV truck in a backpack" the unit is basically a digital switcher combined with the ability to add titles and cue video packages -- which is perfect for doing your own interview show from your back porch.

(One ironic note, however, is that I'd never seen any episodes of Boing Boing TV before and didn't realize that they can't edit worth a damn. The episode, while informational, is just a series of jump cuts. Boo. They need to hire someone who knows how to shoot and cut interviews, or -- ironically enough -- maybe they should use the Tricaster and live switch the interview....)

In any case, go and check out:

BB Video review: Tricaster, and the Future of Live Video Online