I don't usually do the year-end retrospective thing. But I've been meaning for a couple of months to write about my recent past as a freelance videographer
The end of this calendar year prods me into actually doing it.
Since getting back full-time into other ways of making a living, I'm spending much less time out in the world with my camera, and I sometimes feel wistful about that. However, the fact is that if I can get myself to look at the bright side, I can look back and feel a sense of real satisfaction and pride in the number and variety of film/video projects I've been involved in over the last 18 months or so (I choose that period for 2 reasons: 1) just to buck the trend of looking back at the arbitrary unit of one year that is the habit for this season, and 2) because when I open the Raw Footage directory on my newest hard drive, the shoots I've been on stretch back about that far).
It's especially heartwarming to see, as I look back, how much of this work has been for non-profits and other good causes.
Here's a list of highlight clients and/or projects:
- promotional film for Coaltion for Sonoran Desert Protection
- documentation of Chico MacMurtrie's show at MOCA Tucson of Amorphic Robot Works' "Chrysalis" piece, a giant semi-intelligent kinetic sculpture.
- documenting events for Living Streets Alliance, most notably Cyclovia Tucson
- A promotional film about South Tucson made with Creatista for Primavera Foundation
- A documentary about homelessness.
- footage for some short videos about coffee, kefir, and other food things for Edible Baja Arizona magazine.
- Two lectures from the Institute for Applied Meditation
- An educational video series about immigration called "Radical Hospitality" for the Mennonite USA church.
- documenting the SAAF Moda Provacateur fashion show
- a wedding.
- some bands that wanted me to film them playing live
- PSAs for Child and Family Resources
- helping a friend with a documentary about Diamond Mountain's 3-year meditation retreat.
- Documenting the Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference at the U of Arizona
- instructional videos on meditation at a retreat center in Cochise Stronghold
- fundraising videos with Creatistia for Literacy Connects
- documenting the Mayor's Council on Poverty
- various promotional footage for the Downtown Tucson Partnership (with Creatista)
- and finally, one of the last projects that I'm still involved with is videography for a documentary film in progress by Eva Lewis called No Man's Land, about the organizing against the Arivaca Border Patrol checkpoint.
I was just down in Arivaca yesterday shooting stuff for the last item, so I guess I can also celebrate that I'm still doing some of this stuff. Just not trying to pay all of the bills with it.
This is a short video I worked on a few months ago with Creatista, funded by Primavera Foundation.
I was one of 2 cameramen on the project, shooting with my Panasonic AF100. The other camera was a Red Scarlet. (Can you tell which shots are which?)
It's great to see it all come together when I only work on the production end and am not involved with post-production. It almost feels like magic. Anyway, it was a fun thing to be involved with and I'm glad I was part of it.
In this modern age of economic tightness and shifting paradigms of distribution and funding, cultural workers of all kinds have been somewhat adrift for awhile now. At this point in history and in my career, monetization and promotion is still an ongoing challenge. Crowdsourcing such as Kickstarter seems promising. Grants are out there but have always been hit-or-miss, especially in the U.S. amidst its current anti-art climate. Today I want to just take a moment to tip my hat to one general model, and one specific instance of it: the small independent "record label" has been an important type of patron for musical and other artists for years. (The quotes are because both words are somewhat anachronistic, aren't they?) These little companies have been changing the landscape for decades in a variety of ways, and even as the "diy" way of doing things continues to grow in viability, there's still recently been, and will continue to be, an important role and need for the small, focused, dedicated outlets that nurture and curate the creations that are too under-the-radar or off-the-map for mass corporate attention.
In 1997 I found out about a new label starting up that seemed to be perfectly matched to my interests as a sample-based composer. It was called Illegal Art. At that first moment I actually suspected their initial call for submissions to be spam, or a prank, but they went on to be very important and a huge boon to me over the next decade and a half. Now they're going on indefinite hiatus.
IA specialized in music (or "audio art") made from found sonic materials. The first thing they put out was a compilation called Deconstructing Beck, which had a track of mine on it and which almost got us all sued by Beck's label, Geffen. (a few days ago was the 15th Anniversary of that disc's release.) A couple of years later they released a CD of my work, Original, the first disc by a single artist that they ever put out. I'd been ready to self-distribute, burning CD-Rs myself and stuffing them in envelopes, but they saved me from this and got my work into stores as far away as the Tower Records in Tokyo. Because of this first solo CD, and the closeness in aesthetic focus between Illegal Art and my website, Detritus, for some time I would hear the rumor that myself and Philo T.Farnsworth, the label's head, were the same person. This amused both of us and we didn't spend a whole lot of energy trying to prove it was false. Soon the label went on to publish a long list of other, amazing releases by artists far more accomplished and skilled than I, including Girl Talk, Steinski, Wobbly, and People Like Us.
Seven years ago, after a gradual turn from experimental music to socially-conscious filmmaking, I was just finishing up my first full-length documentary, On The Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez. Philo was impressed enough with it that he decided to take a significant step outside of Illegal Art's usual wheelhouse, and offered to release the film on DVD. Once again, for something that I was going to just go small-scale and DIY on, suddenly Philo gave me the rare and pleasureable experience of seeing something I made show up in stores and on Amazon and get reviewed in magazines, without that being because of my own legwork - something I, like many artists, am pretty bad at and have trouble getting motivated to do.
Illegal Art never had a lot of cash, and though they secured pretty good distribution deals, being an artist on their roster was not a huge financial windfall or star-making machine (Girl Talk is the exception, one HUGE star to come out of their stable. However, a few months after my DVD came out, I was still getting mucho disrespect from festivals and other institutions, including one conference in Juarez itself that cared so little about my film that I had to put up my own hand-written posters at the last minute to advertise a screening there - see the above photo).
But there was a certain cachet to the label, and I was proud to be a part of it. They never went on to put out any more DVDs, and I think mine was not a financial success, although they did do two pressings of the disc. But the film is still available from their website, along with most of the rest of their catalog (and they're working on providing the older releases), on a pay-what-you-wish (even zero!) basis. I can't really begin to put into eloquent words how important it is, what a rare treat it is, as a creative person, to have someone else, someone that's not only an individual but a business, put trust and interest and work and money into something in a way that not only shows their approval, but that assists in getting that something further along and out into the world (and in a way that clearly is not exploitation, as so many other record labels or film distributors are gulity of).
So: thank you, Philo. Thank you, Illegal Art. You've done well. Read more>>>
I just saw this great, weird little film tonight called The Sound of My Voice. It's pretty thought provoking. The film is about two documentary filmmakers trying to make a film about a cult, but they sort of get drawn into the cult themselves, which is led by a woman who claims she's from the future, and it starts not being clear if she's lying or not.
they let you watch the first 12 minutes of it on the film's web site:
Anyway, it's somewhat good timing for me seeing this film now, having just finished reading a great book about Mormons and fundamentalist Mormon cults, and also in the wake of the bizarre and sad events at Diamond Mountain retreat center a few weeks ago - a place where I helped shoot parts of an ongoing documentary about a 3-year Buddhist retreat.
It also brings up a sort of meta-issue, about "weird movies" or more generally, any "weird" art or cultural work. By weird I mean in this case something challenging, whose meaning or "answer" is extremely confusing and isn't easily apparent. A head-scratcher, something that has you walking out of the theater wondering what the hell actually was going on in the film, and has you talking about it on the way home.
The issue I want to bring up is, why are some people (like myself, for instance) quick to identify some cultural artifacts like this as just purposeful obfuscation, weirdness just to impart the feeling of mystery and confusion, to give you a sort of high from the strangeness and ambiguity, with no real coherent meaning or solution possible? While others look at the same thing and want to spend time to puzzle it out, decipher and debate and discuss and find "the answer"? And which is the more healthy response?
I remember having a similar reaction to all of David Lynch's last few films, starting with Mullholand Drive, and being actually more and more pissed off and angry at him with each film he made after that one, for, I thought (still think?) purposely fucking with us without any hope of real coherent interpretation. But then recently I read a brilliant and detailed blog post explaining exactly the entirety of Mullholland Drive, written by the genius Film Crit Hulk. I read that and I thought, "wow, it really does make some kind of sense, I guess, explained this way. Well I'll be dipped." Nevertheless, does that mean there's a "solution" to everything? Not neccessarily.
On one hand, whether there's a meaning/answer or not to one of these kinds of artifacts, it's a waste to spend too much time thinking about it. Right? (I mean, in a world where people are starving or torturing each other or whatever, can't we put off til later the arguing about quirky movies? I suppose this is a sort of Adorno-esque, poetry-after-Auschwitz response to the problem.) But, on the other hand, is it a sign of a sort of hopelessness or cynicism (or is it willingness to let go of a desire for meaning?), to assume that something that you can't figure out quickly has to be nonsense, an intellectual laziness chosen over an innocent enthusiasm to explore a fictional world as a pure excercise in entertaining mental puzzle-solving? What does it say about those that tend to choose the cynical/hopeless path? What kind of people take the one approach and what kind take the other?
From the "If you don't do it yourself it might just not get done" Department:
About 1 and a half years ago, I took part in a now-yearly event where filmmakers all over the world go out and shoot footage of, well, stuff, everywhere, and then it's compiled together by the non-profit One Day On Earth group. That first one was on 10/10/10 and they've now finished a feature film that compiles the best of that footage from that day. I'm proud to say some of my stuff made the final cut, including shots of my friend Glenn Weyant, who went with me down to the border with Mexico near Sasabe, Arizona, and let me film him using the border wall as a musical instrument, which is a thing he does a lot that he's becoming pretty known for.
Anyway, I'm happy that both of us will have our work shown on screens all over the world at the premiere of this film, which will be April 22nd, Earth Day. With the help of the United Nations and others, the goal was to get screenings set up in every country (footage came from every country, by the way). I'm not sure if that's going to be achieved, and I'm sure some locations will be more challenging than others, but sadly for me it looks like the nearest screening to me will be in Phoenix. The distribution effort is very much a distributed, crowd-sourced kind of a thing, just like the image-production was. So a couple of months ago they asked if I could bottom-line setting up a screening in Tucson, and I said no, I'm busy, but i suggested The Loft Cinema and that they just contact them. Unfortunately that did not work... and I don't think I'm up for driving 200 miles on Earth Day just to see a film and do a Q&A about the 60 seconds of my work that appears in a feature film.
But, if you're in Phoenix, you may want to hoof it up to the
Marriott Desert Ridge ResortAMC Desert Ridge Cinemas at 5pm that day and check it out. And if you're somewhere else, you may want to see if there's a screening near you. It will probably be a really interesting film to see, regardless of my small part in it. Read more>>>
In the last issue of Filmmaker Magazine, there's a section (print edition only) called "Letters To A Young Producer." I'm not a producer, exactly, nor do I want to specialize in that, but there are lots of good bits of advice and stories by several working "indie" producers. The last one, Noah Harlan, says an interesting thing: basically, if you're producing films with budgets of at least 2 million dollars, that's enough to make a living as a producer, from your fees. But, in today's funding/investing climate in the filmmaking world, he's unable to pull himself into that bracket. There are no films being made in that bracket. "The mid-budgeted indie is gone."
Is that true? If so it's probably true of directors as well. Possibly it's not true of other roles that are less involved, because they can work on several films a year - grips, camera operators, actors, etc. But producers and directors are kind of sucked into one film at a time for a year or more. Read more>>>
I've been editing video with Final Cut Pro for 9 years now, yes that's NINE YEARS. Yet today I'm wrestling with a problem that brings me to the brink of complete, throw-up-my-hands frustration. Absolute utter despair that makes me want to just give up being a filmmaker completely, or at least being an editor.
It's pretty much too complicated to describe here quickly and not have someone mistake it for a stupid mistake. Trust me, it's not a stupid mistake. I'm not an idiot, and, like i think i mentioned, I've been using FCP for NINE YEARS. Trust me when I say this is a completely new and weird fuck-up that is a total mystery and that you would probably have no idea how to solve either unless you have as much intelligence and experience with this software as I do.
In other words, I'm not posting this to ask for help. I'm just screaming my frustration. Thank you, Apple, for once again leading me to believe that I could trust you and your products. sigh. Read more>>>
A few days ago I blogged about the film Avatar and how it reinforced gender stereotypes and dominant ideas about body images. I also saw this week a very different sort of film, one that I was pleased to see presented a much more realistic and healthy idea of what female bodies can be like, in addition to a more realistic vision of male/female relationships.. This sort of thing is so rare in the film world that I just have to mention it. Read more>>>
I was unsure, for several weeks, whether I wanted to go see the film "Avatar." The concept was interesting, but given that it was James Cameron directing, and something like the most expensive film ever made, I was expecting it would have problems. Not to mention that action movies appeal less and less to me these days, mainly because the cinematography for them, in general, has been steadily ramping up to a level of intensity that way too much for my nervous system to want to handle. The fact that this
Nevertheless, some people I know convinced me otherwise. One acquaintance said it was "just about the best movie" he'd ever seen, and that the violence was not excessive ("aliens throwing spears at Marines, I don't consider that violence."). My friend Jose, whose opinion I have the highest respect for, even wrote in his blog that "Avatar is as close to perfect as a movie gets". Wow. Okay. I guess I had better go see it, I thought.
Well, I don't regret going to see it. And I was relieved to find that the camera work and violence wasn't as annoying and traumatizing as some other features I've seen recently (although it was still more extreme than I prefer and contained lots and lots of killing and dying and gut-wrenching scary chase scenes through the forests and skies). Avatar was worth seeing. It was so well-executed technically, so visually stunning and beautiful, that it can probably be recommended on just those grounds alone, for those who don't have PTSD. Furthermore, the "deep-ecology," anti-Iraq-War, anti-corporate, anti-industrial and anti-colonialist subtexts really deserve lots of kudos. It was also pretty thoroughly entertaining and hence the 150-minute elapsed time flashed by and felt more like 100 (which is still too long IMHO but not as exhausting as I expected it would be). However, I would have to respectfully disagree that it is a perfect movie or close to it.
Because of some of the aforementioned redeeming qualities, I don't want to spend a lot of time griping and complaining. Most of the negative criticism of Avatar can be dismissed or forgiven with variations of the following explanation: It's an ultra-expensive Hollywood blockbuster and hence, of course, it is subject to market forces. Even stepping a bit back from a cynical economic analysis, I can charitably forgive a filmmaker who fudges some things in order to make the story and characters be more interesting and understandable to a wider audience. So, I won't go into all the science details and plot points that I found difficult to suspend my disbelief for (pun intended: the floating mountains, for example, are ridiculous).
But there's one aspect of Avatar I simply cannot abide, and will not let slide. Because although it does, in a way, fall under the "market forces" category I mention above, there is a limit to playing that card and I believe this problem with the movie goes over that limit. Read more>>>
A few years ago I wrote a blog entry about subtitling and a little text-processing tool I wrote for preparing text so that it could be imported into DVD Studio Pro. I wrote it because often someone doing translation for you is not putting timecode start and end times in, not to mention chopping things up into lines short enough to fit on the screen. My program simply made up some rough timecodes based on the time offset at which you'd like subtitles to start and a constant duration for each subtitle, then inserted them before each line in the STL format. Read more>>>