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Setting Goals for the New Year

I hate New Year's resolutions. They're the worst. I think the year flipping from 2012 to 2013 is entirely arbitrary and should have no bearing on what I do with myself, mostly because nearly all resolutions are forgotten by Valentine's Day anyway. However, it seems as good a time as any to set overall year-long goals and check in on how you're doing, right? But not resolutions. If you call 'em that, you're going to bail and you know it. Plus, you can always add to them throughout the year if you feel the need.

For the last several years, I've set a list of goals at the end of December and evaluated how I did with the previous year. It's sort of a public accountability thing even though no one really holds me to it because really, who would remember? Twelve months on the Internet is basically a century. Still, actually writing things down in a sorta-permanent way makes them slightly more legit....even though I could edit this post and pretend I met all of my goals because I am infallibly amazing. But no, I would never do that.

Or have I already?

I'm sure I've mentioned repeatedly in my blogs how much of a goal-oriented list-checker-offer psychopath I am, so literally writing down words that describe the things I want to fulfill so I can actually check them off a list makes me giddy. If it doesn't make you giddy right now, I recommend doing it anyway. Maybe by 2014, you can share my giddy sickness.

Either way, I think it's important to set and achieve goals as a video editor even when you've reached a point where you feel comfortable with your skills and surroundings -- because things change way too fast to ever be complacent, ya'll.

If you want some motivation in considering your focus for the new year, here are my goals for 2012, and how I did with them. I thought about including them in this post, but they border on braggy at times if they're outside the context of my personal blog so they can just sit over there. If you're on my page, anything goes without apology. Overall, I did pretty well with the main ones. A couple slipped by. And a couple just became less important to me as the year went on.

And that's one thing I think is most important about goal-setting and ultimately my point. Goals are always in flux, and you can re-evaluate them at any point in the year, not just when the human construct of time dictates a tally mark in the year column.

And a goal is better than a resolution. A goal is something to achieve. A resolution feels like something that is wrong with you that needs to change. It feels like it's set in stone forever and if you don't do it, oh well, trash it. Goals and resolutions can be the same thing, but the word "goal" is much more positive. In my opinion, anyway.

So, 2013? I have some goals. In the interest of practicing what I preach, here are a couple. I expect you, dear Internet, to hold me to this.

1. Read more books.


I have a Kindle and I should use it. I'm also filing "read more scripts" under this category. Reading scripts for films you've seen or will see teaches you a lot, so I'm going to do more of it.

2. Watch more films.

I've always felt like I consumed a lot of media, but compared to others, I kind of don't. I go to the movies a lot, but I have a lot of catching up to do with classic films.

3. Fluency in Avid.

This doesn't really need to be on this list since I'm continuing to cut Impersonators and have another film lined up. But part of fluency (to me) is actively pursuing additional training to add to the knowledge I gain from hands on experience (including considering the C word).

4. Go outside.

Probably the most difficult goal when you're busy trying to watch more, read me, and learn more stuff. Plus the sun, it burns us, precious. But physical activity is important, unfortunately. Blergh.

There ya go. Four perfectly attainable yet challenging goals. I think it's best to have a good mix of measurable and abstract. And while it's not a bad thing to have goals that are really reaching, I always try to limit those because I know I'd just get overwhelmed and give up before I start. Maybe really-really-hard-to-reach goals are what motivate you. In that case, you should definitely put some awesome stuff on your list and tell me about it.

So, Internets, what are your goals for the Earth's next trip around the sun?


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 17, 2012 at 10:02:10 amComments (2) video production, goals

Why Hobbits Are Important to Me as a Filmmaker And Human

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about the movie that had the most impact on me as an editor in response to my attendance at Editfest NY. In the post, I stated that Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was my first instinct, but it was a wrong choice if we were talking specifically about being inspired as an editor. I also mentioned that Lord of the Rings deserves a blog post all of its own, because it was a whole different phenomenon.

Well, The Hobbit comes out this week, so in an attempt to be topical, here is that blog post. Fellowship of the Ring wins the prize for inspiring me to tell stories.

I was a freshman in high school when Fellowship was released. I had never read the books. Other than a healthy obsession with X-Files and a couple of books here and there, I wasn't really into anything overly fantastical. But then one day when I was standing in my cousin's living room on Thanksgiving break, I caught a TV spot for it. It was basically a shortened version of the "Shortcut to Mushrooms" bit toward the beginning of Fellowship where the four hobbits first encounter a wraith and Frodo nearly puts on the ring. I had no idea why, but I was completely hooked.



I told my friends we should go see the movie. I think a couple of them had been interested, but largely the group was just as in the dark on the plot as I was. We went to see it during Christmas break sometime in January 2002.

I can't recall a time before that when I was so utterly captivated by a movie.

Sometime before this, I had started playing around with video production and filmmaking in general. I had put together a few little shorts and been shooting a lot of random stuff, playing around with assembling it. Fellowship flipped a switch somewhere in my brain: storytelling mode ENGAGED.

Funnily enough, my circle of friends and I became slightly obsessed with everything related to Lord of the Rings. We all read the books, bought the merch, and speculated about the adaptations while we eagerly awaited December 2002 and The Two Towers. We were all bookish drama nerds, so this was a pretty good fit to say the least.

I found a home video recently from a Lord of the Rings party we threw. The day the theatrical edition came out, I was assigned to retrieve it as I was the only one who had a drivers license. I ran to Target after school, grabbed it, and ran to my friend's basement. Teenaged girls laid all over the dark floor, swooning over Viggo and Orlando, bawling at Gandalf, and lamenting the months until Two Towers.



Screenshot from our party video. It's not much, but you can see how emotionally invested we are, right?

I went to a midnight release of Two Towers. My (female) friend dressed up like Gandalf. To this day, I've never been in a more engaged, dead quiet movie theater. When Haldir died in Helm's Deep, the collective gasp of the audience actually scared me. It was fantastic.

Anyway, back to Fellowship. The months in between seeing Fellowship and buying it on DVD were probably the most important to me as a storyteller. Remember here that I was 15: I downloaded a bootleg version of Fellowship (recorded in the back of a movie theater, had Chinese subtitles!) and watched it repeatedly. Then I made mash-ups with it. I recut it, made my own trailers and promos, and intercut things I had shot with it. No, I don't bootleg anymore. I only really ever did the once, for that film.

I've seen Fellowship about a million times (lost count around 75) because of this experimentation. I've torn it apart and put it back together. It didn't teach me editing, but it taught me how to tell a story. A big, complicated story with a lot of moving parts. All the stuff that goes into telling an effective story I learned here.

But what it really showed me and what really inspired me to keep pursuing filmmaking full on was the understanding that large portions of this movie are completely made out of thin air. Like Rivendell, when Frodo is on his balcony? All that stuff is computer generated or miniatures someone built or a matte painting or a combination of everything. What the CRAP man! All the creatures populating Middle Earth? Pretty much built by people. The amazing landscapes? Meticulously scouted and enhanced with computers. Everything from the architecture of Lothlorien to the impossibly ancient ruins of Moria to the simple forced perspective camera trickery absolutely blew me away. None of this stuff exists, but it does. It could have all been AWFUL, but somehow these people managed to put it all together, and it's nearly seamless.

It felt real, but it was a movie. It was fantasy, but it was built on real emotion. And people built it for my enjoyment. It felt flawlessly expansive, and it inspired the hell out of me to keep creating.



After Fellowship of the Ring and the months that came after, I made more stuff, and I thought about it differently. I read more, wrote more, and played around with Premiere a lot more. I made a lot of stuff and I put it on the Internet. Things that had a beginning, middle and end. Things that had rising and falling action, twists, character development, and emotional appeals.

I've occasionally heard from people my age that Lord of the Rings was their Star Wars. It took me a while to understand that, but I really do feel the same way. Like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings became this all-encompassing experience of an entire world built just for you, unlike anything you'd ever seen before. If I hadn't seen Fellowship when I did, I'm not really sure I would have been all-in with the whole media thing because I might not have realized my own creative storytelling ambitions.

Despite all the controversies of frames per second or 3D or 2D or too many movies, I'm getting pretty excited for The Hobbit. I'm really happy I can enter that world again and experience a new story in Middle Earth.

My butt will be firmly planted somewhere in the upper middle of a 2D showing for The Hobbit by 11:30 PM this Thursday night. I hope you'll join me. Hairy feet optional.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 10, 2012 at 6:41:21 pm filmmaking, lord of the rings

Critical Analysis of Interpersonal Relationships of the Hit 90s Sitcom 'Friends'

Alternate Title: 2000 Words on the TV show Friends that Nobody Ever Asked For

I know, right? Didn't that show end like years ago? Who has thought about it for more than a millisecond since then, other than to brainlessly watch the hours of reruns on 5 different channels at any given time?

Well, me.

I am a rabid fan of Friends. The last few seasons, I recorded every episode (ON VHS) for my friend who didn't have access to it for some reason. I've seen every episode about a billion times. Nobody will play my Friends trivia game with me because no one else can ever win. My favorite episodes: The One with the Blackout, The One Where No One's Ready, and The One with the Embryos. I didn't have to look those up, and I didn't actually really have to think about it.

Just so you know the level of crazy you're dealing with here.

I usually talk about post-production in my blog, since that's what I know. I also like talking about story, and from there, character relationships. I enjoy writing, and thinking deeply about how characters would behave in real life situations in order to build real relationships into a script is something I've been working on. What better exercise than to tear apart a show like Friends? And before I lose you completely, know that my point is to demonstrate that you can think critically about storytelling anywhere, even aged must see TV with laugh tracks.

Plus, editorial on Friends is not that interesting to me, at least from a technique perspective. It's a multi-camera show, and I watched a vignette about the editing of it once. It was cool at the time, and now it's more of a "aw that's quaint" kind of a thing. It's an adequately edited sitcom, that's pretty much all I have to say about that.

Here's a weird thing. Friends ran through the 90s into 2003, so when I watched it I was pretty young. It ended when I was about 15..maybe 17. I was just watching a rerun the other night (duh) from later in the series (not even the beginning!) and someone referred to Monica as a baby-crazy 25 year old woman. I'm 26. It is weird to age when these characters will never get any older.

Anyway, now being older and having some knowledge of story and characters, when I think about the various relationships on the show, I get kind of irked.

[I would say spoiler alert, but seriously?]


First, Monica and Chandler. Here's my problem with the Monica/Chandler relationship. I didn't like that they ended up together from a random drunken hookup, especially considering she was looking for Joey originally. I liked the characters together though, so I wasn't really bothered. I could basically write that off as a thing that happened if I really had to, but it felt like a cheap ploy to quickly get them together without any of the messy character junk. How do you bring two characters together that have had a good platonic relationship for YEARS and originally hated each other with a 22 minute-at-a-time run-time? Get them drunk in London, I guess.

However, I did feel like Janice was Chandler's great love, and he let his immaturity allow her to get away, but only because the writers made her more unbearable than any person really ever would be. He was annoyed at her quirks and eventually broke up with her because he couldn't take it, and we cheered for him because OH. MY. GAWD, right? That kind of sucks for Janice, as a character. But to a less interesting degree, I can see this happening in life. Then there was the point when they accidentally met online and got back together, but Janice was in an unhappy marriage at the time and Chandler decided he didn't want to break them up since they had a kid. So they probably would have ended up together.

But then at the end of the series they go for the cheap shot with Janice, bringing her back for a couple last gags where Chandler is completely repulsed by her. And I don't believe that for a second. Chandler is an impressionable guy, and he just takes on the repulsion from Monica. Deep down, he's still hot for Janice. There were multiple times when he was totally fine with being with her forever, what changed? Nothing, just poor writing. His character goes from A to C without any of the stuff in the middle, and the audience buys it because "hahaha, Janice is legit stupid, yo."

Now, an example of a decade-long platonic relationship becoming something else that I felt really failed: I never bought Rachel and Joey as a thing. Joey starts to see Rachel as more than a friend suddenly, then Rachel does the same, and it's all this weird sort of convenient-to-the-plot bullshit for a while. But then they make out and are instantly repulsed by each other? Wha? I guess I can see what they're going for here, trying to illustrate the idea of suddenly being in love, and suddenly dropping out of love from a lack of sexual chemistry, but it's like preschool level interpretation. This relationship was just a way to pass the time, and it was rather silly from a writing perspective. Audience manipulation at best.

Phoebe and Mike are lovely and I wished they were together longer so we could see how that turned out. They had their moments of well that's a little convenient, namely when they decided to move in together before discussing marriage, Phoebe realized Mike didn't want to get married and she did, then they call it off, then they're back in in dramatic fashion when she's being proposed to by an old lover. The later seasons of Friends were pretty hard to believe compared to the early ones, but I guess you have to figure out how to keep it interesting somehow. I always appreciated that the writing was easy to related to even if it was dramatized, and the last few seasons lost that edge.

There's a big part of me that felt Richard and Monica were the best relationship on the show. Plus she was infertile, so they could have totally skipped kids anyway! Not that Monica, the baby-crazy 25 year old (really? How many single girls do I know that have considered sperm donors? None!) would have been good with that idea. I think in the end, Richard just wanted to be back with Monica (another oh no I've been proposed to by two guys in one day situation) out of loneliness and that wouldn't have worked very well. Once they did have kids, he would have eventually resented them AND Monica and would have probably jumped off a building or something. Pete (Jon Favreau) was her best choice. He was cool as hell, and he would have gotten over the whole cage fighting thing after a while. To break up with him because you can't see him hurting himself? Bummer, and a lame way to write off a recurring character.

And here's the big one: I DEFINITELY didn't think Ross and Rachel should have ever been together. The writing for their relationship was among the worst in any sitcom, ever. They could have been interesting, but the writers never knew how to deal with them when they were together. They were an interesting couple, having a history and coming into each others' lives here and there. But they were boring together, so they constantly split them apart. When Ross cheated originally (WE WERE ON A BREAK -- no Ross, that's not cool), that should have been the end. But then they go on to make a whole series of poor decisions together. Yipee!

Rachel's ending was dreadfully bad, too. Her story within Friends was about growing up, gaining independence, figuring out what she wanted out of life, and making it happen. In a way, the entire show was really about her specifically because she actually had a full character arc. Minus the complications of Ross along the way, a love which is more out of convenience than anything, she followed a pretty good, believable path. She didn't always take big steps forward, and that made her character believable and likable. Then by the end, she's made it as a fashion executive and a single mom, and she's got the chance of a lifetime to live her dream in Paris. She'll finally be free of the constant distraction of Ross and meet a nice french man who will actually not be neurotic. 

So what do they do? Have Rachel ditch Paris at the last minute to come back to Ross, for the 8th or 9th time. Oh yes, it'll stick THIS TIME! Way to go, writers. You destroy a decade's worth of character development by making her too co-dependent to take the next step in life and get the f*** away from her crazy on-again-off-again boyfriend of 12 years. Normal people don't DO this. I hated it so much. And their feelings all came back around to one drunken hookup that re-awakened things. I'm sorry, but that's also not a thing that usually happens. I understand it's a sitcom and you can't exactly portray a complex moment of weakness turning into love or whatever, but come on! We went down this road with these characters over and over, and there was NO indication that this time they were different people besides the fact they made a baby. It made Rachel weak and Ross stupid, and that was the end. What does that tell women who followed Rachel's story and drew inspiration from it?

While I'm on the topic of making babies, I'll comment on one of the high points of the show, in my opinion: that Monica and Chandler couldn't conceive. I can't remember that ever being a topic that had come up in a sitcom, let alone a prime time sitcom, and I appreciated seeing that side of a relationship and how they dealt with it, especially because of Monica's previously mentioned obsession with babies. It was a great way to approach the whole "baby episode event!!!" in a fresh, modern way. This was a real situation that the characters had to deal with and figure out instead of some cheap audience manipulation like running to the airport at the last possible second. The easy way to go would have been getting Monica pregnant with twins and hilarity ensues. Instead, she has to deal with the fact her dream won't come out just the way she thought it would, which is often how things actually go. At least a lot more often than getting proposed to by two guys at once.

As I think critically about characters and how they interact, digging into television I enjoy or used to enjoy is actually a pretty interesting exercise. You're familiar with the characters and stories, but when you look at them critically, it's often quite different. It also helps me to avoid a lot of the tropes, or use them effectively. With a show like Friends where you have 6 primary characters interconnecting with each other and doing little else, there's a lot of angles to consider. And loads more short term relationships I didn't even think about.

(Notice that I didn't touch on the unbelievability of their living conditions or work life, or the fact they're always sitting around together at a coffee shop. I want the people themselves to be real, but if I wanted to watch 6 people try to live in a shoebox with no air conditioning in the Village, I'd probably find something on HBO instead. My belief is effectively suspended in the ways that matter.)

Story isn't just important for writing. As an editor, I obviously have to cut things in a way that are believable. If I don't understand how humans talk to each other (and I often don't), I can't cut a scene in a believable way. That's how I'm justifying this rant, anyway. The TV box tells me things.

You can find storytelling exercises anywhere. Even on TBS, six times a night.

There you have it. My bizarre fandom in 2000 words on a television show that ended a decade ago. I regret nothing.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 3, 2012 at 8:11:49 amComments (6) friends, storytelling



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