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The Crescent Curve of Popular Culture

The girlfriend and I are re-watching the entire Battlestar Galactica recent series on Blu Ray, the gift that keeps on giving. We even placed the two straight to DVD movies in their proper place, chronologically. By complete accident, I saw an original series episode on one of the new sub-channels for digital broadcast and I was struck by how different the two series are, if for no other reason than the aesthetic tastes of today versus 30 years ago.I was a huge fan of the original BSG. Meeting Richard Hatch a few weeks ago was great because he was a childhood hero. He bridges the gap because he was on both series. Even then, one of the things we talked about was how they gave him not just a throw away cameo, but a real character with depth that provided an acting challenge. So far (as we’re only at the beginning of Season 3 of BSG) the most striking difference between the old series and the new series is in the character of Baltar. In the original series, the part was of a guy who betrayed the human race. Why? Just because. He was the bad guy. Like the flaw in a lot of TV shows and movies from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s, there was no motivation or complications. The old adage “the villain is the hero of his own story” somehow got forgotten. In the new incarnation of this same character, we have a man who is rich in motivations, very real in intent, and relatable in his complexities. To show a person offered choices and making the wrong ones based on selfishness is a bit more “realistic” and relatable which exemplifies why the show Battlestar Galactica garnered so much acclaim in its current incarnation.Since the 1990’s, we’ve experienced a surge in anti-heroes. Batman really is more of the Dark Knight when comparing the 1966 Batman to the 1989 and now to the 2008 version. That trend began with the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel by Frank Miller in the late 80’s but that realistic and very adult version didn’t start to appear on screen until 2008, and even then in ways for more down to Earth than imagined. In popular culture we’re in a phase of “realism” and it’s even bled over into our fantasy worlds because the audience demands as realistic as possible effects and worlds like Lord of the Rings and Avatar provided. The goal remains to engage the audience by making something relatable to their own experience, no matter how fat fetched or deeply imaginative like aliens or robots or goblins. In the 1950’s it was about the big spectacle movies, period costume dramas and big musicals. By the late 1960’s the pendulum swung back to realistic movies, like EASY RIDER and it ushered in a decade of similar such movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and MEAN STREETS. Then George Lucas came in with STAR WARS and ushered in another several years of big fantasy. Everything is cyclical, but even the current trend of big fantastical movies have a more “realistic” edge; trying to appease both sides.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 30, 2010 at 8:52:58 am

Arthur (1981)

I recently rewatched a movie from my youth that I had seen countless times on videodisc (RCA’s analog video equivalent to the LP) and also on cable. I hadn’t seen ARTHUR with Dudley Moore in over 20 years. Lately, many films from my youth do not stand up to the scrutiny or aesthetics of what I like to see today, whilst a precious few still hold up or even find much deeper meaning in my elder days. Arthur had deeper meanings and even a few great lessons for filmmakers. I even named my cat from a line of dialogue from this movie “Can we name our first child Vladimir, boy or girl?” There are several major plot points that happen off screen. ** SPOILER ALERT ** When Sir John Gielgud’s Hobson dies; it occurs off screen and is probably more effective being that the audience filled in the blanks. It’s a rookie filmmaker mistake to always SHOW or SAY what’s happening. The audience deserves more credit for thinking. Sadly, this movie has been remade with Russell Brand as the titular character and Helen Mirren as the butler. I don’t see how they can contextually make the scenes of blatant drunk driving and other aspects of alcoholism charming as they were 29 years ago, before becoming such serious and unfunny as they are today.I can’t wait for this era of remakes and unoriginality to end. The cycle of bland, tasteless movies grates my eyes. I recently watched the 2007 UK movie (directed by Frank Oz though) dark comedy DEATH AT A FUNERAL, that was remade in less than 3 years. It was a wonderful and brilliant comedy and as suggested by Alex the Intern (May he rest in peace) as a great tonal comparison to what I want to do with Accidental Art.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 20, 2010 at 12:22:00 pm

The Verism of a Cubist

Now that the Sonnyboo Intern series is over (maybe), time to re-focus on some other objectives. Fundraising is difficult in the best of circumstances, but in a super recession, it is near impossible. There are some fruit still on the trees, but they are much harder to reach. Exposure helps a lot, so I’m exploring some newer sites to help get the name and work out there. OPENFILM.COM shows off more dramatic and engaging works. Anyone can upload, but much fewer get featured. In the past 3 days, I have had 3 films featured, including Accidental Art, Refractory, and the now ancient Bitter Old Man. On the advisory board for this site are James Caan, Robert Duvall, Mark Rydell, and Scott Caan (which one of those names is not in the same category as the rest?). They have a contest with a $45 entry fee to try to win a $500,000 development deal to make a feature from the short film. Seems like ACCIDENTAL ART is a perfect fit, but $45 for a contest is mighty steep. I’m weighing it over. used to be which was one of the crown jewels of internet video before being toppled by YouTube, which basically destroyed most of the sites like this. Now owned by Viacom and networked with Comedy Central and MTV, runs a weekly “get the most views, win a couple hundred $$$” kind of deal. I uploaded the Sonnyboo Intern series just because, who knows? Well, I didn’t. We’re in the top 10 with one of the videos, and in the top 30 with 4 of them. We have already surpassed the YouTube views by several thousand views. And then other videos in the series have 1-2 views total. It’s hard to gauge what this site is really about and what any of that means.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 16, 2010 at 12:49:15 pm

Director’s Cut vs. Special Edition

Fans of movies love to see alternate or longer versions of their favorite movies. There are basically two different types of extended cuts for the most part, a DIRECTOR’S CUT and a SPECIAL EDITION. What is the difference between a “Director’s Cut” and a “Special Edition”?I remember reading the back of a Laserdisc, an album sized video disc, in 1991 of James Cameron’s Special Edition of THE ABYSS, and shortly after a laserdisc of ALIENS special edition, where Cameron clearly wrote that these are NOT “Director’s Cuts”. Contractually, James Cameron had final cut on the theatrically released films, so his cut was the one released. The concerns about running time and the impact that has on box office returns is a part of his job and duty, he went on to say. Home video affords him the opportunity to add back in scenes and for James Cameron, whole subplots back into the film and they can be seen as alternate versions, and thus “Special Edition” is the apt title for these versions.Usually a “Director’s Cut” implies that the studio or the producers made editorial decisions against the wishes of the director. In the case of James Cameron, he was fired from his first feature film, PIRANHA 2 THE SPAWNING and he did not have final cut. He vowed and has upheld that he would contractually have final cut on every movie he directs. After the debacle of what happened to Ridley Scott on BLADE RUNNER, you would think he would have similarly made sure, but even as recent as 2005, over 20 years later, he still has to release a Director’s Cut of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN because the theatrical version was not what he intended, although there have been extended Special Editions of BLACK HAWK DOWN and GLADIATOR released, that are not considered “Director’s Cuts” because in his DGA contract, he had final cut on those films.Peter Jackson got proven right when he made KING KONG. During the LORD OF THE RINGS and the huge success of the “Special Editions” (not “Director’s Cuts”), when asked why he didn’t release the extended cuts of the films, he said that the only reason people say that is because they have something to compare them to, and that the initial films were very popular. With KING KONG, the main criticisms (including my own) are that the theatrical cut (technically a “Director’s Cut”) was too long and self indulgent. He even then released a LONGER “Special Edition”.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 10, 2010 at 1:37:11 pm director's cut, special edition

Everyone Lies and Misspells

My reading habits have not changed. I read a paperback of some kind of pulp fiction, then alternate with some kind of film production book, whether it be a picture based Behind the Scenes, an Illustrated Screenplay, or a text based Making Of. I just finished one of the very few brand new books I bought, as I am addicted to Half Priced Books. I can’t even drive past a Half Priced Books without losing money and getting no less than 3 books. I just finished reading HOUSE the Official Guide.Usually these “official guides” are not great. They tend to be fluff that just rehash moments from the scripts or worse have the producers and actors play a game of “State the Obvious” where they rehash what should be clear about their characters motivations. I hate those. This book managed the impossible and was a delicate balance, weighted in the production side, with some fluff, but not too much. I loved reading about the various department heads and “Below the Line” crew and how they contribute to the whole of creating a TV series. Over 10 years ago, before I ever thought of doing filmmaking, I bought a similar book that strange as it sounds, taught me some of the best knowledge EVER about television production. The MAKING OF DEEP SPACE NINE, the Star Trek series had information on how a pilot works, how residuals work for SAG actors, the process of a “show runner” and how writers go from Executive Story Consultant to Executive Producer and what all that means. Learning that a TV Producer is more akin to a feature film director was an eye opener. Directing TV is not the same thing as directing a movie. There is NO AUTONOMY; it is such a team effort.I feel much better about my book TALES FROM THE FRONT LINE OF INDIE FILM because there are more grammatical errors in the HOUSE book and that’s published by a big company. Next in my film book queue is THE MAKING OF 1941, a period 1980 book on the Spielberg flop, that I sentimentally love.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 9, 2010 at 11:22:26 am half priced books, house md

Multimedia Musings

I own the multimedia playing device called the WDTV from Western Digital. I love this thing. I first bought it for the Cowtown Film Series (in 2009) because I hate playing things off an optical disc at a screening in the movie theater. DVD’s and even Blu Rays have inherent flaws in that the videos are greatly compressed to fit on a disc. So you lose color, sharpness, and basic picture information before you blow it up on a giant movie screen. This seemed counter intuitive. So I found this little box that plays the video in full 1080P HD glory off of a hard drive and if needs be, even in surround sound.Many people are musing about the future of optical discs because standard definition DVD is definitely on the natural decline. Sales in 2010 are down over 20% from 2008 at the same time. Blu Ray has not taken off as it was intended, mostly because of the economy being stressed, which is not a great time to launch a new format, especially under Sony’s guidance which means way more expensive without dropping in price. Another factor is that the saturation of HD TV’s into the home is merely catching up to the Blu Ray market, and even then the importance of picture quality is not weighing well against the idea of re-buying DVD collections.The other factor oft-theorized as to why Blu Ray has not expanded is digital downloads and file-based distribution of movies. Netflix’s ever expanding Video On Demand service indicates that the market is going for this hard. Between 6PM and 8PM nightly, internet traffic heavily takes a beating from Netflix On Demand, which now includes HD content. Does their “HD” on demand look anywhere near as good as a Blu Ray? Hell No, but as has always been the case, convenience wins out often over quality. Back to the media devices… The WDTV models now have YouTube and Netflix compatibility, meaning even without a Blu Ray player, you can access the Internet and watch movies and videos like this on your TV via a media player box. There is the APPLE TV for mac lovers and various other similar devices from so many manufacturers. One of the things people claim prevent the demise of DVD and BLU RAY are the EXTRAS, bonus features, and behind the scenes clips. On this point, I agreed… until this past week. As my recent blog entry told, I loved this film called MONSTER. On the YouTubes, I found a bunch of videos in 720 and 1080 HD definition that could be downloaded via Mozilla Firefox to the MP4 file format, which my HDTV can play flawlessly. I can see it in full high definition on my TV, which means in an entirely file based world; I can have a movie and all the extras.My prediction for the future is that everything will go file based because at the rapidity of change in file formats, image sizes, and standards, being more computer based will pave the way to handle those better than physical discs that are locked into one size and format. As for “extras”, those will be given away freely online with sites like YouTube or any site where they can be obtained for anyone who does want them, and keep the files on their own hard drive or ported to media players for TV. These bonus features also serve as perpetual EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits), promoting the movie as much as “added value”. I find I’m moving my WDTV around from my bedroom to my screening room (the man-cave basement) to work. I find that looking at HD content on the computer to the 42” TV versus playing it to the same 42” with the WDTV I can say with a large margin the picture quality of video is substantially better from the media player box. The added surround sound output means that this is the best way to view file based videos.This is the future. I like discs and I love the “collection” feel, but in 20 years no one will know what a disc is, much like high school kids may not know what a “video tape” is now.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 8, 2010 at 10:47:56 am

Industrial Light and Starz

In posting on the forums, I stumbled across a discussion on a Starz documentary on George Lucas’ effects company INDUSTRIAL LIGHT + MAGIC, aka just ILM. This 1 hour HD doc studied how this ambitious company shaped movies over the last 35 years. It was an amazing set of interviews and footage. Starz really went all out on this one. Interviews with Lucas, Spielberg, Ron Howard, and narrated by Tom Cruise.Starz has been batting the Behind the Scenes game out of the park. In 2004, my all time favorite Making Of DVD came from them called THE CUTTING EDGE, not to be confused with the ice skating movie. This in depth set of interviews, B Roll and examples dissected film editing and its relation to film history.I just got this Starz Original DVD called FANTASTIC FLESH on the special effects make up industry and its entire history from the first days to the most current. Sadly missing is Ohio’s Bob Kurtzman, even though his former cohorts Greg Nicatero and Howard Berger are prominently interviewed, along with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez with Frank Darabont.And this is just a part of a DVD series from STARZ called “Starz Inside” where they examine the different departments and functions of filmmaking. I love it.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 7, 2010 at 1:03:44 pm

The Progenitor of Processes and Statistics

I’m doing an experiment with this new web series. We already met our goal of 1,000 views on YouTube for the first video. I wanted to put the emphasis on the YouTube videos just because the quality has vastly improved on this site in the last 2 years compared to where they were in 2008. It’s just the main site where most people on the planet find videos. As much as I prefer VIMEO even for quality, it just has a fraction the number of videos and people, plus their limitations on uploads and bandwidth just don’t make it the most viable option right now. I have however been posting the Intern videos on all the video sites I have accounts with anyways, but posting the links and doing marketing via YouTube. I posted the VIMEO links here on the Blog site, just to keep track of traffic coming from my blog to the videos in a separate tracking. The results are that YouTube does tend to be the dominant site for people randomly finding the videos moreso than my own marketing efforts. My marketing involves posting links on various sites and forums related to film. The key is to be involved with those sites. Personal connection affects the reaction to the videos. If you are considered a “spammer” or an outsider, the reactions tend to be bad, although the ratio of positive comments even on sites with minimal to no prior postings was much higher than almost all of my previous videos in a similar scenario. The last video has had a strong initial impact and the views went up higher in a faster pace per day than the others, but they are all steadily averaging about 20-30 views per day or so, taking into account the initial days of marketing skew these much higher, but taking that out you can extrapolate that the average daily views are somewhere between 20-30, and they become somewhat self propelling as I don’t continue to post links after the initial boost. At this current moment, the views are as follows:1st video is at 1,037 (Youtube), 2,677 total from all sites combined2nd video is at 673 (YouTube), 1,322 total from all sites combined3rd video is at 490 (Youtube), 978 total from all sites combined4th video is at 443 (Youtube), 883 total from all sites combined5th video is at 269 (Youtube), 521 total from all sites combinedSo there’s one more video to go in the “Sonnyboo Intern” series. It could make a nice ending if we choose not to continue, which I am leaning towards not making more. As per the feedback and interest levels, it seems like we’re beating the same joke into the ground over and over again. I want to curb my obsessive-compulsive impulses rather than entertain them. I think this 6th video will be the last one of these, unless we continue during production of the feature. I think for pre-pro, we’re done. Alex had better start working towards his counter arguments to convince me otherwise, but I think it’s over for me.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 5, 2010 at 1:05:27 pm youtube, vimeo

Ubiquitous Carrion

As paid work slows down, the unpaid work ramps up. Time to put a lot more effort into FRAMELINES, our PBS show on filmmaking. I was changing directions on the short film show, as many of the films were not as PBS friendly, but they may really want this, so retooling the show means a lot more work. I still don’t know what is the best direction to take the show yet, so I am mulling it over. A more conservative, yet higher quality production, or something a bit more mainstream with a looser chain around the neck?We shot a few more Rountables for FRAMELINES this week. I think the “Very Special Episode” for the 48 Hour Film Project Columbus may actually get bumped to either a double sized 60 minute episode, or possible edited into two separate 30 minute episodes. We have a lot of great material, and some killer soundbytes. Combine that with Mike Tavares working the crane with his virtual reality glasses to monitor, and we have a killer looking roundtable discussion.Still, I’m dealing with technical issues that threaten to demolish one of the original studio shoots. I think I fixed it but I won’t know until editing. I love the multicam editing function, being able to “switch” live in post production, and then going in to tweak and adjust it after. It’s a strange and fun process for taking 4 cameras of the same event and creating an edit weeks (and months) later like it was a live event. I’m gearing up to shoot more things like my 180 Degree Rule video and more short educational film tips. They are for the show, but they are also the most successful videos I have online. I like to teach. It’s something I enjoy. You can’t please everyone, but I never wanted to try.

Posted by: Peter John Ross on Dec 1, 2010 at 2:02:30 pm

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