Feb 26, 2011

2011 Oscar Flicks

With 10 Best Pictures to watch I was cutting it close this year, but did manage to cross the bulk of nominees off my list.  I love the challenge and like it even more when I'm surprised by movies that I might not have watched otherwise.  Here's my two cents about the 2011 Best Picture nominees.

The King's Speech
This felt the most like an Oscar movie.  A period biopic, with a handicap to overcome that's based on a true story, starring a prolific and experienced actor in the leading role.  I'm a sucker for British history, and technically speaking this flick checked all the boxes.

The Kids Are All Right
Modern, fresh, and compelling, it was cool to see a movie that featured a same-sex couple without the plot being dictated by social causes.  It just goes to show how complicated 'normal' is for everyone. Big thumbs up!

I only wish that more studios would push for the originality showcased in Inception.  I'm still in need of a second viewing to fully appreciate it I think, but this was a fun surprise with some incredible imagery and effects to boot.

The Fighter
Another sports biopic about an underdog may not be reinventing the wheel, but I thought this was brilliant.  I seem to be attracted to anything with Amy Adams in it to be honest, but the picture features some really compelling performances throughout. 

Black Swan
If more thrillers were like this I wouldn't despise so many of them.  Portman is incredible and the story is fused with the perfect amount of mystery and suspense.  Who knew ballerinas were so dark?

127 Hours
One of my favorite nominees, Danny Boyles film is an editing smorgasbord of jump cut flashbacks and daydreaming.  I loved the structure of the movie and the euphoria created by merging memories and digital clips with the reality of willing yourself to survive.

The Social Network
It's a powerful story considering the context that it has defined about how we communicate, but I found it hard to care about anyone in this movie.  To be honest, I think I would've been more compelled to watch a documentary feature about the reality of 'the social network' instead of seeing it be so overly dramatized. Still, check it out.

Toy Story 3
This is about as close to a universally heart-warming and dare I say 'perfect' movie as you can probably get.  

True Grit
Do yourself a favor and watch the 1969 original with John Wayne and then ask yourself why this needed to be remade.  The Coen brothers are great, but this certainly isn't their best.

Winter's Bone
Of all the nominees this was the only one that I actually strongly disliked.  It was so dry and country-bumpkin infused that it seemed like a joke to say this was the modern day.  I have trouble watching flicks that don't seem very redeeming, and after it was over all I thought was I could've done without it.  To each their own.

If I was going to call it I'd say the winner is going to be either The King's Speech or the Social Network, but I personally would love it if Toy Story 3 or 127 Hours had chance.

Feb 25, 2011

Inspired Singles: Lay Lady Lay

Issue 18: Lay Lady Lay by Magnet Feat. Gemma Hayes

Written and made popular by Bob Dylan, this cover of Lay Lady Lay by Magnet and Gemma Hayes was enough to encourage me to buy their entire album On Your Side.  What I love about the song in general is how it floats from chord to chord.  There's a relaxed groove about it, perfect for . . . well, you know.  

The cover really plays up the weight of the song while replacing Dylan's raspy style with a smooth and more ambient interpretation.  Don't get me wrong, I like both versions.  This one just doesn't remind me of my parents generation as much - given the subject matter that's a huge plus.

Feb 24, 2011

Detroit Wildlife by Florent Tillon

I love abandoned places. Old buildings, ruins, and pieces of history left for someone else to discover seem to tap into my imagination - who, what, why? Detroit Wildlife by Florent Tillon is a teaser for a feature length documentary, in which we're able to play eye-witness to the sparse and evolving landscape of Detroit. 

What once was an industrial mecca has since become an extreme example of corporate colonialism.  The GM headquarters remains downtown, but the bulk of manufacturing has disappeared leaving empty shells of what the city used to be.  It's a fascinating look at urban evolution and explores just where the city might go from here - and in a broader context, how the American landscape is destined to face similar challenges.  

So good.

Feb 22, 2011

Creating Vintage Filters

Filters can be the exclamation point to an edit or be the tipping point that unnecessarily complicates the finished product.  I've always been proud of the experimenting that I've done in trying to enhance the style and look of my work, and I've had a lot of fun in the process.

Vintage filters are particularly interesting to me.  I think my goal has been to pay homage to the style I wanted to recreate digitally, while still keeping in mind that fully achieving an aged look is best done by using aged equipment.  Keep that in mind.

One of the early projects that I played with vintage filter effects was, Silent Shoppers.  I was in film school and wasn't experienced enough to fully escape the automated options of my software yet, but I did experiment with Photoshop to create a more uniform border around the video.  What I mean is that I wanted to recreate the look that a projector gives off by having it lighter in the centre and darker around the edges.  I created a frame in this style, reduced the opacity of it within my timeline, and then incorporated it into the digital 'old film' effects available.

I improved on this simple strategy when I created a short trailer to promote the project on my blog.

In another short, Siblings 2, I played around with creating a holga effect for the first time.  Holga cameras are cheap plastic toys that frame the edge of your images with a soft dark border that blurs out from the centre.  Mixing this style with some heavy handed color correction and tinting, I had a look that suited the nature of the comedy - the joke, by the way, makes more sense if you watch the first part HERE.

While I've followed up with a lot of random edits that play on various styles and formats, one of the most recent examples I've created was for my Newport Beach edit.  I was fascinated by some of the home videos that my parents had and how some of them gave the illusion that you were actually looking through a viewfinder.  By adjusting my borders and adding a softer glow, I heavily saturated a golden filter to enhance what might be a stereotypical California day at the beach. 

Through all of these experiments the goal has been to create looks that are more dynamic than those pre-packaged with your software and that define a certain style both in my personal editing and in the period I might be inspired by at the time.  My vintage filters haven't been created to fool anyone that the footage was legit, instead it's been used as a nod to the viewer to make them draw the line between old and new - to give greater context to the theme.  

The continuous borrowing and reinvention actually keeps things looking fresh and perhaps most importantly, broadens the scope of choice available in a digital medium.  I find experimenting has not only kept my editing sharp, but I also look at it as great inspiration for a wealth of projects that I've yet to make.

Feb 19, 2011

Inside the Cabazon Dinosaurs

As far as tourist traps are concerned, the giant dinosaurs in Cabazon, California kind of became symbols of our 2009 and 2010 road trips through the Coachella valley. Providing an ample mix of shock and awe, the road side landmarks are cool for their novelty but are still so overtly campy, given the creationist views in the gift shop and exhibits, that you can't help but laugh about where you are.  I can't talk about the spot without mentioning the Wizard or Pee Wee's Big Adventure either.

The gift shop is inside the Apatosaurus which is free to enter, but you have to pay to go inside the T-Rex.  A concrete stairway in the tail leads up to a metal spiral staircase to go into the head.  From there you can look through his teeth and enjoy the breeze.  It's generally not that busy of a place, so we just chilled in the T-Rex for a bit before heading west to Palm Springs.  

I should also mention that we ate at the Wheel Inn before all of this - I think it helps to complete the Cabazon dinosaur experience. Click here to see why exactly. 

Feb 18, 2011

Baby Trashes Bar in Las Palmas

My friend Kelly sent me this video as inspiration to bring my Chico Bandito series back.  While Chico Bandito was never this funny, I can now see that a stumbling baby was exactly what the series was missing.  This video by Johannes Nyholm is sure to make you laugh - I certainly did.

Feb 17, 2011

Sliding in Style

And as the Canadian winter rolls on, my British saloon continues to chill. 

For the most part my Jaguar XJ8 has performed beautifully and been driven in all winter conditions, despite numerous wide-eyed reactions for my decision to do so.  However, the car hasn't gone without its share of maintenance to keep things ship-shape. New premium tires, the battery, radiator hoses, the water pump and the thermostat were all replaced over the last several months to keep things running smoothly and in premium condition.

As my first year of Jaguar ownership continues I often feel like there aren't enough excuses to talk about it, emphasize my euphoria, or share the quirks of the experience (like trying to charge a dead battery that's in a trunk that requires electricity to open). But then what are blogs for?  

While a Jag is certainly not the most agile or ideal winter vehicle, it's still been a blast to drive.  No doubt, I'm still anxious to get back to cruising on clear streets and having my car stay clean for more than an afternoon.  

I shot an experimental test video with my Flip HD cam while driving my Jaguar around town just a couple weeks ago.  Check it out HERE and don't be surprised when my car makes a few more cameos after the ice thaws.

Feb 15, 2011

Elliot: All of the Fake Stuff

For my final 4th year film project I created a mockumentary short titled, Elliot.  It was about a struggling author named Warren Elliot trying to make it into a prestigous writing guild after numerous rejections.

One of the really enjoyable parts of the process was getting to create a series of campy documentation to make Elliot's journey even more colorful.  From newspaper articles to book covers to notes and magazine excerpts, everything was made to be fairly tongue and cheek.  The blatently photoshopped childhood photographs emphasize this even further. To read more on my Elliot film school project and to view it CLICK HERE.

Feb 14, 2011

Wireless Weekend

It all started with a Netflix account.

Early last week I took the plunge and signed up for Netflix to check out some of the documentaries they had available.  As a guy who hasn't bothered to get cable, Netflix seemed like an affordable and diverse enough option that would actually save me money by curbing my DVD purchases when I'm looking for something new to watch.  So far so good.

On Friday I decided that it was time to go pick up a wireless router as it had become cumbersome trying to curl up in front of the computer to watch videos.  This was a relatively inexpensive upgrade that started the snowball rolling.  

With the wireless installed I quickly added Netflix to my Wii to sit back and enjoy.  *Sigh.  I'm not the kind of guy who needs to see everything in Blu ray quality and I'm not quick to adapt to trends that don't suit my needs (it took this long to get wireless after all) however, the quality of Netflix on the Wii sucks.  It's essentially like taking a YouTube video and blowing it up to your full screen.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Wii for gaming and wasting an hour with friends, but it was certainly no consolation for taking the cable-less route.

Saturday came along and I knew what I had to do.  I was off to the store and picked up a fancy new Blu ray player with built-in wifi and a 320GB PS3, because well . . . sometimes it just feels good to reward yourself - and after wrapping a 6 month stretch of balancing numerous edits between two jobs and putting a good chunk of change into a retirement fund, I felt I had lots of justification to buy a few toys.

Netflix has since been hooked up through the PS3, which is sharp and with it's 1080p looks noticeably better than what the Wii is capable of.  The Blu ray is also nice for checking out YouTube now, however, I have my fingers crossed that they'll be releasing the app for Netflix through Samsung in Canada soon enough that I can have it playing through my existing surround sound setup.

For now both toys will undoubtedly continue to get a lot of use, and my Netflix subscription has already paid for itself with amount I've watched. In short, the wireless weekend was a blast!

Feb 12, 2011

Inspired Singles: Your Mother Should Know

Issue 17: Your Mother Should Know by The Beatles

While it's tough for me to talk about any Beatles tune like it's a hidden gem, Your Mother Should Know is perhaps one of their lesser known successes that I always get a kick out of.  I love the weight and jaunty tone of this track in particular.  It remains upbeat but restrained from the rambunctious style that highlights so many other Beatles hits.

The Magical Mystery Tour is one of my favorite albums of all time!  But look at the tracks listed on the cover art - they could all be considered inspired singles for numerous reasons.

Feb 10, 2011

Upgrading Your Personal Edit Studio

After over six months of juggling several different corporate editing projects, I've finally found some down time.  The pressure that my editing suite was under became apparent when the delays on existing edits started but the projects didn't stop coming in.  What's a guy to do? Space, organization, and flexibility are key to keeping the ball rolling - time for upgrades!

The bones of my existing PC are great.  Two large 23 inch monitors, a powerful video card, and a diverse range of custom editing tools through Pinnacle, Photoshop, and Premiere provide a sturdy backbone.  It seems there's never enough space for video though.  My solution to this was a USB hub and new hard drives to divide various elements.

This is how my edit suite stacks up after upgrades:

My main drive is now treated just like a home page - main operating functions, final edits awaiting delivery, main software, and several personal details.  My secondary drive is now a personal extension - iTunes library, financial backups, and lots of free space for games, personal edit space, photos, etc.  In addition to this: 

  • One hard drive for personal video editing - general archiving.
  • One hard drive purely for Flip video storage and backup / homevideo.
  • Two hard drives strictly for corporate edits, backup, and archiving.

This provides me with 6 different drives, roughly 5TB of current working space, and a very structured layout of how the drives are used and organized.  The biggest difference here is that I won't have to stretch projects across different drives anymore (with the exception of key backups) and this makes the raw elements easier to catalogue and store.   Not to mention, it's also easier to have more projects on the go and as things progress, dedicate large projects to their own drives.

My focus has always been on the creative end of editing.  What I mean by this is that I'm not always swayed by the most expensive technical tool, but instead by how I can achieve a certain look or effect. My edit studio is far from the most expensive, but it is versatile and modern enough to tackle most of what I want and need to be able to do at this point.

My current setup has probably been about a $3000-$4000 investment over the last three years, and that seems minor when considering the amount of projects, both personal and corporate, that I've completed in that time.  It's kind of amazing how accessible the technology has become actually. 

Next on my list - software.

Feb 7, 2011

Creative Clutter

I imagine that a lot of people don't see the benefit in keeping so many random collections in view.  However, so much of what I fill my space with isn't merely stuff, most of it has a story behind why it's even there.

Take my bulletin board for instance.  It may be full, but it also holds random knick-knacks from traveling, postcards from friends, creative tags from a couple of t-shirts, posters, ads, and other little pieces that I thought were cool to look at.  It's become an inspiration board mixing the things I like with the things I've done.  My strategy for making my spaces my own has always been about a lot of visual and graphic emphasis - not shying away from color, contrasting patterns, or mixed textures.

I've always been inspired by pop art and rock culture to the extent that a few photographs just never seemed like enough to tell the full story.  I love that I've surrounded myself with pieces of my past, collections that borrow on the mainstream, samples that emphasize a do-it-yourself type attitude, and gifts that friends probably forgot they gave me.  I've essentially found a style that makes me feel creative and connected to a lot of different sources.

I'd like to think that someone could walk in to my place and by exploring get to know a lot about me - more than what just a family photo might say (although that's in there too). 

Keeping in mind that these photos are all close-ups and that my space is actually a big open loft, the film editor in me has kept things structured and laid out in a way that feels deliberate.  The goal has never been to have a mess of stuff, but instead to create a look that's just busy enough to challenge the way people see or respond to it. 

I guess in a lot of ways I've never wanted to be too easy to sum up.

Feb 4, 2011

Flip Cam Test - Jaguar XJ8 Winter Drive

An experiment, a Flip camera demo, a glamour shot of my Jaguar - this edit is all of those things.  I'm starting to feel energized about the idea of producing a more ambitious, stylized, narrative short film.  Meaning that a years worth of work could easily go into a single project and allow me to draw on the variety of creative and technical experiences that I've had in just the last several years.

What I did here with this winter drive test was actually play with the way I could mount my Flip Ultra HD to various points on my car. This included the dash, along the edge of my wheel well, and to the front of the grill.

I decided to cut together a short edit from this footage just because I was impressed with how well some of it turned out.  I see a lot of potential in mixing both the lightweight and maneuverable benefits of my Flip cam with the more cinematic and rich footage of my HDR-FX1 in an upcoming future project.  

For now, I find it encouraging just to see what I can do using my own resources.  Tests like these are really just ways to find inspiration and push myself to tackle even more ambitious and creative shooting techniques that just weren't possible for the low budget indie filmmaker 5 years ago.  I love the idea of merging a professional look with the spirit of an amateur shoot.  

Feb 3, 2011

Downtown San Francisco, California

A city with character - and characters - was exactly the impression we got from our two short days in San Francisco.  We aimlessly navigated the hills of downtown, exploring Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate. The final days of the road trip were chalked full of new things to do and even more visual stimulus.