Comedy at the Oscars™: Queries from an Impish Cinephile

Do you like to laugh? I do. Have you ever watched a film made with such cinematic wit and comedic genius that you continued to marvel at its gags for long afterwards? I have. So I wonder (see photo, above!) – really wonder – why so often our culture more often reserves the highest rewards for works of a more serious bent. As a man with an impish disposition, I swear up and down that my love of comedy, or of the irreverent bon mot, does not in any way mean that I don’t take life or the problems of this world seriously. And I think a lot of good and sincere dramas have deservedly won Oscars™. But a look at a list of the Best Picture Oscars™ given since 1927 shows a clear bias towards the serious over the comedic. Why do you think that is?

Here’s the list:

1927-28 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans(1927)Wings (1927)
1929 The Broadway Melody (1929)
1930 All Quiet On the Western Front (1930)
1931 Cimarron (1931)
1932 Grand Hotel (1932)
1933 Cavalcade (1933)
1934 It Happened One Night (1934)
1935 Mutiny On the Bounty (1935)
1936 The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
1937 The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
1938 You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
1939 Gone With the Wind (1939)
1940 Rebecca (1940)
1941 How Green Was My Valley (1941)
1942 Mrs. Miniver (1942)
1943 Casablanca (1942)
1944 Going My Way (1944)
1945 The Lost Weekend (1945)
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
1947 Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
1948 Hamlet (1948)
1949 All the King’s Men (1949)
1950 All About Eve (1950)
1951 An American In Paris (1951)
1952 The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)
1953 From Here To Eternity (1953)
1954 On the Waterfront (1954)
1955 Marty (1955)
1956 Around the World In 80 Days (1956)
1957 The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)
1958 Gigi (1958)
1959 Ben-Hur (1959)
1960 The Apartment (1960)
1961 West Side Story (1961)
1962 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
1963 Tom Jones (1963)
1964 My Fair Lady (1964)
1965 The Sound of Music (1965)
1966 A Man For All Seasons (1966)
1967 In the Heat of the Night (1967)
1968 Oliver! (1968)
1969 Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970 Patton (1970)
1971 The French Connection (1971)
1972 The Godfather (1972)
1973 The Sting (1973)
1974 The Godfather, Part II (1974)
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
1976 Rocky (1976)
1977 Annie Hall (1977)
1978 The Deer Hunter (1978)
1979 Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
1980 Ordinary People (1980)
1981 Chariots of Fire (1981)
1982 Gandhi (1982)
1983 Terms of Endearment (1983)
1984 Amadeus (1984)
1985 Out of Africa (1985)
1986 Platoon (1986)
1987 The Last Emperor (1987)
1988 Rain Man (1988)
1989 Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990 Dances With Wolves (1990)
1991 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
1992 Unforgiven (1992)
1993 Schindler’s List (1993)
1994 Forrest Gump (1994)
1995 Braveheart (1995)
1996 The English Patient (1996)
1997 Titanic (1997)
1998 Shakespeare In Love (1998)
1999 American Beauty (1999)
2000 Gladiator (2000)
2001 A Beautiful Mind (2001)
2002 Chicago (2002)
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
2004 Million Dollar Baby (2004)
2005 Crash (2005)
2006 The Departed (2006)
2007 No Country For Old Men (2007)
2008 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
2009 The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010 The King’s Speech (2010)
2011 The Artist (2011)

Some of the above films are dramas with significantly funny writing, such as Casablanca or The Apartment (thankfully Billy Wilder won for at least one of his wittier films, rather than just for the awful The Long Weekend). Some of the above are musicals, which have silliness built into them, like the two Vincente Minnelli films An American in Paris and Gigi (as well as The Sound of Music), although their plots also have elements of high melodrama. Which of the winners, though, would we categorize as pure comedies? Annie Hall? Tom Jones? You Can’t Take It With You? The Artist? All of them are funny, but not necessarily solely comedies. Even Annie Hall – the purest of the lot – has some melodrama in it. Chicago is silly, but it’s a musical, so even the darker elements cannot help but be tinged with the fantastic. I think, in fact, that Annie Hall may be the only film that most people would call a comedy to have won an Oscar™.

I don’t have the space here to list all of the nominees for Best Picture over the years, but if I did, you’d see that very few comedies have even been nominated. Not even Some Like It Hot made it in 1959 … As a kid, I remember being very upset, in 1982, when Gandhi beat out Tootsie. But at least Tootsie was nominated!

Ponder this the next time you feel yourself being transported to another dimension as your ribs hurt from laughter while you watch a great comedy. Is this not art? If it is, then why don’t we recognize it as such?

Vulgarity in films, or what’s so funny about genitalia?

When I was a kid, my Mom found animated films silly (come to think of it, she still does). This meant that even if there were some deeper meaning hidden below the surface of the pictures, she wouldn’t allow herself to see it, since her mind balked at the cartoons (as she called them). Funnily enough, however, she loved The Muppet Show.

When I was in college, I had the great misfortune to have a first-year writing instructor who hated science fiction. This just happened to be the genre I enjoyed writing at that time, and she was extremely dismissive of my efforts. At least she told me why (“I hate science fiction”), but she made no effort to evaluate my writing beyond that. Her mind balked at the science + fiction.

Now, I enjoy silly and gross humor as much as anyone. Some films that I have seen in the past that employ disgusting and/or dumb humor include, in no particular order: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, all of Monty PythonAnimal House, Caddyshack, Blazing Saddles, the Harold & Kumar films, and others that I can’t think of right now. I even enjoyed Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
But my own balking moment occurs when a film seems to find its sole raison d’être in the ceaseless wallowing in vulgarity for its own sake, or in sexual or scatological humor for its own sake. I even find those moments, in otherwise pleasant films, where people stick their tongues out and lick each other’s faces (f***ing hilarious, no?) really dumb. And it kicks me out of the movie. There may be intelligence at work, but once I’m out, I’m out. Am I just like my Mom and my frehsman writing teacher?

I like there to be a reason for things to happen, even in my stupid guilty pleasures. Otherwise I may as well just watch SNL, as bad as that can get. Films that I have hated that have nevertheless been popular with the general public include, in no particular order: Meet the Parents (Ben Stiller! Ben Stiller! Ben Stiller!), Anchorman (Will Ferrell! Will Ferrell! Will Ferrell!), Superbad (Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen!), Knocked Up (Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen! Seth Rogen!), Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (John C. Reilly! John C. Reilly! John C. Reilly!),Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig! Kristen Wiig! Kristen Wiig!), and others that I can’t think of right now.

There’s Something About Mary is a film that exists at the crossroads of my liking/loathing. While I am pretty sure that if I saw it today I would hate a lot of it (since I partly blame the Farrelly Brothers and Ben Stiller for paving the way for Judd Apatow’s worst tendencies), I remember enjoying it mightily at the time (the semen-drenched hair was set up well enough in the writing that I wasn’t kicked out of the movie – it made good sense).

Strangely, I loved Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which has two strikes against it: it stars Seth Rogen and was written and directed by Kevin Smith. Yet somehow, the fact that it had  a script that justified the gross-out elements made it all work. And that’s the key: it all goes back to the script, with all actions flowing organically from a strong premise.

Back in the day, before he lost sight of how to be funny, Sacha Baron Cohen did some pretty amazing things, such as this interview with Noam Chomsky. The humor, for me, flows out of the incongruity of a distinguished intellectual like Chomsky trying his best to remain polite even though he is clearly talking to an idiot. Whatever you think of it, there is a logic to the madness.

Now, there are plenty of premises that I abhor, where the vulgarity nevertheless flows organically from them, so it’s not just about logic. Logic helps, though. But I think what bothers me the most in the comedies I can’t stand is the randomness of the vulgarity (and the face licking).

Let’s try an example that I just thought up:

FEMALE TEACHER: OK, class, time to settle down. Time to discuss some … Shakespeare!

MALE STUDENT 1: Shakespeare? Suck my d***, b****!

The class erupts in laughter.



MALE STUDENT 1 and FEMALE STUDENT touch tongues and lick each other’s faces.

Gotta love it.

I just finished watching 21 Jump Street, and it actually wasn’t terrible. But it, too, had some of these elements that drive me crazy. Why?

So, dear reader, I’ll ask you the following questions, to which I demand answers:

1. What is so funny about a random f-bomb dropped in the middle of a sentence?

2. Same question, but about the word b****.

3. Same question, but about all words pertaining to male and female genitalia.

4. Why is watching somebody visibly vomit, or vacate in some way, funny?

5. Why is watching people stick their tongues out, touch them to someone else’s tongue, and then lick the other person’s face all over, funny?

6. Is there something wrong with me?

Thank you, dear reader. Your task is done.

Now f*** off, b****!



I’m tired after another full day and tonight’s final banquet at the Adler Planetarium, so I will try and post today’s blog without too much annotation.

Today was the day that that Stevenson delegation (plus one guest) presented our panel.

Here is the prezi that I made, that covered both the intro and my part of the presentation.  And here is the outline I prepared to go along with it.

After the panel, I had coffee with Kevin Dole, a director I met at last year’s UFVA conference, since there were no panels/workshops/screenings, etc in the second session of the day (it was award ceremony time, and I chose to skip it). Kevin is a longtime Los Angeles-based director of commercials who is working on shooting his first feature film, Kiss the Frog. It was nice to catch up, and I look forward to seeing the film when it is done.

I then had lunch with my friend Savvas Paritsis and with G.T. Keplinger at the Eleven City Diner, which was fun.

Then two more panels, and finally the banquet.

What a day and what a week! I enjoyed myself, but I’ll be happy to go home tomorrow!

This is a record of my notes, taken during the UFVA 2012 sessions that I attended today.

PANEL 13K, 8:30-10:15am: Final Cut Schmo: Why “Flexible” And “Adaptable” Are The 2 Most Important Qualities Of The 21st-Century Media Education Model

Christopher Reed, Stevenson University, Moderator

Love The One You’re With: Lessons From Apple On ‘Flexibility’ And ‘Adaptability’

Brett Levner, University Of Nevada Las Vegas

Leaving Final Cut Studio, But When And To What?

Dina Fiasconaro, Stevenson University

Writing And The New Technologies

G.T. Keplinger, Stevenson University

Is Bad The New Good On YouTube?

You can look at the prezi and the outline that I linked to, above.

Here is the photo I had Savvas take after the panel (from the crappy camera on my phone … ):

(from l-r: G.T. Keplinger, Brett Levner, Dina Fiasconaro, me)

We had a great group in attendance, and a very lively discussion followed.

I learned a new word, thanks to Brett Levner – a “predator:” a producer + editor. Love it!


PANEL 15K, 1:30-3:15pm: Our Conversion Story: Forward Thinking, Slow Moving, Fine Tuning The Balance Between Tradition And Innovation At NYU

The range of challenges and triumphs associated with transitioning a large department’s signature film production class into an all-digital version while keeping the spirit, intensity and traditions of the original.

Rosanne Limoncelli, New York University, Moderator 

Rick Litvin, New York University

Peter Rea, New York University

This was the “Sight & Sound” film class conversion story


It’s the passing of an era: going from Arri-S to Sony FS-100, and from Steenbecks to AVID

  • signature class
  • 5 films in 1 semester (limitations)

We wanted to switch away from infrastructure that was no long supported

Once decision was made, would need one year to make the conversion and educate and inform everyone.

To be consistent with tradition of the class, we needed people to “earn” what they would accomplish

  • Zeiss prime lenses (28, 50, 85)
  • light meters
  • b&w
  • disabled on-board mic

Production, post and projection would have to all be compatible

It would have to remain manual, physical, systematic, and working with tools that require collaboration (part of tradition)

We needed feeling of being able to touch the tools

To convince the faculty, we framed argument as:

  • what happens if one reversal lab closes?
  • the 6 spare projection bulbs disappear?
  • what happens when suplies for Steenbecks disappear?

3 options:

  • do nothing
  • shoot film, post video
  • switch to all digital production and post


There is still film at NYU, just not in this intro class for sophomores

2 biggest programs @ Tisch are undergrad film/tv & theatre

Freshman year:

  • language of film (history)
  • script
  • 2 colloquia
  • a sound or some kind of visual course
  • no film production

“Sight & Sound” is the primary intro course. It’s divided in 3 – “film,” “studio,” “documentary” – students choose one of 2 second ones.

Meets twice a week for half a day

In adapting to new digital format, they kept the syllabus workflow from the film years (although students finish faster)


Prime lenses a good longterm investment


In defense of slowness of process to convince Deans.


Needed a robust camera to replace the ARRI-S

[à propos of nothing, but I didn’t know this, God of Love was shot on the RED]

In class, being able to freeze frame on a project image is a very lovely surprise (different form film projectors)

PANEL 16G, 3:30-5:15pm: Transmedia: One Story, Many Media

The modern narrative property cannot exist in one media alone. From film to television to games to webisodes to novels to comic books, and beyond, any major media property that expects to stand out from the crowd has to do so
on multiple platforms. Traditional single media, or simple adaptions – where
the storyline from one media piece is adapted into another media – is rapidly becoming old school. In its place is the idea of transmedia storytelling, where one giant, encompassing, engaging story is told across multiple media, with each platform telling its own contained story, but at the same time only part of the larger story.

Michael Niederman, Columbia College Chicago, Moderator 

Tom Dowd, Columbia College Chicago

Joseph Steiff, Columbia College Chicago


What is “transmedia?” … One story across many media


  • Multimedia – uses multiple media as part of a presentation
  • Crossmedia – marketeers use “crossmedia” when they want to talk about pushing a brand across multiple media
  • Transmedia – really just “multimedia” – to use multiple media to tell one story
  • Transmedia storytelling/narrative – take one master story and tell is through multiple channels (Producers Guild of America definition) a 3 or more narrative storylines within the same universe, and not the same as repurposing (adapting) material from another platform. Must be original. Narrative continuity across multiple platforms. Interactive endeavors to unite uss across platforms.
  • East Coast Transmedia – smaller, more intense, ARG-driven
  • West Coast Transmedia – writ large, driven by movies tv games


  • Transmedia requires mass media
  • The Wizard of Oz (1900) – books, stage, film, tv, comics, games, lectures across country by L. Frank Baum

Michael Niedermann doesn’t think transmedia really didn’t start until TV

  • And you have to talk about Disney when you talk about TV, ‘cos Walt “got it.”
  • After 1950s: Toys, games, books, clothes, comics – urge always there because of $$$$$
  • An opportunity to generate additional $$$$ from a property
  • All about the marketing
  • The “Roddenbury Urge” to make a universe

Now, it is still about the $$$$, but it is conceived from the start

Lucas understood that the value (thanks to Star Trek) of the universe lay in the toys.

Star Trek – ability to perceive a universe in an intellectual property at heart of other source materials. Star Trek engaged in a completely new way with the fans (conventions!).

What 1950’s merchandising did was allow fans to take the world home with them (deep impact).

An ideal idea source for transmedia treatment:

  • Big Canvas
  • Consistent universe
  • Big supply of story fodder
  • Other validation/core audience

What works best?

Star Trek as a property marked the emergence of transmedia: “organic transmedia” (it just happened) – first big modern property that overflowed its medium. Arguably birthed the mass-media sci-fi/fantasy industry.

Fanzines were emerging at the same time as Star Trek‘s ratings failure and cancellation. It was the syndication that “made” the show. TVs in college dorms helped.

  • Playing with ideas big and deep: race, tech, etc.
  • Raised questions that fans wanted to explore and DISCUSS!
  • Illusion of depth that needed filling

1975 – Franz Joseph Schnaubelt (an aerospace engineer) – Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual – fan-driven transmedia. People who came afterwards used THIS as source material …

At the same time, Star Trek novels start to come out – it becomes a “franchise.”

Fans are discussing continuity and truth of storyline.

Star Trek + moment in culture + media = Transmedia

People who were weaned on Star Trek eventually became its masters (fanboys grow up to become creators) – Dr. Who as another example.

Where do we find Q&A in Transmedia narratives?

  • Plot/Story
  • Time/Place. Society/Culture
  • Characters – History and Motivation – the “Luke, I am your father” moment made backstory important
  • A sense of meaningful information in the gapes or just around the corner.
  • Meaningful is key

Modern transmedia storytelling is about mythology

Stories and mysteries across multiple media

Star Trek Countdown links the Star Trek reboot to the known Star Trek universe.

And now there is a series of comics/graphic novels that re-tell original series stories with the situations from the re-booted situations.

Teaching Transmedia storytelling

  • sequential vs. simultaneous
  • materials that same to work best are high-concept action

Book: Transmedia Storytelling: One Story – Many Media (Focal Press, 2013) – no link available yet.

And that’s all folks, from the UFVA 2012! Thanks for reading!


Today was a very different kind of day for me, as everything that I went to see, or participated in, was “chosen” by previously made commitment. First off was my colleague G.T. Keplinger’s Sony workshop, which I had originally proposed and then passed on to him. Next up was the natural follow-up to that capture-based workshop, which was Charles Roberts’s ingestion-based workshop. Charles is the workshop coordinator at this year’s UFVA conference, and had been involved in early discussions with G.T. and me about the nature of the Sony workshop. I felt compelled, therefore, to attend his workshop (which was great). Then I had the screening of my documentary this afternoon, followed by the screening of my respondent’s film (to which I responded) in the session afterwards.

At the end of the workshops, I briefly attended the “New Media” reception, where I spoke a bit with Tania Khalaf, from the University of North Texas (who is here with an interesting-sounding film, Journey to Hope, which I could not see since it was playing at the same time as my own film). She told me about a vendor she had seen earlier today, who was selling a piece of software called scayl,which allows for instantaneous transfer of large files between two computers via the web (or cloud, or internet, or whatever you want to call it). I’ll have to check it out.

Then, at the end of the day, my colleagues G.T. Keplinger, Dina Fiasconaro and I went to dinner together at Gino’s, where we had some good Chicago-style deep dish pizza. 

And now it’s off to bed, since tomorrow we (G.T., Dina, Brett Levner from University of Nevada/Las Vegas, and I) are presenting our Final Cut Schmo panel. 

This is a record of my notes, taken during the UFVA 2012 sessions that I attended today.

WORKSHOP 9Q, 8:30-10:15am: SxS: Sony Super 35mm + Stevenson Students

G.T. Keplinger, Stevenson University

Stevenson University students recently shot a short film on a
Super 35mm PMWF3K camera & documented the process with the NEXFS100UK. In this hands-on collaborative workshop, learn why Sony’s Super 35mm cameras are great tools for the classroom.

Unfortunately, I did not take any notes, as I was too busy participating in the conversation. We were lucky to have Jody Eldred with us, as he was able, as an accomplished cinematographer, to talk about why the Sony F3 camera is special (especially for the price point).

We also had Kevin O’Connor, Sony’s Account Manager for the Greater Chicago area, on hand to provide the equipment.

I was happy to run into Harlan Bosmajian at the workshop. Harlan and I used to work together, years ago, at the New York Film Academy, He now teaches at Emerson College in Boston.

WORKSHOP 10P, 10:30am-12:15pm: Surely you Ingest! XDCAM Tapeless Workflow for Safety and Flexibility

Charles Roberts, Fitchburg State University

A hands-on demo of ingesting tapeless Sony XDCAM content using Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere in a safe and resilient way.

This was a terrific workshop. I learned a tremendous amount. Charles gave those of us unskilled in AVID just enough info so that we could quickly adapt and apply the media management lessons he was teaching us. I am now far less concerned about my own transfer to AVID. I hope to be able to lead by example in making Stevenson University truly “software agnostic” in its approach to teaching editing. If I can master Premiere, Final Cut Pro X, and AVID, within the year, then I know our students can.

Here is what Charles taught us:

Tapeless Acquisition & Workflow

You have to know where you’re going to end up when you start. “Workflow” is what keeps your whole system operating.


AMA = AVID Media Access

Starting with Media Composer 5, AVID started treating all file formats the same – it’s just a file wrapper, after all.

With AVID now, you can have a system where AVID brings everything in and controls it via its database (AMA, or AVID media databasing), or you can have it treat the project just as metadata (à la FCP or Premiere), called “project linking.” The decision you make is what determines your workflow.

In AVID, unless you’re working with proxies, you are limited to 1080p or lower.

Do no harm to metadata.


  • XDCAM – great workflow – metadata and media in the folder
  • H264 (DSLR) – pros and cons – not a lot of metadata there
  • AVCHD – where XDCAM was 5 years. “Not ready for big time yet.” Codec is very processor intensive (never edit with it)

Redundancy rule – you can’t erase a disc until you have three copies (then you can delete the “third,” which is the original on the card)

To copy disc – option-click and drag to duplicate and then rename.

Make sure students never rename the BPAV (which you can rename BPAV if they messed it up)

AMA settings in AVID

  • When you create a Bin in AVID, it exists outside of the project, as well, as its own file.
  • Leave “Enable AMA Volume Management” on – always
  • Leave checked “When mounting previously mounted volumes, do not check for modifications to the volume”


  • use ACTIVE BIN (rather than VOLUME folder names) – manually manage
  • Create New – AVID assigned
  • Auto-mount recognized volumes

AMA Link – chainlink icon means it’s linked to the AMA volume – if link goes away, your media is offline

To clone between BINS – option-click and drag

To duplicate – command-d

Dragging just moves

TRANSCODE (in Clip Menu – Consolidate/Transcode option)

RELINK using TRANSCODE settings

Then you can RELINK using “Selected Items in All Bins


Once you change the folder name on root drive, you can only relink files individually, since it loses the directory (unlike in AVID or FCP) – you have to actually relink the first file

Check out these links:


SCREENING 11D, 1:30-3:15pm:

The Agony and Sweat of the Human Spirit (15 mins.)

D. Jesse Damazo, University of Iowa

A quiet ukuleleist and his talkative manager struggle to realize their artistic vision in this comic story of loss and friendship.

Smith College Book Sale (30 mins., Work-in-Progress)

Christopher Reed, Stevenson University
Respondent – James Joyce, Montana State University

The Smith College Book Sale was started in 1959 by the Smith College Club of Baltimore to raise money for young women in Maryland who could not otherwise afford to attend Smith. This is the story of the women of the sale who work to help other women succeed.

I will admit that I have nothing much to say about the first film. I did not understand it, nor find it very interesting, so I’ll refrain from commenting.

I was grateful for the people who gave me feedback on my own film, including my respondent, Jim Joyce.

Here is that feedback:

Jim Joyce:

  • Film should focus more on great academic tradition of Smith & women’s education
  • Right now film has “shotgun approach” to telling the story
  • It starts to gel when we find out that there are people who return to sale (buying and selling) every year, just as there are women who return to work for sale every year
  • Most engaging parts are interviews with women about how Smith affected their lives
  • Need to find framing device and spine
  • Need to find something accessible for our point of entry
  • How is film stylistically different at beginning, middle and end (how does it change)?
  • Maybe I should switch musical styles throughout
  • I still need to find one thread, and maybe also removed redundancies
  • Three points (from the “real” James Joyce): Spine, Beauty, Radiance
  • He wants me to put more of my point of view in the film – more Chris Reed
  • Hit us with the hook

Woman in audience:

  • Loved movie
  • Smith reminiscence section could be shortened or have images laid over it


  • Make sure movie is about more than just book sale
  • Cut 30-second trailer that would help me focus on what story I want to tell – it would give me my spine

Other woman in audience:

  • Why 30 minutes?
  • Try a 15-minute cut, then bring it back up by an additional 4/5 minutes
  • Focus on the little details of the book sale – that’s fun stuff


  • Wants to know why the book sale shifted away from Towson Armory, and when?
  • Have there beens up’s and down’s?
  • Found music annoying; hopes it was temp track


Thinks that the footage I have could me more than just a film – perhaps create a website where I could post all the Smith and book sale testimonials, as an accompaniment to film

SCREENING 12C,  3:30-5:15pm:

Shock (10 mins.)

James Joyce, Montana State University

Respondent – Christopher Reed, Stevenson University

Alienated from family and friends after a recent tragedy, Christie struggles with her place in college and life as she watches her roommate’s tortoise while finishing an engineering project started by her brother.

1996 (90 mins., Work-in-Progress)

Matt Meyer, George Fox University

A NASA physicist feels his life was derailed back in 1996, when he couldn’t save his sister from a high school shooting. So now, 19 years later, he figures out a way to go back in time to try to change things.

I tried to give Jim Joyce the same kind of substantive feedback that he gave me, but I won’t publish it here. His film and my film were strange bedfellows, and I think he would have been better served by someone with more of an experimental narrative approach to filmmaking. I might have been better served by a documentarian, but I felt he gave it a good shot.

The feature film that followed Jim’s film was interesting, as it was something directed by Matt Meyer from a script written by his students, and shot and edited over a 3-year period. It’s a bit of a mess (and still unfinished), but a worthy experiment in making movies with one students. The script held my interest over the course of the film, and the actress Haley Talbott was well worth watching.

Good night!


Today was another good day. Outside of the workshops I attended, I also had the great pleasure of seeing an old college classmate, Oscar Alcantara, for coffee at 3:30. Thanks, Oscar, for taking the time to see me!

I also wandered around the vendor exhibits a bit, and purchased some textbooks for my Department. Michael Wiese Productions has a great deal for attendees of the festival: $5 on all books, and when you buy 2, the third book is free – so, 3 for $10.

I bought 4 books:

The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals: Your All Access Pass to Launching Your Film on the Festival Circuitby Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis

Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing by Pen Densham

The Film Director’s Bag of Tricks: Get What You Want from Writers and Actorsby Mark Travis

and – the one that looks the most fun …

Make Film History: Rewrite, Reshoot, and Recut the World’s Greatest Films, by Robert Gerst (this one is not yet available on the Michael Wiese site, although they  were selling at the Michael Wiese table today.

This evening, we all went to Northerly Island, in spite of the thunderstorms. Here is a blurry photo of the Chicago skyline as seen from that location that I took with my cell phone:

And now …

This is a record of my notes, taken during the UFVA 2012 sessions that I attended today.

Screening 5D, 8:30-10:15am:

Marc Fields, Emerson College

Narrated by Steve Martin, Give Me the Banjo traces the colorful and contested journey of America’s quintessential instrument from its African roots to the present, with performances and commentary by Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Mike Seeger and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

This was a documentary film about the history of the banjo, and its transition from black slave instrument to minstrel show mainstay to folk and bluegrass anchor. Along the way, we meet many of the musicians who have helped promote the banjo and its music, including Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs. I am a lifelong devotee of Pete Seeger, and always welcome any opportunity to see him in anything.

I found the film pleasant, with a decent collection of historical artifacts and talking head interviews. I was a bit disappointed at elements of its structure, such as the fact that we begin with the racist cultural legacy of the banjo as a minstrel show instrument, but then leave that behind after the opening, never to return to it. I think the film would have been stronger with a circular narrative that brought us back to the beginning after a journey through all that the banjo has done. I also wish that we had understood why Steve Martin, the film’s narrator, had been so drawn to the banjo, himself. The film gives that short shrift. But I enjoyed the film, overall, and the music.


Workshop 6N, 10:30am-12:15pm: The Joy of X; Learning to Work With and Teach Final Cut Pro X, Part 2

Bart Weiss, University of Texas, Arlington

A workshop to go over truths and myths of Apples Final Cut Pro X. This will be a hands-on demo of the software to show how to use this software in a university film program.

Here is a collection of my scribblings from the workshop. I didn’t do Part 1, but both Part 1 and Part 2 were really the same workshop, done for different groups.

Keyword function

  • Work faster
  • Esp. good for documentarians

Detach/separate audio vs. break apart

Good apps to manage transition/back-and-forth between FCP7 and FCPX

Boris Soundbite, another good app for FCPX

Watch Ripple Training videos (Bart prefers to


  • Event = Bucket
  • Event = Former FCP7 Project
  • Event = Metadata + Media
  • Project = Timelines/Sequences

Make sure the EVENT gets placed directly on the students’ external hard drives

Proxy Media

Timeline exists within project

What FCPX excels at is metadata

  • Search for metadata
  • Use keywords as sub clipping

Match color

Option-] = cut tail

Option-[ = cut head

Timeline views, including “chicklet view”

L-cuts and J-cuts are VERY easy to do in CPX


  • Use ROLES as separate “tracks” on project, or at least groupings


Screenwriting 7M, 1:30pm-3:15pm:Works in Progress

Kalfou by Desha Dauchan – UC Irvine

Respondent – Shari Thompson, Howard University

2nd Respondent – Kyle Bergerson, University of Oklahoma

Haven by Dina Fiasconaro – Stevenson University

1st Respondent – Duane Byrge, Virginia State University

2nd Respondent – Dean Goldberg, Mount Saint Mary College

This was the first screenwriting workshop that I have attended at a UFVA conference. It was fun! The screenwriter brings 20-30 pages of her feature-length screenplay to the workshop, asks various people in the room to read, and then after the reading, everyone discusses the work, after first hearing from the respondents.

Both scripts in this particular workshop had good elements.

Unfortunately for Dina Fiasconaro, neither of her respondent showed up. BOOOOOOO! Not cool. Let them be barred from future UFVA conferences!

I didn’t take notes, since I was reading, so that’s all I’ll say about the event.


TOMORROW, Friday, 8/10, @ 1:30pm, @ Screening 11D, in room 502 in Luddington, my own film is screened. Wish me luck!


I paste, below, the photo I posted on twitter through instagram, of tonight’s AVID reception.

I have also typed up my notes to Day 1 in my iPad’s Evernote App, and here they are. Enjoy!

This is a record of my notes, taken during the UFVA 2012 sessions that I attend.

Session 1A (Plenary), 8:30-10:15amImagination is the 21st Century Technology

Peter Sims, Keynote Speaker

Bio and Info taken from UFVA 2012 Program

Peter Sims is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. His latest book is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, from Simon & Schuster: Free Press. Previously he was the coauthor with Bill George of True North, the Wall Street Journal andBusinessWeek best-selling book. He also worked in venture capital with Summit Partners, a leading investment company, including as part of the team that established the firm’s London office.

 Peter’s keynote talk will address…

What do Thomas Edison, Chris Rock, and Jeff Bezos all have in common?

Answer: An understanding that the biggest ideas spring forth from a series of small discoveries, reworked to achieve a great result.

Based on over 200 interviews with successful creators and innovators, Sims demonstrates that the kind of linear problem-solving and fear of failure we were conditioned to embrace actively thwarts creativity. Whether it’s Steve Jobs or architect Frank Gehry or the “braintrust” at Pixar, there is no complete plan or vision at the outset. Rather, through a process of trying and failing in incremental ways, they gain critical information as they go from one small, experimental step to the next – which eventually lead to extraordinary breakthroughs. These so-called “little bets” helped spark the ideas that led to companies like Twitter and blockbuster movies like the Toy Story franchise. We can learn to think and work like those we think of as geniuses – failing fast to learn quickly, trying imperfect ideas, focusing on finding problems rather than solving them, and practicing highly immersed observation – to turn our own little bets into big successes.

My notes:

Peter Sims, while teaching at Stanford, stumbled into Stanford – it wowed him

Contrary to popular belief, there are usually a lack of big ideas at founding of big companies. Those come later …

  • Pixar started as hardware company, then hired John Lasseter as designer (after he was fired from Disney) to make short films to showcase the hardware
  • Then, company was sold to Steve Jobs (The Pixar Touch is a good book)
  • Running company required faith, since it was bleeding money, but …

Little bets (experimental innovation), on unknown, lead to big bets (planning), on known

These are things you can afford to lose in order to lead to big opportunities

  • Discovery = afford to lose
  • Planning = expect to gain
  • Experimenting vs. Planning

Hewlett-Packard’s HP-35 calculator in 1972 is another “little bet”

  • 100 small bets, 6 breakthroughs: 6%
  • Make small bets that lead to innovation, then bet big

Mozart = prodigy, vs. Beethoven = experimental innovator

Jerry Seinfeld – failure vs. affordable risks (see the documentary Comedian)

  • Discovery requires making mistakes, taking affordable risks
  • For the people who want to create, you have to put yourself “out there”
  • Is it failure, when you fail as you’re trying to create?

The Onion headlines – 600 possibilities, 18 headlines: 3%

Frank Gehry (see other documentary- Sketches of Frank Gehry)

  • Not being afraid to say, “that is so stupid-looking, it’s great”
  • He works in a very collaborative environment
  • Playfulness
  • Shoots down illusion of the “auteur”
  • “Failing forward”

Experimental innovation

MUSIC = experiment, play, immerse, define, reorient, iterate

Fail quickly to learn fast – go from “suck to non-suck” (Ed Catmull)


  • PIXAR = “plussing” – best ideas can come from anywhere vs. …
  • HiPPO Phenomenon (Highest Paid Person’s opinion counts most)
  • PIXAR = “black sheep” = this revolution will be improvised

What can you do tomorrow?

Panel 2H, 10:30am-12:15am: Documentary Working Group Panel

Michael Raniger, Moderator

Mark Freeman, San Diego State University


  • Ethics
  • “Truth”
  • Risk

Book recommended: A New History of Documentary Film by Betsy McLane

Film recommended: No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos


Going to school has replaced apprenticeships of yore (not much time)

UFVA journal has very little about teaching (but much abiut history and aesthetics) – shouldn’t there be more in journal that focuses on film/video TEACHING?


  • What must you teach, what must you ask for? [Les Blank’s Gap-Toothed Women]
  • How to get students get out of comfort zone (talking head + b-roll)?
  • Is it helpful to identify student clichés? What should we do about it?
  • How to avoid cliché – make them make film about someone who is at least 10 years older or 10 years yiunger than them (use distance)
  • How do we help students identify dramatic potential in everyday situations? Create dramatic tension
  • How do we get students to film in the “present tense”? Take risks? [Unpredictable outcomes]
  • How do we get students to have empathy for the subject? (develop empathy by having students introduce their classmates)
  • Try to have more people on the crew so that the director can spend time with subject before the shoot begins
  • How do you avoid the “mission/project-driven” schedule?
  • Spend time asking students what they want out of life. That will help them figure out what to ask of subjects. Maybe have them write about the subject … to help them process, reflect before and then after.

Restrictions help with creativity

Early pitching helps with navigating later critical feedback

Investigate the International Documentary Challenge:


  • Recognize drama in real life and catalyze it – don’t shoot it as just a “surveillance camera”
  • How do we teach ethics?
  • Use documentary to teach filmmaking and its rules (blend lines between fiction and documentary)
  • How to ride the line between journalism and profile.
  • Documentaries are constructed just like fiction, as soon as you make the first cut.
  • As far as ethics go, you have the editing process to see it through and decide where you want to go: Vernon, Florida, is good example to use.
  • Difference between empathy and sympathy (Bart Weiss)
  • Maybe have someone else edit your film
  • Think laterally around the subject


  • How should we prepare students to represent others, and to look outside their own age group?
  • Define the audience ahead of time? Know what the primar target audience? Specificity changes direction of film.
  • Eavesdropping exercise? Go out an listen to people in real life situations, and then create situations from these

Aubrie Campbell Canfield, from, was attending session – it looks like a great organizations for educators to work with.


  • Any special techniques for teaching students to give and receive feedback?
  • Are there any internet techniques? Online = google docs-type thing?
  • Maybe have groups give feedback and have the group “secretary” give the feedback.
  • Having a working proposal at the beginning helps give the film a backbone, otherwise the filmmaker can be destroyed.
  • Learn to be a diplomat – be supportive, but know what you want to say.
  • Maybe have the crit session with the filmmaker NOT present.
  • Show a lot of films for common reference. Have students watch films that are stylistically or thematically related to their own projects.
  • Don’t have a private audience …
  • Should we require a public screening of all work? Let them know from the start that there will be a public screening, if that is so (in such screenings, they always realize that film is too long and the sound is terrible)


Panel 3H, 1:30-3:15pm: Best Practices in Film and Academia

Joe Wallenstein, USC, Moderator – Safety and Student Filmmaking

Karen Carpenter, California State University Northridge – A Holistic Approach to Production Safety Training

Linda Brown, USC – Safety Is Safety Is Not an Afterthought: Incorporating Best Practices in Student Productions

Ted Wachs, NYU – Safety Crash Course (For Students with No Production Experience)

KAREN CARPENTER (Safety Pass Program) (Warner Bros.)

SAFFE is also good (

Safety Course + Production Management Course

  • Scheduling
  • Budgeting
  • Location Scout
  • Risk Assessment
  • Day-to-Day


Student Production Handbook

Students attend safety seminar, and then they get a code for semester

General safety rules that apply to all productons, and some that apply to only some

Build semester to semester – what you can’t do at first vs. what you can do later (beginning to intermediate, etc.)


  • NYU’s safety program came about because of a student fatality
  • Safety also for equipment that the school does NOT own, but which we know students rent
  • Start as early as possible
  • Attempting to follow industry safety standards
  • You want to be PROACTIVE vs. REACTIVE
  • When looking at safety issues, consider the simple “small solutions” (closed shoes when standing in water, buddy to spot you on roof, scissors lift shouldn’t be used in winds over 15mph, etc.)
  • These safety issues help the students make better movies (get to do more takes and focus on creativity)
  • It also helps with insurance (what “risk management” needs to know is, are you in command of your shoot?)

SAFETY WORKSHOP: Tell the students, show the students, make them do it, make them teach it to someone else


  • You can’t ask too many questions about students’ shoots, you can only ask too few
  • You want to be “bondable”
  • Documentaries are not a “get out jail free” card
  • Member of the audience who has good safety manuals at his own school: David Price, Victorian College of the Arts
  • FILMSKILLS safety modules – some like them, others think the online aspect is not as good as hands-on workshops.

Screening 4A, 3:30-5:15pm

I went to this screening because I thought the films – all documentaries – would be interesting to me. I also thought that it would be nice to see how the respondents and filmmakers interacted, since I am both screening a film and responding to a film tomorrow.

But sadly, the filmmaker of the first film on the schedule didn’t show up (she was supposed to have a respondent), and the respondent for the second film was a no-show, as well.

So I just watched these two films, below, without respondents …


They weren’t terrible films, though neither was a perfect fit for me.

I thought the story that the director of the first one told about the making of the film was more interesting than the film, itself, which was limited by his insular (family-only) approach to telling the story.

I thought the second film was a very aesthetically unique portrait of the lives of these two women who died lonely. The film has some technical glitches which still need to be addressed, which I mentioned (such as the timing of the paint brushes and the sound design), but it has a lot of special touches which I enjoyed.

Here are the films:

30 Years (12 mins.)

Richard Lile, Columbia College Chicago

Josh’s mother, Venita Loring, remembers what it is like to realize you are the mother of a murderer. Despite the viciousness of her son’s crime, she still sees Josh as a kindhearted, likeable young man who ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’. However, Josh’s incarceration over the past decade has pushed Venita and her family
to the brink. With twenty years remaining on a thirty-year sentence, Venita continues to search for relief and a sense of normalcy in a life that has become anything but normal.

Leftovers (25 mins.)

Michelle Citron, Columbia College Chicago

Norma and Virginia lived together in Chicago for forty-five years. They died one after the other alone in their home, the vibrant lesbian community of their youth long gone. Leftovers explores the unforeseen trajectory of lives lived at the margins through the snapshots that Norma and Virginia left behind.


Netflix Instant Orphans

Howdy from the UFVA Conference in Chicago! I arrived yesterday, spent the night at my friend Savvas’s place, and checked in to the conference today.

I had the great pleasure of eating lunch with Savvas and an old friend, Polly, in Lincoln Square, which allowed me to see a new part of Chicago. After lunch, Savvas and I wandered around and discovered a delightful used bookstore, the Ravenswood. It felt like something out a different time – either that or out of a Harry Potter book. It was filled with delightful nooks into which one could barely fit. I ended up buying this:

It was Hepburn’s first book, and at only $6, was the perfect impulse buy. I can’t wait to read it!

Also in the store was a lovely Greyhound named Arjuna (you can see her photos on the store’s site), and she provided the perfect extra touch of love.

This evening, I walked around the city with my colleague G.T. We had diner at the Billy Goat, which was fun (and weird, given it’s location on lower Michigan, in what feels like a dark hole), although I confess to having no memory of the SNL skit that made it famous.

I am now about ready for bed, and looking forward to a great start of the conference tomorrow.

However … before I do, I wanted to write briefly about a curious phenomenon of our instant streaming, cloud storage age. With films and other media so easy to come by on services like Netflix, with no extra charges or penalties for how much or how little of them we watch, I find that I am much more prone to give up on works that fail to hold my interest after a certain period of time. While I am often glad that I can just move on – perhaps, one day, to return to the abandoned film – I also wonder about what is being lost. Art sometimes demands that we work through our boredom, or work through the  challenge of the piece, to discern the meaning within, and if we just give up because we’re not in the mood for the effort, well, I’m not always sure that that is such a good thing. Of course, much of what I list below is not necessarily “art” …

Here are some of my “Netflix Instant Orphans:”

Henry’s Crime (I watched 55 minutes out of 107) – this movie was just too low-key for it’s own good, although I enjoyed (sort of ) Keanu’s portrayal of a man adrift. But I kept stopping after 5 minutes as my own attention would “drift.” So, for now, I have given up.

Objectified (I watched 47 minutes out of 75) – I wanted this movie to be as engaging as director Hustwit’s Helvetica, and it just wasn’t. It lacks the intensity of focus and purpose of the earlier film. Whereas that movie used a seemingly narrow topic to make insightful comments about design, this movie tried to use the broad topic of design to make insightful comments about … design. It is just too diffuse to work as well.

Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘ (I watched 13 minutes out of 81) – not sure why I stopped. So far, this seemed like a good documentary. Perhaps I am just not that interested in the topic. I like the book and the movie that was adapted from it, but the mystery of Harper Lee seems not to intrigue.

Stander (I watched 32 minutes out  of 112) – also not sure why I stopped. I thought Thomas Jane was terrific, and I enjoyed the Robin Hood aspect of his character. Maybe it’s because he seemed too unfocused in his anger – perhaps I could keep on watching (one day), and see if he and the movie find greater purpose.

District 13: Ultimatum (I watched 22 minutes out of 101) – I loved the first film (this is a sequel), primarily because of the amazing feats of parkour captured on film. That, and the acting by people I had previously never seen was actually quite good, for an action pic. The camera did what it was supposed to, and I felt as I were watching something fresh. But as soon as I started watching this new film, I knew that that freshness was gone. The new director makes the camera, rather than the action stars, do all of the work, and that is a mistake.

30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 22, “Respawn” (I watched 13 minutes out of 21) – nothing much to say except that it was while watching this episode that I finally realized I had had enough of this series. Done. Too silly, too whimsical without any attempts at relevance to the known universe. Gone is the sharp satire of Seasons 1 & 2. Boo-hoo.    😦

Love Crime (“Crime d’amour”) (I watched 10 minutes out of 106) – who cares about these people? I don’t (and yet I love Kristin Scott Thomas, usually).

Point Blank (“A bout portant”) (I watched 12 minutes out of 84) – I like the French actor Gilles Lellouche, but the setup of this film left me bored and annoyed at how stupid everyone seemed. So I stopped watching.

What are the films that YOU, dear reader, have stopped watching in YOUR Netflix instant queue? And have you watched any of the films/shows mentioned above and enjoyed them more than I did? I’d love to know your thoughts.

And now, I’m off to bed. Long day and long week ahead!

Final Cut Schmo – my UFVA panel prezi

I leave on Monday, August 6, for Chicago, to attend the 2012 UFVA (University Film and Video Association) Conference. In addition to the film I am presenting (see my previous post), I am also moderating a panel, entitled Final Cut Schmo: Why “Flexible” and “Adaptable” Are the 2 Most Important Qualities of the 21st-Century Media Education Model. We will be presenting as part of Session 13K, Saturday, 8/11, at 8:30am, in Room 319, Luddington Building, Columbia College of Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash.

My fellow panelists, in order (after me) are:

Brett Levner, University of Nevada Las Vegas – Leaving Final Cut Studio, but When and to What?

G.T. Keplinger, Stevenson University – Is Bad the New Good on YouTube?

Dina Fiasconaro, Stevenson University – Writing and the New Technologies

After introducing the panel’s theme and panelists, I will start us off with this topic: Love the One You’re with: Lessons from Apple on ‘Flexibility’ and ‘Adaptability’.

I just spent all of today preparing this prezi. If you haven’t used prezi before, it’s kind of fun – the learning curve is steep, however …


Smith College Book Sale Documentary Trailer

I finally finished the rough cut of the documentary I have been working on since November, 2011.

Here is a little teaser (the first two minutes of the movie).

Once I get feedback from colleagues and re-cut it, I might start showing the full film to a select few.

The full rough cut is being presented at the 2012 UFVA (University Film and Video Association) Conference in Chicago, Session 11D (Friday, August 10), 1:30pm, Room 502, Luddington Building, Columbia College of Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash.

I couldn’t have made it without my two helpers, Stevenson University Film/Video alumnae Robin Christine Farrell and Michelle Rossignol. Thanks, Robin and Christine! And thanks, also, to the women of the Smith College Club of Baltimore, and especially to their President, Mary Anderson!

Here is some info on the film.


The Smith College Book Sale was started in 1959 by the Smith College Club of Baltimore to raise money for young women in Maryland who could not otherwise afford to attend Smith.  This is the story of the women of the sale who work to help other women succeed.

Detailed Description:

Smith College was founded in 1871 as an academically rigorous single-sex women’s college for young women who would have been qualified to attend the nation’s top universities had those schools admitted anyone but men.  Since then, Smith has continued to be a top school, and has remained committed to its mission to help young women achieve success in life.

The Smith College Book Sale was begun in Baltimore in the late 1950s after the women of the local alumnae association decided to raise money for an endowed scholarship program.  From the time of its inception in 1959 to the present, the annual Smith College Book Sale has raised enough money for a $1,000,000 endowment fund, which allows 2 to 3 Maryland-area women a year to attend Smith.