Page to Screen: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Perks of Being a Wallflower

This past Sunday, I presented the soon-to-be-released film The Spectacular Now – adapted from Tim Tharp’s 2008 book of the same title – at Baltimore’s Cinema Sundays at the Charles. Although I prepared for the screening by watching director James Ponsoldt’s two previous features, and read the book, the distributor did not make a screening copy of the movie available to me beforehand. Frustrated, I decided to watch another recent film about troubled teens, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Before watching that film, however, I felt compelled to read the book that it was based on, Stephen Chbosky’s original 1999 novel. I am so glad that I did. I enjoyed Tim Tharp’s book – and found its cinematic adaptation very interesting – but the best thing that happened to me, by far, in the past two weeks of prepping was my encounter with The Perks of Being a Wallflower book.

Why? I found the main character, Charlie, extremely compelling. He narrates his own story through a series of letters written to an unknown friend. This epistolary device allows us to encounter his voice in a first-person style that feels even more naturally confessional than would a diary. Charlie emerges from these pages as a very bright and sensitive boy struggling to overcome past trauma and become a young adult. For those of us who had  awkward and reflective childhoods and, especially, early teen years, Chbosky speaks to us directly, evoking our own fears, challenges, and triumphs. Not since I read The Catcher in the Rye have I experienced such a sense of identification with the protagonist of a young adult novel. When Charlie tells his new friends, Sam and Patrick, as they drive down the road listening to a song, that he “feels infinite,” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The novel follows Charlie during his first year of high school, which he begins shortly after losing his best friend from middle school to suicide. We quickly infer that Charlie is suffering from depression, that may only partially be due to this event. Still, he has a loving family, with two older siblings and a mother and father who may not entirely know how to speak to him, but who are not completely distant or incompetent, either. We learn that there was a beloved aunt – his mother’s sister – as well, now deceased.

For a few weeks, Charlie has no friends, except for his English teacher, who takes a shine to him and gives him extra reading (including The Catcher in the Rye). But then he meets two Seniors, Samantha and Patrick, who also take a shine to him (he is apparently very appealing to other sensitive and intelligent folk), and the novel really takes off. It’s fun and moving to watch Charlie grow as a person and emerge from his depressive shell.

The film adaptation was a very worthy attempt to bring the story to cinematic life. Interestingly, it was written and directed by the author, Stephen Chbosky, himself. I am actually quite impressed at the significant changes Chbosky made to his story. He is a very self-aware and un-self-indulgent writer, able to step back and consider the issues of what would work best on screen vs. on the page. He simplified a lot of the story and many of the adult characters, and devised creative visual ways to film the narrative. He’s certainly not the first author to adapt his own work, but an author who directs the adaptation of his novel or play is a lot less common, though people like Clive Barker (Hellraiser) and John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) have done it, as well. And it is to his credit that his movie works so well as a movie, while both respecting the source text and leaving much of it behind.

That said, I missed the beauty of Charlie’s voice in the film. We get some of the letters, but much of the awkward sweetness and sensitivity is gone. I understand why. There is a certain passivity to Charlie in the novel – which he outgrows – that would most likely not work as well on-screen. Maybe it’s the casting, too: Logan Lerman is a fine young actor, but not quite believable as a wallflower. The same goes for Emma Watson as Sam. Though very solid, she’s almost too lovely and preppy-looking to work as such a supposed misfit. The most welcome surprise in the film is Ezra Miller, whom I last saw in a film I loathed: We Need to Talk About Kevin. For me, he was clearly not well served by the material or the director in that previous film, because here he shines and sparkles as Patrick, and is the charismatic core of the story.

Perhaps there is no way that such an introspective novel could be adapted into a film and not lose much of the voice of the narrator. At least, not in a popular and commercial format. One of my favorite introspective films is Alain Resnais’s 1959 Hiroshima Mon Amour, but that movie, though brilliant, was not designed to tell a clear three-act narrative, or to reach a mass popular audience. So I’ll take Chbosky’s adaptation for what is, and keep the book nearby when I next want to revisit Charlie and friends.

June 16 Cinema Sundays: “The Spectacular Now”

Spectacular Now book cover

On Sunday, June 16, at 10:30am, I will present the upcoming film The Spectacular Now (adapted from the novel of the same name, by Tim Tharp) at a preview screening at Baltimore’s very own Cinema Sundays at the Charles.

The movie just won the “Special Jury Prize” (Dramatic) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for its two young leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, with this description: “For two young actors who showed rare honesty, naturalism and transparency and whose performances brought up the best in each other.” I, for one, am very much looking forward to seeing the film. While I don’t know Miles Teller, I enjoyed Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

The book is about an alcoholic teen who is forced to confront the worst aspects of his behavior in the course of his Senior Year of high school. A party animal, Sutter Keeley is also actually a pretty nice guy. But nice – and the desire to just keep on living in the “spectacular now” – may not be enough any more . . .

Check out the website of Cinema Sundays for details on tickets.

Hope to see some of you there! Feel free to share this info with any and all, if you think they might be interested in seeing the film!

The Bondian Knot

Bond at 50

On Friday, October 5, 2012, Linda DeLibero, Associate Director of Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins, and I appeared on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show on WYPR, 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station, to discuss 50 years of James Bond films. The first film, Dr. No, premiered on October 5, 1962, in London (though it didn’t open in the States until March 8, 1963). Dan wasn’t able to be on the show, so we had Korva Coleman as our guest host. Here is that full show: Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2012.10.05_Bond Films at 50

It was an excellent conversation, powered by the script that Dan had written, but an hour is just not enough time to spend discussing a 50-year phenomenon. So since I had done a fair amount of research prior to the show, and have been a lifelong lover of Bond, I thought I’d share some of my notes on the “franchise.” 

The Bondian Knot: Unraveling the Threads of Why We Love 007

We all know the iconic phrases – “Bond . . . James Bond,” “Shaken, Not Stirred,” “Oh . . . James” – and many of us may well be sick of them. Some of us may never have liked them to begin with. There are plenty of reasons to find the world of James Bond distasteful or repugnant, for sure.

Starting with the very first book, Casino Royale, published in 1953, there is an atmosphere of, at best, sexism, if not downright misogyny – consigning women to the role of evil temptresses or harmless sex objects – that pervades the series. And starting with Live and Let Die, the second book, published in 1954, Ian Fleming showed, unsurprisingly, that he was a man with the institutionalized racist attitudes of a British colonialist. The black Caribbean characters in that book are grotesques – even when they are the good guys – and most definitely less civilized than the great white hope that is Bond.

But such issues are not the sum total of the world of Bond, or else the books and, later, the films, would hardly have taken such strong hold of the world’s imagination. To read a Bond book or to watch a Bond film is to enter a universe where the fallible hero fights demons internal and external, waltzes (tangoes might be a better verb) with glamor, strikes like thunder . . . ball, kills with finesse when possible but with brutality when needed, is desired and desiring, and indulges in Epicurean tastes that are beyond the palate of most of us. He’s a lucky guy, but he mostly makes his own luck. He’s like a Western gunslinger, only with gadgets.

And he’s managed to evolve enough over the span of his cinematic career to adapt well enough to each new decade in order to survive and earn new fans.

Ian Fleming, born in 1908, published the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1953. By the time he died, in 1964, he had published 10 more Bond novels and one collection of Bond stories. The final novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, would be published posthumously, in 1965, and another short story collection, Octopussy and the Living Daylights, would follow in 1966.

The books were slow to catch on, at first, but Great Britain was a grey place in the 1950s, burdened with post-World War II food rationing and existential depression over the shrinking of its global influence. As Fleming persevered, writing his hero into adventures set in exotic locales, and making him save the world as no contemporary Brit seemed to be doing, his reading public grew, avid for tales of English might and . . . sex.

In the United States, the series really took after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, when the President listed From Russia with Love as one of his top 10 favorite books in an interview. And once the Americans were on board, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would show interest.

Fleming had tried, at various points throughout the 1950s, to have his books adapted into films. These attempts failed, except for a made-for-TV effort in 1954, in which American actor Barry Nelson starred as “Jimmy Bond” and Peter Lorre starred as Le Chiffre. He was right to see a cinematic quality in his work, but the movie producers and studios he approached did not yet see that potential. Filmmakers in England in the 1950s were primarily interested in what were called “kitchen sink” dramas (small-scale, realistic stories about real-life problems). And Hollywood, where the money was, didn’t believe in Bond … yet.

But then two independent producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, each became convinced that the Bond series could work on screen. Together, they formed EON Productions in 1961, secured funding from United Artists, and began casting for what would be the first Bond film, Dr. No (which was actually the 6th Bond novel).

This is not the place to recap all of the in’s and out’s of the Bond movies production history. There are many fine books that discuss this in depth. Here are a few (you can consider these my bibliography for this piece):

Bond Girls Are Forever

For Your Eyes Only: Behind the Scenes of the James Bond Films

The James Bond Bedside Companion

The James Bond Dossier

James Bond in the 21st Century

Licence to Thrill

The Man Who Saved Britain

The Man with the Golden Touch

The Music of James Bond

Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond

The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book

So what are the various elements – the fibers – that make up the Bondian Knot that keeps us tied to this series that has now reached the mature age of 50? Here are my thoughts – I’d love to hear yours.

1.  The charm – at its best, the series has at its center a man who carries himself with the athletic grace of a Gene Kelly, the sophistication of a Fred Astaire, the rugged I-could-kill-you-without-breaking-a-sweat machismo of a Robert Mitchum, and the sex appeal of a Johnny Depp (I had to get at least one living actor in there). Who wouldn’t some of that?

2.  The cool – except when they overdo it, the producers create a wit- and gadget-filled universe that just seems so much fun. I know I would love suits, cars and toys like that!

3.  The sex – the series has misogyny to spare, but it also features beautiful people getting in on, and on a purely visceral level, admit it or not, we enjoy that. Roger Moore kind of messed up that formula, but the series still lived on, regardless.

4.  The action – from the get-go, under Terence Young’s expert direction on the first two films, the series made it a point to stage the best action sequences it could for the budget. From Russia with Love had a bigger budget that Dr. No, so it’s action scenes are better. But even Dr. No entertains with its tense moments. And the films only got better from there. The action became quite stupid in the Roger Moore years, but For Your Eyes Only – the 5th Moore – is highly watchable.

What do you like (or dislike)?

Below is a list of the Bond books and Bond films in publication and year-of-release order:

Books [Ian Fleming (1908-1964)]

1.         Casino Royale – 1953

2.         Live and Let Die – 1954

3.         Moonraker – 1955

4.         Diamonds Are Forever – 1956

5.         From Russia, with Love – 1957

6.         Dr. No – 1958

7.         Goldfinger – 1959

8.         For Your Eyes Only – 1960

a.         “From a View to a Kill”

b.         “For Your Eyes Only”

c.         “Quantum of Solace”

d.         “Risico”

c.         “The Hildebrand Rarity”

9.         Thunderball – 1961

10.      The Spy Who Loved Me – 1962

11.      On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – 1963

12.      You Only Live Twice – 1964

13.      The Man with the Golden Gun – 1965

14.      Octopussy and the Living Daylights – 1966

a.         original publication just had two stories of title

b.         later ed. added “The Property of a Lady” and “007 in New York”

Films [EON Productions = Albert “Cubby” Broccoli (1909-1996) and Harry Saltzman (1915-1994)]

1.         Dr. No – 1962 (Terence Young) – Sean Connery

2.         From Russia with Love– 1963 (Terence Young) – Sean Connery

3.         Goldfinger – 1964 (Guy Hamilton) – Sean Connery

4.         Thunderball – 1965 (Terence Young) – Sean Connery

5.         You Only Live Twice – 1967 (Lewis Gilbert) – Sean Connery

6.         On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – 1969 (Peter Hunt) – George Lazenby

7.         Diamonds Are Forever – 1971 (Guy Hamilton) – Sean Connery

8.         Live and Let Die – 1973 (Guy Hamilton) – Roger Moore

9.         The Man with the Golden Gun – 1974 (Guy Hamilton) – Roger Moore

10.      The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977 (Lewis Gilbert) – Roger Moore

11.      Moonraker – 1979 (Lewis Gilbert) – Roger Moore

12.      For Your Eyes Only – 1981 (John Glen) – Roger Moore

13.      Octopussy – 1983 (John Glen) – Roger Moore

14.      A View to a Kill – 1985 (John Glen) – Roger Moore

15.      The Living Daylights – 1987 (John Glen) – Timothy Dalton

16.      Licence to Kill – 1989 (John Glen) – Timothy Dalton

17.      GoldenEye – 1995 (Martin Campbell) – Pierce Brosnan

18.      Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997 (Roger Spottiswoode) – Pierce Brosnan

19.      The World Is Not Enough – 1999 (Michael Apted) – Pierce Brosnan

20.      Die Another Day      – 2002            (Lee Tamahori) – Pierce Brosnan

21.      Casino Royale – 2006 (Martin Campbell) – Daniel Craig

22.      Quantum of Solace – 2008 (Marc Forster) – Daniel Craig

23.      Skyfall – 2012 (Sam Mendes) – Daniel Craig

UFVA 2012 DAY 3 – CHRIS REED NOTES

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.

AVID

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.

Formats:

  • 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”

BINS

  • 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

PREMIERE

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:

http://vimeo.com/awalkerstudios

http://www.amazon.com/Avid-Agility-Working-Intuitively-Composer/dp/1477654356/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1344615734&sr=8-2&keywords=AVID+Agility

 

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

Savvas:

  • 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

G.T:

  • 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

Savvas:

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!

UFVA 2012 DAY 2 – CHRIS REED NOTES

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 Lynda.com)

EVENT vs. PROJECT

  • 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

Exporting

  • EXPORT ROLES AS SEPARATE MEDIA is nice!!!!!
  • Use ROLES as separate “tracks” on project, or at least groupings

use TAGS as MARKERS for TO DO ITEMS

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


Kalfou by Desha Dauchan – UC Irvine
1st

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!

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!

Cinema without passion: why the film version of “The Hunger Games” bothers me so much

I will admit to being a big fan of young adult science fiction and fantasy writing. I have been since I was … well … a young adult. I always appreciate the tightness and cleanliness of the plots, unmarred by needless digressions into pseudo-philosophical ramblings or extreme descriptions of violence and/or sex. Such distractions are part of what I sometimes dislike in science fiction and fantasy geared towards adults. Don’t get me wrong: I like sex and, to a much lesser degree, some violent mayhem. But even more, I like storytelling, and when the sex and violence feel gratuitous – just there for the titillation – then I tune out. As far as the attempts at philosophy, I say, unless you’re a Tolstoy or a Wharton, let the story do the work for you, and leave any attempt to layer additional meaning to someone with the ability to do so. There is pride to be had in having the talent to craft a good story, and if it’s good, then whatever greater meaning you hope to say with it should emerge without additional efforts. The good writers of adult sci-fi and fantasy, such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Margaret Atwood, tell their stories directly, as well, yet their novels resonate far beyond a simple breakdown of their plots.

Since this is nominally a film blog, I turn to one of the undisputed intellectuals of the field, who also happens to be a (sometimes) great filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard. In an interview with the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma in 1962, Godard had this to say about American filmmakers (the Cahiers critics and French New Wave filmmakers had a special place in their hearts and imaginations for American cinema): “The Americans, who are much more stupid when it comes to analysis, instinctively bring off very complex scripts. They also have a gift for the kind of the simplicity which brings depth …” [Jean-Luc Godard, Godard on Godard, ed./trans. Tom Milne (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), 179]

Godard, though speaking about American filmmakers vs. French filmmakers (and we can forgive him his “Americans are much more stupid” line, right?), describes exactly how I feel about young adult sci-fi vs. adult sci-fi. It is its very simplicity that makes it succeed (when it succeeds). In the right hands, complexity can be good, too, however, as the work of the late great sci-fi author Octavia Butler demonstrates.

I have so far only read the first volume of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, but I enjoyed it very much. The premise, though full of a lot of holes (would America really break down in such a way that technology would be so unevenly distributed?), is a great dystopian vision of a future that feels, in our ever-more partisan and economically distressed age, possible in spirit (if not necessarily in the details that Collins imagines). I was a big fan of Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series, and was a latecomer to these new books, yet am already a fan, and look forward to reading the next two in the series as soon as I finish the book I am reading now (interestingly enough, entitled The Hunger Angel, by Herta Müller).

So it was with great and hopeful anticipation that I decided to see the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, in the middle of the week I spent watching summer movies for my appearance on Midday with Dan Rodricks. The film had been released in March, but was still playing at our local Beltway 6 movie theater, which plays no-longer-first-run movies at reduced prices. I figured that a big-budget high-concept film such as this needed to be seen in a theater. I remembered having read mixed reviews of the movie when it first came out, but I thought, “How bad can it be?” After all, it was directed by Gary Ross (PleasantvilleSeabiscuit), and starred Jennifer Lawrence, a young actress whom I had adored in Winter’s Bone.

Unfortunately, the film not only disappointed me, but it disappointed me in a way that really left me disgusted with the business side of Hollywood. Why give this movie to a man who had no particular aptitude for the genre, rather than, say to Alfonso Cuarón, who, after Y Tu Mamá También, had done such a terrific job with the third Harry Potter film (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)? Or why not even to … <gasp> … a Catherine Hardwicke? True, Twilight and Red Riding Hood had their insipid moments, but Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown showed that she could handle grit and young people in equal measure. Although I am not naïve, and know that production companies often make decisions about expensive projects based on some dull benefit risk analysis equation (such and such a star + such and such a director = big bucks), I can still get steamed when no one seems to be thinking with passion, as well. It is possible to make commercial entertainment that is artistically crafted, as the more interesting blockbusters over the years have shown (Jaws, The ExorcistThe StingRaiders of the Lost ArkThe Godfather, Back to the Future, etc., being just some of my favorite examples of films made in my lifetime). Sadly (for me), The Hunger Games made money – a lot of money (over $405,000,000 domestic as of this writing) – putting it in the top 100 of grossers of all time, as you can see by checking out boxofficemojo.com. Which means that I am wrong about the film and the Hollywood machine is right … right?

Here’s my (simple) take on what’s wrong with the movie. The error lies primarily about the casting and direction of the actors. In both Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, I thought Gary Ross had a fine hand with his actors, so I’m not sure why he is unable to make either Jennifer Lawrence or Josh Hutcherson, the two young stars of this film, behave in ways that convey any sense of urgency or fear of death. They give off the affect of teenagers about to go on a contemporary (to our world) reality show, rather than on a scary futuristic gladiatorial combat-to-the-death contest.

I suspect that Gary Ross was just in it for the money (OK, that “suspect” does make me sound naïve – he was in it for the money). He cast the hot young female star of the day, fresh off an Oscar™-nominated performance in Winter’s Bone, and matched her with an up-and-coming young male actor about her age, fresh off a good performance in the Oscar™-nominated film The Kids Are All Right. Did he then just assume it would all work out?

Here is a poster for the film:

So far, so good. Thanks to some manipulation in Photoshop, the girl looks tough, as if she is hungry and has spent many years hunting to feed herself and her family, just as Katniss Everdeen has done in the book.

Now check out these photos taken by the great Dorothea Lange in the 1930s, from across the American dustbowl:

In the opening shots of The Hunger Games, as we are introduced to District 12, the home of Katniss and Peeta, our two main characters, we see a world that looks very much as if it were inspired by these photos. This is exactly as Suzanne Collins has described it in the book, and beyond just being a faithful rendition of the novel’s universe, it makes plot sense to show District 12 in this way: these people are hungry and desperate.

Then we meet our two main actors:

This is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen.

And this is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark.

Both actors look too well fed and too un-traumatized to be convincing.

As the film progresses, and we start to see Katniss display her running and hunting skills on screen, the miscasting of Ms. Lawrence becomes even more pronounced. As much as I have heretofore admired her acting, I have to point out that she does not appear – based solely on the evidence in this film – to have ever had to run for real. Any aggressive runners out there – and I was one before my left knee started giving me trouble – will have to agree. She runs like a debutante.

And that’s what seems to be the problem. Everyone just assumed that they could throw a lot of money into this project with minimal preparation, and people would pay to watch the movie. And they were right! And so who cares if the producers and director neglected to spend a few months having their two leads slim down à la De Niro and learn to actually fight and run?

If you who might be reading this saw the movie and disagree with me, please explain why …

I just finished watching all of the extras that come with the 4-disc Avatar Blu-Ray collection, and in the making-of documentary one can see how much training the actors – including the leads – went through in order to change how they moved, to fit the story. And this for a film in which most of them would only be seen after being translated for the screen via virtual CGI! I have a lot of issues with Avatar (perhaps to be discussed in a future blog entry), but I was impressed with the commitment of cast, producers and director. Of course, for James Cameron, Avatar was a labor of love, so he poured all of his passion into the project. I may find fault with Avatar‘s script, but the movie has great visual and performance integrity.

For Gary Ross, on the other hand, The Hunger Games seems to have been just a paycheck. If he had any burning passion to tell the story, it is not on display. With great inconsistency and absolutely no flair, he  made a movie with zero visual and performance integrity. Why does it matter? Because we should demand commitment and passion of the makers of even the lowest brow entertainment, lest we find ourselves no longer able to appreciate quality, since we never see it.

It’s time for my own personal blog – chrisreedfilm.com

Just recently, I spent a little over a week blogging about my experience watching 14 movies in 7 days. I used my Stevenson University blog to post my reviews, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I thought, at the of the process, that it would make sense to separate my Stevenson life from my outside life. Plus, that other blog should, ideally, be devoted to the work of my students, and not to me or my work.

Enter chrisreedfilm.com. I was lucky enough that this domain name was open. When I created my Twitter account, I had chosen @chrisreedfilm as my handle, and had then subsequently chosen “chrisreedfilm” as my Vimeo account name, as well. I already own the domain name christopherllewellynreed.com, which you’ll notice I have now pointed to that same Vimeo account, but chrisreedfilm.com is much simpler (even if there are many other people with the name “Chris Reed” out there, but only one “Christopher Llewellyn Reed”). And thanks to Google Apps, I now also own the email address chris@chrisreedfilm.com.

Of course, if any of you reading this have also read a lot of Milan Kundera (one of my favorite authors), you’ll know that there can be a dark side to this idea that we all have something to say, ergo we should all write it down for others to read. Here is a quote from Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (the first book of his I ever read, and which I read in Russia, believe it or not, in 1988, when it was still the Soviet Union):

“The irresistible proliferation of graphomania shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: we are all writers! for everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words. one morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.”

It’s amazing to think that he wrote that in 1978, no? If you copy and paste that text, you’ll see that the quote is by now widely known (and over-used), but I like to keep it in mind as a warning …

So here I am, on my new blog. I think it would be most appropriate to provide a decent segue from the last few weeks of movie reviews, so here is a pdf of the text and links from those posts.

If you don’t feel like reading all of my rambling thoughts on recent movies, you could, perhaps, listen to an excerpt from the first of my two appearances on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show on WYPR, 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station: Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2012.07.20_Batman Massacre

I was only on for 10 minutes that day, because we didn’t do the scheduled show – the massacre in Colorado that morning was of more pressing concern than summer movies.

But on Thursday, July 26, I went back on, and we had a great time reviewing movies, as we were supposed to the first time: Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2012.07.26_Summer Movies

Thanks to all who take the time read this and other posts in the future. I am grateful.