May 15 – Midday Cinemorphosis: Tentpoles, Tadpoles, Studios and Streams

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Rodricks May 15 2015 Poster

Join host Dan Rodricks and me, Midday film critic Christopher Llewellyn Reed – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – on Friday, May 15 – the day another franchise releases a new film, Mad Max: Fury Road – at 1pm, as we discuss the changing nature of moving-image entertainment. Which films do you like to watch in theaters? Do you even still go out to the movies? What television/cable/streaming series do you like to watch, and why? Tune in to hear what we have to say, and add your own voice to the conversation by listening live and emailing your comments and questions to, or by calling in at 410-662-8780 (locally), or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309. If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the show on-line. If all else fails, you can always download the podcast afterwards, either via iTunes or the Midday page.

UFVA 2013 Highlights

Yours truly and his pal Savvas Paritsis (now of DePaul University), on the final day of the conference.

Yours truly and his pal Savvas Paritsis (now of DePaul University), on the final day of the conference. Photo taken from a cell phone – excuse the quality . . .

I have just come back from my third UFVA (University Film and Video Association) conference. This year, it was at Chapman University, in Orange, CA. If you would like to see my notes from the past two conferences, here are some useful links:

From 2011:

From 2012:

For 2013, instead of writing up the conference by theme or by day, I’m just going to describe some of the highlights – the workshops/panels, etc., that I found particularly informative – and list some of the web links and presentations that the speakers provided.

Before I do so, however, I just want to express how much I have enjoyed the last three conferences. It has been a great joy to meet and speak with my peers in the field of teaching film and video production and studies. Attending UFVA every year exposes me to new ideas and opens my intellectual, artistic and technical horizons. I am profoundly grateful that I made the decision to sign up in 2011.

I arrived early in California, on Saturday, July 27, and headed out to 29 Palms, 2 1/2 hours east of Los Angeles, to hike in Joshua Tree National Park for a few days. Here are my photos of that trip, and of my return to Los Angeles, where I spent one night in Santa Monica with my old film school friend Savvas Paritsis (pictured above, with me, on the final day of the conference). The first photo in the collection is of me and a college buddy of mine, Jason Patent. Upon landing in the Orange County airport, I posted my status on Facebook. Amazingly, Jason, who lives in China, and whom I had not seen in years, had also just landed (his wife’s family lives in the area). He saw my posting, replied, but I had already put my phone away. Not to be deterred, he guessed, correctly, that I might be renting a car, and tracked me down at the Budget desk. His wife Colette showed up, and we ended up having a wonderful conversation for over a half hour. I knew then that this was going to be a good trip.

So what were the highlights of the conference, for me? You can take a look at the full program and see what you might have liked, but here is what I found most interesting, from what I saw, in order by day . . .

Screening 2C, 10:30am-12:15pm: 

The University SitComSeasons 1 & 2 (F, 90 min., NR)
“The University”, a SitCom produced in the Film/Video Department at Stevenson University, was created in 2011 to bring traffic to the university’s website. Produced by faculty and students working together, it follows the misadventures of bumbling videographer Hank Howard as he makes a promotional video for the school.
While my screening – like so many – was sparsely attended – it was nevertheless a great pleasure to showcase the great work my students have done over the last two years working on this extra-curricular project. You can watch the series on Vimeo.

Panel 4E, 3:30-5:15pm: 
Best Practices In Documentary Storytelling – Teaching Beyond Talking Heads and B-Roll
The panel will explore successful techniques and exercises for teaching documentary storytelling at both the undergraduate and graduate level in an effort to elevate students nonfiction films to a place of engaging narrative.
Yes – this was a panel on which I served, but I’m listing it because I was so very fortunate to hear my illustrious fellow presenters. What follows are my notes:

1. I went first, and I offer you a pdf of my PowerPoint presentation.
2. John Schmit
Talked about the utility of of Michael Rabiger‘s “Scenic Intentions”
John likes to plan in-class activities for students to film, which teaches them how about coverage.
  • Tent Setup
  • Table Games
  • Climbing Wall
3. Aubrie Canfield
With her students on study-abroad trips, these are the steps she uses in the filmmaking process:
  • Step 1 – Define World
  • Step 2 – Story Summary
  • Step 3 – Outline Structure (five-parts, thinking in scenes: character, conflict, stakes, arc, resolution) – Campbell’s Hero’s Journey
  • Step 4 – Shoot Scenes
  • Step 5 – Paper Edit – recreate outline from footage actually shot
They bring narrative story techniques to doc filmmaking
4. Melinda Lewin
There are no longer just linear distribution outlets (multi-platform distribution)
Identify “the engager” in story
Presented trailers for 2 films made by her students: Unhappy Country and The Revisionaries
5. Jan Krawik
Shooting ratio is a problem, more so now in digital world than on 16mm – too much footage
Always ask, “Why does this want to be a film?”
She doesn’t like word “b-roll.” How about “Foundation footage” or “visual evidence” (Melinda Lewin)

WORKSHOP 5L, 8:30-10:15am:
Futureproofing for Filebased Workflow
File-based workflow is here and 4K is right around the corner. This workshop will help you prepare for and use file based workflows including 4K editing, monitoring and playback”
Jeff Way, AJA Video Systems / Sebastian DiStefano, Adobe
This was a really useful technical workshop where I learned a terrific amount about the file-based workflow systems offered by AJA and supported by Adobe. All photos were taken on my iPad in a dark room, and so are not all that great.
1. Jeff Way
Use Ki Pro Rack as a VTR in a broadcast set-up. Hook up to a broadcast switcher.
Stand-alone device, but can also hook up to a computer or monitor.
Migrating away from PCI Express slots to Thunderbolt
Already, USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 2.0 are on their way.
New Apple Mac Pro will be a Thunderbolt device, with no slots (PCI)
AJA IO XT is Thunderbolt device
AJA T-Tap – thunderbolt in, HDMI/SDI out
“Debayering” – get RGB data from RAW image
4K monitor out of China, for $999, due this Fall – amazing possibility!
4K is supported (Apple Pro Res 4:4:4) by AJA devices
H265 compression is on its way – to be used for 4K Netflix streaming
With 4K, you can get “2 shots for the price of one” (shoot wide and then reframe): end of cinematography as we know it?
Ki Pro familyKi ProKi Pro MiniKi Pro Quad (dual SSD drive bays), Ki Pro Rack
You can record, simultaneously, an HD file to camera’s internal CF/SD cards, and a 4K file to Ki Pro – nice!
Kona cards = MAC on a PC
2. Sebastian DiDtefano
Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) = 2 new codecs over CS6
In box with Premiere are Apple and Avid codecs
In SpeedGrade, ProRes 4K can be slow, but in Premiere, you can reduce viewing resolution to play back in real time.
In SpeedGrade for CC, you can make color-grading “look files”
LUT = Look-Up Table for color definition of a color space: complete color gamut of space you’re working in.
Issues for students shooting in 4K: hard drive speed and storage
Putting 4K footage into 1080 timeline – you get all that extra frame, and it plays like 1080
CC has audio syncing built in (PluralEyes like capabilities)

PANEL 7E, 1:30-3:15pm:
Anatomy of a Film
Story is told through many prisms in a collaborative endeavor like the production of a feature film. Presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,
three members of a production and post-production team (participants to be announced, pending their availability) will discuss how they interact with each other to create a complete and successful story. 
Randy and Norman brought in filmmaker Destin Cretton, along with his producer Asher Goldstein and his composer Joel P. West, to talk about their latest film, Short Term 12 (opens 8/23/13).
AMPAS has lots of resources for students and educators, including the Nicholl Fellowship, which Destin Cretton received in 2010.
Destin Cretton first made short film about the experience of working at center for at-risk teens, also called Short Term 12.
He made 8 shorts, of which the last was Short Term 12, which won a jury prize at Sundance.
Producer Asher Goldstein’s script notes to Destin didn’t try to solve problems, but were vague enough to point out issues and inspire, instead.
     • You should never give a note based on what you would do, says Asher.
Destin was having trouble finding investors, even with Sundance win for short and the Nicholl Fellowship, so he made I Am Not a Hipster first, to prove he could do a feature.
These guys were smart and funny, and the clips and trailer from their new film look amazing. Looking forward to it. It was inspiring to hear them talk and tell their stories.

PANEL 9E, 8:30-10:15am:
Interactive Storytelling in the Transmedia Landscape
As interactive digital stories gain more prominence with mainstream audiences, do we, as media makers, need to alter our narrative strategies to accommodate this growing form? In this panel we will explore the effectiveness of audience engagement in online interactive narrative, followed by a robust discussion with attendees.
This was a really well-conceived panel with thoughtful presentations that each gave a different perspective on transmedia storytelling. Since everyone of the presenters uploaded their PowerPoint presentations to the UFVA website, I have linked to them, below, rather than providing my own notes.
1. Jennifer ProctorThe Problems of Interactive Narrative
Twitter handle = @proctor

Jen’s presentation was far-ranging, far-reaching, and fascinating. Here is a pdf of her PowerPoint.

2. Kari BarberOklahoma’s All-Black Towns

Kari used her own recent experiences creating interactive online materials as research for her new documentary as a template for her thoughts on the subject. Here is a pdf of her PowerPoint.

3. Jane McKeever: Interactive Storytelling for Theme Parks and Gaming

Taking the panel in a new direction, Jane gave us a fascinating look at how interactive storytelling works in theme parks and gaming. Here is a pdf of her PowerPoint.

4. Kemp LyonsThe Princess Is in Another Castle: What Can Conventional/Online Interactive Storytelling Learn from Successes in Gaming?
Finally, Kemp ended the panel by continuing the discussion of gaming and its influences on narrative. Here is a pdf of his PowerPoint.

WORKSHOP 13K, 8:30-10:15am:
Interactive Tools for Teaching Production and Film Studies
This workshop will introduce attendees to interactive, online tools to enhance teaching both media production and media studies courses. Tools covered include Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker (video mixing, annotation, and interactivity), Voicethread (video commenting and annotation), and Zeega (interactive authoring).
Again, Jen Proctor came through with a brilliant summary of a fascinating topic. I had actually gone to another panel first – one that didn’t work for me – and I am so happy that I got up and left (sorry, panel presenters!), as Jen’s presentation of the materials, below, will be extremely useful to my teaching this fall.
Here are the four main web links that formed the basis of the workshop:
Voicethread allows comments on video.
Jen uses clips from YouTube, but you can upload your own content directly
It also allows public AND private comments
One can use for ripping clips from YouTube and Vimeo.
Voicethread costs $99/yr/instructor or $999/yr/dept.
Mozzilla Popcorn Maker – launched in London in 2012 at the Mozilla Festival.
Hands-on annotation of video clips
Allows one to have pop-up windows at specific spots. Jen’s students thought that this made for a good pre-writing exercise.
100% cloud-based
Media/events columns contain tools for annotation
You could make audio commentary in SoundCloud and then upload it to Popcorn Maker – you can then lower volume of original clip.
You can add maps and logos to the video – work in layers, as in any video editing tool.
Assignment – have students prepare a Popcorn video as a pre-production document.
Popcorn has no privacy settings.
Zeega – less useful than it used to be (they made it more mobile friendly)
You can add animated gifs. You can create animated gifs in Photoshop. You can also find online resources – there is even a gif tool in Zeega.
You control pacing of presentation.
You grab your audio and video from other sources (I believe you create text within the program, however).

PANEL 16E, 3:30-5:15pm:
Creating and Teaching the Web Series
In this panel, we will discuss the benefits of having a web series project in the curriculum, particularly the web series as a good vehicle for teaching students how to create in the short form and how to embrace a larger, serialized structure. 
I came late to this panel, as I had, once again, started out in a different panel that did not work for me. My notes, therefore, are brief. As a faculty member who oversaw his own students’ production of a SitCom series (see the beginning of this blog post), I was particularly interested to see how other people do it.
Cal State L.A. is a grad program with many already-working professionals from the local Los Angeles area. They produced the SitCom as part of a structured course.
The SitCom they presented is Weather or Not (
School signed contracts with students and the students retained the rights.
Alan Bloom suggests I try reading Directing and Producing for Television: A Format Approach, by Ivan Curry (Focal Press), for my own SitCom productions.
Wish I had seen more of the presentation, but what I saw was worth seeing. The conversation that followed the panel was highly participatory.
Thanks to all who gave of their time, brilliance and energies to make this year’s UFVA conference a success.

Midday on Blazing Blockbusters: June 28, 1-2pm

[NOTE: Missed the show? Check out the podcast!]

Blazing Blockbusters

On Friday, June 28, I, Christopher Llewellyn Reed – Chair of Film/Video at Stevenson University – will do my second show of the month on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station, during the second hour, 1-2pm. The topic? The summer 2013 films (the ones I will have seen up to that point), as well as the life and work of Mel Brooks, who turns 87 that day. Sadly, we will be without my colleague, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – as she will be away. Fear not, however, as she will be back later this summer, while I am away, so all of you will have the benefit of her unadulterated wisdom before too long.

Have you seen any of the big blockbuster films of the current season yet? Have you seen any of the smaller ones? Do you have a favorite Mel Brooks film? Tune in and hear Dan and I discuss Mel and company, including Man of SteelWorld War ZMonsters University and The Heat.  If you can’t listen live, or locally, on the day of, you can live-stream the podcast here:

And you can always download the podcast afterwards, either via iTunes or the Midday page:

Enjoy the show!

Midday on Film Noir: June 7, 1-2pm

[NOTE: Missed the show? Check out the podcast!]

Film Noir Blog Pic

On Friday, June 7, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and I, Christopher Llewellyn Reed – Chair of Film/Video at Stevenson University – will do our monthly appearance on “Midday with Dan Rodricks” on WYPR 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station, during the second hour, 1-2pm, to discuss film noir with Mark Osteen – Chair of the English Department at Loyola University Maryland – author of Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream.

Have you always wondered what film noir is, and where the term came from? Tune in, and learn the answer. Do you have a favorite film noir? Send me a note ahead of time, and I’ll let you know if it’s on our list to discuss. If you can’t listen live, or locally, on the day of, you can live-stream the podcast here:

And you can always download the podcast afterwards, either via iTunes or the Midday page:

Enjoy the show!

Two Seasons of “The University,” Stevenson’s Webcast SitCom

The University

For the past two years, students in the Department of Film/Video at Stevenson University have written, produced, shot and edited a situational comedy for broadcast on Stevenson’s internal “portal” website. Loosely modeled on the U.S. version of “The Office,” “The University” follows the marvelous misadventures of one Hank Howard, videographer extraordinaire (in his own mind, anyway), played by yours truly.

Now, after two seasons, I share with you all 16 episodes (7 from Season 1, and 9 from Season 2). I am very proud of the work the students have done. It’s not easy writing an ongoing web series on top of one’s regular school work, and managing to keep the plot lines flowing consistently and continuously from episode to episode.

You can watch the series on Vimeo or YouTube. Take your pick. Enjoy! And thank you for watching.

NAB Recap: The Future Never Stops

NAB Graphic

Do you know what the NAB is? It’s the National Association of Broadcasters, which, according to its website: “is the voice for the nation’s radio and television broadcasters. As the premier trade association for broadcasters, NAB advances the interests of our members in federal government, industry and public affairs; improves the quality and profitability of broadcasting; encourages content and technology innovation; and spotlights the important and unique ways stations serve their communities.”

Every year, NAB holds a convention “show” out in Las Vegas, where technicians, engineers and vendors from all of the major (and minor) companies that sell any kind of film and television gear can demo their new products. It’s huge, taking up all three halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

I went there this year, for the first time, to see what it was like. It ran from April 8-11, 2013, with two days of conferences beforehand. I had signed up to attend the Technology Summit on Cinema. Sadly, I came down with something on the trip out to Vegas, and spent the first day of the conference sick in bed, in the lovely Trump Hotel Las Vegas. It’s always great to lie moaning in a hotel room in a city far from home. You should try it, if you haven’t already.

The next day, though still not at 100%, I decided to start forcing myself to see what was what, and so I made it to the second day of the conference. Here are my thoughts.

The main gist of both the Technology Summit and the products being hawked at NAB was this: you cannot rest – newer and higher resolutions of digital cinema, as well as higher frame rates, are barreling down on us, and we must adapt. 4K and 8K are the near future. We all need to start buying cameras, TVs and projectors that can showcase these amazing new technologies, or we will be luddites.

I exaggerate, perhaps.

To explain about 4k (and 2K and 8K) . . . The current standard for your high definition TV is either 1280×720 or 1920×1080, with 1920 representing the horizontal lines of pixels, and 1080 representing the vertical lines. That is “1K.” A very popular digital cinema camera, the Arri Alexa, typically shoots at 2K (or 2048×1152). Another very popular digital cinema camera, the RED, shoots at 4K (or 4096×2304). Actually, there are now RED cameras that shoot at 5K. And just down the pike is something called UHD, or Ultra High Definition, which will be in 8K. The question is, can you tell the difference? I guess you could if we were looking at images on giant screens, but since many of us watch films and videos on computers and mobile devices . . .

A director like David Fincher loves shooting in 4K, since no one really screens in that format. Which means he generally has at least 2 times more resolution in each shot than he needs. He can punch in and create close-ups out of wide masters. He can correct a shaky camera move since the edges of his frame are not necessary. It gives him freedom to keep reframing long after the movie is shot. I bet it drives his cinematographers crazy! If you’re curious about how he works, buy the blu-ray disc of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and watch the special features. They’re fascinating, and will help explain some of what I just wrote.

Remember 3D? Ha! I know, it’s still here, although it hasn’t been doing all that well lately. Well, it turns out that 3D might just work better in higher resolutions. Or . . . in higher frame rates. That’s right. We have clever engineers working on more than just higher resolutions. If you saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last December, then you might just already know what to expect from these higher frame rates. Since the dawn of synchronized sound- on-film, in 1927, motion picture cameras and projectors have shot and played back movies at 24 frames per second (fps). It’s what we’re used to do. When the television standard was created in this country, the original frame rate adopted was 30fps (which has to do with our electrical currents running at 60hz). When color television was created, they had to adjust the frame rate to 29.97fps. You can read about all of that here. Regardless of whether it was 30fps or 29.97fps, those extra 6fps were enough to create a slightly different (smoother) look to the new medium that we have since associated with video. We know what film looks like, and we know what video looks like.

Or so we thought. Over the past 15 years or so, more and more video cameras have added 24fps shooting options, to allow video to look more film-like.

But now, filmmakers like Peter Jackson and James Cameron are pushing higher frame rates, telling us that the 24fps standard was arbitrary, and that with more frames per second, we will see more detail in the image, and thereby enjoy higher resolution. If one wanted, one could view their proselytizing with a cynical eye, since they are both making 3D movies, and 3D, apparently – as I noted above – looks better at higher frame rates.

During the Technology Summit on Cinema, James Cameron appeared in a pre-taped video presentation, during which he presented examples of scenes shot in 24fps, 48fps, and 60fps. He made his own opinion very clear that there was no comparison between the lower and higher frame rates: higher = better. And yet, to this viewer – weaned on 24fps – higher looked too smooth, and the stuttering (in 24fps) that Cameron kept on telling made the lower frame rate images unwatchable was perfectly normal to me. I didn’t like the HFR images, in fact (nor did many of the critics who watched The Hobbit). I expect, however, that if Cameron and Jackson – and the companies that support them – have their way, a new generation of film viewers will be weaned on HFR, and will then find 24fps strange.

I’m OK with that – with changing technologies, tastes inevitably change. When I go back and watch the 1980s TV shows that I enjoyed in my youth, I am appalled at how bad they seem to me now. But what I’m not OK with is the ceaseless promotion of new technologies every few years. Or rather, even that I’m OK with, since companies need to make money, and the market is currently saturated with HDTVs. But please don’t promote new technologies, like 4K and 8K, 48fps and 60fps, or 3D, as if we all must use/have them, and as if everything that has come before them was terrible (which was the gist of Cameron’s message at NAB), when what you really want to do is sell more cars, I mean, cameras. Show me your new toys, let me enjoy them, but don’t try to destroy the memory of my old toys in the process. The cinema that many of us love and cherish was created using technology that lasted for over 100 years. Perhaps we can celebrate the new without denigrating the old.

The future may never stop, but the past will always be with us.

Here some of my notes from the actual Technology Summit:

Saturday, April 6, 2013:

Was very sick with nasty fever. Stayed in hotel room, in bed, all day. 😦

Sunday, April 7, 2013: see my photos in support of these notes

Technology Summit on Cinema, Day 2

SMPTE is sponsor

They have June 18-19 conference at Stanford:

Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age

1.  A Tidal Wave of Pixels: New Workflows for Digital Production

New Capabilities:

  • 3D
  • 4K
  • HFR
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range)
  • Wider Color Gamuts – UHDTV
  • 8K

A data-driven world

Motto in this brave new world is “do or die”

Workflow is the new term of the last 20 years:

  • To and from
  • Place to place
  • System to system

Designing workflow – managing data – must have at least 3 copies

2.  James Cameron on HFR – 24, 48, 60 – plus, show HFR screened at 24

  • I ask – do we want this clarity?
  • I can’t tell the difference between 48 and 60
  • High res is driving HFR, because without it you can’t see advantage of HFR
  • 3D, also, along with High Res, drives the HFR revolution, because it requires smooth edges of the frame.

3.  Advanced Image Capture

UHDTV – way over my head . . .

4.  Jon Landau (producer for James Cameron) interviewed by David Cohen of Variety

Video of the conversation here.

“New Digital Storytelling” (focus on HFR)

  • Filmmakers have to ask why they are using new technologies
  • Nobody watches movies/TV for the technology, but for the content
  • Problems in business model for SFX houses (his answer was lame)
  • One sees more provocative TV than films, these days, as far as content, style & technology are concerned
  • [I am getting tired of the triumphalism of HFR/3D – I think he’s wrong about the theatres in new countries.]
  • Last 3 Oscar winners for Best Cinematography were all 3D films
  • If you want a movie in 3D, shoot it in 3D. [apparently, he’s not a fan of conversion of 2D to 3D.]
  • They edited Avatar in 2D – Jon Landau doesn’t think 3D requires any new film grammar.
  • Stereoscopy = seeing in 3D
  • There are autostereoscopic screens, where you won’t need glasses, being developed.

5. HFR – “What’s the big deal?”

“Neuroscience and HFR” – Christopher Peck, McGill

  • reactions to Hobbit = a) looks weird and b) looks too fast
  • His research shows that 30-60 fps is a powerful stimulus, but one is not necessarily responding to the additional frames
  • But higher frame rates allow us to see faster motion more clearly

Stuart Hameroff, U. of Arizona – “What Is the Frame Rate of Consciousness?”

  • What is “consciousness?”
  • [I don’t want to be someone railing against new technologies just because I don’t understand or like them yet.]

Howard Lukk, Walt Disney

  • If we can do it, should we?
  • Just another tool in the toolbox
  • High Resolution demands high frame rate (Cameron said the same thing) – a direct correlation
  • As we increase dynamic range and resolution, we will have to incerase frame rates

Bert Dunk, DP

  • I like some of the extra detail, but don’t like the way image moves
  • With a higher shutter angle, the greater motion blur that he introduced makes it look more appealing
  • Seeing stereoscopically is affected by age
  • [My main issue with the push to HFR/3D is that it seems driven by engineers, not artists/designers]
  • [For every Life of Pi, there are 10 Oz films]

6. HFR, part 2

Wendy Aylsworth of Warner Brothers on The Hobbit

  • In April 2011, Peter Jackson announced at NAB his intention to shoot The Hobbit  in HFR
  • [Now – not only do theatres have to upgrade to digital projectors, but to ones that can also do HFR – is The Charles doing this?]

Odeon UCI guy – The Hobbit in Europe

  • He admits that the HFR push is to monetize 3D (refresh it)

Oscars 2013 Recap

Oscars Statuette

So another Academy Awards ceremony has come and gone. I’ll leave most of the commentary about Seth MacFarlane’s hosting job to others, though allow me to point you to this well-written critical piece, this mixed-bag of a review, this positive one, and this analysis of the ratings for the night. I will say this about MacFarlane, which is that if you invite someone responsible for Family Guy and Ted to host the ceremony, you should be surprised by none of what happened. To protest otherwise is the height of hypocrisy (protest the jokes, by all means, but don’t act surprised that he did them).

As a side note, I was in a room full of women during the “boobs” song, and most were laughing, which proves nothing other than that there is never one monolithic reaction to, well, anything. My favorite bit of the night? Sock-puppet Flight. My least favorite moment? MacFarlane making fun of how Oscar recipients (for Make-Up in Les Misérables) Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell looked (well, OK, the Don Cheadle/Lincoln joke and the Jews-in-Hollywood joke also bothered me, and yes, the boobs song was very problematic, if also outrageously funny).

But let’s talk about the awards, which is what the night was supposed to be about. First, here is the Midday with Dan Rodricks show podcast, from Friday, February 22 – Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2013.02.22_Academy Awards* – so you can hear my thoughts, and those of Linda DeLibero, before we knew the results of the big night. Below is a list of my Oscar predictions, with the ones I got right highlighted in green, and the ones I got wrong highlighted in red. Please note that there were two winners (a tie) for Sound Editing. For a list of the winners online, visit imdb, among other sites.

Reed 2013 Oscar Ballot

Which awards surprised you? I loved Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, but was surprised that he won, as the odds seemed to be in De Niro’s favor (or Jones’s). I was also surprised by the Ang Lee win (though not unhappy). I really wish that Emmanuelle Riva had won (and it was even her birthday that night), but thought Jennifer Lawrence was pretty good in Silver Linings Playbook.

However, all of that said, although my ballot reflects the films I thought would win, the films and people that I wished had won, in certain categories, if different than the actual winners, are here:

BEST PICTURE: Django Unchained

BEST DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke

BEST ACTRESS: Emmanuelle Riva

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Helen Hunt (who showed a lot more than just boobs, but for good narrative reason!)




BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Beasts of the Southern Wild



An interesting night, for sure, and a good year for movies, in which many of the Oscar-nominated films actually had good box office receipts.

* I have to issue 2 corrections to things I said on air:

  1. All members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are eligible to vote in all categories of the Academy Awards: It is only the NOMINEES for the individual categories that are determined by the members of the respective branches (editors, cinematographers, actors, etc.). While discussing the nominees for Best Cinematography, I expressed disbelief that Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi”) could be the front-runner over Roger Deakins (“Skyfall”), since most of the work we see on screen in “Life of Pi” is the work of the Visual Effects Supervisor and his team. How, then, could other cinematographers not recognize that fact? Well, now I know why Miranda won: there are a lot more non-cinematographers voting for the award who don’t understand the distinction and are just reacting to the pretty images.
  2. Dan asked Linda and me if Harvey Weinstein had something to do with the success of “Silver Linings Playbook,” and we replied that we didn’t think so. We were wrong. The film – which continues to do well at the box office – was produced by the Weinstein Company (though Bob and Harvey only show up as “Executive Producers,” which is why I didn’t see them listed as the Producers).

Extraction Mode: How “Inception” on Blu-Ray Delivers Its Kick

I am finally (but slowly) beginning to buy Blu-ray discs. As someone who spent over 10 years amassing a decent DVD collection, I have been loath to throw money down for a new set of discs. As the price of Blu-rays has dropped, however, and as more films have come out in the new format, I have started to pay attention to what these larger capacity discs have to offer.

Whereas a regular single-layer DVD holds 4.7gb worth of information, and a dual-layer DVD twice that much, a single-layer Blu-ray disc holds 25gb, and a dual-layer Blu-ray twice that much. If you’re confused about what that means, you can look at the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section of

One thing I have most definitely  appreciated about Blu-ray players, from the beginning – which is why I bought one – is that they can play both DVDs and Blu-rays. This was a smart move on the part of manufacturers, as it allows both formats to exist side by side, as opposed to VHS tapes (remember those?) and DVDs, thereby limiting consumer backlash from people fed up from being forced to upgrade. Keep the movies you have – on DVD – but buy your new movies on Blu-ray. This goes some way to addressing the objection I raised in my first paragraph.

I will admit that I am not a resolution nut. While I appreciate nice looking images as much as the next person, I do not require the films I screen at home to be as crisp and clear as they can possibly be. I have a 1080p 42-inch TV and a Blu-ray player that up-converts standard-definition DVD discs to a respectable approximation of high definition, and I am perfectly happy with that. I do like high quality transfers of films to video, however, and thanks to the Criterion Collection – among others – there are many such transfers out in the world (on DVD and Blu-ray, both). But if the transfer is good, I don’t care if it’s on DVD or Blu-ray (for now – my eyes may get used to the higher resolution over time, just like they no longer like looking at 1980s-era TV shows shot on video). I’m even happy watching films streamed through Netflix, which play at 720p on my Roku box.

Where Blu-ray discs have started to pique my interest, though, are in the possibilities they offer for even more extras than we can currently find on DVDs. Now that is worth spending more money for. If you’re a cinephile, that is . . .

And if you are, then will help you  discover which discs come with the best special features (and the best transfers). I’m actually amazed at how much great info is available on that site (including detailed price variation graphs for individual titles). The reviews of the films are incredibly detailed! I mean, who has time to spend writing reviews of movies if it’s not your real job? Um, yeah, like, who does that . . .

Which brings me to . . . 

Inception Blu-Ray

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) – the Blu-Ray Release

I watched this film in a theater when it first came out, and liked it but didn’t love it. I found the dream-within-a-dream story quite compelling, but thought the movie was almost too clever by half. I was, however, intrigued by the special effects, and was curious to know how they were done. Not so curious as to make any effort to find out much about them, though.

Then, this past fall, I watched the documentary Side by Side, in which Christopher Nolan and his long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister discussed their preference for film over digital, and how they preferred to do as many of their effects in camera, rather than in post-production, and I began to think back to Inception. When I recently saw the Blu-ray for sale on Amazon for under $10, I figured, why not get it? That’s a good impulse-buy price for a disc with loads of extra features on it.

Of those special goodies, the one that has most sold me on not only this particular disc, but also on the potential awesomeness of the Blu-ray experience is “Extraction Mode:” a movie that plays within the feature (a dream within a dream?). With the juxtaposition of documentary and feature, we are offered glimpses into the construction of scenes right after (or before) we see them. Every time a scene with a lot of visual or special effects is about to start, the feature pauses and rolls over to the documentary, which explains the how-to of what you will soon see. Then the feature begins again, where it left off. [For a great explanation of what visual effects are vs. what special effects are, click here.]

The original movie, itself, is 148 minutes long. In “Extraction Mode,” it’s 190 minutes. If you’re not in the mood to devote that much time to Inception, you can just jump to the scenes about which you have questions. But for those of you willing to spend the 3+ hours, this is a terrific way to re-connect with the film. I wouldn’t want to watch it this way on a first viewing, but “Extraction Mode” definitely enriched my return adventure to the world of Nolan’s vivid imagination. For all I know, this might have happened to me anyway on a second viewing, even without this feature, but I have now begun to change my opinion of the film from, “Hey, that was pretty cool, but so what?,” to thinking it’s one of the most complex and well-constructed science fiction films of the past 20 years. Or maybe that idea was just implanted in my mind while I watched the film within a film, and I’m still within that film, as in a half-remembered dream . . .

Here are some of the things I discovered:

  • It’s remarkable how much Christopher Nola re-made Leonardo DiCaprio in his own image. Cobb’s hair and the suit are vintage Nolan. I would have missed this if we hadn’t been cutting back and forth from DiCaprio to Nolan.
  • As repeated time and time again by Nolan, Wally Pfister, Special Effects Supervisor Chris Corbould and Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Franklin, the mantra was to do as much as possible in camera so that the effects enhance what is already in the frame. That means that explosions happen with the actors in frame, and water actually falls on them. I understand now why everything feels so real and tactile!
  • The freight train (built around a truck so it could actually run in the street) is a great example of the need to do things in camera.
  • The tilting hotel bar had to be real (see above), so they built it as a giant see-saw that could go back and forth at 20/25 degree angles. They had to test the extras so they could behave normally in that environment and not get seasick.
  • For the hotel corridor scenes, Chris Corbould (the Special Effects Supervisor), designed and built a 100-ft horizontal rotating corridor. The engineering had to be precise, and the device was enormous. And this was all done so that the actors would actually be in that environment, and it would look and feel like it was happening. As actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt says, “There’s no substitute for real human energy in performance.”
  • I was gratified to hear that Nolan was thinking about 1970s Roger Moore-era Bond films when he designed the snow fortress sequence. He wanted (of course) real ski stunts. They even made real avalanches happen. None of this changes the fact that this is the least interesting set for me, but since my first thought when I saw the film was, “Ugh, Roger Moore Bond,” I laughed when I heard him describe his thought process.
  • For the “zero-g” corridor sequence, they built a set that was identical to the horizontal corridor, only vertical. Again – simply incredible!
  • The description of how they designed and built “Limbo City,” combining digital effects and actual streets and sets, is fascinating. Nolan says that the “line between visual effects and practical photography was as blurred as we could make it.”
  • As a result, when there is almost pure CGI (computer generated imagery), such as in the scene where  Cobb confronts Mal, and Ariadne jumps out of the window, it ends up looking very fake by comparison.
  • At the end, it really is even more striking how much DiCaprio really really really looks like Nolan in the scene with the very old Saito.
  • One of the final bits in the documentary features composer Hans Zimmer talking about the music. He initially generated electronic sounds, and then asked the orchestra to imitate. That’s a nice reversal of the way that synthesizers have long mimicked orchestras.

For those of you who have not seen the film, it centers around a man, Cobb (DiCaprio), who is a specialist in entering the dreams of others to “extract” information. It’s a form of very advanced corporate espionage. He works with a team that includes Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy) and Ariadne (Ellen Page), among others. They are hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to implant an idea (which they call “inception,” the opposite of “extraction”) in the mind of a corporate rival of his, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy). In order to accomplish this, they must create dreams within dreams within dreams. Each layered dream presents new challenges and dangers, including the increasingly menacing apparition of Cobb’s dead ex-wife Mal (Marion Cotilard), who lives on in Cobb’s subconscious. If you think about the plot too much, the explanations of what is happening can sound like psycho-babble, but it somehow captures the imagination through its visual brilliance.

Once you watch it the first time, get ready to then get the Blu-ray and watch it in “Extraction Mode.” If all Blu-rays were like this, I’d be buying them all the time!

Friday, 1/4/13, Midday on Film: The Movie Star Edition

Gods Like Us

pg. 350 – Traditionally, “movie stars … have served a crucial and psychologically necessary function as role models for trying on different identities and projecting alternate ways of being.” But now, we do the same thing for ourselves.

pg. 357 – “By their very existence, movie stars insist that entropy cannot exist, that glamour and youth never fade or, if they do, get resculpted into something of harder, better value.”

Join us on January 4, 2013 at 1pm, as Linda DeLibero (Associate Director of Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University) and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (Chair of the Department of Film/Video at Stevenson University) speak with Boston Globe film critic and author Ty Burr about his new book, Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame, on the second hour of Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR, 88.1FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station.*

You can read a review of the book on the Entertainment Weekly website, if you’d like (it’s a good review).

We look forward to your questions via email or phone. You can listen live on 88.1 FM, in Maryland, or stream live from the show’s website (linked to, above – you’ll also find the phone and email info there). If you miss the show, you can podcast it later (and that info is also available from the show’s site).

*NOTE: Missed the show? Have no fear. Here it is: Midday with Dan Rodricks: 2013.01.04_Ty Burr