the awesome/terrifying freedom

out here, somewhere, figuring it all out.

not a tourist

an awesome/terrifying thought occurred to me this week: that as a kid, most of the cool things i dreamt about doing when i "grew up" are now being done by people around my age. it's terrifying in that it really puts boot to ass in the "make something of yourself" category, and it's awesome in that it says "not only is it possible for you to do this, but the time is now."

i had to face a lot of fears these past two weeks - last week a shoot was scheduled for the tv show on wednesday. monday, my boss' wife had a baby, completely removing him from the picture, which meant that wednesday's shoot would have to be directed by.. me.
my first time directing a full day of shooting, with a full crew, and without my boss to fall back on. awesome/terrifying.

then monday afternoon the shoot fell apart, first on a crew level, then the participants backed out, and we lost the location. i had 2 days, with no boss, and limited resources to pull it together from scratch. i had to go into action mode, must have made 100 phone calls, couldn't sleep, had to push the shoot to thursday, but by tuesday afternoon had participants, a location, crew, and it looked like this new version of the episode would end up being better than the one originally planned.

by the time i actually arrived on set thursday morning, my original fear of directing it had been obliterated by having worked like crazy to make sure that there even was a shoot.

i felt so much joy that day for a variety of reasons: just working with the cinematographer to plan out the shots, using the lingo unselfconsciously (finally!), making the little finger gestures to indicate to the camera operators if they should pan, tilt, or zoom, asking the PA to do the tasks i had been doing only 2 months ago. there is great freedom in admitting how much i don't know yet. i didn't know which was the key light. i didn't know what a stinger was. or a hot stab. i'm still learning the technical aspects, but there was a great feeling in realizing just how much i did know. i knew exactly how a shot was being used and why we needed it. i knew we needed to re-do something because it wouldn't cut together right. i knew which pieces of information needed to be brought forward.

the day you know you're no longer a tourist in new york, is when you get asked for directions and know the answer without thinking (the day you're a native is the day you deliberately give wrong directions). i'm not a native on set, but i'm also no longer a tourist. of course, some mistakes were made, but it's the only way to learn to get better, and i'm looking forward to future shoots.

we have premiered

so my little big gay film is now out there in the world. unfortunately, i don't know anyone who attended the screening, so i have no idea how it went over, but someone did post a lovely review on the festival website. maybe more responses will trickle in over time.

if you'd like to see thanksgiving, here is a link to the beautiful quicktime version, and here is the link to the cheap and skanky youtube version. enjoy!

you can stop the beat. you can stop it dead.

i gotta say i'm pretty impressed with the soundtrack to the upcoming hairspray movie (nikki blonski sings far better than winokur), which has reignited my obsession with listening to 'you can't stop the beat.'

and then i got sucked into a youtube hole, looking for clips, and finding the most dreadful high school show choir/drama camp renditions ever put down on digital media. they are so bad they're good. they're so bad i can't stop watching. you must share my pain/joy. these are just too glamtastrophic to be missed. some of them are truly horrifying, but others have an infectious energy behind them that supercedes the amateurishness.

this choreographer bravely allows the cast to do a little freeform movement in between rigid sections of step-touch, step-touch.

i actually really like this one from the sullivan high school singers. they are one of the only renditions to achieve actual performance energy without copying jerry mitchell's choreography.

this one is staggeringly good. also, there's staggering. i love how when they sing 'you can try stop my dancin' feet but i just cannot stand still,' they're, uh, standing still. my favorite parts: back handspring girl at the beginning, and the gay boy in the front who's just a little too good at some of those moves.

i think this one is from the basement of a church. it's hard to knock when they're having so much fun with mitchell's choreography.

jazz hands! .. jazz hands! ..jazz hands!

this one wants to be on america's funniest home videos, except it's missing the part at the end where the stage falls apart from under them. also gunning for the 'most people dancing in the smallest space' award. it's like the roxy on a saturday night.

these kids are lip-synching and doing the original staging, but they have such a great time, and i love the asian seaweed. no black kids at drama camp, so the most vaguely ethic person gets cast in the black role. love it.

kids. kids are cute.

bird vs. bay: character vs. characterization

so i saw 2 movies this week: ratatouille and transformers.

one was filet mignon, served on fine china. the other was a turd rolled in staples, served on a hubcap.

and it occurred to me, watching transformers, which has absolutely no characters in it at all, that there are two major problems.

problem 1: michael bay doesn't understand the meaning of character. he thinks he does, but he doesn't.

bay confuses character with "assigning quirks." he believes that if you give each person an odd, memorable moment, you've succeeded in fleshing out their "character."

which makes me think of what mamet says about character. i'm paraphrasing: "when we say that our grandfather 'had character,' we are not referring to the way he held his pipe. we are referring to his tenacity of spirit."

character is revealed when we watch someone, faced with a problem, try to solve it. every single comic moment in ratatouille is engendered from the clash of all the character's honest pursuit of their goals. no one is given "quirks." some of them have quirks, but it's because the storyteller has deemed them crucial for us to know of in order to follow the story's path.

the list of quirks handed out to characters in transformers is endless and arbitrary. all are interchangeable. perhaps they were picked out of a hat.
  • one has a dog in a cast who eats pain pills
  • three have embarrassing moms
  • one likes to speak spanish for no reason
  • two are black and yell at women
  • one has an often mispronounced last name (the exact same gag attempted in godzilla)
  • several have a funny accents
  • one has boobs and is a mechanic (a skill which is stated, but never used)
  • it goes on and on..
of course, these traits exist in characters from good films, but the difference is that they happen to reveal these things through action, not not not, most absolutely not through straight exposition, for the sake of characterization.

i've heard the argument from defenders of transformers many times: it's just a popcorn movie! it's not supposed to be good! i don't understand why this film, which isn't any better than the broderick godzilla, has gotten a free pass. i am not expecting schindler's list, but what i am expecting is a movie that knows what it wants to accomplish, that has a clear, simple story, and is well told. i don't think it's unreasonable to have expected transformers to be as enjoyable as jurassic park, or hell, even jurrassic park 3.

problem 2: the action sequence. watch the 9 minute teaser from ratatouille. remy falls into the kitchen and must escape. what follows is an action sequence of his hugely elaborate attempt to get out, during which we never once lose track of what his plan is, how well he is doing, how close he is to success, and what his thought process is every step of the way.

in the many transformers action sequences, there is never any sense of win or loss that we can gain visually. we can only tell that something bad has happened because we've suddenly gone into slow motion, and the music got sad. we're not seeing anything affect anyone, we're having the beats spoonfed to us. on top of that, both the good robots and bad robots look nearly identical while fighting, and the character design also makes it impossible to tell what's an arm, a leg, a head - they are the turds rolled in staples.

i actually found myself having trouble staying awake during the climactic battle. i'd given up trying to follow it. it was all pitched at the same level, with no variation, and eventually, just became noise.

and my god, all it needed was a little clarity of vision, and clarity of story.

the disgruntled transformers crewperson who wrote this poem for the wrap party knew the damage they had wrought.

thank god for ratatouille, which is maybe the best pixar film, certainly the best film i've seen this year, and comes damn close to being a perfect film in its own right.

every time we see a movie, we vote with our dollars. we say "i want to see more of this." and the beauty of the movies is that the turd sandwich and the filet mignon cost exactly the same. and yeah, i get that you'll want to see transformers anyway, for the effects.. but that's what bittorrent is for. download that puppy, as protest.

fuck michael bay, and please, order more filet.


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i'll put the film up on youtube after the 18th.

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  • 5: the man of genius

  • 4: blunders & absurdities

  • 3: conservative after dinner

  • 2: what lies below

  • 1: where there is no path

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