Will 126 Million Japanese Be Denied Freedom of Speech? “The Cove” is Shaking Up Nationalists in Japan

July 6th, 2010

The Oscar-winning documentary film has been edited by Japanese distributor Unplugged, blurring out faces of fishermen and police, inserting tickers that express opposing points of view in parts where opinions differ.

If that’s not bad enough,  3 of the 26 theaters that planned to screen the film have backed off, canceling their scheduled screenings after threats of violence and intimidation. Japanese nationalists call the film anti-Japanese and claim that foreigners are trying to disrupt a 400-year-old tradition.

But scientists and environmental activists agree that one of the most important issue affecting the Japanese people is not about saving sea mammals. Dolphin and whale meat has been found to be very high in mercury says Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and one of the world’s foremost authorities on mercury levels in dolphins and whales caught off Japan’s coastal waters. He has shown in studies conducted on hair samples taken from residents of  Taiji, Japan who eat the whale and dolphin meat sold in local stores, that they have extremely high concentrations of mercury in their bodies.

The Monday, July 5, 2010 edition of CBC’s As it Happens radio show features an interview with Ric O’Barry who had a lead role in the film and just returned from Japan. He was once the dolphin trainer on TVs “Flipper,” who has become a committed campaigner against dolphin abuse.

Lady Gaga Channels Fritz Lang ‘Master of Darkness’ in the Making of ‘Alejandro’ Video

June 8th, 2010

“Alejandro is on the radio. Fuck it sounds so good, we did it little monsters,” – tweets Lady Gaga.

The dissolution of boundaries between music, art, theatre, dance and film, underway since the launch of MTV: Music Television in 1981, occasionally spawns elegant short form works of cinematic fine art. I must admit that last month, I scoffed at Time magazine’s inclusion of Ladt Gaga in their recent list of the 100 most influential people of the year… but I now withdraw that opinion. Alejandro, her latest video, fashioned with director and photographer Steven Klein, is crafted in the genre of an early Fritz Lang cinema noir masterpiece and immediately brings to mind scenes from Metropolis.

Lady GagaNew MusicMore Music Videos

The latest Gaga video also reminds me of a rule I personally attribute to Ingmar Bergman – that each and every frame of a film should be so well composed that it could be printed as a still photograph and exhibited in a gallery. Allejandro exhibits that kind of attention to detail in Klein’s careful framing, form and placement of everything and everyone. It may be surprising to realize that Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video, also a Klein creation, was released 25 years ago. The comparisons are obvious…

As an ex-Catholic, I have always enjoyed the irreligious subtext in Klein’s work with Madonna and now with Lady Gaga. Alejandro is rich, dark and elegantly erotic. I am glad to be converted at last to just another Gaga worshiper, one of her little monsters.

Cinemetrics, Exploring Movie Dynamics with Statistical Style Analysis

October 8th, 2009

“In verse studies, scholars count syllables, feet and stresses; in film studies, we time shots.”

I accidentally discovered the databases at Cinemetrics, where you can look up movie statistical information like Average Shot Length (ASL) to see graphic maps of the data in order to visually understand the flow dynamics of any of 3,295 currently listed films.

Many recent films display an ASL of under five seconds per shot: “The Departed” (3.2 seconds), “Dreamgirls” (2.5 seconds), “Casino Royale” (3.4 seconds), “Sweeney Todd” (4 seconds). On the other hand, some films have notably longer ASLs: “The Darjeeling Limited” (8.2 seconds), “There Will Be Blood” (13.5 seconds), “Paranoid Park” (16.5 seconds).

It would be easy to calculate the average shot length of any film by dividing the running time by the total number of shots but, Cinemetrics goes much further… The Cinemetrics Software Tool is a free, downloadable application or online device created by statistician and computer scientist, Gunars Civjans that lets you analyze, record and submit the sequential scene length of any film to the database – including your own. There are two statistics modes available: the simple mode and the advanced mode. Simple mode only records the frequency of shot changes. The advanced mode allows up to eight buttons to be used to record the different types of shots.

From this data you can study the trendlines of any film. If advanced mode was used to record movie data, a table containing statistical data for each shot type will be displayed.

Taking shot lengths of a running movie is a manual operation performed in real time, and like any such operation – driving a car or playing a video game – it, too, takes a little practice and patience to master,” explains the author of 10 User tips from Yuri Tsivian.

Cinemetrics has a second database that presents the data created by Barry Salt: “The basic idea behind my methods of statistical style analysis is that the form of films noticeably differ from one to another, and that the variables used to study this should be based on the concepts that film-makers actually use.”

Barry Salt tabulates and analyzes change in camera angle and the variations in depth of shot in the data he provides and in his latest work, Moving Into Pictures, a follow up to his ground-breaking, Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. The creation of a film begins to rival the composition of a symphony when approaching the process from an in-depth consideration of the full range of movie dynamics.

Make, Watch and Have Fun With XtraNormal Animation – a Great Way to Bring Your Storyboard to Life

October 3rd, 2009

I just discovered the free version of XtraNormal and could not resist creating a short anime… 3 hours later:

The more I use it the more value I am discovering, especially in experimenting with the flow of shots and camera angles. It has limits, but it allows me to begin creating a rough draft, bench testing a screenplay as it takes shape. It’s like using a talking, animated storyboard. Add in the free Celtx project planner andyou are ready to start work on crafting a film, video, a stage play, machinima, an ad, a video game, music video, videocast – whatever method you use to deliver your story.

Now, I am hooked. It only took a brief exposure and I am finding all sorts of reasons to  ante up for the pro version (for $39.95 per year.) The XtraNormal animation system is a great learning environment – one where I can type in the words of a script and then the auto-robots speak the dialogue, inserting pauses and gestures as I require. Lots more features and character choices with the Pro version… Here’s what evolved from my first effort above after I moved up to the Pro version:

This animation, done for my girlfriend Debra, is pushing 500 views in just a few days online at her Braveheart Women blog. So, it will become a regular series.

Dave Kaminski provides an alternative in a video revue of GoAnimate.com in this post. That program is a bit less complex – with the dialogue taking place in text bubbles like in a newspaper cartoon strip. It features repetitive motions rather than synchronized animation – but it’s free and also fun.

A 10-minute Introductory Film for Wisconsin Public Television on Midsummer’s Music Festival

September 1st, 2009

DesignWise Film Studios recently completed a 10-minute introductory video on Door County’s Midsummer’s Music Festival featuring Jim Berkenstock, explaining some of the workings of his unique chamber music concert ensemble. They celebrate their 20-year anniversary in 2010 – performing from mid June through Labor Day weekend at diverse venues throughout northeastern Wisconsin.

A director’s cut was screened for an audience of approximately 50 people at the organization’s annual honors dinner on August 25, 2009. After an enthusiastic response, suggestions on improving the audio on some of the outdoor sequences by reducing the natural background sounds were applied, resulting in the current working copy posted above. I am now developing a DVD with interactive menuing for final  delivery.

Working on my first commissioned short film

August 24th, 2009

Starting at the beginning…
I have been “becoming” a filmmaker for many years but seriously began to run hard for the goal in 2006. Since then, I have been putting myself through drills, training, editing, researching, shooting and experimenting. I created and continue to create a lot of test films, many of which are posted on my YouTube channel.  Then, a few months ago, a break came. I was hired to create a professional documentary film on a group of classical musicians who have been playing a summer series of concerts throughout Door County, Wisconsin for almost twenty years.

I created this first draft from the footage I shot on Washington Island. Now, I am assembling a 10-minute video proposal, a short film for Wisconsin Public Television that uses a variety of concert footage on location shots merged with a spot interview with Jim Berkenstock, the co-founder of the organization.

Using effective titles and credits is important – and an art form in itself –  so I am reading and researching more on The Art of the Title. I realize that on some of my test music videos I failed to add links to the artist’s Web sites within the videos, this must not ever be forgotten in the future. For the moment, there’s a Tuesday deadline to meet, so I am back to production.

This dedicated Web site will be a spot where I trace my path and share what I discover with anyone else who has a burning desire to become a filmmaker – at any level.

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