Is Oscar(R) Relevant?

The Oscar® ceremony took place at the Dolby Theater at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland in Los Angeles. Neil Patrick Harris hosted the telecast, to somewhat tepid reviews.
The “glamour” awards were split among many of the acknowledged favorites… Birdman won Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director for Alfonso G. Inàrritu, and Best Picture. The other critically acclaimed film, Boyhood, came off with a win for Patricia Arquette. Julianne Moore won Best Actress for Still Alice, a film many people outside the Academy haven’t seen, and Eddie Redmayne, a young British actor of growing stature, won Best Actor for The Theory of Everything, a “biopic” of Stephen Hawking and his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known here in the US as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Many of the technical awards went to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, except for Cinematography, which went to Birdman.
American Sniper, from the book by Chris Kyle, had several nominations, but did not win anything, as I recall. The Best Animated Film Oscar® went to Disney’s Big Hero 6, while the audience favorite The Lego Movie was not nominated in the category, only getting one nomination for Best Song. (By the way, you may have heard… it lost that, too.)
In the past few days since the telecast, there’s only been one consensus I’ve managed to find as I read; that Neil Patrick Harris was not the best choice as the host. An op-ed writer for the New York Times said the win of Birdman over Boyhood was one of those “epochal blunders” that will be discussed for decades to come… a movie reviewer on the Internet, Grace Randolph of Beyond the Trailer, hailed this very same decision as a win for “precise moviemaking” over a less precise rival.
And the people decrying the snub of the director and lead actor of Selma, the almost total snub of The Lego Movie, and the seeming snub of American Sniper have expressed themselves quite well by now.
Most of the criticism stems from the perceived disconnect between the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization which is responsible for the ceremony since its founding in 1927, and the first awards in 1929, and the moviegoing public in general.
As published some time back, when the nominations for this year were first announced, the average age of the Academy is about 62 years old, and the membership is primarily white. This may not be a primary factor in this year’s total lack of People of Color among the nominees, but it is certainly a factor.
People in and out of the industry, many of whom are avowed Social Justice Warriors (to use a derogatory term newly coming into vogue), are saying the nomination and voting processes of AMPAS need to be revised to be more fair and equitable. Short of a total reorganization of AMPAS, I don’t think that’s going to happen. And as the perception of a disconnect grows wider, so does the audience for the Oscar® telecast decline.
This is a shame; I’d hate to see it go.
But answers? I got nothing.

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A Year In The Life…

2014 is almost ended.

What have I learned?  Several things.

What have I done?  Much, much less.

I continue to fumble with the editing of my documentaries, to find new and unique ways to put off shooting footage for several projects I want to do, and to fritter my time away when I could be “doing something”.

(Notice, I did NOT say “do something useful“… if I get to doing something, it may well be useful for SOMEthing.)  Perhaps I am merely growing out of childish pursuits, like becoming known for writing, making movies, or drawing… but some would call that sort of growth the death of dreams.

I still have things planned… and I just may get around to doing them.

And I can fly to the moon by flapping my arms…

Well, at least I did get into a short screenplay contest… don’t know if I’ll make it into the final rounds, but I’m out there.

Write, shoot, cut, show, repeat…

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The Lure Of The Bleeding Edge…

There are people who can’t resist the newest or the most advanced gadget in any respect. People have bought Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Cinema Camera, or the Blackmagic Compact Camera, or the latest Canon or Nikon DSLR, or Red Scarlet, or whatever is new, 4K, RAW format, with a 4:4:4 colorspace. To these people, money is never an object, as long as it’s the newest, best, and (usually) most expensive.
As you may have guessed by now, I’m not one of these people.
My previous top-level camera for video was a Kodak Z990, which was obsolete when I bought it, which was able to shoot 1920 X 1080 pixels progressive video (commonly known as 1080P) at 30 frames per second. Since 30 fps (actually 29.97 fps, but we won’t go into that just now) is the de facto standard for American television, this was not a problem; in fact most all of my other cameras, digital or analog, shoot at this rate.
Since everyone is all hot and bothered for the “cinematic look”, cameras have been offering 1080P video at 24 frames per second (actually 23.97; again, we won’t go into that just now). If you can’t do 24fps, it’s not a “professional” camera.
Since I have never been an early adopter of new technology – it took me five years or so to go from MS-DOS 3.3 to MS-DOS 6.0 – I had been biding my time, looking at the markets, and waiting for a deal that would work for us. Well, we found one – a Nikon D3100 DSLR with a 15-85mm zoom lens in the kit. It shoots 1080P at 24fps, and can be used for what I want to do quite nicely.
My problem now? Getting used to doing what I want to do with it. This may not be as easy as it sounds.
When I get better at doing what I want, I’ll post some results, with comments, here. Stay tuned!

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Closing the Books on 2013…

All things considered (and they’d better be, if I hope to come out of this on the plus side), 2013 has not been as good a year as I would have liked it to be.
Despite the fact that I finished my B.A. degree in 2012, I still do not have a position in the local film industry. Nor have I made one for myself.
This has to change.
And the only one who can change it… is me.
(Big surprise.)
I have a chance to get some work with a teacher I had a couple of years ago, who is a published writer, a serious man who wants to direct what he’s written, and who wants it to be a true representation of his work.
I can’t argue with that.
The material is quite dark in tone… it involves domestic abuse, murder, and responsibility for circumstances and consequences one does not control. (I think this is a fair description, without giving away spoilers.)
Well, I hope all will go well, and we shall see what we shall see.


Hello kitty Steampunk

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Writing A Script (Is Not As Easy As You Think)…

As you can tell, I spent the entire month of October away from this blog. There are reasons for that, some of which I will be telling you about in this post…

What I have been doing is trying to regenerate what I saw as a muse with a dead battery; the jumper cables were not entirely sufficient to get it started, and I had to resort to somewhat drastic measures to get things going.

Still and all, I was able to write a couple of short scripts, and even get them into “breakdown” in preparation to start the production process.

I will explain “breaking down” a script; this has nothing to do with the emotional or mental state of the writer or director. Rather, it involves taking each scene, and putting down who appears in it, how they are costumed, whether or not they need special makeups, if there are mechanical or optical effects for the scene, what props will be required, what sort of set dressings/greenery/livestock/animals/stunts/et cetera will be needed, and other information the crew will need to know. This is an aid to putting together a shooting schedule and call sheets.

I’ll go into those a bit later. Promise.

There are applications that will help you do this once you have your script completed (or as completed as you can get it before you start production, which can be a different matter entirely). The one I use most often is Final Draft Tagger, which, naturally, comes with Final Draft.

You import your script into Tagger, and it separates out each scene, broken down by Scene Headings (what FD calls sluglines). For each scene, a brief view of the script is shown, and a list of categories is on the right hand side of the screen. Tagger automatically adds Cast Members from the speaking roles; if you have characters that have no lines, you can add them in that category, or add them to Extras. It’s your choice.

I will have more to say… count on it.


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The Agony of the Antagonist…

The antagonist (or villain, if you prefer) is almost the most important person in your story.  There’s an old saying that “the stronger your villain is, the stronger your hero must be.”  As an example, would Luke Skywalker be as much of a hero without Darth Vader?  Or would The Batman be as formidable if he didn’t have Ra’s Al-Ghul to face off against?
A hero of the caliber of a Superman, as an example, can’t exert his full power against someone like the 1950’s villains Toyman or The Prankster. {The thing is, this was the point: the strongest man in the world has a great deal of difficulty dealing with someone weak but ingenious…}
The weaker hero needs to bring his or her game to the next level to cope… and the villain’s job is to make this as close to impossible as he or she can. How the hero overcomes the obstacles – which should increase in size and difficulty as the story progresses – is an exercise for the reader, who should be writing his or her own script.
As was said a while ago by someone famous whose name I forget, “Anyone who can be discouraged from writing – should be.” If you can’t get by the negative comments, you may not have the right temperament to be a writer. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, you realize.) Or, if you are determined to continue, it would behoove you to work on developing a tougher skin. Constructive criticism can be your friend… destructive criticism is a set of speed bumps in the highway of your life. You may not be able to avoid them entirely, but you can minimize the amount of damage they do.
This strength you need to show is the same kind of strength your antagonist needs to show. Someone who perseveres in the face of doubt, of ridicule, of active (and passive) opposition… this is the person who will force your hero to be better in order to prevail.
Go get ’em!

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The Arc of the Character

The characters in your script, especially your lead character, should, according to most of the authorities in the field (the ones who make a living selling writing advice, as opposed to the ones who write and sell scripts) have an “arc”, a progression of growth/change/education that progresses them from someone who is NOT able to achieve the goals/needs that are set out at the beginning of the script to the person who CAN achieve those goals/needs.

Not that they necessarily WILL achieve them… this is called a “sad” ending, or a “realistic” ending (depending on which person you speak to).

The character at the beginning, according to this paradigm, should have both a noticeable flaw (say, a fear of snakes) and a hidden flaw (say, an inability to commit to a relationship).  When confronted with the hidden flaw, the character should learn what it cost others as well as what it cost himself; when confronted with the noticeable flaw, the character should be able to “suck it up”, keep going, and get the job done in spite of the flaw.  (Witness a certain Dr. Jones in a tomb in Egypt.)

And, to top it off, according to these same authorities, the character should have other idiosyncrasies that make them appear as a “rounded” character… with more than one dimension.

Now, not every character has this sort of story… and not every character has an “arc”.

The examples promulgated in the past were “franchise” characters, like Superman, James Bond, Napoleon Solo, Ilya Kuryakin (yes, I know, these two were from television… but TV had highly restrictive formats in those days)…

This, of course, has changed with long-format TV, multi-episode story “arcs” (something I’ll discuss further on), and less restrictions on what you can and can’t do.

So where does that leave us?

Change, for the sake of change, is not good.  Change motivated by the events of the story, that comes from the beliefs, the strengths, and the flaws of a character, is good.

More to follow…

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