Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sports Displacement

I don't think I've ever really been into sports. Well, I did watch two seasons of World League Football (Go Surge!), and roommates have occasionally dragged me into watching the odd basketball game or two, but it stands that I never, ever, think about watching a game or match or race on my own. I do have that guy energy, though, and I've concluded that it shows up when I talk about or watch sketch comedy.

I have my favorite franchises (mostly the usual--Kids in the Hall, Monty Python), but the "team" that I am irrationally devoted to and would probably have a pennant on my wall for if such things existed is Saturday Night Live. I started watching SNL in the eighties, and my first memories are of one of the worst eras of the show (Joe Piscopo, Charles Rocket, and Eddie Murphy). My cousin and I used to have to conspire to be at the TV at 11:30 on Saturdays, and there are few seasons where I didn't catch every episode, even forgoing the first half of Dr. Who on PBS for the first-run episodes.

That first episode of the season is like the NBA Draft for me--sizing up the new talent, seeing who moved on. Concluding that this or that year was a building season and that the fresh cast members would grow into this greatest of all arenas for live comedy (great job Keenan!!). I just about lost it when Michael McKeon (Lennie of Lennie and Squiggy) showed up in the cast, not to mention Chris Elliot, Sarah Silverman, and KitH alum Mark McKinney.

I've even wrung my hands at the decisions of Lorne Michaels, who has been the franchise's GM for most of its history. there have been a lot of bad years, but that's what following a team is all about--it's uniquely frustrating because Cubs fans don't have to repeatedly listen to people say that their team should be cancelled every time the subject comes up at a party, plus the people who act like the show was strictly downhill since Ackroyd and Belushi--they did plenty of shitty sketches too, and Samurai Deli (or barber or whatever) wasn't really any more inspired than the "you-like-a-da-juice-eh" guys, and the "wild and crazy guys" are often kinda lame, notwithstanding Steve Martin's presence.

I think the digital shorts are pretty brilliant about half the time, and Justin Timberlake is probably one of the five best hosts ever to be on the show, but, like TV Funhouse, they probably won't take over the show and drive out all the other content. New blood is new blood, and it's the Phil Hartmans and Tim Meadowses that really make the show spark by sticking it out in the hypercompetitive environment year after year, perfecting their craft and delivering sketch after sketch with brilliance and poise.

My girlfriend hates weekend update, but it's the anchor of the show. My focus on this segment started with Dennis Miller (who I now can't stand). It's a tough job, and not a way to hide out in the background. You have to construct a persona and deliver it week after week. Some are good by playing it straight (Kevin Nealon or Chevy Chase), while others run against the natural grain (Norm MacDonald), and others just don't have the chops (Colin Quinn). Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are my personal all-time favorite anchor team.

Fey is certainly one of the titans of the show's run, and as the first female head writer, also headed the strongest and deepest female cast in my memory. Maya Rudoph, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristin Wiig have a huge range and major talent, and I hope Seth Meyers continues to search out quality female talent.

It's been easier to follow the show since Comedy Central and E! started carrying old episodes, but that carries its own frustrations. The episodes are pared down to an hour, and the musical performances, the cold open, and Weekend Update are always included, ensuring that some sketches don't see air (the one that I miss the most is probably Steve Martin's Christmas wish monologue).

SNL is certainly somewhere in an upswing right now, and once again it's as though it's suddenly emerged, with all the haters and fairweather fans, but regardless, I think I'll hold on to the season tickets and know that the metaphorical stands will surely be roomier again.

Friday, January 30, 2009

No Sleep 'til Sacramento, Ugly Cut

Alright, it's been a long night, and many many uploads and downloads later, it's finally here.

Here's the back story-

Years ago in college I took a documentary class as part of my production degree and it happened to be around the same time as a gaming convention. I used to go to these when I was much younger but hadn't been in close to ten years, so I wondered what they were like now, etc. Turns out some friends of friends were going and had agreed to be part of my little quasi-verte documentation of a role playing convention.

This was a one man show-I showed up in San Ramon on public transportation with a Canon GL-1 and a shotgun mic on a pistol grip. I didn't even have a room. My main subject didn't sleep for 50+ hours, so I kept the camera on him the entire time in case he broke, he didn't. I slept for 4-5 hours under a table curled up around my camera against a wall.

Then came the editing. I was never happy with the cut of this film because people who didn't know what role-playing was didn't come out of it any closer and I never really formed an arc with anyone. So I sat on it promising the people in it that I was going to re-cut it and they'd see it then. Well, I never re-cut it. It sat on my hard drive, some key parts ended up erased, paths lost. My drive was corrupted so I had to reset it. I moved what I thought was all of it to another drive and updated my OS, accidentally losing my editing programs.

I assumed at this point it was hopeless.

Then I was helping someone edit some footage and we had to use my hard drive as a scratch drive, and lo and behold, there it was in it's spotty glory. I talked my friend into letting me export it and saved it to my drive. But, in uncompressed form it's over 2gigs and I don't have the programs to compress it with. After a ton of hit and miss I downloaded HyperEngine AV and managed to create a much smaller version of it, which hopefully you see here. Once I can look at all of this again I'll make a better version of the transfer, but I thought all things considered I needed to get some version out there when I could.

If you're a subject in this documentary and are here to finally see this, I'm sorry it took so many years. I hope you enjoy what there is of it and thank you for letting me film you. If you're anyone else, look at it as an artifact of my early filmmaking and I hope you find something to enjoy.

So here, finally, after many years delay, is No Sleep 'til Sacramento-

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Tube'n

I was helping a friend do some editing and had to use my own hard drive to finish and lo and behold, I found some old college footage. The following are animated openings and a closing I made for the Chautauqua Film and Theater Festival at UCSC in 2005. I didn't draw any of it, those were designs by the art director that I then cut up and animated in Final cut. Nothing special really, but there it is.

I also found a long thought lost documentary, but it may actually be too big for YouTube. Maybe Blip.tv can handle it. There's another animation but it's missing a key element that makes it kind of stupid to watch, and without the context (a monologue from The Tempest) it's just weird.

This is only a test

I have a new project coming up that I will explain in full at a later date, but this is the first rough cut of what I'm working on. I'm testing formats and ways to embed this thing, this is my second attempt to see how this works here vs. elsewhere. More to come, hopefully.
test by SupaLoweryBrothers
Fandalism Free MP3 Hosting

Please let me know if that player works for you or if you encounter any problems.

This is still a test, different player, see if I (we) like it better:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stunt Casting

A friend was describing the making of the French film The Class which predominately revolved around the casting of 'regular' students in the roles of the students who were then given a more or less improvisational structure to tell the story with. This got me thinking about the nature and value of stunt-casting in general.

For this I'm going to use a broad definition of stunt casting which would include any casting decision where the actor casted or method of casting plays to the audience as part of the experience/narrative in what the audience brings to how they view that character. Granted, that's broad enough to say that any casting is stunt casting, but I'm talking about a specific relation and I'll give some examples.

This goes back as far, if not further, as Jean-Luc Godard who would do things like casting Fritz Lang as the director of Odyssey, the movie within the movie in Contempt. Lang brings his reputation and history as a legendary director to the role of director. Contrast stunt casting works as well, notably in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West with Henry Fonda in the unremorsfully evil Frank, countering his white hat good guy image and certainly a stark contrast to roles like Juror #8 in Twelve Angry Men. In a single casting decision, before the audience has seen a frame of the film (presuming they know about the casting) it has actively rebuked the Western as it stands.

Then there is the casting mentioned at the beginning, for lack of a better term 'outsider stunt-casting.' This often comes in the flavor of casting so-called 'regular people' in the roles of regular people. Harmony Korine, director of Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy is notorious for this. Or for more extreme examples there's Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Started Small or casting Bruno S. in movies like Stroszeck.

Lastly there is casting where the story of the actor reflects the story of the character, such as Joe Joe Dancer, Your Life is Calling (can it really be called stunt casting when the actor is also the writer?) or most recently The Wrestler, where as a friend pointed out, the final monologue could just as well have been about Rourke as it was about the character he was playing.

I'm less interested in cameo stunt casting, Sean Connery appearing as King Richard at the end of Robin Hood, etc. The exception of this would be when cameo casting an integral part of how the movie is shaped, the master thesis of this would be Kill Bill, where every casting decision outside of the main cast is a reference or nod to the movies that Tarantino was homaging.

I'm ambivalent about stunt casting. On one hand, the story should tell the story. But such a 'purist' attitude ignores one of the more unique tools of film (and to the same degree theater, though limited to high profile theater). For better or worse, film creates a sea of regular faces who carry with them not only the roles that they have taken before them but the lives they lead between the movies. Is it possible to watch an Angelina Joile movie without in some way making some sort of connection with her public persona, her marriage, etc?

More, would Once Upon a Time in the West's Frank been as sinister if it hadn't been held in contrast to the roles that Fonda had been famous for before?

Likewise, when the story of the film is overlaid on the story of the making of the film, is the audience perception different when they know that the film uses 'outsider' casting instead of professional actors, and if it's different then certainly it's a valid tool.

Is the industry of film making part of the art of filmmaking, or more to the point why shouldn't it be?

I have to admit that most of the time I react negatively to it. Improvisation is a disaster far more often than it isn't when it's experienced improvisers, when it is not it can be down right painful (see:Blair Witch Project). I tend to think of it remarkable when it's actually pulled off more than simply when it's done, so outsider casting is always a sketchy proposition for me. I tend to view it less like watching a movie and more like watching someone tip toe across a minefield.

As usual, I don't have a conclusion. To search for a point, I'm defining terms for that post I keep referring to and swear I'll write someday.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Prepare for the Rise of the "Lying Experts"

Procedural shows are the narrative bread and butter of network television. Say what you want about the prevalence of reality shows or high concept macro-series, but the real mule of the network is the lawyer/doctor/cop procedural show. There's the lawyer/cop brigade of Law & Order, or the doctor/cop shows like the CSIs and Bones, or just plain doctor like House. (Doctor and Lawyer, when separated from Cop, will make the largest effort towards non-procedural drama, but it ultimately is marginal)

For the most part these shows put a marginal narrative tent over the fictionalized process of a profession that's usually a lot drier. Imagine a documentary with nothing but reenactments about something that didn't really happen. Without the voice over talking head context the characters are forced to do awkward exposition in their dialog (in an early, perhaps the pilot, episode of CSI one forensics expert explains the fabled historical beginning of forensics to another forensics expert. Not another cop, not a student, not a bystander, lawyer, but another forensics expert. And she's not offended by the implication that she doesn't know what is presumably taught in the first week of the first set of classes in school)

The center piece of these shows is the flashy cutting that accompanies the show's expert detailing his or her deduction stepping through the process and the MacGyver-esque explanation of how their particular science works, without the burden of following an actual deduction but one that fits the needs of the narrative.

The mildly annoying side effect of this is the rise of the couch-potato experts that will diagnose your symptoms (with perhaps a little help from pharmaceutical ads and news magazine shows), give legal advice, and detail how your hair print will give you away in your master crime.

Except of course, they don't. While we've come a long way from the 'end in a court room confession' style of Perry Mason, the actual experts that advise on these shows have created a 'least amount of believability' (more on this later, but it's really SR's term) threshold. Worse than someone who watches nothing but The Discovery Channel as his science credentials, they're operating on not even a fourth of the story.

Which brings us to the beast on the horizon, FOX's Lie to Me. Following the exploits of 'eccentric' a lying expert played by Tim Roth. Like House of Cards or poker movies have made many a layman an expert on 'tells,' this show promises to compound that frustrating rash of experts who no doubt will be scowering the faces of their friends and co-workers looking for signs of untruth and repeating statistics and ideas about lying presented in the show, regardless of whether they really exist or exist for the purpose of the show or even if we're supposed to trust the character that says them.

The problem is that the phrase, "To someone with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" is never more true than in a procedural show, because any problem that isn't a nail doesn't make it on the show. Why would it? So for the purpose of the show, of course everyone is lying and of course there is a way to tell, and of course that method will be easily explained. But that doesn't mean that it will translate into the viewer's daily life.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who has arbitrarily decided you've lied about something trivial? It's like trying to talk while someone squeezes your head.

My prediction is that this show is going to produce a clutch of viewers that may be the biggest group of douchebags in the narrative tv audience.

Or maybe I'm just making it all up.