Monday, November 17, 2008

Behind the Name

Chuck asked for equal time in introducing his hard drives (we alternate naming them).  
Picard - Chuck is a big Star Trek fan.  Need I say more, Jean Luc?

Bronto - at the time, this was a real "brontosaurus", our biggest hard drive with 475 GB.  Now, it's just a compsognathus (smallest known dinosaur).

Gargantuan - this 975 GB drive is our biggest and will comfortably hold the raw footage for a 3-day wedding.

Pele,  the Goddess of Fire - this was our first "firewire" drive.

Tyro - a Greek princess who had two sons by Poseidon and was the ancestor of many great mythic heroes such as Jason the Argonaut, and heroes in the Trojan War.

Koko - the gorilla who understands over 1000 signs in American Sign Language and over 2000 English words.  She befriended several cats, notably All Ball, her first pet.

Samwise - the stalwart best friend of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings; the only ring-bearer strong enough to resist the temptation of the ring's power.

What's In a Name?

We're all superstitious in some way.  Chuck and I name our hard drives after mythical characters who have exhibited reliability, trustworthiness and heroic qualities.  In this way, we figure, we are giving our hard drives something to live up to.  Here are some of the names we've come up with.  Since they are often obscure, I've included who the characters were.

Togo - The true hero of the original Ididerod, which became known as the Great Race of Mercy. Of the twenty mushers who rushed the  diphtheria serum the 674 miles from Nenana to Nome in 1925, the man who drove the furthest in perilous conditions was Alaska's great sled dog racer Leonhard Seppala. And the dog that led Seppala's team for 265 miles, including a long stretch over the fracturing ice of Norton Sound was a small, feisty Siberian Husky named Togo.

Casole - the "actor" who played the title role in the Black Stallion (1979).  Arabian horses are known for their exceptional beauty, elegance, grace, intelligence, balance, speed and stamina.  They are hearty in order to survive harsh desert conditions.  Arabians are the stuff of legend.  Alexander the Great rode one.

Demelza - female lead in the 1970's BBC series, Poldark. Demelza, a 13-year old servant girl, develops into a charming, amusing, generous, resourceful, resilient, courageous, loyal, beautiful woman, winning the love and affection of Ross Poldark.

Veronica Franco - a poet and the most celebrated courtesan of 16th century Venice.  She was a published author and founded a charity for courtesans and their children.  She was one of the few who successfully defended herself during the inquisition for witchcraft, with dignity and wit.  The movie Dangerous Beauty (1998) tells her tale.

Mrs Miniver - Greer Garson played the title role in Mrs Miniver (1942).  Mrs Miniver met the deprivations and tragedies of WWII with equanimity, courage and humor while being gracious to all whom she meets, putting the needs of family and friends ahead of her own.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Let's Make a Movie

We had a wonderful time filming and creating a movie trailer for Emily and Danny who were married at the Ritz at Half Moon Bay last month.  We never do it alone.  Here are some of the fine cast of characters:

Venue:  Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay, Tony White
Coordinator:  Jubilee Lau Events, Jubilee Lau
Beauty:  Faces by Taylor, Taylor Pham
Cake: Elegant Cheesecakes, Susan Morgan
Invitations:  Peculiar Pair, Mary Beth Fiorentino, Amy Hayson 

Here is the piece:

I thought you, dear reader, would like to know what goes on behind the scenes to create even a 3-minute piece like this.

Behind the Scenes 

1.  When we saw Emily & Danny's logo, we thought it was very nice.  So we asked for and received the Illustrator files of the logo from Peculiar Pair Press and animated Emily and Danny's logo.

2.  Emily's Mom and Dad were at the second story window looking out.  The window was too blue, due to the reflection of the sky and ocean.  Chuck masked the window and color corrected it so their skin tones looked normal. He then gave a different color correction to the area outside the window so it matched the other images of the exterior of the building.  Then, he did the same thing for each FRAME (there are 30 frames per second).  We color correct pretty much every clip in the entire wedding movie.  This adds 2-3 weeks of effort.  We also modulate and "sweeten" the sound throughout a wedding movie.

3.  Emily and Danny asked us to do a time lapse of empty to full seats.  Since this was the weekend of the women's golf tournament, we could not leave a camera outdoors unattended.  So, at our own expense we hired someone to "camera sit" just to get that 3-second shot.

4.  After the bridesmaids walked down the aisle and Emily was waiting alone in the foyer, we finally saw a bit of her nervousness.  It was charming. 

5.  By coming to every rehearsal (no extra charge), we know what is going to happen and when.  So, we were in the best positions to catch Emily hugging her in-laws and Danny hugging his in-laws.

6.  Chuck caught Emily's favorite uncle sketching at the rehearsal.  He finished the drawing during the ceremony.  We were able to scale the sketch to create the maximum impact when we dissolved from the sketch to real life.  This impact can only be achieved in a moving picture medium.  A photo in an album would not convey the same dynamic feeling nor the emotions it creates.  This unexpected event inspired the opening and closing scenes of this piece.  Chuck bought a special piece of software to create a look that was similar to the Uncle's artistic style.

7.  During the table toasts, we wanted a specific look.  It was very dark in the ballroom, so we needed small (20 watt) lights.  Instead of having them mounted on the camera which would light people from the front, giving an unflattering flat look, our assistant was lighting each scene from the side, for a softer and more sophisticated look - still using only a 20-watt light.  We aim to be unobtrusive.  In fact Emily's parents thought Chuck was the only cinematographer there.  They never saw me or our assistant!  And the only reason they saw him was because he was in the foyer with them just before they walked down the aisle.

8.  We went back to the Ritz and filmed the ocean scenes on a non-wedding day.

9.  The scene where the camera pulls back from a couple standing at the window watching the sunset?  It was shot much earlier in the day when the sky was blue.  Chuck color graded it to look like it occurred at sunset to match the other images immediately prior.

10.  Because Emily and Danny are real foodies, we made special arrangements in advance with the staff at the Ritz to be able to film the food preparation without interfering in the flow of their work.

11.  We knew the photo booth would be a centerpiece of the reception.  So, the week before the wedding we spent several hours experimenting to determine the best combination of strobe flashes per second, direction of  supplemental lighting, and a few other factors which matched the photo booth flashes best.  So, on the wedding night, we were able to flash our strobes for less than 3 minutes total time.  Everyone thought the strobes were the band's mood lights.

12.  We asked for and received the DVD of all 663 photo booth images.  We combed through every one of them to find the ones that matched our footage and found some additional ones that had a lot of energy.

13.  We strongly suggest couples engage us until the end of the evening because you never know when great moments will happen.  The bride's cousin started break dancing.  This occurred after the end of our contracted time. We had packed up and were ready to go.  Nevertheless, we grabbed a camera and shot this scene.

14.  In order to know what images we need, we storyboard a short piece like this.  That takes hours. We allow for whatever will happen at a ceremony, but we need to think through transitional elements in advance to make it happen. For example, we knew we would need to film a steadicam shot entering the front of the Ritz and a steadicam shot following a couple out to the gazebo area.  So, we scheduled a specific time to capture these images.

15.  We have close-up and wide shots, camera angles that are on the ground and way overhead.  There are small, well considered camera moves and there are times we hold the camera steady.  It is a matter of knowing when to use each of these techniques, and knowing when to be still.

16.  And, we need to know who are the key people and capture them without fail.

17.  We looked at over 500 pieces of music to find the one that had the right beat and mood to match Emily and Danny's personalities AND match the images we brought back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Four Agreements

Sometimes I have a hard time communicating with my Mother.  What's new! We went to see a show this weekend. And as she got into the car, I noted she had an umbrella.  In a neutral tone (or so I thought) I asked, "Mom, is it supposed to rain today?"  I figured maybe she had listened to the weather report and knew something I did not.  Silently I was wondering why she was carrying an umbrella on a sunny day with a cloudless sky.

Her response was unexpected.  She got mad and asked why I had insulted her.  I was taken aback!  How can you take offense if I'm just discussing the weather?!

So, I went back to "my corner of the ring" and considered what I had done wrong.  But I had no framework to evaluate this odd interchange.  Later that day I faintly heard the words from a ceremony Chuck was editing.  The officiant read Don Miguel Ruiz' Four Agreements.  They are:

1.  Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. 

Don't Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering. 

Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. 

Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Ah ha!  It's easy to see that Mom was the offender here.  She violated Agreements #2 and 3 - Don't take it personally and Don't make assumptions.  Obviously, I huffed, she assumed I meant to insult her.  Always thinking the worst of people.  But wait a minute.  Was I totally blameless?  

Maybe my fault lay in not living up to the first agreement. Maybe I was mindlessly making chit-chat and didn't bring full attention and focus to my Mother.  Maybe I didn't say "Mom, is it supposed to rain today?" with truth and love. Being a sensitive woman, maybe she felt the 1% of sarcasm I thought I had hid so well. Well, I guess we were both at fault.  

All you can do is your best (see Agreement #4).  So next time, I'll do better. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TV Shows About Elections

When it comes to selecting the best TV shows about elections and the presidency, there is only one choice:  The West Wing.  The series of 156 episodes was one of the best dramas ever broadcast.  It aired between September, 1999 and May, 2006.  

Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The American President (1995), later developed this series from unused plot elements. The writing was incisive and touched on a long list of topical issues.  Critics said it was unrealistically optimistic, and the rooms depicted on TV were larger than the actual rooms. Chuck and I learned a lot about blocking shots, camera angles, and "walk and talk" steadicam movement which adds a dynamic quality to a conversation.  They had a budget of $6 million per episode which allowed them to craft a beautiful small movie each week.

I just caught the last episode which aired May 16, 2006.  It was an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come in 2008. In the episode, President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) is handing over the reins of the presidency to a young minority Democratic candidate (Jimmy Smits) who had a grueling primary campaign against a more experienced candidate and chose an experienced Washington insider as his running mate.  The Republican opponent was an aging maverick senator from a western state who chose a running mate from a small Republican state.  Holy cow!  Fiction and real life collide.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Movies About Elections

The elections are over, for the time being.  Maybe it turned out the way you hoped; maybe not.  If you need to go to a make believe place where things always turn out right, take a look at some of these movies about elections.

Bulworth (1998) - Warren Beatty, Halle Berry
A Democratic California senator running for re-election orders a hit on himself which gives him the freedom to speak out in a brutally honest way in the form of hip hop music.

The Candidate (1972) - Robert Redford
A young, idealistic candidate for the U.S. Seante from California wages a campaign on integrity and hope.  A study in the inner conflicts of a decent man torn between ambition and conscience. It doesn't hurt that he has charisma, charm and good looks.

Dave (1993) - Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver
Dave, an ordinary guy, is recruited to impersonate a comatose President.  He brings common sense, idealism and decency back to the oval office.

Man of the Year (2006) - Robin Williams, Christopher Walken
A political comedian decides to run for president.  A computerized voting machine malfunction gets him elected.

Manchurian Candidate (1962) - Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury
Shows just how far some people are willing to go to win an election.

Primary Colors (1998) - John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton
A barely fictionalized account of the 1992 candidacy of Bill Clinton, showing the "deal making" it takes to win the office.

And here are a few more movies about what happens to the men who win and assume the highest office.

All The President's Men (1976) - Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman
Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal.

American President (1995) - Michael Douglas, Annette Bening
A widowed president and a lobbyist fall in love and try to have a relationship despite the constant  attention of the press.

Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) - Alan Alda, Meryl Streep
Senator Joe Tynan faces a choice between integrity and power; between his family and his mistress, between decency and ambition.

W (2008) - Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss
Oliver Stone's take on what makes George W Bush run.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Newspaper Death Watch

I took my Mom to dinner for her birthday last night.  We were both anxiously awaiting the results of the presidential election.  Occasionally we peered around the corner of the dining room to the TV at the bar to see the electoral college count.  We mused about the first time we each voted (in very different decades), and how the way in which we get our information has changed so much.
This morning, I found a website, "Newspaper Death Watch", which chronicles the loss of daily circulation in the top 23 US newspapers.  In the past 6 months, these major newspapers have lost 2% to 13% of their readership, with an average decrease of 6%.  Newspapers in Houston, Newark, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Boston were hit hard.  The venerable Christian Science Monitor announced after a century that it would cease publishing a weekday paper.  TV Guide was sold for a dollar, less than the price of a single copy.  

To paraphrase David Carr of the NY Times in his October 28 column, the tide turned long ago.  Most of us are getting our news online.  It's cheaper, more immediate, more convenient, and saves the forests.  Traffic to newspaper websites is up almost 16% in the third quarter.  So what?  Who cares?  The answer lies not in how the news is delivered but how it is paid for.

More than 90% of a newspaper's revenues come from print ads.  Print ads cost thousands of dollars; online ads may only cost $20 per 1000 customers.  The difference in revenue translates into fewer journalists with tighter deadlines.  Fewer worthy stories will be covered; coverage will lack depth and insight.  Recently one of the speakers at the American Magazine Conference worried that if the trusted news sources vanished the web would become a "cesspool" of useless information.  The quote came from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

The fourth estate seems to be in jeopardy.  It has always been our faithful watchdog exposing corruption, following the beat and sharing well-considered insight.  It remains to be seen how they will reinvent themselves.  But until then, who's going to watch over us?  I am hopeful.  I think people will step up to the plate from unexpected quarters.  Like Roger Ebert, the movie critic, for example, who wrote eloquently about the outcome of the election:

This Land Was Made For You and Me
by Roger Ebert
November 4, 2008

As the mighty tide swept the land on Tuesday night, I was transfixed. As the pundits pondered red states and blue states, projections and exit polls, I was swept with emotion. Not because America was "electing its first Black president." That comes a little late in the day. It was because America was electing the right President.

Our long national nightmare is ending. America will not soon again start a war based on lies and propaganda. We will not torture. We will restore the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of privacy, and habeas corpus. We will enter at last in the struggle against environmental disaster. Our ideas will once again be more powerful than our weapons. During the last eight years, the beacon on the hill flickered out. Now the torch will shine again.

We will bring our troops home, in the right way. Am I against the war? Of course. Do I support our troops? Of course. They were sent to endanger their lives by zealots with occult objectives. More than 4,000 of them have died. Even more lives have been lost by our coalition forces than by our own.

Do I blame George Bush? At the end of the day, I don't know that I really do. I agree with Oliver Stone that Bush never knew he had been misled until it was too late. I blame those who used him as their puppet. The unsmiling men standing in the shadows. On Tuesday the righteous people of America stood up and hammered them down.

Lots of people stayed up late Tuesday night. They listened McCain's gracious, eloquent concession speech. He was a good man at heart, caught up in a perfect storm of history. He had the wrong policies and the wrong campaign. At the end, let me tell you about a hunch I have. In the privacy of the voting booth, I think there is a possibility that Condolezza Rice voted for Obama. Her vote might have had little to do with ideology. She could not stomach the thought of Vice President Palin.

I stayed up late. As I watched, I remembered. In 1968 I was in the streets as a reporter, when the Battle of Grant Park ended eight years of Democratic presidents and opened an era when the Republicans would control the White House for 28 of the next 40 years. "The whole world is watching!" the demonstrators cried, as the image of Chicago was tarnished around the world. On Tuesday night, the world again had its eyes on Grant Park. I saw tens and tens of thousands of citizens with their hearts full, smiling through their tears. As at all of Obama's rallies, our races stood proudly side by side, as it should be. We are finally, finally, beginning to close that terrible chapter of American history

President Obama is not an obsessed or fearful man. He has no grandiose ideological schemes to lure us into disaster. He won because of a factor the pundits never mentioned. He was the grown-up. He has a rational mind, a steady hand, and a first-rate intelligence. But, oh, it will be hard for him. He inherits a wrong war, a disillusioned nation, and a crumbling economy. He may have to be a Depression president.

What gives me hope is that a great idealistic movement rose up to support him. Some say a million and a half volunteers. Millions more donated to his campaign. He won votes that crossed the lines of gender, age, race, ethnicity, geography and political party. He was the right man at a dangerous time. If ever a president was elected by we the people, he is that president.

America was a different place when I grew up under Truman, Eisenhower and, yes, even Nixon. On Tuesday that America remembered itself, and stood up to be counted.

This land is your land,
This land is our land,
From California, to the New York island.
From the redwood forests, to the Gulf Stream waters--
This land was made for you and me.