Saturday, June 23, 2007

An Old Guy Named Peter

If, like me, you like old guys named Peter who enjoy a drink or three and are charming, witty and flirtatious then you will probably like the film Venus. Peter O'Toole basically plays Peter O'Toole, an actor nearing the end of his days, who develops a relationship with his best friend's grand-niece, a 20-something country girl. Think Pygmalion with a few fingers of whiskey and a nice little role for Vanessa Redgrave.

I have always liked Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris and those English/Irish actors who were steeped in the classics, yet can do broad comedy. To me American male movie stars are boring and one dimensional, but just look at O'Toole, add a cigarette and a cocktail and let him go. Does Tom Cruise compare?

Another reason to see Venus is that you just don't get many films about older people dealing (or not dealing) with their mortality. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway with Robert Duvall and Richard Harris is well worth seeing for just that reason. In that film Richard Harris basically plays Richard Harris who uses Robert Duvall as his foil. It's fun and features Sandra Bullock in one of her first film roles.

See both films and you won't be disappointed. Then imagine which American actor could play those roles and get back to me.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Special Olympics

Four years ago today, June 21, 2003, I was with my family in Dublin, Ireland for the opening ceremonies of the 2003 International Special Olympic World Games. My sister, Mary Beth, was competing for the United States team as a bowler.

It was the first time the world games had been held outside of the United States. This year they will be in China. While there I made the film, what's two +three? about our experience growing up with Mary Beth. For those of you interested in knowing more about the film, click on the link on the right side of the page. This post is mostly here to share moments that didn't make news in the U.S.

The World Games brought together 5,000 athletes and 30,000 family members from around the world. It was the biggest conference ever held in Ireland. The opening ceremonies attended by 70,000 people was the highest rated TV show in Ireland ever. 10 days later the closing ceremonies became their second highest rated TV program. Each night on TV there was an hour long recap of the days events and you couldn't lift a pint of Guiness without running into Pierce Brosnan or Colin Farrell.

Across the country and into Northern Ireland (the U.S. team spent a week in Belfast prior to the opening ceremonies, and then had a parade at Disney World on their return) the Irish people reached out to athletes. Many times we would be in a restaurant and spontaneous cheering would erupt because a Special Olympian had entered. I remember wishing we could capture that spirit and bring it back to the states,where we were a few months into a war that continues.

Some personal highlights:

1) Bono, Nelson Mandela, my sister and Muhammed Ali being at the same place at the same time.

2) Realizing that as a country Ireland had to build a natatorium- a fancy word for a swimming pool- for the games as well as a bowling alley.

3) Listening to the massive ovation from 70,000 people when the 15 Iraqi Special Olympians entered the stadium during the opening ceremonies.

4) Watching Mary Beth win a silver medal in bowling and on the podium put her arm around the gold medalist and cheer her.

I just thought I would share.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Quid Pro Quo

My filmmaking career is heavily indebted to the deposits I have made into the favor bank and the interest those favors have accrued. It's a pretty easy concept, you do something to help someone and they will help you in return. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but sometime, somehow. If they don't return the favor, shame on them. It is sort of like karma and the mafia rolled into one.

The favor bank was a lesson I learned in college and I try to teach it to my students beginning day one. When I was a junior in college I was loaned Chicago Studio City (now Oprah's Harpo Studios) for a weekend to shoot a music video. I had three stages (one of which held The Wild Kingdom set- I never saw Marlon Perkins or Jim Fowler) and all the toys that went along with those stages for the price of me stripping and waxing the Studio City lounge floor.

I have written here before about my work with Denny Dent. Denny worked for me for essentially a ride to the airport and copies of the finished work. He knew how the favor bank worked and was willing to spend an afternoon painting Mick Jagger for me on the hopes that it would turn out well and he could use it to further his career. It did- for both of us.

I am always amazed when students don't buy into this concept. Recently I hooked up a former student of mine on a three day documentary shoot. There was no pay, but he would have his travel and meals comped, and more importantly, be able to take a camera credit on a feature length documentary. He was shooting concert footage of rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef jamming with Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen and that's not a bad thing to have on your reel at age 25. If I had the time I probably could have found someone to pay ME for the opportunity to shoot this.

In any event when he returned from the the trip he called to complain, explaining he felt he deserved at least something for the effort, plus (and I think this is what really got him upset) he had to be a boom operator for part of the trip and he didn't feel comfortable doing that. I told him I was sorry and to look at all the positives from the experience. I reminded him that he now had a deposit in his favor bank and at some point he can call it in.

I think he would have preferred a deposit into his regular bank, but for his sake I hope he learned a lesson about the ways of the business world.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Faster, Faster

I recently saw a demo of this Sony XD Camera. It shoots HD and 24p. It is used by a lot of documentary camera crews as well as TV news programs. The 24p really looks like film and I was impressed. With all the bells and whistles the camera runs about $23,000.

An interesting thing about the camera is that it records media files to disk, not to tape. Very soon there will be no more tape. All of our footage will exist in a digital, file based
format. The Panasonic cameras can record to DV tape, but most people go directly to files with the P2 cards. This is the future- no tape.

Without real-time digitizing, (30 minutes of tape takes 30 minutes to get into your computer) everything moves much faster. However, at the demonstration I saw a guy in the audience still complained that the files took too long to load. I guess you can't please everyone all the time, but digitizing 30 minutes of footage took about a minute. That's fast enough for me.

More on this later, including some workflow terms I was unfamiliar with such as editing by proxy and meta-data.