Monday, December 15, 2008

Got Film If You Want It

As Chair of the Film/Broadcast Department at Flashpoint Academy it has been a personal mission of mine to have our students shoot film. Typically we shoot HD, but this fall, thanks to Kodak, our advanced cinematography students shot some super 16mm. After seeing the rushes I felt confident that we could shoot our own film, so last Wednesday production began on October Surprise, Flashpoint Academy's 3rd Production-in-Action.

October Surprise is a film set in a TV news room on the eve of a presidential election. Some mysterious photos of the leading candidate have appeared and there is a rush to see if they are real or fake.

Our advanced students are doing the heavy lifting on this film. Supported by key professional crew members, our students are shooting film. Production wraps this Thursday, then a much deserved winter break. More details and photos to follow.


BTW Got Live If You Want It was the name of the Rolling Stones first live record, so I borrowed the title for this post for our first film.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Studs died.

Jesus wept.

Hello again, it's been awhile, give me a break I have been busy. I'll give you a recap of life since September in another post, but first a few words about Studs Terkel.

I met Studs when he agreed to read a children's version of Icarus and Daedalus for my TV show Rainbow Soup.
We shot him in his house- like everyone did the last years of his life. A few brief memories:

1) He left a message on my answering machine, "Peter, this is Studs. Sure, I'll read the story, let's set it up." I was in a parking lot in Baltimore checking my messages when I got it. I must have played it back a dozen times just to hear, "Peter, this is Studs."

2) I was at his house a short time after his wife died. His phone rang and it was a solicitor asking for his wife. He explained she had recently died, the solicitor didn't miss a beat and started to pitch Studs on whatever he was selling. Studs politely declined and hung up. He turned to me and said, "That happens all the time. They don't hear me say she is dead."

3) Just as we started rolling he was telling a story, I don't recall it, but the only part we have on film is Studs saying, "Wilt Chamberlin, Harold Washington and me- what an unholy trinity." I have no idea the context, but I laughed and you can hear me off camera.

4) At the end of the piece I asked Studs advice he would give young people. He thought for a moment an said, "Read. Read Twain and Shakespeare."

Good advice, thanks Studs.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Peter Gabriel- Witness

When I met Peter Gabriel at the Womad Festival back in 2001 he rounded a corner wearing a loose windbreaker and was carrying a small video camera. We shook hands and the entire time he kept filming me. It was very disconcerting and more than a little odd. But it kept me honest- it is a true document of our first meeting.

After a moment I looked at the camera and then at him and said, "Do you have permission to do that?" He didn't laugh, but instead asked if I was going to stop him.

That was my introduction to Peter Gabriel.

In addition to all his great music, Gabriel is known for pushing the envelope of technology- both music and film. Look at those videos from 20+ years ago, they are amazing today. He is also known for being a human rights advocate. He has combined both of those passions to promote the idea that the camera tells the truth and can (and has been) be used to help prevent human rights violations.

He can say it much better than I can, so watch this 14 minute long presentation if you care at all about telling the truth.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Suits

There was a really depressing article in Friday's Wall Street Journal about how Warner Brothers- in part based on the success of the last two Batman films- is going to make fewer, more expensive films, and are going to mine DC Comics for characters. Warner Brothers currently produces 25 t 26 films per year, and will cut back to 20 to 22 films a year- with as many as eight "tent pole" films to be based on DC Comic characters.


Is this short sighted? Warners recently closed its two art house labels- Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse. Evidently the films produced by the these entities: Goodnight and Good Luck, Before Sunset, In the Valley of Elah, La Vie en Rose, The Notorious Betty Page, Pan's Labyrinth didn't fit the new Warner's model. Maybe if Edith Piaf and Edward R. Morrow had been comic book characters things would be different.

Read the article and weep.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Even More Witch

Just a brief update.

Team Flashpoint has been named one of three finalists in the Experimental Witch Project. A PAL HD version of the film has been shipped to Italy at their request. We will know more on August 24.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes

I was all set to blog about Peter Gabriel when I learned about the death of Isaac Hayes. The Gabriel blog will come next, but in the interim a few words about Isaac Hayes.

For my TV show Rainbow Soup, I had the opportunity- and ironically it came less than an hour after meeting Peter Gabriel- to shoot an Isaac Hayes show from the pit of the 2001 Womad Festival outside of Seattle. His set started and the band vamped for what seemed like five minutes and then from the side of the stage Isaac walked out, dressed in camouflage, army boots and sunglasses. He shuffled across the stage with a huge smile snapping his fingers. The crowd went wild. It was a great moment.

He sat at his keyboard right in front of me and for 30 minutes played right to our camera. He was fantastic, the audience loved him, I did too, and then security came- even though I had permission- and shut me down. A moment later someone from Hayes' team crawled out to me and asked why we weren't shooting, when I explained he said, "Isaac wants you to shoot him, keep going!"

We fired back up and ten minutes later security came to kick me out. As we left the pit, Isaac looked down at me smiled and gave us a thumbs up. A moment later, between songs, using his "Chef" voice he complained about security being a little to harsh on some members of the press. The crowd cheered and I felt vindicated. After his set I hung backstage with him. He was just a nice man. Very funny, cool guy.

While he might be most known for his Oscar winning song- the theme from Shaft- I wanted to talk with him about his role on The Rockford Files back in the 1970s and his transformation into Chef- this was just before he left South Park.

I am writing this in the quick moments after learning about his death, more thoughts later perhaps. Isaac Hayes will be missed- as will Bernie Mac- a great Chicago talent and presence.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Real Thing- Aaron Levy

I had breakfast the other day with a former student of mine named Aaron Levy.

Remember that name.

Aaron was in town from New York visiting his parents and he rang up his old teacher.

After getting his B.A. Aaron hung around Chicago. He logged film for a reality sports TV show, I hired him as a p.a. a few times- he was lousy as a p.a. it was just not his cup of tea (not mine either)- and he did a variety of add jobs like work in a lawyers' office. In all his spare time he would write. Of all my students in these near 13 years of teaching college Aaron is the one who sticks out as a writer. As a college student he was a mediocre filmmaker, but an excellent writer. More importantly he loves the act of writing perhaps more than anyone I know.

A few years after he graduated I prodded him into applying to graduate schools and he was accepted at NYU. Two years later he received a M.F.A. in playwriting. In the years since NYU he has been a struggling artist. He has had some opportunities and readings, took some more classes, got hired at an off-Broadway theater as a manager. In June had a one act play produced in Washington D.C. He's on the rise.

When Aaron walked into the restaurant early the other day he was a new man. Gone was the round, soft, relaxed former student. In walked a lean, 32 year old playwright- an artist, a person on a mission. I was taken not only by his physical transformation- he also quit smoking and began exercising- but his emotional transformation. Sitting before me was a creative person to be reckoned with. As we ate, Aaron told me about his new play. It's about race and youth and when he pitched it I got goose bumps. He asked if I want to read it. I said, "No, I'll wait to see it."

So you don't think I romanticize all of my former students, I left the restaurant and went to my second meeting of the morning (I get a lot done before 9am). This was with two former students- who I have previously hired- who have really good editing jobs, making nice money and doing really fine work. I like them a lot, respect them even more, but they are not artists of the same caliber.

If there is a consistent theme to this blog it is work hard, then work harder. It takes ten years to be an overnight success, just keep at it if it is something you want to do. So with apologies to Tom Stoppard keep your eye out for playwright Aaron Levy- the real thing.


Friday, August 1, 2008

More Witch

Yesterday I blogged about the Experimental Witch project and today I am giving this space over to Lori Bohner the Flashpoint student who directed the film. That's her in the center between the two leads and amongst the rest of the Flashpoint crew. I'm going to let Lori tell the story of how the film came to life.

As a reminder the film was made by students who had been in the program less than six months before production began. I am proud of their effort and how they collaborated and worked as a team.


The moment you informed us of the Experimental Witch Project I fell in love with the idea. So did many other students. About 35 students began brainstorming ideas for our adaptation of the character Heron. My intentions were to be one of the writers and possibly co-write a script. The group began monthly meetings in January. By March our numbers had dwindled as students were be called toward various other projects.
In April we began weekly meetings with about 7 students to discuss a shooting script. I had read The Witch of Portobello cover to cover by this time and my script was the most finished and was chosen by the group to produce. By consensus of the students I was elected by the group to become the director. I felt honored.

I was drawn to the project because I feel a connection with this story. Immediately I thought of two actor friends of mine I felt would be perfect for this role. I had also had been a volunteer for the Romanian Film Festival in the fall and loved the old building the Festival took place in and thought it would be perfect for this script.

Things started coming together.

I asked Adam Darin only two weeks before shooting to be my producer. Without him I would have been lost. He was the ambitious leader I needed to assemble the rest of the missing crew and help organize my thoughts. I held two rehearsals with the lead characters and had no time to hold a casting session for the extras. I decided to create several Craig's list ads searching for different profiles. I had about 15 responses from various actors and had detailed phone conversations and 'hired' them from the conversations and head shots they had emailed me. I even met one actor on the train. I was creating a 'to do' list that he read over my shoulder and he happened to have a head shot on him. He was perfect!

My only complaint was tardiness. The day of the shoot not one single person (except myself :o ) was on time. Even with the chaos in the beginning we quickly pulled the ship up-right and got our first shot off. Adam had made a wonderful shot list and floor plan for us to follow which gave us the perfect check list to accomplish our 117 shots in one-days-time! The atmosphere was very professional and the crew and cast rolled up their sleeves and worked their tails off.

I was recommended a composer and met with him to give him my thoughts on what type of score I was looking for. We had many other meetings following that initial. He was absolutely great. Meanwhile two students, Kyle Krause and Vlad Sava, created two unique cuts. Kyle's on Final Cut and Vlad's on Avid. We ended up with Kyle's as his was more complete.

We got a late start on the editing process and I felt rushed at the end but was happy with the final result.
Our sound designer, Ian had two days to finish the final sound mix ...and voila...Love and Lovelorn. We had a great team and great crew. I am pleased.



Thursday, July 31, 2008

Witch of Portobello redux

In January I blogged about how Paulo Coelho was allowing his book The Witch of Portobello to be adapted by filmmakers and allowing them to compete for a $3,000 Euro prize. Each filmmaker had to apply and if selected, had to create a short film about one character. I applied and was given the character of documentary filmmaker on the search for Athena.

So instead of making the film myself, I opened it up to my students and supervised their production. They did the heavy lifting, I sat back and ate craft services. Click on the link to see the Team Flashpoint submission. On my next blog I will share comments from my students about the process.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

This past Wednesday Flashpoint Academy was one of the sponsors of the Chicago premiere of The Dark Knight. The film was shot in Chicago last summer and the premiere was held at the Navy Pier Imax theater.

As one of the sponsors Flashpoint was allowed to be on the red carpet, in the screening and at the party afterwards. I was elected to be the person interviewing the stars on the red carpet. We were able to get a couple of students out there with me- this is Matt and Joe, as well as our in-house producer Paul Matian. We interviewed Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, producer Charles Roven and others and our students got to meet and speak with director Christopher Nolan. A great time was had by all, and just another way Flashpoint is different from other film schools.

I'll let the pictures tell the story.


Friday, July 18, 2008

We've Got a Winner!

About a month ago a group of Flashpoint students participated in the Chicago 48 Hour Film Project, and last Saturday night their film, Urn Doctor, M.D. won the Audience Prize for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.

Team Flashpoint was one of 30 teams that competed during the Chicago event held during the weekend of June 20-22. In 2007, some 30,000 filmmakers participated in the 48 Hour Film Project in 55 cities around the world. This year, 15 cities were added, the 48 Hour Film Project will tour 70 cities.

To compete in the 48 Hour Film Project, teams must write, shoot and edit a short film in just 48 hours. All teams are given the same character, prop, line of dialog and genre, and must finish their project 48 hours later.

This year’s elements were “Walter or Wilma Western Repair Person” (character), an urn or container with a deceased’s ashes (prop) and a line entitled “What’s the Password?” (dialog).

I am very proud of them because they exhibited all of the things we try so hard to deliver at Flashpoint-namely collaboration and communication. Team Flashpoint was comprised of students across all four disciplines. Those students are:

Bill Douglas-producer/team leader,
Matt Arauz-director,
Adam Darin-assistant director/ Lead Actor
Steve DaDouche-director of photography,
Ian Roelle - chief audio technician,
Pat Sokley - assistant producer
Tony Schiavone-Editor
Ben Cline-editor
Josh Gort-gaffer
Scott Fedor, Austin Johnson, Chris Janonis, Mike Rolfsmeyer -graphics/PA's

Vlad Sava - Additional Camera Support
Timothy Daniel - Wardrobe/Craft Service/ PA
Kyle Krause - Additional Camera Support

Kara Powell - Lead Actress

Check out their website.

Congratulations Team Flashpoint!


Monday, July 14, 2008

It Ain't Over Until It's Over...

... Yogi Berra supposedly said that about the importance of playing hard through all nine innings of a baseball game because you don't know how it will turn out until the game is complete.

It ain't over until it's over, just sounds better to my ears.

The same is true for film work or anything in the arts: the creation of the project is not enough, you have to see it through until the end. For young filmmakers it means packaging, presentation, pitching the finished film, then more screenings and more presentations. One of the hardest things to do for young artists is to sell their own work-their artists not salespeople- but it is also the most important.

You can't just finish the film and show it to your friends and family and assume your work is done. That's amateur hour, and if you can't get out there and sell yourself- or at least give it your best shot- then get out of the business. I think Patti Smith said, "If only 14 people see it, is it art?" OK, maybe it wasn't Patti Smith, but I like her and will attribute it to her. But the point is well taken.

Vincent Van Gogh didn't sell one painting while he was alive. It didn't make him any less of an artist, but it made him depressed and crazy and one ear short of the full compliment, and ultimately it killed him. Van Gogh couldn't sell himself- and he drove his brother and dealer Theo nuts by his lack of self-promotion.

A few years ago I made a pilot of a TV show called Rainbow Soup. It was a show about art and world culture for kids (tweens) and their parents. We tried to create thirty minutes that would be interesting to both parents and kids- so Peter Gabriel sings and Studs Terkel reads a kids' version of Icarus and Daedalus and the film director Stephen Frears is the voice of an animated character.

When the pilot was finished I felt my work was about half done. We then set out promoting and selling the show. We created an elaborate mailer- including a painted soup bowl, a game and a package of instant "Rainbow Soup." All of this came in a package about the size of a cereal box. It was fun, but it also included all the important facts and figures about the series. It took maybe six months to put it all together, but it got people's attention and I am as proud of the salesmanship of Rainbow Soup as I am about the content.

The show never got picked up for TV, but it has lived a nice life on the internet and in schools in the United States and Canada. I even keep a letter from HBO Family, which after careful consideration rejected the show, but praised our marketing campaign. It's the best rejection letter I have ever received.

So just remember what Yogi said- it ain't over 'til it's over. You can see a clip of Rainbow Soup at


Friday, July 11, 2008

What's It All About?

A few weeks ago on NPR's Fresh Air, they played a 1997 interview between Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese done at Ohio State University. The two men are discussing Raging Bull- they played two clips from the film on the radio and it is fascinating just listening to the film- and Ebert begins the discussion like this:

...People will discuss the subject matter as if that is what the film is about. The film is about boxing, or it’s about gangsters. A film is not about its subject, its about how it’s about its subject. The subject is neutral, people don't understand that. Whenever anyone makes a statement I don’t like to go to movies about ... fill in the blank. My response is 'anyone who makes that statement is an idiot.' I don’t want to go to bad films about cowboys is maybe a more intelligent statement.

Well said, Roger. Raging Bull was about a boxer not about boxing.

If you want to hear 12 minutes of Ebert and Scorsese's discussion as well as listen to two scenes from Raging Bull, then go to itunes and look up the June 27 Fresh Air podcast or visit and go to the Fresh Air archives. It's a great, passionate discussion as well as an interesting insight into how Scorsese shot the boxing scenes for Raging Bull. Later in the broadcast Michael Imperioli talks about working on Goodfellas and what it was like to work with Robert DeNiro.

Check it out.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I finally got around to seeing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel's film about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle magazine who suffered a massive stroke which left him in a condition called "locked-in syndrome."

It's a terrific film in many ways: the story of what happened to Jean-Do is amazing. After his stroke he was in a coma for 20 days. When he awoke he was mentally aware of his surroundings but paralyzed with the exception of his left eye. He used his eye to communicate, blinking as a transcriber repeatedly recited a French language frequency alphabet. Using this method he wrote a memoir chronicling everyday events and what it is like for a person with locked-in syndrome. It took 200,000 blinks and each word took approximately two minutes to complete.

Another reason I liked the film was Schnabel's use of the point of view shot. Much of the film is from Bauby's point of view, so the viewer really feels what it is like to have this condition. Using the p.o.v. camera, the viewer finally catches a glimpse of the afflicted Bauby in a refelection. It comes as a shock that this person- with a brain which is quite alive- is in such a horrible physical state. By using this p.o.v. shot we got to experience the feeling Bauby had when he saw his own reflection.

During the film I found myself thinking that Mathieu Amalric-who plays Bauby in the film- was terrific bringing this character to life. While I do think Amalric did a great job, I think it was Schnabel's direction that made Amalric's performance so strong. During much of the film we don't see Bauby, we only hear him. So when we finally get to see Amalric's crumpled body it is even more horrific for us, because WE have had locked-in syndrome and we now realize what it has done to OUR bodies. Julian Schnabel was most deserving of his Oscar nomination for best direction and I think he should have won.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Protagonist

I saw a remarkable documentary film not long ago called The Protaganist, directed by Jessica Yu. The film interweaves the stories of four unrelated men who have been consumed by their personal journeys. The men: a former German terrorist, an "ex-gay" evangelist, a bank robber and a martial arts expert.

From The Protagonist website.

But as their stories unfold, one starts to see the parallels between the uncommon, common experience of these four men. Each character embarks on a journey for valid reasons, only to find himself so deeply embedded in the cause that he becomes the opposite of what he had intended. He is blind to this fact, though, until the forces of fate and character boil and distill to a single moment of dark epiphany. In telling this echoing story, the film asks: what is the path to extremism? In responding to the turmoil of life, where does one draw the line between the reasonable and the unreasonable? And how does one recover from the delusion of certainty?

In addition, the film is based on the works of Euripides and the film uses quotes from his plays as chapter headings. Yu also uses wooden rod puppets- pictured here- to stage both excerpts from Euripides and scenes from the four men's past. The puppetry is really amazing and adds a layer to the film that would not otherwise be there.

Jessica Yu won an Oscar in 1997 for her short documentary, Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, who lived for decades in an iron lung after being paralyzed by polio. She has directed other award winning documentaries and in the small world isn't it category, a former student and regular reader of this page, has worked with her and says only good things.

Check out The Protaganist it's well worth it.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Florida State University

Last weekend I went to Florida State University where I spoke with a group of film students working on their thesis films.  The dumb filmmaker likes nothing better than a road trip, and getting a chance to talk film with passionate film students was the icing on the cake- or perhaps the cake itself.  I think the cultural exchange-  visiting and lecturing at another institution- was very valuable.  

FSU has a good program.  There are only 60 undergraduates.  The program is set up like this- the first two years are general education classes and the final two years is hardcore filmmaking.  I really like the practical, hands on approach- something we do at Flashpoint.  I also liked seeing how the students really had to collaborate.  Each student must serve as a writer/director, producer, DP, a.d., sound, production designer or editor on a film.  There are some other hard rules as well- films cannot be more than seven and a half minutes- they will not be accepted otherwise.  For the thesis (B.F.A.)  films the school pays for 2000 feet of film and processing and gives each film a $250 stipend for food and production design.

Having taught only at urban campuses, I was envious that students had 24 hour access.  I was in the film department at 11pm Saturday night and there were probably 20 students editing, building sets, meeting etc....  It was great to see and reminded me of my own misspent youth hanging out making film at all hours.

My lecture was about personal vision.  I bored them with my journey, then we talked about Tom McCarthy- writer/director of The Visitor and The Station Agent and his personal vision. Regarding both films we talked about what makes family and community and themes of connection.  It was a nice evening- the students were engaged and engaging and some even took notes.  Several asked me if they could send me their work so I could comment.  I look forward to seeing it.

I want to send a special thanks to Joey Daoud who found me, thanks in part to this blog, and brought me down to speak.  Check out his Coffee and Celluloid blog- a good taste of what it is like to be a hard working film student.

Finally, despite the nice trip, it is nice to be home.  My own Flashpoint film students began their second productions this past Monday and I look forward to seeing what they produce.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

George Carlin

I was sorry to hear about the passing of George Carlin. Along with Richard Pryor, Carlin helped change stand up comedy. To me Carlin was a truth teller and a wordsmith. He knocked down pompous hypocrites with just the right word. He called a spade a spade.

For a 9th grade drop out, he did pretty well for himself. He had a plan- radio first (he had a radio show in Shreveport, LA when he was 18), then comedy, then films. He wanted to be Bob Hope or Danny Kaye. He felt it was his birthright and he didn't need three more years of formal schooling to get there. He was also blessed with a mom who instilled in him the love of language. The dictionary was an important book in the Carlin house.

Below is an excerpt of his famous seven-dirty words monologue. He can say it better than me. George Carlin you will be missed.


There are some people that aren't into all the words. There are some people who would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can't say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad. They'd have to be outrageous, to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you seven. Bad words. That's what they told us they were, remember? 'That's a bad word.' 'Awwww.' There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad Intentions.

And words, you know the seven don't you? Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits, huh? Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that will infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.

Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits, wow. Tits doesn't even belong on the list, you know. It's such a friendly sounding word. It sounds like a nickname. 'Hey, Tits, come here. Tits, meet Toots, Toots, Tits, Tits, Toots.' It sounds like a snack doesn't it? Yes, I know, it is, right. But I don't mean the sexist snack, I mean, New Nabisco Tits. The new Cheese Tits, and Corn Tits and Pizza Tits, Sesame Tits Onion Tits, Tater Tits, Yeah. Betcha can't eat just one. That's true I usually switch off . But I mean that word does not belong on the list.

Actually, none of the words belong on the list, but you can understand why some of them are there. I am not completely insensitive to people's feelings. You know, I can dig why some of those words got on the cocksucker and motherfucker. Those are...those are heavy-weight words. There's a lot going on there, man. Besides the literal translation and the emotional feeling. They're just busy words. There's a lot of syllables to contend with. And those K's. Those are aggressive sounds, they jump out at you. CocksuckerMotherfuckerCocksucker. It's like an assault, on you. So I can dig that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Details, Details, Details

"God is in the details," the architect Mies van der Rohe said. (Though I prefer the Devil is in the details, but you get the picture- details are important.)

The first class all Flashpoint students take is called Sound, Image, Time & Space (SITSP). I like to call it the "attention to details" class. Last September I co-taught the course with Flashpoint Visual FX chair Perry Harovas. The first thing we did on day one was to play a sound effect of a car driving. We then asked students what they heard. It very quickly went from "a car," to "a car on wet pavement, in the country, evening, microphone at a certain distance away, etc...." To me that is paying attention to details, and in good all art God (the Devil) is in the details.

This brings me to two films I saw recently. No Country for Old Men, the multi-Oscar winner from the Coen brothers, and Jeff Garlin's I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. Forget the subject matter and the themes of the films, the difference in the attention to details was remarkable.

I must preface this by saying that I really like Jeff Garlin. I love him on Curb your Enthusiasm, and I think it was great he made this little movie in Chicago. In May he came to Flashpoint and gave a very inspirational talk. That said, I didn't much like his film and it was mostly because of his lack of attention to details. In short, too many scenes had little or no sound design, not enough extras, and overall it just looked like a thin film. I could go into detail- if you see it, look at the first scene with Sarah Silverman and you will know what I mean- but won't.

No Country... on the other hand was just terrific. Details are everywhere- look at the haircut Javier Bardiem wears. The pop tops on the beer cans, the language spoken, especially by Tommie Lee Jones. Everything is so clearly thought out and executed it is beautiful. Coincidently, John Murray chair of Flashpoint's Recording Arts department just screened it in his Aesthetics of Sound class as an example of how it is done.

I hope Jeff Garlin makes another film and makes it in Chicago. And next time I hope he follows Mies van der Rohe's ( a fellow Chicagoan- he moved here to head up the Illinois Institute of Technology's architecture program and designed many notable buildings here) advice and pays attention to details.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

August take 2

In December I wrote about the terrific play Steppenwolf Theater Company play August:Osage County by Tracy Letts. I saw it last summer in its world premiere in Chicago. At Thanksgiving it moved to Broadway and a two months ago Tracy Letts won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Tomorrow it is up for Tony Awards for Best play, two best actress and four other awards. It's terrific and I wish them all luck.

This is what I wrote in December.

All happy families are alike, Tolstoy told us, and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But I’d bet the farm that no family has ever been as unhappy in as many ways — and to such sensationally entertaining effect — as the Westons of “August: Osage County,” the new play by Tracy Letts that blazed open last night at the Imperial Theater.

A fraught, densely plotted saga of an Oklahoma clan in a state of near-apocalyptic meltdown, “August” is probably the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years. Oh, forget probably: It is, flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years. Fiercely funny and bitingly sad, this turbo-charged tragicomedy — which spans three acts and more than three blissful hours — doesn’t just jump-start the fall theater season, recently stalled when the stagehands went on strike. “August” throws it instantaneously into high gear.

You can read the rest of the review here. I am glad I got to see the show in Chicago.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Last Picture Show?

An article in today's Wall Street Journal caught my interest. Headlined, "Hollywood Studios Seek Control Over Delivering Movies to Homes." The gist is this: studios will allow consumers to watch newly released films in their own homes (in HD).

On the surface this is really interesting, and for a moment I was even excited about the prospect. But then I began thinking, don't we already watch films in our own homes and we call it television? Or Netflix or something.

As I thought more about it, I began to see it as yet another way Hollywood is trying to prop up its sagging industry. They sugar coat it with nice packaging- but you know it's just another way for them to gouge us for more money.

How would they price it? If it's $10 to go to the movies per person- then a living room full of people watching on your monster TV is worth what?

The other thing it got me thinking was what would it do to the theater business (as if big business really cares what happens to the little guy)? I could see a lot of jobs disappearing. Already the independent theater owner is a thing of the past. Now what the ticket taker kid making $7 an hour?

How would they prevent bootlegs?

I don't have a definitive thought on it, but while it seems like a good idea, I can imagine more harm than good coming from it. There will be even a bigger divide between the haves and have nots.

Your thoughts?
Read the WSJ article here.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack died last week and I would be remiss if I didn't write something about him.

I think I was more of a fan of Sydney Pollack the person than of Sydney Pollack films- though he made a bunch of great films as director, producer and actor. I especially love Tootsie.

What I liked about Pollack was this: here's a guy from Indiana who worked his way up through they system by going to New York to become an actor; working in live television (remember live dramas on TV?), then directing TV westerns (if you don't remember live TV then you don't remember westerns on television either) and other episodic TV in the 1960s. He went from TV to film at the very tail end of the studio system when a director could come up through the ranks.

His films were notable to me for his casting. He used really big stars (Redford, Streep, Hoffman, Pacino, Fonda, Streisand, Cruise, Hackman, Bill Murray, Lange, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford, Penn, Kidman and the list goes on) as leads and big stars in supporting roles. You don't see that so often. How great is Bill Murray as Dustin Hoffman's roommate in Tootsie? Or Willie Nelson in Electric Horseman? He must have been doing something right to have names like those lining up to go to work for him in supporting roles.

Late in his career he became a prolific producer with his production company- Mirage- and he continued acting. He produced Michael Clayton (in which he plays a supporting role) which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year. He also championed smaller film directors- he produced for the late Anthony Minghella- and small projects. His last film as director was the small and interesting documentary The Sketches of Frank Gehry.

Sydney Pollack will be missed.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Adams Family

While on hiatus from Filmmaking 101 one of the things I did was watch the remarkable HBO mini-series John Adams. The series was based on David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize winning biography of our second president, John Adams. The series stars Paul Giamatti as Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams, David Morse as George Washington and the always terrific Tom Wilkinson as Ben Franklin.

The show was excellent on many levels, not the least of which was the craft of filmmaking. Combining period costumes and exteriors (Colonial Williamsburg) with state of the art graphics- 18th century Philadelphia and the White House were recreated in a computer- brought the early years of our country to life.

The film made me think about the guts our founding fathers had to divorce themselves from Mother England on the hope that things would be better. Given that our fledgling country had no currency, constitution or nation government, this was no small risk taken.

The other thing that struck me was what an unusual lead character John Adams makes. Unlike the convenient heroes of our country- warriors, noble men, victims with a cause, crusaders- John Adams was a cantankerous, cranky, sarcastic, talkative New Englander. He never met an argument he felt he couldn't win. He stood up for what he believed even when it wasn't popular. He fought authority, he did what he felt was right, and he made enemies of powerful people.

Dale Carnegie he was not.

A few summers ago I went to a family reunion on my mother's side and saw my future and my past. Almost all the men there were cantankerous, sarcastic, talkative and bald. I was proud to be there because I, too, am an Adams. The HBO film, like the family reunion, showed me my past and my future- warts and all.

See the mini-series it is worth the effort. And for this one time I will sign off with my full name.

Peter Adams Hawley

Monday, June 2, 2008

Flashpoint Academy Year 1: that's a wrap!

Hello again, it's been awhile since I have written. Thanks for your patience and all the emails asking where I have been, I hope this helps explain somethings.

This past Saturday, May 31, Flashpoint Academy celebrated the successful completion of our first academic year with an event we called Flashbash.

During the afternoon we presented work from all four Flashpoint disciplines- Film, Recording Arts, Game Development and Visual FX & Animation. In addition we screened our two Production in Action films, The Collector and The Intruder, and a highlight reel of all the special events held at school during the previous nine months.

Here are some numbers from the Film Department:

62: Student film productions produced and edited.

32: Film Students that began and September and survived until June.

14: Film Students who began classes in January.

8: Making of The Intruder documentaries created by the fall film students.

4: Making of Not A Pretty Face documentaries produced by January students.

2: Weeks until June 16 when those January students return and begin the push through the summer during which they will make a second film, a music video, and learn Avid.

1: Tired Chair of the Flashpoint Academy Film Department.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Few Words on Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston died the other day and it is sad to me to have him remembered only for his NRA positions and his embarrassing appearance in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Heston was from an era in Hollywood that doesn't exist any more- there aren't too many sword and sandal films or westerns being produced these days.

Can you imagine a George Clooney or a Brad Pitt in Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments? Can you imagine Heston in Oceans 11?
Nope. There is an irony with today's stars that just doesn't allow a Ten Commandments to get made. Even remakes of Heston films like The Omega Man (Will Smith in the Heston role) and Planet of the Apes (Mark Wahlberg) use FX to tell the story and the strong leading man plays second fiddle to the technology.

No, what makes the Heston versions of those films work is that he is us. Charlton Heston, the actor, not the character is our representative staring down the planet of the apes or discovering what soylent green really is. In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern wrote of Heston, "What he did in that film (Omega Man) may not have constituted great acting, but he created a great presence, a one-man surrogate for the beleaguered forces of civilization."

Later in Morgenstern's piece he quotes from Pauline Kael's review in The New Yorker of The Planet of the Apes. "With his perfect, lean-hipped, powerful body," she wrote, "Heston is a godlike hero; built for strength, he's an archetype of what makes Americans win. He doesn't play a nice guy; he's harsh and hostile, self-centered and hot-tempered. Yet we don't hate him because he's so magnetically strong; he represents American power -- and he has the profile of an eagle."

In the cold war era, I think we needed guys like Heston, just like we needed counter culture figures like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper to balance him out. Somewhere between those two ends is a real American hero. Charlton Heston was on the far right edge of that frame.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Let's Play Two!

Meteorologically, today is the nicest day we have had in Chicago since a freakish 65-degree sunny day came and went in early January. The calendar says spring, but the Cubs played their first home game last Monday in a 45 degree mist. With the exception of today it still seems like spring is a ways off. However, today's nice weather got me thinking about baseball and more specifically baseball films.

Baseball pictures by and large stink. I like Field of Dreams and Bull Durham and a lot of The Natural. Eight Men Out is great, but that is more historical than anything else- plus who can resist John Sayles and our friend Studs Terkel as the writers Ring Lardner and Hugh Fullerton. But more often than not baseball films are garbage- especially if you are a baseball fan. William Bendix as Babe Ruth? Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig? The worst is Anthony Perkins as Jimmy Piersall in Fear Strikes Out. Trust me Perkins is scarier as a ball player than as a motel keeper in Psycho.

A problem I have with baseball films is that even the best baseball film is not better than the experience I have going to an average mid-season major league game. (Major League, the film is not a great movie, either.) And going to a minor league game is even better. It's just a blast and so much less commercial and more "joy of the game" than Big League ball-and way better than a bad baseball movie.

The best baseball film I have seen is a documentary HBO did years ago called When It Was a Game. They used home movies from fans from the 1930s- 1960s and voice over of real ball players to describe the experience. Some highlights include 16mm color film from the 1938 World Series between the Cubs and Yankees- color footage of Lou Gehrig. Take that Gary Cooper! Also, ball players like Enos Slaughter talk about how they played for the love of the game. They even had to bring their own sandwiches to eat between games of doubleheaders.

For you youngsters doubleheaders are what teams used to play on holidays and most Sundays so they could take the next day for travel. The owners wised up and realized they could maximize profits by playing 81 home dates, hence the opening days on in snowy March and a World Series that bumps into Halloween.

But of course you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.


p.s. I know that is a photo of Jackie Robinson and not Ernie Banks-the source of "Let's Play Two." Robinson is the most important player in baseball history- he is emblematic of the idea of when it was a game. His picture deserves to be here- just as it is a good thing that his number 42 has been retired by all major league teams.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Film Production 2

The Flashpoint Academy film students just finished production on their second films. This is a picture from the set one day last week.

Before they embarked on these films I sat in on a series of production meetings and was struck by how much the students have grown since their first productions last November. I would like to chalk it up to brilliant teaching on my part, but in fairness I think the students did most of the heavy lifting on this one. Of course they learned from their first films, but then in January and February they observed and worked with professionals on the set of The Intruder, our Production-in-Action film, and finally in the weeks leading up to this production they pulled it all together.

We had a group meeting before they set out where all the Film and Recording Arts came together and I told them how I was witnessing their transformation from film students into filmmakers. This transformation was evident all over the place; in their language- I have never heard as many people throw around the term "script lock" before and in their demeanor- they stood taller, they were more confident. They didn't assume anything, but sought out answers to problems. This attitude was a big difference from their last productions.

This week and for the next two the students are huddled around their Avids editing the films with delivery set for April 18. It's exciting to watch their progression, but at the same time I hope the students reflect on their own personal growth and development. They have come a long way in a very short time.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

David Lean

Perhaps my favorite part of the last Oscar telecast was when Jon Stewart pulled out an iphone and said he was watching Lawrence of Arabia. In that moment everything good about technology and bad about the film business came into focus. Funnier yet was when he turned the phone on its side and said you really have to see it in wide screen.

David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia's director, would have turned 100 on March 25. Lean is the person who comes to my mind when I think about directors who make BIG pictures. David Lean was the epic director.

David Lean began as a film editor. Michael Powell, another one of my favorite directors, said David Lean was the best editor he ever worked with. And Powell knows something about good editors- he was married to Thelma Schoonmaker who has won three Oscars for editing Martin Scorsese films.

In his early films as director Lean worked with Noel Coward- no slouch either. In Blithe's Spirit Lean actually makes the ghost a little scary, not something Coward probably had in mind. Lean then went on to direct perhaps the two best film versions of Dickens' novels- Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Those opening images of Great Expectations are beautiful and haunting- no mean feat as the opening pages of the book are about as good an start to a novel as you will find. Twist, too, is great despite Alec Guinness' over the top and perhaps anti-Semitic Fagin.

Powell, Coward, Dickens and Guinness are great for starters but come on dumb filmmaker get to the big films. OK. How's this for big films: Summertime (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai, (1957) Lawrence of Arabia, (1962), Dr. Zhivago (1965). That's a pretty decent career in that one ten year stretch. If you haven't seen those films do yourself the favor- just not on an iphone.

To illustrate some of Lean's directorial genius I am going to share a couple of interesting (to me at least) attention to detail moments from Lawrence of Arabia. 1) In the famous scene in the desert when Ali appears- while it seems like all we see is sand- Lean's art department has put coal in the desert helping us draw our attention down the darker lines and towards the character. Lean was forcing us to see what he wanted us to see. 2) The costume designers put Peter O'Toole in more translucent robes as the film progressed to make Lawrence more Angelic.

Those are details that aren't taught in film schools, but perhaps should be. (Note to self, start teaching it!)

One more thing about David Lean. He made his last film when he was 76 years old- A Passage to India. For that film he was nominated for Oscars as Best Director, Editing and Adapted Screenplay. Has anyone ever been nominated for an Oscar for writing AND editing the same film? No bad for an old man. I hope to do that when I am 76.


Check out Anthony Lane's article on David Lean in the current New Yorker. Lane's piece was the inspiration for this post.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bathing with Bierko

Yep, that's my friend Craig Bierko washing John Malkovich's head. I am so proud of him.

I have known Craig for 25+ years. For four of those years we were either roommates or next door neighbors. We walked around the city of Boston- literally around the perimeter of the city- one night in support of a relationship gone bad. We made a short film together as seniors in college and then a few years later he starred in my film Victimless Crimes.

While I have been making TV commercials, documentaries and shaping the minds of young filmmakers, Craig has been in Hollywood and New York starring in films - In Cinderella Man he gets to be the bad guy opposite Russell Crowe, he did a season of Boston Legal, and is currently starring in the Fox show Unhitched. He has also starred in a couple of Broadway shows, most notably Harold Hill in The Music Man, for which he was nominated for a Tony award.

Last year about this time I was in L.A. and we were having breakfast (Craig and I have probably spent more time over Ham and Cheese Omelets (me) and Tuna Melts (him) than any two people should) when he told me of this idea of a talk show set in a bath tub.

Lo and behold a year later what shows up on my "Internets" than this talk show starring my friend Craig in a bath tub.

Check out all 2:45 of Bathing with Bierko here.


Friday, March 21, 2008

A Loss

The writer and director Anthony Minghella died the other day from complications of surgery to remove cancer of the tonsils and neck. He was 54 years old.

When you think of the great filmmakers of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of this one, Minghella is probably someone you overlook but shouldn't. Between 1990 and 2006 he made seven films which were nominated for a total of 24 Oscars, winning ten. The biggest of the bunch was The English Patient for which he won best director. He also directed Cold Mountain and the not yet released The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. That's not a bad track record for the son of ice cream factory owners from the Isle of Wight.

My favorite film of his is The Talented Mr. Ripley which felt as if it could have been directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which is no surprise because the Ripley was adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith who wrote Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. The common thread of all the Minghella films mentioned here is that they were adapted from novels and not originally created for film. This is ironic because Minghella was a great writer, his first film Truly, Madly, Deeply was from his original screenplay and is perhaps his most personal work.

He will be missed.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Gone Baby Gone

I can't believe it has been two weeks since I last posted. It must be the late winter, spring will never come to Chicago, doldrums.

When I think of young, contemporary American filmmakers Ben Affleck is not a name that immediately comes to mind. However, he owns an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting and he directed the terrific, yet hard to watch film Gone Baby Gone. He is someone I have to take seriously as a filmmaker.

Gone Baby Gone is one of those films that when it's over you have a debate about the character's actions. Are the choices Patrick (Casey Affleck, great as a serious lead) makes the right ones? You can argue both sides of it forever and that to me makes a great film.

Gone Baby Gone is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Mystic River, which Clint Eastwood (another often overlooked American filmmaker) made into an excellent film. Lehane's milieu is the dirty, underside of Boston- the Roxburys and Dorchesters, far from Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Copley Square. He creates these morally ambiguous characters, yet fills them with depth and dimension.

It's a excellent film well worth checking out- and I haven't even mentioned Amy Ryan's Oscar nominated performance as the mother whose missing daughter starts the plot in motion.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Oscars

It has been a week so I think it is about time the dumb filmmaker weighed in on the Oscars. The truth is I didn't see enough of the nominated films to make an informed decision, but I can say this: I loved Juno, have always been a fan of P.T.Anderson, thought Once was great, and Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, is one of my favorite novelists- Saturday from a couple of years ago is brilliant. This preamble brings me to No Country for Old Men by Joel and Ethan Coen.

In the early and middle 1980s there were a series of New York-based filmmakers that meant a lot to me- Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Susan Seidelman among them. Those filmmakers and others from the time helped usher in the second great post-studio era wave of American filmmakers. But for me the Coen Brothers were the sine qua non of independent American Cinema.

Blood Simple, their first feature was literally a text book example of how first-time directors could get a film made. I am not kidding, how Blood Simple got produced was used as an example in a Film as Business class I took near the end of my college career. For those who don't recall, the Coens and their DP Barry Sonnenfeld shot a trailer for the film and used it to get financing. The trailer was moody and atmospheric. It highlighted the creepy aspects of the film and showed no stars (it hadn't been cast yet). Lots of driving down the road at night and gun blasts coming through a wall. It was a brilliant (and now much imitated) plan and it worked.

Since then the Coens have won 4 Oscars (can it be 12 years since Fargo came out?). I compare the Coens to those fringe bands that gathered a small but loyal cult following and over the years hit it big. Compare the Coens career arc to those of REM (college radio got them their start) and U2 (Boy and October anyone?). Small fringe acts, competing against the big boys and mainstream hit machines, but 25 years later, look who is left standing.

I don't have any one favorite film- I love Barton Fink and O Brother... and there is a little of Dude from The Big Lebowski in me (yes, I had Creedence tapes, too.) Raising Arizona always makes me laugh. What I like about them is that they are original and familiar all at the same time. This variety of work is why I appreciated Joel Coen's comment at the Oscars thanking people for allowing them to play in their own little corner of the sandbox.

I want to thank them for 20+ years of great films.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Teen Parents

Readers of this page know that Jim and I have been working on the Teen Parent film for months and years. Yesterday, we recorded the final voice over with Kathy Brock, the ABC7 Chicago news anchor.

We recorded the session in one of Flashpoint's state of the art
studios. Three recording arts students engineered, produced and mastered the session and I brought in a film student to help me direct Kathy.

It was a great opportunity for the students to see professionals in action, and to be part of a major project. We got the same service and final product as if I had gone to a professional recording studio. It is another way Flashpoint is different.

Before and after the session, Kathy toured school, amazed at what she saw and wished there was something like it when she went to college. Thanks to Flashpoint president, Howard Tullman, for the pictures.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

57 Channels (and Nothin' On)

With apologies to Bruce Springsteen, there's nothing on TV.

There is an interesting article in the current Atlantic called "The Revolution Will Be Televised." In short it is about how some people are getting rid of their TVs and are using their computers as television sets- they down load or You Tube everything.

This is an interesting idea, but not for me. This is what I want in a Television:

A BOX that I can move around and sync to my computer and have it wirelessly go to a flat panel HDTV. That box would be a hard drive (like Tivo) and I would get the following programming. Call it TV A La Carte:

Network shows- The Office, 30 Rock, Lost, 60 Minutes- live sporting events and breaking news. (Super Bowl, Oscars, 9-11 tragedy)
HBO (all their services but I pick the shows I want).
Sports- I would pick Red Sox and Celtics games.
PBS (selected shows).
Various cable- selected shows.

Also, I want all those shows to come downloaded to me one day a week. I watch them when I want. I also want all episodes of a series- not one a week. Why not. Give me at least 4 episodes of Lost.

That's about all I watch. And I almost never watch TV live or when it is scheduled to be on. I only caught up to the Super Bowl at the end of the 4th quarter.

Also, this box should also allow me to send the program as a quicktime movie to someone else. I would be willing to pay the privilege- say $200 a month- about my cable, internet and phone bill combined.

Why not? That's how I want to watch TV. One reason is that our subscription cable bill helps subsidize the smaller, fringe networks. BUT as I said, I will pay a premium to get what I want, how and when. The other reason is that it would be hard for new shows to break through to me. True, but advertisers would have a real sense of who I am, AND producers and networks would be free to send me trial episodes for my viewing pleasure.

The technology is there. Someone deliver.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

School Security

When I was in college, Security was the name of the most popular band at school, and thinking of them was the only time I ever thought about security on campus. But now I am on the other side of the classroom and it seems every couple of months there is a shooting on a college campus. Last week at Northern Illinois University, just 65 miles west of Chicago, there was a shooting, killing five and injuring more.

Security on campus means something very different to me now.

Yesterday was parents' day at Flashpoint and I spent time telling the parents of film students that one of the things we do is create a safe environment for their children to work in. I was speaking about emotional safety, the safety to be vulnerable and explore, but I could have just as easily been talking about their physical safety.

I don't have anything new to add to the violence on campus discussion. Yes, it's sad. Yes, it must stop. Yes, the emotional well-being of students must be looked after and help given when and where needed. All of the same things I wrote about last spring after the events at Virginia Tech.

Today, I just wanted to take a moment and reflect on the events at a college just down the road from mine.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Red Camera

This is a picture of the Red Camera all stripped down. Not all that impressive looking, but it is a piece of technology which is going to change the film production process.

For eight days beginning Jan. 30 and ending Feb. 8 Flashpoint Academy produced The Intruder, a short Twilight Zone-esque film, using the Red Camera. It was the first time the camera had gone out as a rental in Chicago and it was yet another way Flashpoint is at the "bleeding edge" of both education and technology.

Since I am not the most technical person I'll give you the lay version. The Red Camera, captures a digital image at 4K resolution. That's more than double the image quality than the Super Bowl broadcast, while film itself is about 12K resolution. To my eyes you couldn't tell the difference between the Red images and 35mm film.

The camera will accept any 16mm or 35mm lenses with a PL mount. You can record to a 320 gb hard drive, but we chose to record to 8gb compact flash cards. Those flash cards would hold four minutes of "film." When filled they would be transferred to a computer and reformatted and reused. In short it was not much different from using your digital still camera except we were capturing 24 frames per second. As a point off comparison- the Panasonic HVX200 P2 camera shoots 16gb cards which can hold 42 minutes of film.

The Red Camera comes at a base price of $17,5oo and with all the accessories you will probably spend $60,000 to have a decked out camera. That's not a lot of money if you shoot a lot of film. And because of of the huge, file storage issues, you will probably need another $30,000 of computer technology and storage space. Cheap if you are making lots of film or working on a feature.

Check out the camera for yourself.
Here is a picture of it all tricked out.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Internet, Films and Education Reform

There is an interesting interview in today's Wall Street Journal with Reed Hastings the CEO of Netflix. Netflix is partnering with a Korean company to create a (TV) set top box which will allow users to stream films from the internet directly to their TV. (It's about time, if I have to go to my mail box one more time to get a movie, my head will explode!)

When asked if he was worried that people would be willing to pile yet another box under their televisions (I have three, plus a small stereo nestled under and around my TV) he replied, "No, that's not my concern, and the reason is if you've got compelling content, people will hook up another box." Ah- the compelling content argument always one of my favorites, but he's right good content (almost) always wins.

So the question is begged, why not a Netflix set top box? "We looked at that and realized that customers also want this functionality that is embedded in other devices, like a game console, and that we should work purely on just being an incredible service." How refreshing someone wants to focus on delivering a much wanted product with incredible service. They aren't interested in doing everything.

Hastings is convinced Internet television is the future and he knows it will take a while getting there. "I think there's a huge category of people who will watch movies on laptops, and remember it's not the laptop of today. Think of the laptop in five years. People will continue to watch movies on TV no doubt about it. But laptop screens are improving and young people are living on laptops."

Perhaps a more interesting thing to me about Reed Hastings is his passion for school reform. After amassing his first fortune he began trying to "figure out why our education is lagging when our technology is increasing at great rates and there's great innovation in so many other areas-health care, biotech, information technology, movie-making. Why not education?"

This positive note is a good place to end. I think what we are doing at Flashpoint Academy is changing traditional education and looking to the future and new technology and finding a way to integrate them. And speaking of the future of education and movie-making technology, the next post will be about the Red One Camera- which we just used over the eight days of production of the Flashpoint Academy film, The Intruder.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Viral Marketing

I was interviewing a perspective student ten days ago and asked what part of the film business most interested her and she said the viral marketing of films. I was surprised because I ask this same question to all the perspective students and usually I get answers like, editing, directing, screenwriting. Viral marketing was a first, but I was glad to know at least someone is thinking about the back end of the film production line.

A brief history of viral marketing courtesy of Wikipedia.

The term Viral Marketing was coined by a Harvard Business School professor, Jeffrey F. Rayport, in a December 1996 article for Fast Company The Virus of Marketing. [6] The term was further popularized by Tim Draper and Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 1997 to describe Hotmail's e-mail practice of appending advertising for itself in outgoing mail from their users.[7]

Among the first to write about viral marketing on the Internet was media critic Douglas Rushkoff in his 1994 book Media Virus. The assumption is that if such an advertisement reaches a "susceptible" user, that user will become "infected" (i.e., sign up for an account) and can then go on to infect other susceptible users. As long as each infected user sends mail to more than one susceptible user on average (i.e., the basic reproductive rate is greater than one), standard in epidemiology imply that the number of infected users will grow according to a logistic curve, whose initial segment appears exponential.

I tend to think of viral marketing as word of mouth on steroids. Generally, there is some intrigue and a twist or a catch. I can see why a young filmmaker would be interested in the viral marketing of films.

Two days after Heath Ledger died the Wall Street Journal had an article about Warner Brother's viral marketing of the new Batman film. (Ledger is the Joker.) It began a year ago on-line with a fake newspaper website called the Gotham Times. There soon came a competing website called the haha times- the Joker's version of the paper. And it went on from there. Warner Brothers has spent a mint on using Ledger in the marketing campaign, the question is what will they do now.

Other notable viral marketing campaigns for films are the insane buzz- including a great fake-documentary- around The Blair Witch Project. For my money, the marketing campaign and the fake doc. were better than the real thing. More recently there was the campaign for Cloverfield which generated huge advanced publicity.

I am glad to see young filmmakers thinking in these ways. I think the onus is on me to have the curriculum reflect these trends.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Let it Snow

I have been swamped with work and now a foot of snow. The dumb filmmaker apologizes for his absence from this page, but promises to return with all new exciting posts on viral marketing, Flashpoint Academy's production-in-action- film, The Intruder, the Red camera- which The Intruder is using- and much, much more.

I also want to thank all the people who commented on the cheating post, Chris Burritt, and Heath Ledger. I appreciate the loyal readers.

Enjoy the Super Bowl, go Pats!


Friday, January 25, 2008

The Internet, Kids Today and Heath Ledger

This past Tuesday the PBS series Frontline broadcast a fascinating look at teenagers who have grown up with the Internet. The program focused on a small New Jersey town about an hour's train ride from Manhattan. It looked at a different families and shared stories about how being on-line 24 hours a day is shaping these kids' lives.

Among the things I learned is the following: Young people don't have the time to read. The go to and read that. My favorite quote, "If I had 27 hours in a day I would read the book, but I just don't have the time." As a result teachers teach with the understanding that the students aren't reading the text, just the sparknotes and teach to that. That's sad.

Other items of interest:

The reach of both My Space and Facebook. If a high schooler doesn't have a page on those sites they aren't anyone.

Cyber bulling. One boy was bullied via the internet and developed an on-line relationship with another boy who convinced him to kill himself. There is a website which teaches you how to hang yourself. Another website which helps you figure out the "coolest" way in which to kill yourself by giving you a questionnaire. Sort of the "Cosmo Quiz" for the suicidal. This 13-year old boy hung himself.

A group of high schoolers took a train into Manhattan and spent the night partying- and documenting it with their cell phone cameras. It wasn't long before their pictures of their night out was on the Internet and their parents found out. The kids weren't upset their parents learned about the partying- they were upset that the parents thought it was such a big deal.
(Note to self- make sure all pictures of me at the Kentucky Derby 1985-1987 have been destroyed.)

It was a fascinating program and very unironically you can watch the whole show on-line at

Also on Tuesday the actor Heath Ledger died. I was in class when the news broke, but my computer was on and I received an e-mail and a text message telling me the news. At the end of my class I was talking to a guest speaker who came to another class. I asked him how it went, he said fine, "But when news of Heath Ledger's death came on-line we had to stop and discuss it. I thought they were taking notes with their laptops not surfing the net."

Kids today.


Friday, January 18, 2008

The Name of the Game...

... is collaboration.

All artists collaborate in one way or another, you must in order to succeed, and the most successful artists instinctively know how to work with others. More importantly they know their work will be better with the input from other people. Collaboration frees you up to do what you do best.

This brings me to guitarist, musician, artist David Broza who performed at Flashpoint Academy yesterday afternoon. Broza believes his gift is creating music not writing lyrics, so over the course of his 30-year career, he has actively sought out collaborators to write the words set to his music. He works with writers, poets, finds stories from current events he wants to sing about and has someone else write the lyrics for his songs. And I forgot to add he works in three languages- Hebrew, Spanish and English- and he is a self-taught guitar virtuoso.

A student asked him how he goes about finding these people to work with, and the short answer is that he picks up the phone, makes the call and asks. It's easier now for him of course because he is famous, but it is the same method he has used since the 1970s. This is an important lesson to all of you eager artists out there- ask for help, especially if you are passionate about your work- you will find that simpatico person.

In the meantime check out David Broza and add some of his music to your collection.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

My Cheatin' Heart

"I was thrown out of college for cheating on my metaphysics exam. I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me." Woody Allen

I heard an interesting piece on NPR earlier this week about how many young people take for granted that everything on the internet is free and they should never have to pay for it. However, those of us who create content do like getting compensated and at some point we will no longer tolerate the wholesale theft of our work. A few months ago I posted about how half of my students had DVD quality copies of the film American Gangster a week before the film opened in theaters. This, I think, is a good example of this assumption that if it is out there it is mine for the taking.

If you start from a place where all information is free, then where do you draw the line? Can you look into the soul (and test paper) of the student sitting next to you? Is it all right to knowingly cheat on a test just because that information is out there anyway?

Of course not.

I have two theories on students cheating. The first is what I wrote above- we are living in a society where it is so common to take things from others that getting an answer or two or three seems like nothing- everyone is doing it. My other theory is that students are cheating not for themselves but to please their parents and teachers. They are so insecure that leaving an answer blank or actually admitting they do not know something is much more painful than using someone else's work as their own.

I'll end with another quote from Woody Allen that I feel sums up my opinion of cheaters.
"His lack of education is more than compensated for by his keenly developed moral bankruptcy."