Monday, October 26, 2009

3 in NYC wrapup

The streets of NYC were crawling with Tower 37 fans these last weeks, that is, if you count me and a small crew huddling down in the rain on our walk to the amazing subterranean restaurant Sakagura on 43rd Street. This was after the outstanding BeFilm New Fall Animation screening, hosted by Signe Baumane, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

Since then, Tower 37 was a part of the Imagine Science Fest, HDFest in NYC, the Austin Film Festival, and the 15 Short Film Festival. I have heard only a bit about some of these fests, and nothing at all about the others! So this is kind of a small review, and in fact, most of it will come from the emails I received from Tower 37 crew member Jasper who was able to attend the two NYC events I couldn't be at.

His review of the Imagine Science screening:
i just got back from the imagine science film festival screening in brooklyn, and i'm happy to report it went really well. the "fantasy, imagination, and experimental" theme made for a very interesting program...a nice mix of about 1/3rd live-action, narrative films, 1/3rd animated shorts, and 1/3rd experimental, mixed-medium films. tower 37 screened third to last, and was very well recieved. galapagos, the art space where the screening was held, has a very casual table and booth seating arrangement, so there was some noticeable chatting and clinking drinks from the bar heard throughout the evening...but amazingly, as soon as tower 37 began rolling, the crowd got noticeably quiet. it was a really exciting effect to see and hear the entire room silent with tension during the film's most suspenseful and emotional scenes. when the credits rolled there was a tremendously positive round of applause. after the screening, there was an informal q&a, which i (excitedly, albeit nervously) took part in. the director and lead actor of the film "the strange rebirth of andre weil" were the only other filmmakers who took part. i got a chance to give a quick rundown of the history and details of the production, squeezed in some mentions of some past and upcoming festival appearances, and then they opened it up to the audience for questions. after a brief (awkward) pause, when it became clear no one might ask a question, a stranger in the front row instead shouted out "we loved it!" which led to another larger round of applause. alexis and kate (artistic director and programming director, respectively), the two organizers in charge, spoke really highly of our film and sent their regards to you. i thanked them multiple times, and congratulated them on a very interesting program and festival. i had a few strangers congratulate our film as i made my way out of the venue. all in all a very good night...sorry you couldn't have seen it, but i'm glad to have the chance to represent the film.
I'm sad to say that Jasper's experience at HDFest was less positive. I'll paraphrase: the film didn't screen until one of the people there asked about it during the Q&A. The moderator claimed a "technical issue" (the details of which have yet to be explained to me) but then said it would screen, and it did, but only after many people left. As a consolation, they said they'd program it in the next night's animation show. I haven't heard from anyone how that went, or if it went at all.

Has anyone seen the film in Austin, or at the 15 Short Film Fest? Sorry to blog questions to the void but I'm hoping (like the Mosaic project in FlashForward - yay JB and DG) that someone will stumble onto this and fill me in about the things I know very little about.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pixelbending, or CS 222: Digital Image Mastery

I am very pleased to announce a new class I'll be teaching in the spring, targeted at media makers who want to get the most out of their pixels. Here's the description from the Hampshire course catalog:
Digital Image Mastery: Under the Hood of Modern Filmmaking

With an affordable digital camera and simple editing software, anyone can be an image maker. But what does it take to be an image master? How does one take control over the images and films one makes rather than ceding it to the engineers of the software and hardware?

This course is designed for students who seek mastery over the digital images they create, capture, edit, and/or distribute. The class will expose the foundational core that hides behind the interfaces of digital imaging and filmmaking technologies but which is crucial to using them with precision and finesse. Topics that may be covered include digital image representation, compression/decompression (codecs), frame rate changes, compositing, matting, tracking, color correction, color grading, and more.

PRE-REQUISITE: an evaluation/passing grade from least one digital media production class (film, video, animation, photography)
I blog about classes like this because the descriptions can only say so much. Basically, are you an image maker who feels like the tools are in charge of you instead of the other way around? If you are, and if you want to invert that relationship, then this is probably the class for you. We'll expose the inner workings of modern digital imaging technologies with an eye towards solving visual problems.

Although the language in the description waffles between film making and more general image making, I would guess that about 2/3 of the material we cover will apply to digital image making of any kind. The last third will probably be more directly related to image sequences, aka time-based digital imaging, aka digital film/video.

So I'm on the hunt for tasty exercises that are based on real problems and whose solutions emerge from a clear understanding of (and control over) the fundamentals. Readers of this blog will probably understand why I will be sure to have a frame rate conforming exercise in there. And others who know me will understand when I add a problem related to the plague known as matte lines.

What problems do YOU face that have solutions buried in the foundations of digital media? What was it that you learned about codecs and bit depth and color grading and the like that revolutionized the way you make work?

Feel free to offer your suggestions and/or ask questions about the class by posting comments. I'll respond to them that way as well.

And big thanks to K.C. Line for the real name of this class: pixelbending. More like waterbending than circuit bending, mind you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

0 screens!

Wonderful world. I think less than 48 hours after my small rant about huge openings, I stumbled into, a website that, when completed, will put filmmakers directly in touch with their audiences. Forget about the openings: if fans want to see your movie, they can arrange their own screenings. It feels a little like Netflix meets social networking. Maybe that's an awful comparison, so I'll let you read about it and come up with a better description.

OpenIndie's home page
The KickStarter page where you can help OpenIndie raise $10,000 and get started

Pass the word.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

3700 screens?

I confess that I have a big distaste for absurdly huge opening weekends. Where the Wild Things Are, on 3700+ screens? As excited as I might be (or might have been) about seeing the film, I am certainly going to wait at least a week to let the hubris of that move wash away a little. It's like the guy showing up at the party in a limo. Maybe he's an okay guy, but showing up in a limo is just trying to get attention.

If the demand were somehow there for 3700 screens, then it would make more sense. But does it feel to anyone else like a desperate attempt to cash in early? Why not buy up all the screens and ensure that whoever sees a movie this weekend sees your movie?

In contrast, let me draw your attention to The Adventures of Power. A feature by an old high school friend being released on a super small scale. One week in NYC, one week in LA, one week in Austin, etc. It looks to me like the film is going to build up some momentum and a demand greater than the small screenings can accommodate, then burst on the seen in large enough release to meet the demand. The small shows are parties, events, befitting their relative rarity - not cattle calls like the dozens of screenings of Wild Things this weekend at the local multiplex. Seeing Power is a special event. Go find a screening near you.

On the even smaller release front, Tower 37 was part of a great show on Thursday in New York hosted by Signe Baumane and sponsored by BeFilm. Many of the films were familiar from Woodstock and other venues, but on the new front, I truly enjoyed the Argentinian short El Empleo. There are three other screenings in the coming week, one in North Carolina and two more in NYC. Check them out!

Monday, October 5, 2009

multi-festival wrap up

The Woodstock Film Festival was outstanding. The crew and I entered the weekend fairly ignorant of the town, the festival, and the laws of the state of New York concerning the transportation of humans and alcohol in the same vehicle (no citations were issued in the end). But we left feeling very much in the know, re-inspired about independent film, and excited to return. From literally our first moments at Taco Juan's where we collided with Bill Plympton and a subset of the NYC animation crowd to our last, eating (more) amazing sandwiches at Maria's, we were surrounded by fun, creative people, lots of movies, and music. Whoa was there music, mostly in lieu of sleep.

Some of animation's finest young talent making music late night at the WFF.

I want to mention some of the amazing films from the WFF, as well as some of the filmmakers who we enjoyed hanging out with. Highlights of the animation show that I hadn't seen before included The Man in the Blue Gordini, Backwards, and The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9. It was also great to finally meet the two programmers, Bill and Signe, whose work I have admired and who have been directly responsible for sharing The Incident at Tower 37 with many new audiences recently. Like the Martha's Vineyard festival crowd. I was pleased to hear from those who attended the MVFF, namely Bill, Signe, and Backwards's Aaron and Lisa that Tower 37 was quite well-received by the audiences there. Maybe Islanders are extra-sensitive to water issues?

More shouts out to other late-night festival friends from WFF: Joey from Sundial Pictures (our adopted tour guide in Woodstock); Joy, Noel (Twins Are Weird) and James who animated the great WFF trailer; and long-time friend J. Markus from RoboFresh who we hadn't seen and jammed with in far too long. Stay in touch, everyone.

The past month also included the Moondance Film Fest, another 10th anniversary festival like the WFF. I regret that my commitment to Moondance was less than it could have been because I was too excited to spend time with my family in Boulder, but I was glad to have seen a few shows and to have spent an evening talking with Ryan and Jonah, the filmmakers behind Living Death Valley. It was an inspired programming choice by the Moondance folks, in my opinion, to couple our animated narrative fantasy with their live action non-fiction "portrait of a landscape" (my own term) given the two films' thematic connections.

Some other Moondance selections we enjoyed were the wild live-action/animation combo short called Elephants and the hilarious live-action dog film called The Littlest Greyhound. I was very happy to hear that Tower 37 was awarded the Moondance Calypso award, the description of which (from their website) is:
This award is to encourage a spirit of enterprise in saving the environment, habitats and wildlife by creative individuals from around the world. The award is presented to the person who expands knowledge of our world, seeks to improve our quality of all life on the planet, and contributes to the betterment of humankind.
You can't beat that! We were also acknowledged as one of the three Audience Favorites for Animation. Thanks to all who came, saw, and supported our film.

I will end this post about the past by looking ahead yet again. Three NYC screenings are in the works for the next few weeks. You all should go. I can't promise late-night music but I am quite sure they will each be outstanding programs.