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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR SFX?

"Have you ever watched newer movies and felt like something was missing?"

I know that I'm not alone in noticing that movies have lost a lot of their magic.  They've become considerably more spectacular and impressive over time, with amazing effects and enormous catastrophes being easy to depict.  Movies routinely show images and events that cannot be filmed normally or are impossible in real life, like Iron Man flying through a portal into space or buildings falling over and crashing to the ground in an earthquake.
But at the same time, these effects are less breathtaking and wondrous than the old ones.  When you saw Superman fly in a movie in the 1970s, it was amazing.  When you see Superman fly now, you shrug because you know its just computer effects.  Movies are more fantastic and amazing than ever before, but they feel less magical and impressive.  How can that be?  Well this video attempts to explain why and how this came about (warning, very odd voicing, almost computer-like):

His argument is that modern special effects are presented in such a way that it damages our suspension of disbelief.  In other words, we aren't pulled into the movie.  We know its a movie at all times; we know that these are special effects.  Our brains are never fooled, and we're always at the surface watching rather than being a part of the story.  You always know you're watching a movie that has computer generated effects.  So some or all of the magic is lost and its just a display of interesting looking things rather than an immersive story event.
He thinks that believability is more important than beauty and impressiveness.  The idea is that instead of trying to make things look wonderful, they should focus on making things look plausible.
A second video, which is less content-focused and more dumbed down "hey brah hipster" but has good insights is this one:

He compares Jurassic World and Jurassic Park, two movies separated by more than a decade. The truth is that the dinosaur effects in the 1993 Park movie was stunning, because most of them were actually models and practical effects, with relatively few computer effects.  Of the 14 minutes of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, only 4 were computer generated effects.
Basically he argues two things.  First, too much of what is going on is so disconnected from our experiences and life that its impossible to make any sort of attachment with what is going on.  What is it really like to slide down a gigantic elephant's trunk like you're surfing?  Who knows, but what Legolas does, does not feel right.
Second, he argues that excessive use of color correction - something WETA pioneered with the Lord of the Rings films, and was used to great effect in O Brother Where Art Thou where everything seemed like a tobacco leaf - is making everything seem less real and less believable.  Its being over done for effect and in the end is taking us away from that suspension of disbelief.  Its one thing to do this for a specific effect or setting, say, 300.  Its another to use it all the time, everywhere, because its pretty and helps the director make a statement visually.
Its interesting to think about and does make some sense out of why when people watch movies with awe-inspiring, stunning scenes and effects, they are neither awed or stunned.  They go "neat looking CGI" and chew some more popcorn.  Its not pulling them in, there's nothing emotional at stake, the story is just external and speculative rather than internal and compelling.
This isn't to say that things cannot get better.  Directors and cinematographers are getting used to these new tools and the power that computer rendering and scene manipulation are able to accomplish.  Like I wrote about a while back regarding Keanu Reeves' surprisingly good documentary "Side By Side," this is still an experimental phase, and eventually I suspect that at least one great film maker will come along - soon, I bet - that shows how to use these tools for storytelling rather than simply to look amazing.  Black and White movies took decades to reach the point of amazing use of color and storytelling we saw in films like the Maltese Falcon.
So one day we'll get that feeling back in films, where you feel like you're part of the story and forget you're watching a movie.  But until then, we're just going to get more spectacle than story.

Monday, June 29, 2015

When Rome Fell

"As sure as god made black and white
What's done in the dark will be brought to the light"
-Johnny Cash

For those of us who see the world going mad around us, it is tempting to fall into despair, or at least consider seriously withdrawing from the world.  For some, they've reached the point they see the nation falling into irreversible damage, for others, they see this as a very dark time that will take a long time and a great deal of effort to dig out of.

When you have grown up with a very rock solid understanding of the world and how it is put together, and that world starts to crumble, it can be very frightening and confusing.  The United States as the preeminent power and force for justice, democracy, liberty, and peace in the world has been presumed since the 1950s.  The rule by constitutional law and structures that make up government have been fairly stable since the late 1700s.  Now it feels to many as if that has all come to an end and the future is utterly uncertain.

Now, for a Christian response to this concept, read Augustine's City of God for how the great scholar dealt with the fears of people as Rome was falling apart. In fact, tatters of the Roman empire would survive in one form or another 1000 years.

Instead, I'd like to just offer some things to consider that are still good and beautiful and true in America.  Things you can rely on and enjoy and admire.
  • Home, Family, Neighbors, Church, and your home town.
  • The awe inspiring natural beauty of the United States that is so spectacular and jawdropping it still overwhelms visitors by the millions every day.
  • You can still rock in America.
  • Girls in summer outfits.
  • Boys in summer outfits.
  • Baseball season.
  • The internet is still pretty much wide open and free, and you can get it nearly everywhere, often for free.
  • Stores packed with so much stuff its overwhelming.  So much variety you have to study to buy things.
  • Bluegrass, Jazz, Zydeco, Soul, and Blues music - all American, all so readily available.
  • The sound of little kids playing in the sprinkler
  • Food in the cupboard, a roof over your head, and electricity.
  • Memories of loved ones
  • Making new memories with loved ones
  • Sun tea
  • Playing softball with friends
  • Road Trips
  • Soul Food
  • Summer barbecues
  • Picnics
  • Mowing the lawn and smelling that cut grass
  • Craft Breweries
  • Local coffee shops
  • Libraries full of books to borrow for free (thank you, Andrew Carnegie)
  • Kindles full of even more books, many for free
  • 8000 movies waiting on your TV for free to watch with a few pushes of the button
  • Rockford Files, Adam-12, and Columbo on Netflix streaming along with thousands of other shows and movies
Speaking of television you can watch, here are a few shows that always leave me with a smile and a pleasant feeling my heart.  These shows are upbeat, positive, love America, and are about great things you can enjoy:
  • Mike Rowe's Somebody's Gotta Do It
  • Time Travel with Brian Unger
  • Lost in Transmission
  • Counting Cars
And for Christians, there are these final thoughts:
  • Knowing that whatever comes to pass, there is ultimately real justice waiting. Nobody ever gets away with it. Ever .
  • The assurance that when we run the race, a crown awaits us in glory
  • The love of Jesus Christ
  • Hope in His return

Friday, June 26, 2015

Stand to Reason

I wasn't going to post anything on this today because, really, what needs to be said?  But this was very good and I wanted to pass it along
No doubt you’ve heard the ruling.  I’ve been praying and thinking about how we as Christians and STR people move forward.  We’ve got good arguments and the issues may change over time that need to be responded to, but for the people we are to be as Christians doesn’t change.

God isn’t surprised by this ruling, and by His sovereign will He’s allowed this to happen. And He’s put us here in this time for a purpose.

I’ve been thinking about the Christians in the first few centuries who were at odds with the culture, ostracized, and often persecuted as a result.  They lived out the Gospel and distinguished themselves and therefore their message because of it.  I’ve specifically been thinking of how they saved baby girls who were abandoned because they were not wanted or valued, and disposed of to die of exposure.  And how Christians cared for the sick during plagues that hit the cities when they were left for dead.

They carried on and lived in a way that honored God showing love to all people, standing firm.  Even though they were despised by the culture, they carried on doing what was right before God and loving those who persecuted them.

It’s tempting to get angry at this decision that goes against God, nature, and our Constitution, but that won’t help.  It’s tempting to despair, but that won’t help either.  God has a purpose for us now in this time and we’ll faithfully continue to honor God and live out KWC in our own lives, as a team, and teaching other Christians.

We’ll answer sin and anger with patience and kindness.  We’ll love the people who make us their enemies just as Jesus did.  And God will give us the wisdom and grace we need to do this. As Alan Shlemon consistently reminds us, let’s answer with truth and compassion.  In the end, it’s right back to the Gospel—there are lost sinners who need to be reconciled to God, just as we once were.

Our times are in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15).  Our job is to be faithful and trust Him in all circumstances.

Melinda Penner
Executive Director, Stand to Reason

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

"Who the hell green-lit that??"

Super Troopers is one of the funniest comedies in the last 20 years, let alone the history of film.  I would rank it up there with Blazing Saddles, Duck Soup, and Office Space.  Its so quotable and rewatchable that it really is a classic.  Super Troopers almost didn't get made; and you can see why.  A comedy starring and written by five unknowns was just not worth investing in for the big studios.  
And back when it was made, independent studios were uninterested in something that "commercial" and lacking in artsy feel.  Finally a friend found a backer, a retired investment banker who took a gamble on the script and history was made.  Well that's probably overstating it, but they did make quite a funny film.
Now the team is making a sequel, and their problem this time out is less getting money than having control over the film.  Studios will back a sequel to a huge hit, but they won't do it without control over the script, casting, etc, and so on.
Another problem is that in today's movie market, the studios want sure things, and big sure things at that.  Jay Chandrasekhar wrote an article in the Daily Beast about funding Super Troopers 2 and in it he quoted a studio friend:
“We need $100 million comedies starring Johnny Depp, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, or Vince Vaughn. That’s it. That’s the list. That’s what we want.” I smiled, “People resent $100 million comedies. They feel bloated and not of the underground. What if, instead, we made a few $20 million comedies?” (Low budget for a studio). He shrugged, and what he said shocked me. “The most a $20 million film will make is, what? A $100 million?” I nodded. He shook his head, “That’s a double. I need grand slams. I need movies that can gross $250-$400 million worldwide. I need movies that can move the stock price.”
See, the big studios are corporations that answer to a board of stock holders.  And the stockholders aren't interested in great film making, they are interested in making money off their stocks.
So the Broken Lizards guys went to crowdfunding to raise money for their film, and have done quite well.  They did so well that they don't need a big bunch of studio dollars and interference to make the movie.
But here's where it gets really interesting.  See, crowdfunding sites raise money by offering goodies and the joy of helping a product succeed.  They are not investment sites so much as a chance to be a patron of something you want to see on the market as well as a chance to get something from the company.  Free copies, a mention in the book, a token in the game named after you, and so on.
Well that's all about to change in a big way.
Jay Chandrasekhar writes:
At our meeting, I vented to Slava about my perception of crowdfunding. I told him I wished people could invest in the movie and then own an equity piece of the backend. He said, “I totally agree.” That’s when we hit it off. He said that there is legislation in Washington, as we speak, that if signed, will make equity-based crowdfunding a reality. Think about that.
I'm with Jay here.  Think about that.  Its very likely that soon you will be able to donate to a crowdfunded project and get money back from its sales.  In other words, it will actually be an investment, not just patronizing.
This is a huge key in changing the way that media gets made.  All those projects the studios and TV channels pass on because it isn't hot or doesn't make sense to them?  If this happens, they can have a chance.
Ever notice how some stuff that used to be really hot disappeared after a while?  You almost never see westerns any longer, because the studios and such decided they just don't make enough money.  Wish there were more goofy comedies without grossout and sex?  Wish someone would make the real Red Harvest instead of knockoffs like Yojimbo and Last Man Standing?  Want to see a film made about your favorite comic book?
Well crowd funding investments can make that possible.  Instead of just asking for money from people willing to donate out of a love of the product and maybe some goodies, now you can start attracting serious investors for serious projects.
And while the payback isn't likely to be much - .01% of the profits isn't a lot, after Hollywood accounting - its more than you can get now.  Further, it lets people bypass the system.  Hollywood studios will distribute films it isn't interested in making.  In fact, it will distribute films it despises, like The Passion of Christ and that means people can get films made about topics and involving stories that don't fit the narrative.
All those war movies that could be made about the war on terrorism?  Those could be made.  Films that depict America as a positive force instead of a miserable place of racism and crushing oppression could be made.  It basically opens up the entire process to film makers and writers instead of studio stockholders.
And it turns the financial side of films over to the public and their desires for films rather than what studios think people desire.  And finally, it makes film making have a more local character.  It used to be true that studios were concerned about "Ma and Pa Kettle in Indiana" when they would make a film: how would this alleged American heartland family react?  Usually they had a caricature of these people in mind, but they were genuinely worried about how Americans would like a film, because that was their audience.  Annoy Americans, lose money.
Today, the film making business is international and they're more worried about what upsets China than they are America.  You can kick America in the teeth all day long for laughs, but if you do something that upsets China's government, you lose that market and millions of potential dollars in ticket sales.
Crowdfunding would be more localized and less international, and shift the focus to American ideals and sensibilities rather than, say, Chinese.  Which means a remake of Red Dawn could have a Chinese invader instead of North Korean (??).  And when someone makes a film of a book like The Sum of All Fears  the bad guy can be Muslim radicals in the Middle East, not a militia of white supremacists (??).
This changes everything in entertainment, because it shifts the funding and hence creation of projects such as television, theater, music, and movies away from a small group of powerful corporations and to the general public at large.