The Problem with Sonic’s “Fix it fast”

When the Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer came out, there was an immediate critical backlash from the fans of the classic game. This prompted the director, Jeff Fowler, to backpedal and acquiesce — that he heard the critique and vows to have it fixed.

The problematic part is the “gotta fix fast” hashtag. I wrote this article for Den of Geek in 2013, regarding Life of Pi. The live-action film was heavy with VFX worlds, creatures and scenarios. It won an Oscar for those visuals while simultaneously the VFX artists were losing their jobs.

life of pi before and afterBasically this movie is just a guy on a boat without the VFX

This problem still persists. In February 2019, the VFX artists who worked on Bohemian Rhapsody, another Oscar winner, were owed tens of thousands of pounds.

“The incentives are all wrong in VFX,” said Paul Evans of the U.K.’s Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union. “A lot of the risks end up on the shoulders of freelance workers who have to cushion the industry by accepting long periods of unpaid overtime work and working-hours that are very sub-optimal in terms of creativity and productivity. It’s an industry that drives talented people out.”

VFX artists work some of the most grueling hours — and on many large blockbuster films were not even being fairly compensated for their work, even losing their jobs.

Regarding Sonic, fans have made their own creative contributions. Edward Pun tweeted his redesign that more faithfully adapts the little blue hedgehog as he appeared in the game.

sonic

The question remains why the studio didn’t think of emulating the classic Sonic look. When you adapt an established character, why fundamentally change his appearance? Sure there’s going to be a visible change from 2-D game graphic to film, but it shouldn’t be drastically different or you risk alienating the built-in fan base you’re supposed to cater to. The Sonic film version combines weirdly human eyes and mouth and those absurdly long pajama-bottom legs.

And if you think it can’t be done, just look at all the classic video game characters rendered in the Wreck it Ralph movies. Somehow they bridged the gap between old school 2-D sprites and fully realized 3D forms. It can be done.

wreck it ralph

Oh hey, look who came to this party. 

I hope the studio treats their VFX artists well during the second round of animation. No amount of bad design is worth the artists trading their lives and livelihoods.

Besides the bad design, the movie looks like another cute family-friendly action fest. Maybe that will be enough even if this redesign doesn’t take place.

The Film Industry vs Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill”

Unless you’ve been under a rock so large it must be Stone Mountain, you’ve no doubt heard about the “heartbeat bill” making the rounds in Georgia and several other states.

The heartbeat bill is the in-vogue yet highly controversial piece of legislation that makes abortions illegal as soon as a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks — which is often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. The bill is supposed to become law January 2020 in Georgia. This is already affecting Hollywood’s business with the South.

Georgia’s Film Industry

The film industry in Georgia has grown exponentially over the past few years, thanks to an incentive program passed in 2008 that offers a 30 percent tax break to qualifying productions. In 2018, there were 455 projects produced in Georgia, amounting to $9.5 billion in revenue for the state. That business provided over 90,000 jobs.

The Los Angeles film office, FilmLA reported that 17 of the year’s 100 top-performing U.S. features were filmed in Georgia, actually beating California.

Since 2013, a number of businesses have opened to support and take advantage of the growth of the film industry. This includes not just studios, but also the tourism industry.

The Walking Dead alone revitalized the town of Senoia. The town began with six buildings and empty storefronts. The popularity and success of the show is evident in the new town — 50 fully occupied buildings, some businesses zombie-themed. Business is good.

Don’t watch those shows? Maybe you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame, Stranger Things, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Numerous films large and small have made the state their home, shipping in crew who spend money locally while providing thousands of jobs to Georgia talent and crew.

Hollywood Boycott

boycott

Then Governor Kemp signed the “heartbeat bill” on May 7th. Not are women’s bodily autonomy and health threatened — but there are celebrities and producers in Hollywood vowing not to shoot their next projects in Georgia.

Although I admire their tenacity, I am one of many saying “Don’t do that.” Women work here, and we’re fighting against this bill. Taking away our business, our way of supporting ourselves, will only hurt us. And if we leave the state to pursue work elsewhere, the state will likely turn more “red,” leading to less possibility of such a draconian bill being overturned.

Since Gov. Kemp signed the bill, the number of Hollywood producers and actors declaring a boycott on the state has grown:

  • Christine Vachon, CEO tweeted that Killer Films “will no longer consider Georgia as a viable shooting location until this ridiculous law is overturned.”
  • TV producer David Simon (“The Wire”) stated on social media he was boycotting Georgia: “Our comparative assessments of locations for upcoming development will pull Georgia off the list until we can be assured the health options and civil liberties of our female colleagues are unimpaired.”
  • Kristen Wiig is pulling her comedy “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”
  • Alyssa Milano stated that if Insatiable is renewed and continues to shoot in Georgia, she won’t return to the show.
  • Amazon show The Power had been scouting locations in Savannah for months before they pulled production from the state. Director Reed Morano, (The Handmaid’s Tale – thematic parallel is not lost) stated, “We had no problem stopping the entire process instantly. There is no way we would ever bring our money to that state by shooting there.”
  • Jessica Chastain, Mark Duplass, John Leguizamo, Jason Bateman, Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, etc…. also stated they wouldn’t film in Georgia due to the abortion law.

Governor Kemp has not done anything to alleviate concerns, blasting so-called “C-List celebrities” who stated they would not work in the state. Notably, the Governor also had to cancel a trip to LA for “Georgia Night.” 

Stacey Abrams has called for Hollywood to stand and fight with the people of Georgia. “Less than 25% across the country believe that we should overturn Roe v. Wade, and yet in Kentucky and Ohio and Indiana and Missouri and Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama we see these bans moving forward,” she said, “and it is not a reflection of the will of the people.”

Another wrench in the works is California’s opportunism to win productions back to their state. Democratic Assemblywoman Luz Rivas introduced Assembly Bill 1442 on Monday. The bill would offer tax breaks to productions that move from states with strict abortion bans. The legislation needs to clear multiple committees before getting voted on at the Assembly, a process that could take over a month.

Positive News

Things don’t look so good after seeing all that, but several production companies have stated they’ll keep their productions in Georgia – at least for now.

J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele made the news first, stating they’d donate their TV salaries for Lovecraft Country to the ACLU and Fair Fight Georgia, in order to fight the bill. Soon others followed suit, including Peter Chernin of Chernin Entertainment who is producing the Fear Street films.

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer will continue to shoot their Netflix film Hillbilly Elegy next month, though they state that if the law goes into effect in January 2020, they will “boycott the state as a production center.”

District attorneys are already refusing to enforce the abortion law. This is a step in the right direction.

Other states are making their priority on choice. Abortion is now a constitutional right in Kansas, a decision that’s four years in the making. Vermont’s bill H. 57 makes a similar declaration. It’s headed to the governor’s desk soon.

What Can We Do?

we are the womenImage from petition on Change.org.

First, add your name to the petition “We Are the Women of the Film & Media Industry in Georgia.” The petition asks Hollywood to fight together with local crew and talent in Georgia. “Your condemnation is understandable,” the petition states, “but what we really need most is allies.”

A crowdfunding effort benefitting the Georgia ACLU is another option.

MAY 25th: There’s a protest by DoBetterGA on May 25th. People will march from the Capitol to the CNN building in Atlanta. You can find the Facebook event link here.

JUNE 1st: There’s a protest against the Heartbeat bill. You can respond to the Facebook event here.

Sources:

What’s in a Camera Assistant’s kit?

When you start out in the world of camera assisting, you soon find out that just showing up to set with yourself is only half the story. If you’re really serious, you bring a kit.

What’s in this kit? a voice from nowhere asks.

Glad you asked, hypothetical listener.

In this post, I’ll cover the basics in your typical kit for a 1st or 2nd AC.

Tools

If you’ve been in this business for longer than five minutes, you should already be aware that tools are necessary to make equipment fit together as intended. At the very least, you need a flathead screwdriver to secure a camera to a tripod baseplate.

Part of the AC’s job is to troubleshoot the gear you’re using. You might find you need to take a bracket apart and fit it together in a new configuration. A screw that’s too tight to loosen by hand that needs pliers. You find you need to add new attachments to the camera. Or perhaps you’re working with old gear that’s had a rough life.

The AC doesn’t need the same tools as an electrician or gaffer or production designer. They will, however, get a lot of use with the following:

  • Screwdrivers – Flat and Phillips in a variety of sizes
  • pliers
  • Multi-tool (fulfills several requirements on the list but I wouldn’t trust their screwdriver attachment often).
  • sharp pocket knife and/or razor knife
  • allen wrenches – metric and standard

Tape

On-set production requires a lot of tape. This is especially true for the camera assistant, who needs several varieties of tape in various sizes, types and colors.

  • Gaffer’s Tape (Black: 1 inch wide and 2″ wide; White: 1″ wide – also dubbed “camera tape”).
  • Painter’s tape – might come in handy, especially for times when you don’t want to use up your expensive gaff tape.
  • Spike Tape – essentially a thin line painter’s tape but not quite. You should have 3+ colors of this as you use it to mark locations of actors and camera. Each lead actor gets their own color.

 

Cleaning Supplies

Cleaning and maintaining the gear in top condition is so important. You don’t want a take ruined by a dirty lens.

  • Kimtech wipes – use these dry cloths to clean lenses, monitors, etc.
  • wet lens wipes – use when needed, often the dry wipes do the trick.
  • microfiber cloths
  • Rocket Blower
  • Canned Air
  • Pancro or similar lens cleaner

Other Camera Expendables and Tools

  • Markers – Black sharpie, dry erase markers in black and other colors
  • Pen – for taking camera notes
  • Camera Reports
  • bongo ties – very useful to secure loose wires around the camera.
  • Measuring tape – to measure focal distance.
  • Slate and insert slate
  • Color checker card – an ideal thing to capture for your editor to use later on.
  • penlight or headlamp – very useful if you’re in a dark location.
  • scissors – you don’t even know how many times I’ve needed scissors on set.
  • T-marks – easier than tape marks, just throw ’em down and remember to pick them up later.

 

 

Carrying Gear

So you’ve got all this stuff, right? Where exactly are you going to put it?

If you’ve got a lot of gear, you might want to invest in a good sized, sturdy bag. I’ve got a common bag for a lot of camera assistants — the Cinebag. When I first started out, I just toted a cheap tool bag from Harbor Freight. I eventually upgraded to a nice Husky toolbag which I still sometimes use.

cinebagYou also should keep common tools, such as your multitool, some cleaning stuff and writing utensils close by. Many camera assistants will have some sort of utility belt – a la Batman – to accomplish this. I went Cinebag on this too and got their AC pouch, but there’s plenty of great brands out there to check out, such as Setwear and Portabrace. Get one that works best for you.

 

 

Ready to gear up?

That covers the basics (and that’s a lot of basics). Your kit will likely grow and expand and change from job to job, as you realize what you really need and what might be provided already on set.

You’ll find this gear and other useful supplies at places like Filmtools, B&H, Amazon, eBay and home improvement stores such as Home Depot, Lowes and Harbor Freight.

Oh! And one more thing. When you start buying this stuff, you’ll notice the cost adds up. Especially when buying $20 rolls of gaffer’s tape. So price shop amongst as many sources as you can and most of all – label your gear. I, for one, put my name on tape especially, as it can easily be lost and picked up by another department on set.

Searching…An Innovative Way to Tell a Story

Searching sets up a story we’ve seen before — a parent searching for their child — but does it in a uniquely technical fashion while cleverly setting up red herrings and clues along the way.

What makes Searching unique is obvious — the story is told through screens, on computers and cell phones. It could have come across hokey and gimmicky, much like found footage films, or by what I assume Unfriended was received (has anyone seen that movie? Let me know)

The father, played by John Cho, does 90% of his sleuthing online, digging through his daughter’s social media, searching terms he’s unfamiliar with (#parents am I right?) and communicating via text, messenger and FaceTime. This creates a story that wouldn’t be better told in a traditional format. The discovery and the unearthing of Margot’s secrets is through her social media, so why not present the film in such a format that can take great advantage of that?

The animations and screen captures were smooth, transitioning from search results to videos and FaceTime conversations in a manner that reflects a person’s frantic search online for answers.

Searching pic 1

We’re introduced to the storytelling convention in a less frantic sense, in a sort of Up-style montage of moments that detail this family’s life on the computer. There’s an incredible amount of character development told through the Windows startup page to the photos and videos that document this family’s journey.

As details about the case are discovered and Cho’s character delves deeper into the mystery, clues are simultaneously revealed to the viewer. Eagle eyed observers might even note key plot details before Dad finds them, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t make you anxious for the characters to catch up with your conclusions. The twists are really well done and the ending features a spectacular 180 reversal.

It’s a really well done movie from both a technical and a writing standpoint. If you’d like to delve more into the making of the movie, check out the special features (available on the RedBox rental, so no excuses) and read this article AFTER you’ve seen the movie (be warned: spoilers). With this movie, the viewer’s search for the truth should coincide with the father’s.

Make it or Break it in the Atlanta Film Industry

So, you’re looking at starting out in the Atlanta film industry, and don’t know where to start?

Disclaimer: This is primarily directed at those looking at the crew side of things, but there are a couple resources that actors can check out as well.

Whether you’ve gone to school, attended a workshop or are a completely new person in the industry — you’re likely going to start from the bottom up. To better prepare you for the long road ahead, I’ve put together this post to point you in the right direction.

film school meme

I’m allowed to post this because I went to film school and still had to PA…just like many of my peers.

Be the Ideal Production Assistant

A production assistant is universally recognized as the entry-level job on any set.

What are the qualities that make a great production assistant?

A production assistant may be in charge of many tasks on a set. You might print and distribute scripts and callsheets, drive crew and actors to and from set, set up pop up tents and crafty, lock-up streets or areas to prevent people walking into set, go on runs to pick up supplies or equipment, or become a human sandbag.

I’ve been a human sandbag. Do not recommend.

The ideal production assistant is humble, eager to help and able to anticipate the needs of a crew without stepping out of the bounds of their position. You have the fortitude to withstand 12+ hours worth of production, sometimes with nothing to do for long periods of time, without complaining.

When you apply for these gigs, you will follow whatever guidelines are in the job listing. Trust me, that alone will make you stand out. Bonus points if you research the production company and their previous work.

Alternate: Be an Extra

Those with zero film experience might want to get their feet wet by working as an extra. As an extra, you’re exposed to the long hours of a film job (though not as long as the crew) and can see firsthand how things are run. You can get the feel for the job without actually running around doing PA duties.

So where should you start looking for jobs?

Job Sites

*paid subscriptions

A note on Help Wanted Hotline: Jobs for films and TV shows are posted here, and you’ll see some big names here. Certainly add this to your list of things to check regularly, but please note that I’ve not heard of anyone getting a job through here. More often than not it seems jobs are posted here later than in other places.

Stage 32 is probably better for networking because I see a lot of people “trying to break in” and not a lot of people actually hiring.

Facebook Groups

For work, advice, encouragement, hilarious memes!

  • Atlanta Film Community
  • Paid Only Georgia Film Crew Group
  • Atlanta Film Production Group
  • Production Freelancers – Producers, Coordinators, PA’s etc…..
  • Georgia Production Assistants
  • Greater Atlanta Film Community
  • Women Working in Reality TV
  • **Movie Set Memes

**You know you need a laugh during the job search.

Other useful groups for info, advice and the very occasional job: Atlanta Film Production Group, Georgia Production Assistants.

This is just a sample. Look for what you’re into and join up. Some groups are more spammy than others, so I didn’t really want to add groups like Georgia Film Industry Circle and because it skews towards being more spammy, but sometimes get lucky.

Actors and Background Facebook groups

Another way people might survive the long in-between calls is by working as an extra.

  • ONLY Speaking Role Casting Calls (Southeast US)
  • Central Casting (Georgia USA)
  • Actors Access
  • SAG – AFTRA (for those serious about this acting thing)
  • SCAD Film & Television (Please note, any gig posted on a student group WILL be for VOLUNTEER ONLY. Students can’t afford to pay and simply need the practice of working with crews/actors. Be considerate of this.)
  • Background Artists
  • Casting Atlanta
  • CAB Castings
  • Casting All Talent
  • Casting TaylorMade
  • Casting TaylorMade Miami
  • Central Casting Atlanta
  • CL Casting
  • Cynthia Stillwell Casting
  • Extras Casting Atlanta
  • Hylton Casting
  • Marinella Hume Casting
  • New Life Casting
  • Southern BG Casting
  • Tammy Smith Casting- Atlanta
  • The Extra Bad Group
  • WSA Casting

The Atlanta SAG page has a list of legit agents for actors (something you should consider if acting is your thing). You can find agents and managers elsewhere, but beware, there are many scams afoot. Legitimate agencies will not ask for money upfront (the exception is Actor’s Access, but that’s different). Places like John Casablancas will make you fork over $1000+ and are definitely scams.

Volunteering

Here’s the thing. If you’re new to the industry in general, or new to a place like Atlanta, working for free on a couple projects can actually be beneficial. Hear me out.

You need to make connections in the area, people who live here and can in turn recommend you for actual paying jobs in the future. People who might volunteer to work on your next project. It’s a give and take.

Don’t volunteer on just anything. Vet your options. If a production sounds fishy, keep your distance. I had my own protocol for what I would volunteer on and you should too.

I volunteered my services on a short film once after watching the director’s previous content and negotiating when I would work. That film ended up at San Diego Comic Con.

no pay

That being said, definitely don’t be a volunteer forever. Even if you’re a total n00b to the film industry, once you’ve gained skills through volunteering, you need to value yourself enough to be paid for your work.

Networking Events

Last year when I was fresh on the Atlanta scene, I went to a couple of networking events to start meeting people and see what was out there.

Just check out this list of networking events for film people in Atlanta! Just don’t go to Atlanta Film Hub. I’ve heard bad things about them.

Women in Film and Television Atlanta is a great way women to network. If you don’t want to pay the dues, they have a monthly open mixer. The next one is set for February 07. Non-members pay $15.

Something like Film Bar Monday is not networking per se. It’s more a casual hang out for filmmakers to do. This is held on every Monday at various bars around Atlanta, including Decatur. The rules state no business cards, no obvious desperate ploys for employment. But meet some people here, get talking and you’ll see where your next lead might come from. There’s also a Film Brunch Sunday!

Production Gear Rental

Maybe you’ve got the skills for a certain job, but don’t have the gear yet?

For those who say “I just need this one thing and I have $30.” The first two are the Uber of production rental — i.e. renting from regular people in your area:

The following are the more professional ones:

Film Industry Resource Map

This is a handy interactive resource put together by Tatem Spearman.

Click here to access the map.

What You Need to Do RIGHT NOW

  • Update your resume, website, and various job board accounts. Reflect any new additions, new skills or anything that might apply to production jobs.

Tailor your resume to the job you want. If you sometimes apply to sound gigs and sometimes to acting gigs, have separate resumes for each.

  • Clean up your social media of anything that might appear questionable to a potential employer. You laugh, but I’ve actually had employers say during an interview, “We looked at your social media and think you’re a great fit.”
  • Business cards. Maybe seems antiquated to some but can’t hurt.
  • Professional email. Nobody is going to hire ButtDeeemon13XXX@hotmail.com. No one. (Dear Lord please don’t let that be a real email address) Some variation of your first and last name or your production company name (if you have one) is fine.

But most importantly:

atl meme

No, not that.^
  • Don’t give up. 

Making it in the production world, whether in Atlanta, Los Angeles or Narnia will require a level of commitment and stubbornness not found in other professions. You might find yourself networking and putting yourself out there for months without work.

Have a savings. Have a plan. If you put your best foot forward, keep making those connections, honing your skills and doing the grunt work that does come your way, people will notice. And that’s what you want.

Did I miss anything?

If there’s anything I can add to these lists, please let me know by emailing bridgetlamonica@gmail.com. Contributors will be credited.

Contributors to this post

Tatem Spearman, Alex Collins, Arthur Groves (updates for BG Casting list).

The Slick Design of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

There’s a lot of great things going on in the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The minority lead is incredibly engaging and the first in-motion Spider-Gwen was everything I wanted her to be. I’m secretly hoping she’ll get her own film some day. Combine that with a worthwhile story, heartfelt interactions and pulse-pounding action — you’ve got yourself a fun ride.

Comic Style +

best-the-animation-1544466007

Having this story animated (instead of live action) allowed for some stylistic choices that celebrated both animated and print formats. Especially after Miles gets his powers, the story is presented more and more like a comic book, including thought bubbles and descriptions that pop up on screen. Unlike its comic roots, the film uses these staples of the print format in dynamic ways. Thought bubbles pop up after Miles as he’s running down a street, panel lines slash through the screen and present multiple images at once. It’s a comic on speed and you can’t look away.

Color

color

Coupled with the general layout of a comic book, the animation is lush with vibrant color. The colors are as vivid as our main character himself, who sings to get himself in a good mood and is full of energy. Adding this to our smooth animation, and 2-D/3-D presentation (even when viewed in standard format, you can tell how much depth the 3-D version has) and you’ve got a visually breathtaking actiony romp. But even with that color and fun, there’s still some darkness to be had, making this a film that’s not just emotionally investing for young viewers.

Otherworldly Designs

Into-The-Spider-Verse-All-Spider-Men

Another great stylistic choice was to have the spider-people of different universes look and behave different. Spider-Ham (yes, a spider-pig) is more cartoonish and uses weapons that would have been at home in a Bugs Bunny cartoon). Spider-Noir is depicted in black and white and he can’t see color. Peni Parker is decidedly more anime. This design choice follows when we get glimpses into their worlds in their intros and near the end. Different shapes, color-schemes and physics accompany the buildings and sights populating from the other worlds.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a fantastic addition to the Marvel universe, referencing all the Spider-Men that came before it while securing its own important place in heroic cinema. It’s a fantastic animated film, but it’s also just a really good film in its own right.

To Film School or Not to Film School?

^ Is that even the right question?

Often I hear from people new to the film industry who want to know if they should attend film school to get a leg up. I can’t give them a straight answer.

Years ago, I too was wondering the same thing. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with nary a film production to be seen, I didn’t know how I was supposed to “get in” especially when I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to LA, let alone the cost of living there while trying to break into a notoriously difficult industry.

I eventually found myself completing a Masters of Fine Art in Film and Television at the Savannah College of Art & Design. My time there was awash in good memories — I met some amazing friends I’ll carry with me the rest of my days, as well as picking up select skills — such as the Steadicam — that I may not have had the opportunity to try out otherwise. But still, I sometimes look back on my time at SCAD and wonder “Was it worth it? Should I have skipped the school?”

If you’re wondering why I still have those doubts, even after having graduated four years ago, it’s because when I look at my student loans, I begin to feel faint and need to find something else to do. It’s also because of how I calculated what I was paying per class period, and certain classes that didn’t live up to expectations.

Some of the best film makers and cinematographers I know personally today were self taught or were brought up in the ranks of hierarchy on film sets over time. I also know some who went through film school and have nothing more than an ego to show for it.

The answer to “How do I break into the industry?” is never going to be a simple formula and no two paths are the same.

So, how do you break in?

The most common paths are variations on these — please note that these are aimed towards the Camera Department since that is mostly what I’m familiar with:

1.) Film School: After or during school, start getting on “real” sets, most likely as a production assistant (read: entry level) or, rarely, jump right into camera assisting/producer assisting/etc.

2.) Work at a Camera or Equipment Rental House, gaining knowledge and experience working with the equipment. Get hired on sets. Work your way up.

3.) Get on sets as an office or set production assistant. Slowly migrate into the department you are interested in. Impress people and try to move up the ladder.

4.) Self-taught. Start by making really bad films. Learn from your mistakes. Keep going. Self finance your passion.

5.) Be related to Spielberg/Nolan/some big whig in the industry already.

All this circles back to whether or not film school is the answer for you. I don’t feel my job is to convince you one way or the other. Rather, I feel a list of pros and cons is more helpful, to allow you to make an educated choice.

PROS

Direct access to professional equipment without rental costs and insurance.

Professional networking at the student level. Film school is where many of the greats of filmmaking met for the first time. Maybe that will be your story too.

Directors/Cinematographers/Producers who are easily accessible because they’re grading your homework as professors at the school.

Amenities: professional equipment, film festivals sponsored by the school, meet and greets with industry professionals who might talk to your class.

CONS

Expensive. Tuition, books, and financing your own films costs serious money.

Certain Classes. I’m still mad about Professional Development, a class in which we basically paid full price to just work on our own stuff.

Limited scope. Students who are into non-traditional forms of telling a story, such as with experimental film, may feel limited by the standard Hollywood method taught at school.

Lack of resources. Along with the pro of having equipment and space to borrow for free are the limits of actually getting those things when they are in high demand.

In many ways, attending SCAD was the best thing I’ve done to get myself into the right trajectory for what I’m doing now. I’d never have picked up the Steadicam and I’d never have made the connections I did. But I also know that it would have been possible (but not guaranteed) to get where I am now without the tuition cost.

Deciding whether or not to attend film school is a big decision. Until you’ve made that decision, you can check out this book:

bookAmazon link

Media Parodies Media: The Bojack Horseman Story

Bojack Horseman is a Netflix Original that premiered in 2014. It’s a dark humor animation with anthropomorphic animal people navigating the shallow world of Hollywood. Somehow, I didn’t get around to this show for four years. Then I binged four seasons in an embarrassingly short time.

I was surprised by how emotionally invested I became with Bojack‘s cast of characters. Real human drama and timeless themes exist within the animated packaging featuring a talking horse.

At first, Bojack Horseman is a very nihilistic look at a ex-sitcom star’s messed up life. Booze, drugs, one night stands, many questionable decisions… it’s a fun ride to watch Bojack spiral out of control. But from the beginning the writers subtly tug at your heartstrings by fleshing out his character as well as those of the ones around him.

Bojack acts out and gets himself into trouble because, plain and simple, he’s not happy. There are the glimpses into his truly awful childhood and parents who never really wanted him, all of which ended up with Bojack becoming a washed up ex-sitcom star.

Portrayal of Media and Hollywoo(-d)

What the show does especially well is parodying the media and entertainment industries. From “A Ryan Seacrest Type”– a vapid Hollywood reporter who comments on whatever inane news has surfaced, to media-fueled squabbles over apple muffins and the insane things stars do for attention.

Amid the laughs are some really poignant digs at Hollywood in general (re-named Hollywoo after Bojack stole the D in a booze-addled stupor).

In the episode where Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd come up with the Oscar nominees, reading the whiteboard behind them was insightful and relevant. Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite scandal was put in sharp relief as they had written down “black people” and then crossed it out.

If you notice, the board also includes only female names in “Best Director” — a stark contrast to the reality. In 2018, Greta Gerwig became only the fifth female director to even be nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Lady Bird. So far the only female director to win has been Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.

oscar_noms.png

Bojack also parodies what happens to some child stars. With Sarah Lynn, you see the stark contrast between the innocent girl on the 90’s sitcom to the coked out mess she becomes later in life.

The Human Element

Part of the reason we care so much about these characters is because of their very real struggles:

Princess Carolyn — Cutthroat in the world of being an agent/manager, but almost always at the brink of failure. She also feels unfulfilled and wishes for a family, but is possibly past the point of no return.

Todd — discovering his sexuality. I think so far this is the only time I’ve seen a character in a show discover they are “Ace.”

Diane — Just…everything about Diane. Her issues with her family and her career struggles make her a relateable, anxiety-ridden character.

Season Five

Bojack Season 5 premiered recently. There were a couple of episodes that really stood out, like the one that centered around Diane’s exploration of her ancestral routes (for a Buzzfeed-like story she was writing) and an episode that centers around Bojack giving a speech at a funeral that doesn’t cut away and is simultaneously hilarious, dark and uncomfortable.

Season 5 wasn’t my favorite, but it still represents part of a quality piece of entertainment. If you haven’t tried this series yet, it’s about time.

It’s about time for something like A Wrinkle in Time

I finally saw A Wrinkle in Time, via Red Box. It was a trippy, colorful, spacey adventure great for kids.

The movie made waves early in promotional days when it was revealed the typically white heroine would be portrayed by Storm Reid, a young lady who is neither typical nor white. And what a fantastic choice this casting was.

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Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time (2018) was not the blockbuster it really wanted to be. With a slow beginning that bogs down the pace and the hard-to-follow rules of the fantasy world, it didn’t meet high expectations.

It reminds me of the hype when Lucy (2014) came out. Forget what movie that is? So did most everybody else. But it was originally hyped to show off an actiony female heroine. It just couldn’t help the fact that it was unnervingly stupid.

But you can’t place all your expectations on one movie. You just rejoice in the fact that it exists and it signals a shift in cultural representation. 

A Wrinkle in Time could have been a bomb with white leads. It could have been a re-hash of the 2003 Canadian attempt at a television-based adaptation. When author Madeleine L’Engle saw that, she told Newsweek, “I have glimpsed it…I expected it to be bad, and it is.”

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So bad in fact that the actors refused to open their eyes in this pic. Maybe.

What’s important is that Director Ava DuVernay took the opportunity to film a very difficult to adapt novel with actors and crew of all colors, genders, etc.

To get that diverse cast and crew, DuVernay didn’t have to do anything fancy. She didn’t have an inclusion rider, or special contract. To put it simply, she just made sure the production hired great people of all kinds and colors. That’s something we need to see more of.

The 2018 version by Disney may not have made a huge profit, but it showed a young capable girl of a mixed race family, with numerous roles in her world filled by diverse people. It put a normal lens on a medium that usually paints the world in bland colors. I’d like to think more than a few young girls saw this and were inspired. And if that’s all it did? Maybe it accomplished what it set out to do.

 

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Wrinkle_in_Time

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_wrinkle_in_time_2018/

http://fortune.com/2018/03/12/wrinkle-in-time-ava-duvernay-inclusion-rider-diversity/

Small thinking and Downsizing

I Redbox’d Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, fully expecting an unusual, indie-ish film with a decent special effects budget and commentary on human excess. What I found was a hodgepodge of themes so mashed together as to resemble a brown sludge instead of a solid idea.

It’s an intriguing concept; A scientist discovers how to shrink humans to 5 inches tall, reducing their carbon footprint. Married couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristin Wiig) decide to undergo the procedure so they can have the home of their dreams, only to have Audrey leave Paul when he is shrunk first. It all kinda meanders from there.

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Downsizing touches (but doesn’t commit) on the following themes:

  1. Ecological responsibility/the Green Movement
  2. Economic/Socio-economic disparities
  3. Emotional — Paul dealing with a new life after being abandoned by Audrey
  4. Political/xenophobic

The problem with all these, albeit great thematic elements, is the fact that we bounce between them, never fully embracing enough to make a strong premise.

From this point on there will be spoilers (including the ending)

The Green Movement

The scientists who created the process of downsizing did so in order to reduce our emissions and help save the world. The term “downsizing” comes from the idea of simplifying one’s life for overall improvement. A company may downsize to cut costs, or an individual may downsize their home to make it more manageable to take care of.

The movie also illustrates the green movement by showing the shared cars in the tiny city Paul moves in to. Everyone shares what appear to be electric cars.

By the end of the movie, 3% of the world’s population has downsized, but it’s not enough to keep the polar ice caps from melting. Too little, too late. Pun intended?

Socio-economic Disparities

The most interesting theme in the movie, from my point of view, were the socio-economic differences present among the little people.

At first it appears that mostly the middle class folks downsize because their money is worth more when they undergo the process. They can afford lavish mansions and live comfortably off their savings. Other people downsize as a personal choice, so escape their current life and have a fresh start.

Later on, we’re introduced to the lower-class (and mostly ethnic) residents of Paul’s city. These people still have to work for a living, some of them as maids to clean the rich people’s mansions and apartments. Paul is introduced to this world when he meets Vietnamese activist Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). She was shrunk against her will and now cleans apartments while hobbling on a poorly designed prosthetic leg.

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The disparity is shown in stark relief as Paul sees Ngoc’s side of town. First off, they have to take a crowded bus which takes them through the wall of the city’s enclosure and into a dismal town outside the wall. If that journey through the wall doesn’t say a lot about economic disparity, I don’t know what does.

Paul’s interaction with this woman is the heart of the story, and frankly what the story should have stuck to. It’s touching, it’s smart and it’s a logical endpoint for Paul to reach some conclusions on what he is worth. He can help these people with so many of their problems, either through his occupational therapy training or by helping them get food.

Sadly we had a few other themes to muck it all up.

Emotional

I tacked this on because it’s more of a plot point that doesn’t get resolved.

Audrey abandons Paul right after he’s downsized. This is something that is given away in the trailer, and lost a lot of emotional impact since it was not a surprise. It also felt very forced. Audrey never seemed thrilled about downsizing. Why did they go through with going to get the procedure? This is likely more a problem with the character than the story.

After that plot point (Audrey leaving) we get no payoff. Sure we see Paul mulling through life post-Audrey, but we don’t get a nice book-ending moment. He doesn’t see Audrey again, doesn’t speak to her, doesn’t really come to terms with it. We can argue that his friendship and later relationship with Ngoc serves that purpose, but I feel something was missing.

Political/Xenophobic

As soon as there’s anyone who’s different, there’s going to be people who hate them.

A man approaches Paul at his going-away party prior to downsizing. The man is noticeably annoyed, and says the little people should not benefit from the rest of the country’s taxes since they don’t pay any taxes, and that they should only have a portion of a vote when it comes to elections.

The guy is a racist jerk motif to the tee…but is he wrong?

Of course he is but part of the problem with the downsizing concept is that it’s not fully fleshed out. How is it economically viable to have these little people living off their savings for the rest of their lives? Forget the conversion rate of the tiny houses being so cheap, what about whenever they need to buy products or services outside their tiny cities? Not everything is produced in the tiny city. Their money can’t possible retain it’s inflated value in the outside world. That bottle of vodka from the trailer should be worth a million dollars!

And how are these people not paying taxes? How did that slip the government’s radar? Sure, the process was hailed as a tax write off because #greenmovement but …how?

Despite all that, and the interesting parallels with real-life xenophobia…the hatred between normals and little people is never expressed again.

Ending Thoughts

Downsizing was a mixed bag. Sure it had an interesting insights into the pros and cons of this imaginary medical procedure….but the fact that it couldn’t focus and elaborate on some key elements made it a bit of a mess.

If you are about to watch it, prepare for a slow beginning and meandering plot until Ngoc Lan Tran arrives, because she’s a wonderful addition. Maybe the story should have been more about her?