Jon Snow never bothered me anyway

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Joanna Robinson and I put together this Let It Go / Game of Thrones song mashup with the help of some other talented people. I have now seen way too many bearded guys in Game of Thrones.

The Raid 2 Teaser Trailer Commentary with Gareth Evans

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I know it's a bit weird to say that I was excited to put together this video about a piece of movie marketing, but I loved The Raid 2 teaser trailer so much. I was thrilled that director Gareth Evans was able to chat with me about his process of creating it.

Look for another video essay with Gareth coming soon that is 10x the length of the above. It will be epic.

The View from Smith Tower

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This weekend, we went to the top of Smith Tower's to get a view of Seattle and its surroundings from its observation deck. I brought my Blackmagic Pocket Camera with me, and was able to capture this short video. Since the observation deck is surrounded by bars, I had to reach around the bars with the camera to get the views, then stabilize the footage slightly in post. This is one of the advantages of having a camera this small - you can capture high-quality images in situations you would never otherwise be able to.

One of my beefs with this footage is that the focus peaking on the camera often led me astray. When you're in harsh sunlight, the small screen on the Blackmagic is all you can rely on for getting correct focus/exposure because the image on the screen is basically impossible to see clearly. Several times the focus peaking led me to believe my shots were in focus, especially since I was already closed down to f/8 to even f/22 on occasion. But when I look at the footage above, several of the shots are clearly soft and out of focus.

Aside from that, I hope the video captures the beauty of Seattle on a rare, bright sunny day.

Religious Thoughts on Noah

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Millions of children (including myself) have been taught the story of Noah and the ark during Sunday School. Over at /Film, I wrote an essay in which I attempted to contextualize story as it's portrayed in the film Noah into my broader Christian upbringing.

A Video Portrait of Fremont Market

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Recently, I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to sell my Blackmagic Pocket Camera. While I'm still in love with the image it produces, there are other cameras that I've been lusting after which fulfill different purposes that I'm now more interested in (including the Canon C100, the Fuji X100S, and the Canon XA25), and which don't require the trade-offs that the Blackmagic demands.

Nonetheless, no one has taken me up on my offer yet, so this weekend, I decided to take the Blackmagic camera to Fremont Market and give it another spin. While I was initially just planning to shoot a bunch of b-roll and make a video montage, I ended up shooting several documentary-style videos.

As usual, these were shot using my Blackmagic, my cheap-o Polaroid rig, and a Tascam DR-05 (on-board microphones). Some of the audio is pretty rough, but my objective here was to maintain as low of a profile as humanly possible. All audio was recorded in impromptu interviews, and I think mic'ing people using a lavalier would have taken away from the spontaneity and made people less open on camera. It's a trade-off for sure, but I think the audio is adequate.

Here's a video of local artist Brittney Lyons, and her incredible gum wrapper art:



Here's a brief profile I shot of Beanfish, a local company which creates delicious fish-shaped foodstuffs:



Here's a local band, Elephant Gazebo, performing "Wrecking Ball." Fun times:



My takeaway from these videos is that, while I think the footage still looks amazing, I really feel like I need at least a couple more lenses to get the most out of this camera. The Super 16mm sensor gives MFT lenses a crop factor of nearly 3x. Wide angle shots are challenging with my current, limited lens selection, as are shots with shallow depth of field (my favorite).

I remain conflicted about this camera, but I'll keep trying to find logical uses for it before putting it on sale on Amazon.

I'm Making a Movie

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I'm making a movie this year with Stephen Tobolowsky! Two weeks ago, we launched a Kickstarter project together and as of today, it has been fully funded. This thing is happening. Here's our Thank You post to backers.

I plan to blog about the entire experience of making, marketing, and distributing this film at /Film. You can read the first of these columns here (with photography by yours truly).

Interpreting Synecdoche, New York: A Video Essay

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I was grateful to be able to chat with LA Weekly's Amy Nicholson about Synecdoche, New York. Synecdoche has always been one of those films that has mystified me. Every single scene seem feels loaded with metaphor, always on the verge of didacticism. But I have seen few people come up with a satisfying interpretation of much of the movie (with a few exceptions).

This was my first attempt at a long long-form video essay, and while I'm pleased with the results, I don't know that it's something that resonated with a particularly large group of people. Nonetheless, what was important to me was hopefully being able to shed light on what is one of the most moving yet enigmatic films I've ever seen.

The Best Tributes to Philip Seymour Hoffman

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I was shocked and devastated when I learned that Philip Seymour Hoffman had passed away. What an amazing talent, taken away from us far too soon. Truly my favorite actor, ever since I saw his heartbreaking performance in Boogie Nights.

Here are a few remembrances of him that I found to be particularly heartfelt and impactful:

- Philip Seymour Hoffman's Final Secret in Esquire

- PHS, RIP in Slate

- An Actor Who Made Unhappiness a Joy to Watch in NYTimes

- The Dissolve remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman

- Philip Seymour Hoffman's Genius in The New Yorker

- Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014 at Rogerebert.com

- Cameron Crowe and Fans Pay Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman at /Film

- The Wrestler at Medium

And finally, a piece by Erik Lundegaard from 2006 that isn't a remembrance, but I think captures exactly what made Hoffman great.

The Making of That Close-Ups Video Essay

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This week I published a new video essay at /Film on the art of close-ups. I was grateful and honored to have Edgar Wright's participation on this essay. But how did it come to be?

This essay started as a much simpler supercut of all the close-ups in Wright's Cornetto trilogy. I cut together what this would look like for Shaun of the Dead as a proof of concept:



I showed this video to a few people and...it didn't really do anything for them. They didn't react with "Wow, this is so cool!" or "This mashup is illuminating!" so I kind of put it on the back burner for awhile. Separately, I'd been wanting to do a feature with Wright for /Film for quite some time - we'd always meant to get him on as a guest of the podcast around the time that The World's End was released but the timing just never worked out.



The thing with filmmaker interviews is: they are legion. Filmmakers go through a press gang bang every time they promote a movie in a big way and over time, all the questions/answers have to take on the feeling of sameness. It is virtually impossible to ask questions in a way that feels novel or revealing. I felt bad subjecting Wright to yet another press interview, so I wanted to try an alternate tactic. I reached out with the proof of concept video above and asked if he'd like to record an interview with me on the art of close-ups to be released in video essay form. Fortunately, he agreed.

We chatted for about 20 minutes or so on Skype. I edited that interview down into a 8.5 minute monologue, then proceeded with the painstaking process of finding all the footage that matched what Wright was talking about and putting the essay together. The entire video essay took about 4-5 weeks of work, on and off, on nights after my day job and during weekends.

This video hit the web on Wednesday morning, and gained some traction via Youtube thanks to a few prominent tweets:

On Saturday morning (2/1/2014), Vimeo made the video a Staff Pick, giving the video a whole new life.

 

It's been a long-time goal of mine to make the Staff Picks page, so I was incredibly grateful and honored to be chosen.

As a video-maker just starting out, it is quite challenging to monetize these types of videos. There are a few possible pathways for it. You could build a massive following on Youtube/Vimeo, then sell ads or get a bunch of cash via Tip Jar. Or you could run your videos on a site that has a high-tech custom video player and a seasoned ad sales team, and is thus able to pay you handsomely for your efforts. I didn't really have access to any of the above, so the only substantive reward for this project was the feeling that I contributed to our collective knowledge on a specific topic of interest - a challenging bar that I generally try hard to reach with all my work.

I joked a few times that if I had known how long this whole process would take, I never would have attempted it in the first place. Having seen how many people have enjoyed the video, all of that work now feels worth it. Simultaneously, there are thousands and thousands of people who are way more talented than me at this, who toil endlessly to produce videos of far greater craft and import, and who never get their work noticed on a significant scale. As much as possible, I try to rectify this by highlighting their work whenever possible using the platforms I am blessed to have. But the feeling I'm left with after the exhausting process of creating and promoting this video essay is this: I can always do more.

Maximizing Your Utility

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I love microeconomics. While its usefulness as a model for describing the complexity of our real world is pretty limited, it can be quite accurate in certain situations. One of my favorite concepts is that of diminishing returns. It states that up to a certain point, every "unit" of labor you put into an activity will produce a correspondingly significant "unit" of output. But at a certain point, the returns for every "unit" of labor begin to diminish, and the output slows down.

My whole life has been about finding this balance - to put the appropriate amount of effort into something, such that I will receive the maximum return possible. To avoid reaching the point of diminishing returns. It's been a challenge.

Take the /Filmcast. For years and years, we used to record an extra segment of the podcast called The /Filmcast: After Dark. I loved a lot of these segments, which essentially were just me and my co-hosts talking about random topics after we'd recorded the official show. Many of our fans loved these too, with some writing in that they actually enjoyed these segments more than the official show itself.

In fall of 2012, we decided to eliminate these segments as a regular part of our feed, although they still do pop up from time to time. There were some logistical reasons for this decision, one of them being that it was already difficult enough to schedule guests for the regular show, let alone asking for a 3-hour commitment to do the after-show as well. But for me, it was really all about the fact that I was stretched too thin already doing the show while moving to a new city and starting a new job, and I wasn't getting that much out of the After Dark episodes. They took up hours of extra time and they frequently didn't result in a product that I was particularly proud of (although sometimes they did - it was a crapshoot, and I guess that was part of the fun).

Over time, all of my other endeavors (podcasts, video work, photography) have presented dilemmas for how I should spend my time. Whether it's an interview with a director, a fan commentary on a film, a review of a specific movie, a discussion on a specific topic, or whether or not to do a podcast at all: for each of these activities, I've started asking myself the following questions:

1) How much enjoyment/benefit do I derive from this activity? - Is the benefit I get (psychically, monetarily, physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc.) significant enough to be worth the opportunity cost of not doing something else? Is spending X hours doing this activity the most benefit I could get from that X hours? Is there something that doing this activity specifically provides me that doing another activity for the same amount of time cannot?

2) How much will fans enjoy this activity? How much will it contribute to the public discourse about a particular topic? - Is this something that a significant amount of people will enjoy? Will it significantly enhance people's enjoyment/appreciation of a specific topic or product? Will it add value in a way that other people or other works cannot?

3) Is this activity something that will attract new listeners/fans? - Will doing this activity attract more fans in a way that corresponds to the amount of effort/time/money it requires?

***

It was a difficult truth to accept, but listenership for most of my podcasts has basically plateaued. While the /Filmcast still gets dozens, perhaps even hundreds of new listeners every month, the days of exponential growth are long past. Movie podcasts that are strictly movie podcasts just don't have that large of a potential audience (that statement excludes movie podcasts with "crossover" potential, such as The Flop House, which is theoretically also a comedy podcast, and can be categorized as such). From a growth perspective, you're much better off in other podcast categories like comedy, culture, or even TV.

As a result, it's been challenging to answer some of these questions on occasion. For instance, a /Filmcast interview with a director may take many hours to set up, and may be a very enjoyable and fulfilling experience for me, but is likely to bring us less than a dozen new listeners. This is also true of my interviews with film score composers, which consistently receive positive feedback but also get fewer downloads than some of our more popular episodes. Could I use this time to do something equally fulfilling but that would be far more likely to reach a mass audience (like say, creating a Youtube video)? Sometimes!

Ultimately, I keep on doing the things I do because I love them and because I get a lot out of them. But finding a balance for each of the above factors is something that will continue to challenge me and continue to evolve as time goes on. For anyone that creates content, I think these are all factors that are worth evaluating.