What 'Serial' Was Really About

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As most-popular-podcast-of-all-time "Serial" finally comes to a conclusion, there've been a lot of pieces written to try and figure out what did this all mean? Many were disappointed with the show for a variety of reasons - this is natural, as any show that is so insanely popular is going to experience intense scrutiny.

One of my favorite writers, Jay Caspain Kang, wrote what was, to me, a fairly unconvincing piece about the show's "White reporter privilege." Justine Elias chided the show for being "slack and meandering."

But what I really appreciated was Sarah Larson's piece for The New Yorker on this topic:

Episode twelve conclusively proved that what we’ve been listening to is not a murder mystery: it’s a deep exploration of the concept of reasonable doubt, and therefore an exposé, if unwittingly so, of the terrible flaws in our justice system. Those among us who deign to be jurors, and don’t try to wriggle out of jury duty, too often don’t understand reasonable doubt, or can’t convince fellow-jurors about what it truly means. We convict people who haven’t been proved guilty because we feel that they are guilty. We feel that they’re guilty in part because they’re sitting in a courtroom having been accused of a terrible crime. In cases like this, the burden often ends up on proving the accused’s innocence—not innocent until proven guilty. And Adnan Syed is just the tip of the iceberg.

Even if the show doesn't accomplish anything in the legal case of Adnan Syed, and even despite its other potential flaws, "Serial" has highlighted some of the systemic flaws in our justice system to an audience of millions of people. For that reason alone, it deserves our praise.

Maverick was a phony

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Right around when LA Weekly's Amy Nicholson was releasing her biography of Tom Cruise, we discussed how she might go about promoting it. Typically, an author will make appearances on podcasts or do Q&A's with various publications. I pitched the idea of a video essay instead, and Amy happily obliged.

Unfortunately, I got mired down in random things like a sinus surgery and completion of The Primary Instinct. But I was able to scrape together some time this month to finally put this together and give it the attention it deserves. 

I don't always agree with Nicholson, but I always find her viewpoints interesting and thought-provoking. I hope you will too.

Seattle Urban Craft Uprising 2014

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I haven't been shooting enough recently. 

Between my full-time job, the new cello videos, and finishing up work on the film, and all the podcasting, it's been tough to find the time and will to get out there and do some photography. Thus, I decided to head to the Urban Craft Uprising today with my Canon 5D Mark III and a 50mm f/1.4 lens. I've been shooting a lot with the GH4 recently, but despite how convenient, portable, and fun that camera is to use, I occasionally crave the beauty of full-frame. 


It was pretty great seeing all the cool things that craftspeople from the Pacific Northwest came up with. Pro tip for these situations, by the way: Artists really appreciate it when you ask for permission to take photos. It's their livelihood you're dealing with, and they're graciously giving you control of how it's presented to the world. Tread carefully. 


Thanks to artists such as Clarissa Callesen and many others for allowing me to photograph their work today. You can find all the photos the photos from this set right here

[Side note: This photo set was made using VSCO's new Film Pack 06, their Cross Process collection.]

Too Many Cooks - Looping Cello version

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I spent way too much time working on this. All due respect to the original.


 For more of my looping cello music, go to davechenmusic.com.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer Easter Eggs

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I had a lot of fun recording this trailer commentary for Peter Sciretta, Editor-in-Chief of /Film. Find all of /Film's amazing coverage of The Force Awakens trailer (including a 45-minute podcast) by clicking here.

Making a Podcast with Superb Audio Quality

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The Accidental Tech Podcast is a podcast that's entered my regular rotation. Beyond its intelligent personalities, I'm always impressed by how clean the audio is, which is a rare thing to find in podcasts these days.

Co-host Casey Liss has recently published a detailed description of what they use for their setup, and it's impressive. While not super expensive, it clearly shows a lot of thought. Anyone who wants to make a high-quality sounding podcast should bookmark it as a valuable reference guide.

For the record, the podcasts I produce use a far cruder setup than the one described. In fact, my situation is not too far removed from what ATP co-host Marco Arment derogatorily refers to as "recording people over Skype with mediocre USB microphones and exporting it with nearly zero editing."

That being said, as Liss points out in his write-up, my setup also confers a big advantage: Timeliness. It's what allows people to get their Game of Thrones recaps in their podcast feed within 24 hours of the episode airing.

But beyond that, over time, I've personally found that you rapidly experience diminishing returns when it comes to podcast audio. There is a baseline level that I (and most people) will deem to be acceptable: everyone on a podcast should have a dedicated microphone that is placed somewhat close to their mouths. Edit out Skype glitches, which are a dead giveaway that your podcast is not being recorded in a professional studio. Beyond that, incremental improvements in audio quality do not bring incremental improvements in listenership.

But those who value audio quality will always be able to tell the difference. And while it's something I do value, my personal podcast projects are not the medium that I'll choose to chase it through.

It's easy to be great, it's hard to be good

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I recently went to see Penn and Teller at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. I've been a huge fan of them for decades, and saw their show live in Las Vegas about a year ago, so I was excited to check them out locally.

The show was delightful, although they did about 80% of the same tricks that I've seen them on TV/YouTube and in Vegas. Later, I got in the mood to do some more reading on them and happened upon this interview they did awhile back for Reddit. In it, they're asked by a fan whether they ever do any tricks that have taxed them in terms of technical precision.

Penn refers to a section from Steve Martin's book, Born Standing Up:

I learned a lesson: It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.

For Penn and Teller, this means they can't do anything that's physically taxing or extraordinary, because they do their show five nights a week. They can't be on the "razor's edge" of skill because there can't be a risk that they'll be unable to reproduce their act thousands upon thousands of times. What a profound way to look at things - you don't need to be incredible; just pretty good, all the time.

So they're good, but they're not great. And that's actually the bigger challenge.

"Time" from Hans Zimmer's 'Inception' Score - Looping Cello Version

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Things got unexpectedly emotional for me the other day.

I spent dozens of hours over the summer and fall practicing a looping cello arrangement of "Time" from Hans Zimmer's score for Inception. The arrangement was done by musician/composer extraordinaire Andrew Barkan, but I added a few little flourishes to make it my own. On Thursday afternoon, I pushed my little creation out into the world at /Film.

Subsequently, I was very happy to see this video appear at places such as Reddit Videos, The Dissolve, The Film Stage, and MovieFone. But really, what was incredible were all the positive comments the video got via /Film and Twitter.
It's been about 4 months since I started playing cello again after a 10-year absence. I spent over a thousand dollars to get my cello shipped to me, get it repaired, buy a looping pedal/amp/equipment -- all with just a vague hope that I'd be able to use it to create something unique. There was never any assurances of success, or any reasonable expectation that if I did succeed, the work would ever catch on. To see thousands of people enjoying the video just made my heart very full.

Since I started playing cello againmy new Youtube channel has accumulated over 40K views.  I wouldn't describe it as even close to "going viral," but it's enough encouragement for me to keep on going for a little while longer...

Thoughts on 'Interstellar'

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Here's my video review of Interstellar for /Film. Seeing this movie in one of the 54 IMAX theaters in the world that can project at native IMAX aspect ratio was almost certainly one of the best cinematic experiences I've had this year.

Steve Jobs, on what drove him

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I've been getting into reading books again thanks to my Kindle Paperwhite, and finally finished the massive Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. The ending of that book got pretty emotional, as Jobs started losing his energy and approaching his own passing.

I was struck by one of the closing passages, written in Jobs' own words -- a statement about how our efforts at contributing to the world, while rarely perfect or ingenious, just may be enough:

What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that's been done by others before us. I didn't invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It's about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how -- because we can't write bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That's what's driven me.