Shooting the Pacific Northwest Regionals Yo-Yo Championship

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PNWR Yo-Yo Championships 1
I had the privilege of shooting the Pacific Northwest Regionals Yo-Yo Championship this weekend at The Armory in the Seattle Center. I didn't really know what to expect, but I had guessed that it would either be 1) a few guys doing some mediocre yo-yo tricks, or 2) an awesome display of talent from a subculture that I was only barely aware of. It was definitively the latter. Hundreds of people showed up at The Armory (dozens of yo-yo enthusiasts, along with their parents). These people have spent thousands of hours honing their skills and it shows. After watching them do a myriad of yo-yo tricks over the course of two days, I started to realize the appeal: there's something magical about the ability to make a small, circular device at your fingertips appear to defy gravity.

For the entire shoot, I used only my Canon 5D Mark III and my 50mm f/1.4 lens along with my trusty 70-200mm f/2.8. There are unique challenges to shooting a yo-yo competition that I did not anticipate. You are shooting in a low-light environment, in a situation where both the subject and an object in the subject's hands are moving rapidly. Thus, I had to shoot with the aperture wide open (f/2.8 or lower) but still be focused on the subject to get some decent bokeh out of it AND have a high shutter speed to freeze the action, lest both subject and his yo-yo become blurred beyond recognition. For most of these shots, I used an ISO of 2000 combined with f/2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/400th to 1/500th of a second. As expected, the Mark III's high-ISO performance was exceptional.


I took a few hundred shots and only a few dozen were at a sharpness that I'd consider to be usable. There were two failures here: one is the fact that I haven't mastered all the intricacies of the Mark III's incredibly complex autofocus system, and the other is the fact that the 50mm f/1.4's focusing motor just doesn't feel like it's well-designed for action. After some experimentation, I realized that all I really needed to make some compelling shots (compelling for me, at least) was to try and capture these performers' expressions as sharply as possible. If the yo-yo was in focus, that was an added bonus.

Video on the other hand was much easier. I shot at 60 fps and ran the shutter speed fairly constant at 1/125, thus giving me the freedom to close down the aperture significantly. Even so, maintaining focus was challenging on some occasions. Note that I was going hand-held for nearly all of these shots, carrying a very heavy lens with no rig, and trying to focus simultaneously.

Here's a video I put together of the event:



And here's video of Zach Gormley, who I believe was this year's champion. After you watch the mind-blowing things he does in this video, you won't be surprised:




The Tyranny of the Ignorant Majority

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Epic rant by Barry Ritzholtz on why he doesn't want to use blog comments anymore:

A small group of trolls somehow confuse these sites for a town square. It is not. This blog is not a forum where I am obligated to give equal time to every crackpot conspiracy theorist, birther or intellectually lazy wanker out there. To be blunt, I don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about these jackhole’s opinions. These folk need to rapidly disabuse themselves from believing other people’s blog’s are an open invitation for whatever ignorance or ill thought out nonsense they are peddling. Therefore, consider this a warning not to waste your time: I do not care about the output of your cognitive biases, I am disinterested in the myths you cherish, I care little for the mass media rumors that influence you, or the heuristics you believe in. I especially detest the unsupported, commonly believed narratives that you constantly use in the artificial construct you erroneously call reality.

Doing Good for the World Through Film

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Over at /Film, we've just launched a fundraising drive to raise $10,000 for FilmAid. The request? Donate as much as possible at FilmAid's website, even if it's just $1. The reward? A 10-hour long broadcast of the /Filmcast, featuring lots of fun guests from our show's past. 

I will admit that I was a bit skeptical of FilmAid at first, as I know many will be. Why provide film and media training to a people that desperately also need basic necessities such as food and water? To be clear, those things are still important, and if you are a person who only donates to those types of causes, I still think that is great. But when you read about the work that FilmAid does, I hope you'll realize that it's also essential.

I know that crowdfunding at the scale I dreamed it is probably not possible. But I still have a vision that thousands of people will each donate a little bit. Whether we meet our goal that way or not, I hope we succeed and show that a few film fans can still change the world. Won't you join us and donate today?

Breaking My Ties with the Internet

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Kevin Smith has had a pretty rocky relationship with film reviewers these past few years but I've stayed a fan of what he has accomplished (I was one of the few on our podcast that was really impressed by Red State).

This past year has seen a huge life transition for me. As I've gone through it, and as I've experienced recent events, there's one interview with Kevin Smith that keeps coming to mind, over and over again: a 2009 interview that Smith did with Lee Stranahan on "The Dark Side of the Internet." In it, Smith discusses how the poor performance of Zack and Miri caused him to swear off the internet for good.

While I think constructive criticism can benefit any number of people (myself included), there's one section of the interview that has really changed the way I look at things. It starts about the 5 minute mark above:

"You know what I realized one day? People can write the worst shit about you that you've ever seen. They can write really horrible shit about your wife, about your fucking kid. They can write things about your motivations. They can try to peer into your soul and write heinous fucking things. They can take you into bizarro world and write the opposite of everything that's true, and maintain to the world in general that it's true. And it's only really recently that I've realized that they can do all that, and they can't affect your ability to earn, to love, to be loved, to have a good day...

It's weird. I'll sit there and read something on the internet  really heinous about myself or about my work or something, and then I'll go a meeting on some project I'm working on. Those cats aren't like 'Hey, we read that thing and that dude's right, you are a prick!' That shit doesn't matter, and you bring it up to them! It's so weird, I'm so tired of telling people in my life...people will be like, 'What's wrong?" and I'm like 'I read this fucking thing on the internet that really bothers me.'  None of them have ever been like, "Oh man I'm sorry.' They've all been like, 'So? Dude, look at your life! You won! What do you give a shit what someone writes about you on the internet?' And I'm like, 'I dunno. Because I always have.'

And then I just realized, maybe I can just stop."

Amen.

Shots That Were In The 'A Good Day To Die Hard' Trailer That Weren't In The Final Movie

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Here are a few shots and bits of dialogue from the trailers for A Good Day To Die Hard that didn't make it into the final film. I hate it when movies do this. Assume some spoilers for the film follow.



Early on in the trailer, a woman is seen stripping out of a leather suit after riding a motorcycle. These shots in the trailer do not appear in the film.


Dialogue between McClane and his cabbie is different. The "Are you a cop?" exchange doesn't take place in the film at all.


Instead of the "I could've done that" that he says in the film, McClane junior says "Don't encourage him" in this elevator scene.


In the film's climactic action sequence, McClane and McClane junior jump through a glass window through a glass ceiling and into a pool. This shot in the trailers appears to be taken from that scene (John McClane's clothing matches), but I don't believe this shot appears anywhere in the film.

Yes, Filmmakers Should Defend Their Work

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Drew McWeeny asks whether or not it's appropriate for filmmakers to strike back after a negative review of their film. In referring to Calvin Reeder and his film, The Rambler, McWeeny writes, "He should say what he has to say with his films, I should say what I have to say with my reviews, and everything else should be tabled as needless noise that detracts from us both."

I don't agree with McWeeny here - informed dialogue after a movie has been released and written about can benefit both the filmmaker, the public, and film critics. Just look at what happened with that Django Unchained incident, after all.

That being said, I don't think Reeder is the standard bearer for what constitutes a civilized response. Based on his communications on his Facebook page and on the comments on the Hitfix post, he seems more interested in sniping and destroying McWeeny's credibility than in actually engaging in a serious dialogue.

But to me, there is no question that a person who makes their living talking about their opinion on the works of others should be able to have their work commented on. How productive that commenting is, and in what venue it occurs are the unresolved questions.

Taiko Drum Motion Study

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I had the pleasure of witnessing Kaze Daiko's Youth Taiko drum performance at the Lunar New Year Festival at the International District in Seattle yesterday. I've seen a few Taiko drum groups in the past, but this group outclassed them all. The pieces they played were inventive and energetic, plus the members all looked skilled and happy to be there.

This video was shot on a Canon 5D Mark III using primarily a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 60 fps, which was then slowed down to 24 fps. I considered setting it to music/sound that I recorded live, but decided that using extremely rhythmic drums set to slow motion drums would have been a jarring and confusing experience. I also didn't have enough coverage to make it a conventional "music video." Thus, I decided to go in the completely opposite direction and set it to "Winter" from Vivaldi's four seasons.

Still need to work on that color correction...

You can learn more about Kaze Daiko at their website

Observations on Launching a "Successful" Podcast Kickstarter

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A few days ago, Joanna Robinson and I launched a Kickstarter for 10 episodes of our Game of Thrones podcast, "A Cast of Kings," set to coincide nicely with season 3 of the show. We were both totally floored by the response, as we saw our $3200 funding goal reached within 48 hours. Before I go any further, let me just make sure to say: Thank you. To anyone who donated, to anyone who supported us spiritually in this, and to anyone who has just listened to the show. We are so grateful that you believe our endeavors are worth paying for.

This being my first successful Kickstarter, I thought it might be useful for me to share a couple of thoughts on the process.

I did not think we did a great job at creating an exemplar Kickstarter project - I am aware of the elements that go into a stereotypically successful Kickstarter project, and I am equally aware our project did not possess them. I actually got a lengthy e-mail from a concerned listener named Adam, offering ways to help improve the Kickstarter and set it up for success (I share some of his advice below). The reason the Kickstarter deployed as it did was because I was kind of interested to see how challenging it would be to mobilize our fanbase to donate for us. While some of my thoughts were proven true, others weren't -- again, more on this below. More than anything, this Kickstarter was an experiment.

Kickstarters should have videos - Kickstarter strongly recommends each project have a video, and statistically, projects with videos are more likely to be backed. Concerned listener Adam recommended "a short 3 minute video with you on camera talking about how much this means to you. People donate to people, not to projects. If you go on there and really let people know how much it means to you, then they will be far more inclined to donate." I think the biggest reason for no video is because I would have felt weird making one without Joanna -- we live many miles apart and I've never met her in person. But time was also a major consideration.

Rewards should be more incrementally spaced - It's a pretty big jump from $10 to $150. I get that. But ultimately, I didn't really feel like I could commit enough time to promise additional rewards. I realize that some projects have "stretch goals," but I already think doing the podcast as currently planned will be a significant commitment. Beyond additional episodes, I wasn't really sure what else I could offer. One suggestion that did strike me as a good one, which I now wish I'd included, was the promise of reading a listener e-mail on the air.

Explain more about you and your talents  - In an ideal Kickstarter we would have done more of this. But really, I was counting on a) the proof of concept of the past 10 episodes we did, and b) the fact that people would trust us to deliver a quality product, based on those episodes. Explaining more about yourself is necessary in a situation where you are marketing the Kickstarter to complete strangers. I did not think we fell into that category, although in the end, a lot of non-Cast-of-Kings listeners did end up donating.

Outline what the costs are - My single biggest regret is not doing a better job of articulating where the money is going. In this instance, there are a few fixed costs in terms of equipment (a replacement mic for Joanna), HBO subscriptions (which I don't currently have), the domain name for the podcast, etc. Kickstarter and Amazon payments take a significant percentage of the total amount (about 8-10% between the two of them), plus Kickstarter funds are also taxable -- how much is a little complicated and still unresolved, but it's safe to say Uncle Sam will take a huge chunk. The biggest cost, though, is time and effort. Thus, the remainder of the funds will be divided up between Joanna and myself.

There seems to be a significant misconception online that podcasts take no time or effort whatsoever. They do take time. They do take effort. They don't just appear on the interwebs like babies in a cabbage patch. Occasionally, some people who do certain podcasts may ask for money for the time and effort that goes into making a podcast. Why anyone would object to this is something that is beyond my ability to fathom.



My personal goal was not to extract as much money as possible from a single Kickstarter - This Kickstarter was really an experiment on my part, to see if people would be willing to pay for a single, limited run podcast. Many people asked things like, "Why not promise stretch goals? Why not offer more rewards? Why not offer more episodes for more money?" etc. But the goal was not to make as much money as possible. I'm far more interested in how sustainable this model is. How many podcast Kickstarters per year can be launched this way and successfully funded? How many times can you annoy people on Twitter to donate before they stop following you? What is the right balance? These are questions I'm really interested in because they go towards answering the ultimate question: can someone make a decent living off of doing podcasts?

In the days to come, I'll be doing some more experimentation with Kickstarter and seeing if we can get to the bottom of this question.

The true dream of TRUE crowdfunding still eludes us, or at least, me - In my original podcast episode announcing the Kickstarter, I said that if everyone listening to the podcast donated $1, we'd have more than enough  to fund the show. In my dream, everyone donating a tiny amount could create a huge impact. Things didn't really work out that way. As you can see in the header image, the average donation was closer to $15. The vast majority of people donated $10, and there were a couple extravagant donations (including some backers that chose the $150 reward option).

I've heard many theories for why so few people made small donations. Peter Sciretta from /Film opined that the pain of filling out all the Kickstarter info is not worth a $1-2 donation. Matt Singer explained he thought that people didn't think a $1-2 would truly help. The caveat here is that by reaching the goal in 2 days, we didn't have a long enough timeline to extract too many statistically sound data about user behavior.

But if it is accurate, this does force me to to recalibrate my expectations for future Kickstarters. If the average donation is going to be $10-15, then the value that we are delivering needs to be in line with that, as does the expectation for how many people we can expect will donate.

Vegas, Baby. Vegas

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In my never-ending quest to develop some killer slow motion video skills, I brought my brand new Canon 60D with me to Vegas and shot a bunch of material at 60 FPS, which I then assembled into the above video. The effect was achieved by slowing the video down to 24 FPS, a 60% reduction in speed that resulted in some pretty dramatic effects.

My strategy was simply to work on composition first and foremost. Would the shot look good as a photograph? If so, there's a significant likelihood it would look good as a brief video clip as well. And I also had to hope that there was some sort of interesting movement happening to justify the video component of it.

One regret is that I only brought two lenses: the 50 mm f/1.4 and the Rokinon fisheye lens - because I was traveling, I didn't want to carry too much weight in lenses. But I had forgotten how much of a crop factor the APS-C sensor introduces, and I constantly felt like my shots were either way too tight or way too wide. Maybe the 40mm f/2.8 pancake is the way to go?

Thanks to Vegas Tripping for featuring this video on their website!