Archive for the ‘Principles & Productivity’ Category

Caffeine, Sequels, and Remakes…

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

When I realized that caffeine could be attributed to at least a few of the several headaches I get on a monthly basis, I gave it up. I’ve been off caffeine for over 15 years now. In addition to it helping with the headaches, I learned early on in the process how good it felt to just deny something to yourself. To echo one of the legends of self-reliance, denial helps one live deliberately.

It’s been so long since I had a caffeinated beverage that I take it for granted now, but I was thinking about it today when reading Matthew Jeppsen’s post at FresHDV in which he quotes a recent interview with Ridley Scott.

Scott says:

I think movies are getting dumber, actually. Where it used to be 50/50, now it’s 3% good, 97% stupid. [The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford] is one of those rarities that does get made, thank God, and has serious characterisation and serious things to say. Altogether it’s a wonderful, dramatic and historic piece. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to get films like this made.

I’ve sometimes found Ridley Scott’s work to be an example of (admittedly great) style over substance, but am I ever in agreement here.

In an effort to quantify the dumbness, what follows is a list of the top 20 grossing movies of 2007 to-date, in order. Films in bold are not sequels or based on previously existing franchises (i.e., a comic book or television series).

Spider-Man 3 – sequel (#3) / comic book franchise
Shrek the Third – sequel (#3)
Transformers – based on TV show
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – sequel (#3)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – sequel / book franchise
The Bourne Ultimatum – sequel (#3) / based on book franchise
300
Ratatouille
The Simpsons Movie – based on 17 year-old TV series
Wild Hogs
Knocked Up
Live Free or Die Hard – sequel (#4)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – sequel (#2) / based on comic book franchise
Rush Hour 3 – sequel (#3)
Blades of Glory
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Ocean’s Thirteen – second sequel to a remake
Ghost Rider – debatable: based on comic book franchise….
Hairspray – based on broadway show, which was based on movie
Superbad

Out of 20 films, seven or eight are “original”, if you can call Wild Hogs and Blades of Glory “original.” [Addendum: Adaptations of non-franchise literature, etc. count as original works. See discussion in comments below.]

If that doesn’t get you down, look at the all-time top grossing movies in the USA, where you’ll see that 13 of the 20 were released in the last seven years. Of those 13, two (The Passion of the Christ and Finding Nemo) aren’t sequels, remakes, or based on pre-existing franchises.

Shutting myself in a dark room isn’t going to make the headache that is this list of movies go away, but I am going to give up watching any new sequels and remakes. Even if some of these movies are ok, I’m sick of the practice in general principle. Why encourage Hollywood to do it any longer? Like caffeine, I’m going cold turkey, giving this stuff up in toto.

Sure, I might miss something like Cronenberg’s The Fly or Sirk’s Imitation of Life (two of my favorite remakes), but something tells me the withdrawal period will last shorter than when I gave up caffeine.

UPDATE 9/23/07: Alert reader AJ Broadbent has sent word of even more dissenting opinions. Click here for the full story!!

The Bible, Revised

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

In some fields, there’s that one book which, without it, your collection would be hopelessly incomplete. In my opinion, every kitchen needs a copy of The Joy of Cooking, a library’s not a library if it doesn’t have the Oxford English Dictionary, and filmmakers… well, I would argue that all of us need a copy of The Filmmaker’s Handbook by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus. At least that was true a few years ago.

First released in 1984, The Filmmaker’s Handbook was one of the first, and best, books to cover almost all technical aspects of the filmmaking process. Its presentation of technical concepts was accessible to beginners; its depth of detail meant experienced filmmakers could return to it again and again, always sure to learn new things.

For years, the Handbook didn’t need an update. Film technology had gone largely unchanged for decades. An f-stop’s an f-stop, right? Then, in 1999, the Handbook was updated to include developments in digital video. A necessary nod to the present, no doubt, but also an invitation to obsolescence.

The 2nd edition was first published in March 1999 — one month before the unveiling of Final Cut Pro 1.0. Things have changed. Radically. Needless to say, the Handbook‘s been long overdue for another update.

So when I say that the new edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook was released yesterday, well, if you’re sentimental about books like I am, maybe you’ll agree that this is a cause for celebration.

In many ways, though, it’s a bittersweet celebration. At this point, I don’t expect The Filmmaker’s Handbook to present any especially new information, exactly. The internet keeps me up-to-date on this stuff far better than any book can now. And, like so much of the technology it will no doubt discuss, I suspect that much of the information found in this 3rd Edition will be out of date within a year or two. If not sooner.

Yet, even when discussing evolving technologies, books have their place. Books demand (or at least request) more attention than digitally-presented information does. That’s a good thing, especially when you’re trying to learn something. You can also carry a book to a remote location where you might never have the internet access that would allow you to google for a solution that might crop up on set. But most importantly, a book lets you dog ear its corners, mark up key passages, and write in the margins. At least, that’s what I plan to do with my new edition as soon as it arrives on my doorstep.

And besides, a lot of what this new 3rd edition of The Filmmaker’s Handbook will have to say has never gone out of style and won’t for a long, long time. After all, an f-stop’s still an f-stop.

No Budget Film School

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Back in January, I participated in a conversation on DIY filmmaking with Workbook Project founder Lance Weiler (Head Trauma) and Mark Stolaroff (producer and founder of the No Budget Film School). I enjoyed the discussion and certainly learned a few things myself.

Mark recently notified me that his No Budget Film School is holding a two-day immersion workshop entitled, “The Art & Science of No-Budget Filmmaking” in Los Angeles next weekend (8/25 & 8/26), so I thought I’d pass the word along.

I haven’t attended one of these workshops myself, so I can’t directly endorse it. I will say, though, that the list of confirmed Guest Speakers — which includes Peter Broderick (President, Paradigm Consulting; former President, Next Wave Films), Craig Zobel (Director, Great World Of Sound – 2007 Sundance), and Ti West (Director, The Roost; Trigger Man) looks promising.

And it’s not terribly expensive as far as these things go. The two-day workshop is $275 in advance; $200 if you’re a college student with ID. When you consider that all paid attendees of the workshop receive Axium Scheduling and Axium Budgeting software for free (reportedly a $400 value) it might end up being a pretty good bargain.

If you’re in L.A. and you’re debating whether or not to go, you might give that conference between Lance, Mark, and me a listen. If you like what Mark has to say, check out the workshop.

Hooray for Nollywood!

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Intrepid reader Ben Hartman alerted me to a fine, if all too short, article in Wired about the third largest film industry in the world. Where is that, you ask? Nigeria.

The article is really a tease — and an effective one at that — for two recent US-produced documentaries, Welcome to Nollywood and This is Nollywood.

Until I can get my hands on those documentaries, and some actual Nollywood movies, here are some articles that I enjoyed reading today as I educated myself about the Nigerian film industry.

Cinema of Nigeria page on Wikipedia.

Welcome to Nollywood. An extensive article from The Guardian.

Nollywood drought at Fespaco. BBC article discusses allegations of snoobery at Africa’s most prestigious film festival towards Nollywood pix.

Step Aside, L.A. and Bombay, for Nollywood. NYT article from 2002(!).

The Nollywood Phenomenom. Article found on the World Intellectual Property Association website (WIPO’s website tells me that it is a “specialized agency of the United Nations”).

Apple Mail: 8 Tips

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Like a lot of folks, I receive and send a lot of email. Lately, I’ve been digging myself out from the avalanche of email that fell upon my Inbox while I was in Knoxville for a month of prep and production. Surprisingly, the “dig-out” hasn’t been that bad, and I think I can attribute it to some email productivity tips and plug-ins I’ve picked up over the last year.

These tips mainly work with Apple Mail. For years I used Eudora, and then Thunderbird. But after Apple’s 2.0 version of Mail was released (2005?) I switched to it and haven’t regretted it. If you use something other than Mail, some of these may work and some are Mail-specific. Sorry.

Secondly, as a word of background, aside from spam, I keep virtually every email I receive. Email takes up very little memory and it serves as an effective history of work done, contacts, and so on. And everytime I think I don’t need to save it all, I end up going back and searching for an email from 1999. Seriously.

Tip 1: Eliminate Spam
Well, sure. No one actually wants spam. The trick is figuring out how to eliminate it.

One reason I switched to Apple Mail a few years ago was because its junk mail filter seemed to work pretty well. I don’t know if just I started getting more spam, the Junk filter reached it’s limitation for how much it could “learn”, or if the spam started getting smarter (and by smarter I mean “dumber”)… but regardless, my Inbox over the last year started seeing more and more of the stuff.

The solution is SpamSieve. For $30 (and a few minutes of set-up time) you get a clean Inbox. I get maybe one or two spam messages in my Inbox a week these days. I didn’t believe the testimonials, but I downloaded the trial and used it for a few days. Now I’m a convert.

Tip 2: Process faster.
Now that I’m not having to spend my time sorting out the spam, I can spend my energy processing the real emails sent to me. Though in some ways I’m a skeptic of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I appreciate his theory about tasks like email: If you can reply in 2 minutes or less, do it. If not, figure out what needs to happen next so you can act on it. Approaching my Inbox this way really does increase my efficiency.

Tip 3: Stop manually sorting emails.
After replying to an email, I used to file it away. To do this I maintained between a dozen and twenty folders based on various contexts or friends — my latest project, for example, or “Virginia Tech”, or “parents”, etc.

No longer. Yes, I still keep almost all my emails, but here’s how I do it, inspired by Merlin Mann’s sage email advice:

Beyond my “Inbox” (email to which I need to reply) and “Sent”, I only maintain three or four folders now:

– The current mission critical project gets its own folder.

– If something catches my attention but there’s NO urgency to it (say, an email with a link to an article that I might write about for SRF), I put it in a folder called “Someday?

– I also maintain a “Waiting On” folder, primarily for email receipts of items I’ve purchased online. It’s my reminder box to make sure something I’ve purchased actually gets sent to me. I don’t check the Waiting folder often enough to put anything of great (ie., work-related) importance in it.

Everything else goes in a folder I’ve created called “Archive”.

Other folders: If I still want to maintain folders related to people (say, my accountant), all I have to do is set up a smart folder in Mail using my accountant’s email address as the filter. All mail stil gets filed to my “Archive”, but relevant emails will show up in the smart folder. Voila — no more time spent manually sorting!

Tip 4: Use MailActOn
Probably the thing that I miss the most about Eurdora and Thunderbird is the ease with which you can color-code emails. It’s a great way to visually sort the emails in your Inbox — either by priority or context or whatever.

Mail, unfortunately, still lags in this area: To color-code emails one has to open the color palette (Shift-Apple-C) then use the mouse to click on a color, all the while keeping Apple’s rather large color-wheel window open. Clumsy, to say the least.

MailActOn, a donation-ware plug-in for Apple Mail, solves this problem — and more. Aside from allowing you to assign keystrokes for color-coding, MailActOn also lets you to use keystrokes to sort your mail. Now, when I want to send an email to a specific folder (say, “Archive”) all hit is is the keystroke I’ve defined (in my case, Ctrl-A).

And, of course, Merlin at 43Folders has figured out the way to squeeze every bit of functionality out of the thing by remapping the Caps Lock key. Brilliant!

Tip 5: Speed up Mail
Saving a lot of email (as I do) can impact Apple Mail’s performance. Mail gets bloated, as it were, and slows down. If you’re not careful, the database that stores information about your emails can even get corrupted.

Luckily, there’s a simple solution. The Hawk Wings website has links to two different scripts (one, AppleScript, and the other an Automator script) that will “vacuum” the bloat out of Mail.app.

The Applescript version worked like a charm for me without incident, but you should ALWAYS backup your Mail.app files before trying something like this. (See below.)

Tip 6: Back-up Mail Files
This is the most basic tip of all, and I know I say it again and again on this site, but ask yourself these two questions:

How much of my life is somehow stored in the emails I have sent and received?

When was the last time I backed up my email files?

So, though you should probably be using something like ChronoSync or whatever to backup ALL your files, if you need to backup just your Mail files they can be found in your system here:

users/[home directory]/Library/Mail
users/[home directory]/Library/Mail Downloads

Tip 7: If you use multiple computers, consider using Portable Mail

I have two computers — a tower and a laptop. All other things being equal, I prefer working on the tower, but the laptop obviously has its advantages. Mail is one application I want to access no matter which computer I’m on, and I’ve found syncing the application to be a bit of a pain at times. As a solution, I sometimes use a portable version of Mail, which I can run off of a flash drive.

The premise of Portable Mail is this: Instead of trying to sync your Mail from one computer to the next, you instead keep Mail — your preferences, mailboxes, and downloads — on a flash drive. Launching Portable Mail launches the Mail.app application of the host computer, but uses all of your preferences, which are on the flash drive.

If your email accounts have better than adequate webmail interfaces that you can access you might not need this, but I have a few accounts that have lousy webmail, so I’ve found it to be quite handy during days when I know I’m going back and forth between computers a lot.

You’ll probably want a 1GB flash drive or larger if you have a lot of email.

Tip 8: Use Plug-ins (if you need ’em)

I’m obviously a fan of MailActOn and SpamSieve. They’re two plug-ins that help me customize Apple’s Mail to be the application I need. But I draw the line there — adding on too many plug-ins increases clutter, decreases productivity, and invites conflicts that cause applications to crash.

But maybe you need something more, or something different. If so, the Hawk Wings website has made an excellent catalog of Plug-ins for Apple Mail.

Use ’em if you need ’em. And if you don’t, don’t.