Archive for the ‘Principles & Productivity’ Category

Tom Schroeppel: SRF Interview

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

You won’t find Tom Schroeppel‘s face adorning the cover of Film Comment, Filmmaker, MovieMaker or any other film magazines that champion American cinema, yet, in his own way, Schroeppel has exerted a quiet influence on aspiring filmmakers in film schools across the country for the last twenty-five years. How? As the author of The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video, one of the simplest — and by simplest, I mean best — textbooks to cover the basics of motion picture production.

When you get a copy of Bare Bones in your hands the first thing you realize is that Schroeppel’s not kidding with the title. It starts with the brown (think: “paper bag”) cover and block lettering. Open the book and you find text in double-spaced 12 point Courier font and simple hand-drawn images. The content is standard film/video textbook stuff, only it’s distilled to its most essential, readable essence. It’s like the film textbook equivalent of one of those incredible, out-of-nowhere independent films from the late 70s or early 80s. What it lacks in production values it more than makes up for in content and handmade charm. But don’t take my word for it — no less than Nestor Almendros called it “a marvel of clarity and conciseness.”

In true “self-reliant” fashion, Schroeppel took the DIY route to publishing and distributing the book. What’s unusual, though, are his sales, which are approaching 120,000 copies sold. When you stop to think about the number of student filmmakers that have learned about such basic concepts as “color temperature” or the “rule of thirds” from him, well, that’s what I mean when I say quiet influence.

After I decided to use Bare Bones this fall for the production courses I’m teaching at Virginia Tech, I approached Tom about doing an interview. Happily, he agreed, and over the last few days we emailed back and forth about his 89 page/$8.95 wonder, and its sequel, Video Goals: Getting Results with Pictures and Sound.


July 4

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

— Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Twyla Tharp: Getting Things Done (with Boxes)

Monday, June 12th, 2006

As I said in my last post, I’m generally suspicious of motivational speakers, self-help books, and so on. In fact, going near that section of the bookstore alone just gives me the willies.

Still, a year down the road, I’m glad I took a look at David Allen’s productivity phenomenon Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity even if I have reservations about the some of its jargon and, at times, (needless?) complexities.

Enter Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit (co-written with Mark Reiter).

I ran across Tharp’s book in the arts, not productivity, section of the bookstore. A good sign. (Certainly if you find yourself reading productivity book after productivity book you’re missing the point.) Browsed a few pages. Plunked down the cash for it and, upon taking it home, found that The Creative Habit is, yep, one of those books. Happily, it’s a little different, too.


Some notes on Getting Things Done

Friday, June 9th, 2006

This is part 1 of a two-part series discussing productivty books — for artists and not.

Last year, after reading about it via Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders website and his Life Hacking column in Make Magazine, I decided to explore David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

Even with my aversion to self-help literature and motivational speakers, Getting Things Done — or GTD, as it’s called by its disciples — was alluring. The attraction for me could be found in the book’s subtitle. Productivity? Sounds great — I’d like to be more productive. Stress free productivity? Wow – sign me up.

It’s been about a year since I read the book, so I thought I’d do some reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and why. Maybe it will be useful for you. If not, move along.


Rest in Peace, Grant McLennan

Monday, May 8th, 2006

I recall a bigger brighter world
A world of books
And silent times in thought
And then the railroad
The railroad takes him home
Through fields of cattle
Through fields of cane

— “Cattle and Cane” / The Go-Betweens

I first learned about The Go-Betweens when I was in film school in the mid-90s. A fellow student introduced me to them and, as I think back on it, discovering The Go-Betweens during that time was entirely appropriate. That band wrote some of the most cinematic pop songs I’ve ever heard.

They were a band you could love: They had that classic, two-songwriter Lennon/McCartney dynamic in Grant McLennan and Robert Forster; Lindy Morrison, their drummer, is my all-time favorite female rock n’ roll drummer; and, like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, they managed to produce a phenomenal break-up record (16 Lovers Lane) when two relationships within the band dissolved.

I met Grant McLennan once, briefly, after a show in New York in support of his solo masterpiece, Horsebreaker Star. Those moments when you tell someone how much their art has inspired you never come off quite like you mean them to, so I just said hello and that I enjoyed the show.

Today a friend sent me the news Grant McLennan died on Saturday. He died in his sleep; he was 48. I imagine that in most of the world McLennan’s death will pass in the press without a blip. But for those that knew his music, he will be missed.