Director of narrative, commercial, and virtual reality

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Project Greenlight finalist | Short about sex, death, existence, time

Lily in the Grinder

Shabbat Dinner

Comedy short about coming out | Featured in 55+ festivals

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Featured on TechCrunch | 7k users per day

Global event handing out nametags on first Sat in June

Nametag Day

Uber Forecast

Tracking Uber's surge pricing to guess what the weather might be

Archive for August, 2010

The Man Burns

24 hours till we leave. We’ll be at 7:30 and Florence. Expect a blog post and several feature-length screenplays about Burning Man.

thx Twitter

If you haven’t heard of the event, read up on it. Radical self-reliance, bring all you need including water to survive in the desert. Radical self-expression, which should include clothes with lights and strange markings and art installations galore. Bicycles everywhere. But I don’t think facts can really describe it.

Expect pictures, but not too many.

How did we let it get to this?

Look again. Confront your own prejudice.

  1. I’m on an airplane on my way to Burning Man (more on that soon,) an attempt to create a new culture, where all forms of expression are embraced, and all members try not to define each other within the normal boundaries of our society.
  2. This morning on my way to the post office, I passed an unusually lively area populated by women in burkas and signed in Arabic. I’ve lived in Times Square and traveled on many airplanes, and it was the first time I’d ever thought so much about attack, not by a “radical Muslim” but against a Muslim community.
  3. In the airport I saw two people delayed for extended screening; one was wearing a turban and the other traditional Muslim dress. I passed a newsstand and saw that the cover of Time Magazine reads “Is America Islamophobic?” Yes, yes it is.
  4. Two days ago a drunk white guy slashed a taxi driver’s face and chest with a knife, screaming expletives. Yesterday a man “barged into a Queens mosque and shouted anti-Muslim slurs at the congregation during the nightly Tarawee prayers. He then proceeded to urinate on the prayer rugs and gave congregants the finger. The cab driver, and many others, are saying that they feel unsafe and lost.
  5. These incidents are as scary as they are unsurprising, and as sad as they are not the last of their kind. The debate over a mosque near Ground Zero is not the cause of this furor, it is merely one of its many symptoms.

The terror, anger, and intolerance that took root in the wake of 9/11 has seeped into and saturated every corner of the United States, and it is shameful to see a growing realization of this cancer. Anti-Muslim sentiment has been associated with the Tea Party movement and more radical fringes of the Republican party (witness the cries that Obama was a Muslim, which aside from being untrue contained the idea that being a Muslim was a terrible thing.) It is also an infection of those who disguise their racism in high-minded rhetoric. The first group is hopeless; I am speaking to the second.

It is a natural human instinct to separate people into distinct groups – Republicans and Democrats, gays and straights, Jews and Muslims, etc. It simplifies our world as we enlarge the perceived differences between groups and shrink those within groups. But in doing this, we commit a greater sin than we know; anyone who passes judgment on all individuals of a group based on the actions of a few is committing the grievous sin of punishing innocent people for the crimes of others.

It’s like little kids squabbling. Blindly reacting to the situation right in front of them, they fight furiously over things large and small. They are weak because they allow themselves to to be incited so easily. Look at our society from a wider perspective and see how easy we have made it for a small issue like the placement of a mosque to derail the world. Look at how WEAK our bigotry has made us. Then ask if you want to be a party to this kind of a world that can so quickly go to the brink of insanity.

Our country was built on radical principles of human rights and respect and it is only by strict, unwavering adherence to these principles that we can guard against the sly erosion of respect and dignity for all. I am pessimistic about the future of prejudice and do not think this is something we can ever come close to eradicating, but I see that fighting each battle produces real and important results. We can try for a world of infinite tolerance even if we settle for one that is only a little better, and we must try. It is clear to me that if we allow ourselves to hate and be unjust, that is when the terrorists win.

My anti-terrorist manifesto is well expressed in a letter written by George Washington 220 years ago this past Saturday. Writing to Moses Seixas of the newly founded Touro Synagogue in Newport, who expressed his extreme gratitude at being allowed free practice of his religion, Washington said:

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

I have no tolerance for people who persecute in the name of tact, based on some generalized idea of those people as evil and their presence as offensive. Let us presume our fellow citizens as acting in good faith until they show us otherwise. Let us end racially based screening at airports and everywhere else, no matter what we believe statistics or precedent shows. Let us not condemn 1.5 billion people because of the actions of 1,000.

</sermon>

The inexorable march to a Facebook-controlled world

Facebook just launched Places, an exact ripoff of Foursquare. I’m not impressed with their vision – it seems as if they had insight into a future paradigm, realized it, and now don’t know where things are going, so they wait until other platforms are fully developed and then rip off their models. But they are all-encompassing, and it is my belief that people will choose a lean all-in-one (if it *really* is lean) more often than they will choose a smaller product.

One thing that Facebook should do (for its own corporate interests, not that this is necessarily a good thing for the interests of the open web): allow people to tag the web. See a friend in a YouTube video? Tag them. Someone writes a paper – tag them.

I’m very surprised that we don’t yet experience the web with social layers on top of it – chat rooms, comment boxes, ratings systems, link suggestions, friends’ browsing history, etc. laid above the plain ol’ web. I think Google is going to miss this boat and it will go to Facebook.

The wonderful production of “Wonderful”: Part Three

Travis, Mark, and Andrew strike a pose

This is part three of a four-part series. Check out part one and part two!

Shooting in the countryside had its challenges, but they were nothing compared to shooting in the wilderness of Manhattan, and the Pocanos part of the shoot was much more laid back.

With hats made of fruit and clothing items designed to get dirty, we didn’t know what would happen and shooting in chronological order helped avoid a continuity nightmare. On a shoot with limited time and first-time actors, I would always recommend this method if possible; it also was easier to keep everyone on the same page.

We were lucky in that Mark lives in a stunning area of the Pocano mountains, Delaware Water Gap. It’s a shocking 90 minutes from Manhattan, and about 300 light years as well. The cool breeze promised mountains and fresh air – and rain, lots and lots of rain.

Our first shot was in a brambly patch of woods. Zack and I went down early to begin setting up, putting up colorful tape. It was as we were almost finished that Zack said, “is that poison ivy?” Shit.

We all agreed that the answer was “I don’t know but probably not” and continued on. The actors got into position and we shot a few takes, every once in a while stopping for poison ivy-related tasks. We googled it on our phones, called a knowledgeable friend or two, stared at it a bit, went from “no it’s not” to “I’m feeling itchy” to “let’s just finish this and then bathe” to “no it can’t be, there’s no poison ivy here is there Mark?” “yeah there’s a lot” “what ?!!”

In retrospect I don’t think it was; we showered after the shot and continued on.

The next challenge was the impending threat of shoot-ending camera-wrecking thunderstorm doom. I checked the weather forecast compulsively which was, of course, always wrong. We spent our break times with one person watching the Weather Channel and one at a computer, arguing whether it was about to pour or clear skies.

When shooting the next scene we heard thunder and began to feel rain; Vadim pulled out a tarp and we headed into “thunderstorm pace,” where
a scene that would have taken 40 minutes to shoot was magically completed in 10 through a combination of panic, attentiveness, and sacrifice of vision. The rising call of the weekend became “why can’t we be doing this at thunderstorm pace?” the answer to which was, of course, because we are trying to make it look stunning.

We dodged the rain, taking shelter during the bad pours (not very much of it) and using umbrellas and tarps for the light drops.

We got to play with silly string, bubbles, and lots and lots of paint. Lots. Of paint. It was so much fun mixing colors, throwing it on trees
and body parts. Tempura paint did pretty much everything we wanted it to and was so sensual on camera. Primary colors
turned to secondary colors, water poured on them made the paint run down their bodies, and Vadim captured it beautifully. Mark used his first guitar for the shoot, which no longer worked. By the end it looked like a work worthy of MoMA.

Attention and energy waxed and waned, but overall we kept up fun-loving and hard-working attitudes. There were very few arguments and those that we had were resolved quickly. Working as a part of this team, I understood my role as a director in a way I haven’t on smaller projects. The crew wanted the video made, and made as well as possible, and they were trusting me not only in my vision, but to be
authoritative and direct the days. It didn’t feel at all like a power trip, it felt like naturally stepping into one of the roles on the set, with its own duties and expectations. On past shoots time had not been so short and peoples’ roles had been more amorphous, so I did not feel the ins and outs of the director’s role so acutely.

The last day ended with an anticlimax as Vadim announced that we had no more light left to film. There were a few more shots that I would have liked to get, but such is life (our second day’s call time was 7:30 so I bumped back the third day to 11:30 to keep the crew sane, giving us a lot less time.) Mark’s parents served us the most delicious dinner and we rapidly said our goodbyes, some leaving to New York and two staying in PA for the night to bond with Mark’s parents and take the bus in the morning.

This is my career experiment; I’m not trying to work my way up through a career ladder, but rather doing exactly what I want to be doing and hoping to do it at a high level. I’ve been told that this is the only way to make it in film, and I believe that to be the case – that at some point, an amateur has to take the reigns of a film in order to become an expert.

If you are still reading after these three long entries (bless you, you must be really bored at work) I’ll tell you about my thought experiment. Before the video I was in a panic about whether or not everything would go through and we would get everything we wanted, and I considered: what if somebody told me that no matter what I did, it was predetermined that the video would not be successful and in all my endeavors I would fail. How would I do things differently? It’s a great thought experiment because it asks, why *else* are you doing all this? My goal, then, would be to have fun with the film and see it as an expression of our mutual friendship and collaboration. Walking to the car that last night, I felt the camraderie and tried to hold it, feeling that this was the essence of what we were trying to do.

1mi up and all is well

“I think it’s because it’s a mile up”
– overheard cell phone conversation in Denver airport

Even in Brooklyn, even in a park surrounded by trees, I feel the city. It’s not entirely physical, though the musty air contributes. It is more a rising feeling of restlessness, need to get away, the desire to be speeding away from any place I might call home at as many miles per hour as possible with as much wind in my face as can be arranged. The wanderlust grows to a rabid frenzy in some muted space below. It is worst in the summer.

My flight was four hours delayed so I wandered the airport and stumbled into the United Red Carpet room. Though I am not a member, the nice lady there got me on standby through DC and since it was the red carpet club calling I found myself bumped to the head of standby. I’m now in a 2-hour shuttle to Beaver Creek to see my family and yes, there is plenty of wind.

The sky is bigger and bluer, the roads more sparse, the green around me feels honest, like it is there of its own volition and not being paid a lot of money and water for its presence. I feel young when I’m moving, and it’s good to feel young.

tweets with New Yorker cartoons hilarious

Kanye West…what’s not to love? Thanks Paul and Storm for starting the meme, and Huffpo for picking the funny ones.

Sound mixer hell

“But we are shooting on the RED camera. It is 4K.” – hilarious!
Thanks to Mark for finding spot-on, very funny depiction of low budget filmmaking and its deluded filmmakers (nobody I know made it, someone was asking me that.) I am happy to count myself among that demographic, but I try not to exploit and be as honest and fair as possible. Enjoy!

The video was made with xtranormal, which lets you type out a transcript which is made into a film. It’s amazing what life the simple automated script breathes into dialogue!

The who reality?

Virtual reality is the new reality, or so says my friend. She has been on about 13 dates since joining OK Cupid, which was about two weeks ago. And she blogs about them with such wit and scandal that you wish you could be a fly on the wall.

My idea is that she should make a contest on her blog to win a blind date. If you are interested forward inquiries to me and I will see that she gets them.

Read “virtual reality is the new realityright now.

The wonderful production of “Wonderful”: Part Two

This is part two of a four-part series. Check out part one!

Mark and his posse pose for the camera.

The call on Sunday, our first day, was 11:00 AM, and I was up at 8 buying a few last minute items. We had stored some things at my friend Josh’s apartment (thanks Josh!) and went to pick them up and meet on 47th and 10th near a small park. There was a slight chance of rain, but that wasn’t bothering me; what was bothering me was the forecast of pouring thunderstorms for the next two days, when we were going to try and depict a lush countryside where it was *not* raining. I tried to put it out of my mind as Mia got the cast into costume and makeup and Vadim and I scouted for the right sidewalk to shoot on. We decided on 48th and 9th Avenue, which looked better than the original location but had more people.

When we began shooting I quickly started to regret moving closer to the action. Shooting four people walking down the sidewalk with the camera walking backwards was hard enough. Doing it while blocking access to an entire city block, with our resources, was next to impossible. We had one person on either side of the block, two when we could afford the manpower. But try asking native New Yorkers not to cross the street, or to wait a minute before doing so or take an alternate route. Reactions were varied but we quickly learned a few new ways to say “fuck you.”

Noya and Pao

We had other challenges to overcome. The batteries for the camera did not store as much juice as we had hoped and we needed to begin charging two of them immediately. Toby valiantly went from restaurant to restaurant looking for a place to charge them, finally finding one until they changed their minds an hour later. Noya and Katherine, our female PA, were much luckier. Katherine found a very willing restauranteur and Noya had befriended the staff at a Dunkin Donuts who happily let us charge one battery. This proves once again that charm is nothing compared to having boobs.

The guys at Dunkin Donuts liked us so much that they invited us to hang out in the store on breaks; we’d acquired a break room! It was such a relief – we were dying in the 90°-plus heat. Mark had to wear a buttoned-up heavy leather jacket for the whole shoot, popping it on before shots and throwing it off with a gasp of relief after I said “cut.” Noya’s denim jacket was sweltering.

The Dunkin Donuts guy asked if he could film us working, and I was more than happy to oblige. What harm could some footage of us on YouTube do? Then, in the middle of a shot, I noticed that he was standing right there on the sidewalk pointing the camera at us. It really killed the cinema verité and we had to reshoot…

Many New Yorkers seemed on a mission to get in our shot, or at the least to tell us off and show their ability to walk down the street. Aside from the classic “you can’t stop me fom walking” crowd, there were the crazies. One woman dressed head to toe in green with a guitar over her back in a bright green case passed the same intersection three times. An elderly man walked in circles about 15 feet in front of the camera and got increasingly agitated every time we asked him to move. His positioning next to us was definitely accidental..I don’t think he really knew there was a camera. The greatest moments were when I noticed a person who was about to enter the shot and had to yell “excuse me” at the last minute, usually accompanied by a light touch/shove. With a pop song blaring and three people walking backwards with a camera, the more intelligent New Yorkers figured it out pretty quickly.

We're makin a video!

zomg we're making a video!

Halfway through the day we moved to a crosswalk near Circle Line tours on the west side. I’d chosen the speific location for the afternoon light that washes beautifully over the characters, which it fit the hyperreal sepia look we were going for.

You’d think that dealing with scores of tourists next to a busy tour line would be a challenge, but you’d be wrong. Tourists visit New York with the expecting to be ordered around like cattle and told where to stand, and we were happy to oblige. We easily blocked off a whole crosswalk and several lanes of traffic through a parking lot!  The biggest disturbance was one group who thought we were shooting a video for the Jonas Brothers. After the shoot Mark’s dad gave us a ride to Delaware Water Gap, PA, where his parents had set up a sweet living situation for us.

Driving to PA in Mark’s father’s Winnebago, I felt good about what we had achieved. I said many times before the shoot that having all those moving parts was streasful and I couldn’t wait until the footage was captured and it was just me and my laptop. As soon as the shoot began, though, I found I was reveling in the group creating and having fun. A previous sense of panic had been replaced by an (eerie?) calm. Though business was on my mind, I was also having a blast being around and working with my friends.

We pulled into Mark’s driveway and I tried not to think about the rain forecasted for the next day.

Our all star crew for the day:
Mark Fagnano (Assistant Director / lifesaver)
Vadim Putimtsev (DP)
Mia Bienovich (costumes/set/makeup)
Han Fang Pao (assistant camera) (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4000040/)
Mark Williams (singer extraordinaire)
Noya Areto (beautiful woman)
Andrew Burten and Travis Erickson (sexy men)
Zach Charles (everything awesomeness man)
Toby Cohen and Katherine Atwill (PAs)

Yeah we found a limo. Yeah we took a picture.

The wonderful production of "Wonderful": Part One

(Part one of four. Skip to part two.)

Noya covered in paint

The signature on all my emails says “Filmmaker / New York, NY” under my name. I put it there the same day I decided to say “I am a director” instead of “I want to be a director” when introducing myself, a decision not to wait for some future success but instead define what I do. But there has always been a slight hesitation at this boldness.

Producing this music video has been my trial by fire, and I now have no hesitation at all about calling myself a director or producer. Though small by some standards, the ten-person shoot taught me more about making a film than any class or book or movie. I’ll try to bring you along for the ride, and maybe you will understand why I haven’t posted an entry for a month.

This post will come in four installments: preproduction, the first day, our time in Pennsylvania, and one on the technical workflow issues of working with RED. The video will be presented at a release party in September.

The story begins on the uptown C train track at West 4th Street. Lucian and I were heading to my apartment when we bumped into Mark Williams with two friends, eating a succulent faux-chicken sandwich. Lucian gave voice to our hunger and mentioned how delicious it looked, and after a conversation Mark invited us to one of his shows. I listened to some of his music the next day and really enjoyed it; he got  an email titled “nice meeting you on the subway” and we began to discuss a collaboration. We were both looking for a breakout work, something to jump start our careers.

Our first meetings produced a hailstorm of ideas: some related, some wacky, all exciting. In time they solidified into a few stable concepts, but nothing that really felt dead-on. We waited weeks, then months, and in this time Mark and I got a chance to know each other – that is where the inspiration came from. On April 28 on the subway, the concept for the video hit me pretty much fully formed and in my excitement I dashed off a long email to myself entitled “ive got wonderful down.” Looking back at that email, very little has changed in the overall concept.

I knew it would take 3-4 weeks to be ready once we had the players set, so the choosing of a date was waiting for a good cinematographer and someone fantastic to design costumes, decorate the set, and do makeup. My search for the two ended with the supremely talented Vadim Putimsev and Mia Bienovich. Over coffee I showed Vadim my treatment of the story and some images and videos I was using as mental stimulation; he was excited and said he wanted to create something beautiful. A mandy.com ad found the also-crazy-talented Mia, who on our first meeting was already brimming with ideas and enthusiasm.

I set a date and we set to work. The next two weeks were filled with a flurry of meetings, auditions, late night storyboarding sessions, and desperate Facebook/Twitter pleas. Making a movie is not a dignified affair. We needed (and did not have a budget for) two male actors, one actress, an Assistant Director, an Assistant Camera, and plenty more people to help us out. And — the most ambitious need — that most glorious of all cameras, a RED camera.

Travis, one of the men in the video, is a friend of Mark’s. Andrew, the other man, is a friend of mine I had not spoken to in six years – he just happened to have posted something on Facebook as I was searching for an actor. Noya is a good friend of mine who was heading on a plane out of town in a few days; she was fun-loving enough and excited enough about the adventure to move her flight! Zach, a Production Assistant, is good friends with Andrew; Toby and Kathrine, two other Production Assistants, are friends of mine. Mark Fagnano (“other Mark”) is friends with Mark and directed a documentary on him a few months back. And Vadim came through in spades with a great deal on a RED camera and his friend and Assistant Camera, Han-Fang Pao.

Mia, Vadim, and I communicated through feelings and images. We made virtual collages of videos, looks, styles, clothing items, and people. Building a collage like this is crucial – while it may seem like ripping off those who came before us, think of it more as a color palette from which to paint. “This moment is very ‘Elephant Love Medley,’ I would say, contrasting it with a moment that is very much not.” “The vibe should be a bit more funky than that ‘Of Montreal’ look,” “not that ‘Electric Feel,’ more colors,” and so on. With visual material to reference, we were on the same page visually.

Storyboard, iPod speakers for playback, piece of plexiglass to shield camera from paint..check. Paint? Shit. Subway ride. Uptown, Canal Street, Midtown. Meeting, duct tape, squirt guns, phone call to grandparents (“can you visit this weekend?” “no.”) Women’s underwear, AA batteries, and a 10-foot metal chain. Kids’ beach buckets. My shopping cart suggested a bondage party thrown for 4-year-olds. Mia’s looked like a sample sale from hell.

And on the last day before the shoot, Saturday July 17, I rested (no metaphor intended.) A run in the park, notebooks and pens, visiting friends, and early to bed. It was essential for the success of the shoot – rather than running the shoot as the last three days of a caffeine-fueled binge, I was rested and ready for a great adventure.

In Part 2: New York City, hear about the crazy women on the streets of New York, they joys of blocking off an entire sidewalk for a few hours, and how one person mistook us for the Jonas Brothers…