Director of narrative, commercial, and virtual reality

Film Portfolio

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

Lily in the Grinder

Shabbat Dinner

Comedy short about coming out | Featured in 55+ festivals

Search is Back

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 October, 2010

Milton Glaser's "Ten Things I Have Learned"

I found this through Adam, from Michael Leddy’s blog, linked through Boing Boing. It’s a great set of hints for living gracefully and truthfully, in line with what matters to you, from a 72-year-old graphic designer.

There was a long discussion in comments about the third piece of advice, “SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC AVOID THEM.” I think it’s great advice in a general sense, in that if a person is sucking off your energy, it’s not healthy for you or them. Specifically, I don’t think that people are inherently toxic or nontoxic, and I don’t think you should ever turn away from someone if it is worth the effort. But if it’s not…

Also, I disagree with his advice on “less is more.” It works in a more limited sense than it is usually applied. Often subtle changes and statements are more powerful than more extreme ones. Although lately, I’ve been finding that I want to be as bold as possible, so I say “either less is more or more is more. enough is never right.”

Read his blog for the full text – here are the ten things:

  1. YOU CAN ONLY WORK FOR PEOPLE THAT YOU LIKE.
  2. IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE NEVER HAVE A JOB.
  3. SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC AVOID THEM.
  4. PROFESSIONALISM IS NOT ENOUGH or THE GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF THE GREAT.
  5. LESS IS NOT NECESSARILY MORE.
  6. STYLE IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED.
  7. HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN.
  8. DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CERTAINTY.
  9. ON AGING.
  10. TELL THE TRUTH.

First day in Nairobi

Entry written yesterday morning, October 28. We had no internet all day so I am only just posting it now.

Choked highways with impoverished people, being the only white man I can see, and a standard of living much different than the one I am used to, have not hit me with surprise yet. I’ve been listening and watching, getting driven around, and making new friends, all the while trying to invoke in myself some kind of shock at this completely new place, and all the while not finding it within me. The only intellectual jolt is thinking back to 4th-grade history class when I learned about the horrors of the slave trade and thinking “I am actually in Africa,” but the repetition alone of that thought does not pierce the unreality. I couldn’t sleep the night before leaving and cursed my nerves, but now that I am actually here the joy of newness has overwhelmed all.

I arrived yesterday morning on a red-eye flight (eight hours, which is actually much more pleasant than five if sleep can be had.) I was carrying 165lbs of luggage, which is about 10lbs more than I weigh. It consisted of one donated DVD player, a camera in its case, five laptops, and all my clothing, and getting it through each checkpoint without incurring astronomical fees became increasingly difficult. The whole way through officials were very generous with the overweight baggage fees – I thought the confused-American smile trick would have ended around age 18 but here we are and it hasn’t! A man with my name on a placard welcomed me at the airport and we headed off.

The weather was beautifully tropical, reminding me of Costa Rica. There were trees everywhere, and then lungfuls of smoke as we entered the gridlock that is Nairobi. The city’s infrastructure has not expanded to keep pace with its growth from colonial hamlet to international city. So people avoid driving during rush hour, when every street looks like Los Angeles’ I-405.

The poverty of the country was immediately visible. Many Kenyans don’t have cars and walk 20km to work. Streets filled with people selling bananas, maps, and other impulse buys (maps? impulse buys?) Boys holding the hands of pretend-blind people begged for money; the blindness may have be false but the need was real. My taxi driver told me that there is a huge economic divide and while Kenya is not an extraordinarily poor country, only very few are wealthy and the rest have quite little. The billboard ads I saw were for newspapers about the economy, daily flights out of Nairobi, and banks; completely incongruous with scene on the street. I wondered what it would feel like to make a living exploiting Kenyans and see this scene on the taxi ride from the airport to one’s mansion. These were my first impressions, accurate or not.

The FilmAid office is a beautiful, open office in the nicer west side of town. I was introduced to the many staff and sat down to speak with Stella, the country director. She showed me my schedule, which was impossibly full – every day had been planned for me; in fact, they’d planned me one day before I arrived and one after I am slated to leave! I would love to go on Safari or traveling, but it will likely have to wait until after my station here. Stella explained more about FilmAid’s status in the country. As visible as the organization is in the refugee camps, it is not as well-known in Nairobi; they are trying to change that by getting featured in the media.

On the way to lunch Victor, the program manager and my host, pointed out a Shell gas station. “It’s a gas station with no gas!” he said, and we all laughed. He repeated, and we laughed again. It was really funny to think about. We discussed whether it might be a front for a shadier business, but he speculated it was probably just poor management. The gas station was filled with cars that had run out of gas, whose drivers had left to walk to another station.

Victor and everyone else here have been so gracious, and I’m loving it here. I wish I could stay longer before I go to Dadaab, the refugee camp, on Monday. We have some meetings scheduled on social media and our FilmAid blog. Today we are going UNHCR for a sort of “meet the refugees” event that gives government officials and nonprofits access to refugees to ask questions that they might not normally have the chance to ask. It should be quite interesting.

Africa bound!

Hello from Africa!

I have just arrived a few days ago in Nairobi, Kenya, for 2-3 months’ work with FilmAid International (blog). I have been working Caroline Baron, the organization’s CEO, for three months now, and will continue to do so on my return.

We are a nonprofit that works worldwide in refugee camps and with other displaced people. Our most visible work is our film screenings, which can attract up to 3,000 people. We show entertainment films chosen by the community, preceded by informational public service announcements, most of which we produce. It’s a very effective way to get messages out to a large and scattered population of people who do not all speak the same language; mass media in the camps is fairly rare. It’s also an awesome way to feed the boredom and complacency that (I am told) is a major issue in the camps.

Even cooler, our Participatory Video Project (PVP) program teaches refugees how to create film through a series of in-depth classes. They emerge from the program having created a number of professional short films. From the few people I have spoken to who have been involved with the project, it has the power to change lives through storytelling, skills, competency, and a new purpose.

It might be hard to read this without seeing it as sappy, so please remember, the sappiness is probably on your end. Most of what comes across as cliché, trite, pithy, sappy, does so because its truth is too universal for it to be interesting or feel new. As always, I’ll try to write only the interesting bits as long as you do your part and try to find the new in what I am saying.

For most of my 8+ weeks here I will be working in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. It is designed for 80,000 people and holds 300,000+, so the conditions are quite poor and sanitation is a constant issue. (google “dadaab” for more) The camp is 100km from the Somali border and almost all the refugees are Somali. Security is a constant issue, as Somali terrorists have infiltrated the camps and are often looking to kidnap Americans; in fact, they no longer do screenings after dark now. Because of these issues, I will be working under armed guard most of the time.

I’ll be living in the CARE compound (they are a large nonprofit) and traveling every morning to the camp, then back for lunch, then back for the rest of the day. I have no idea what this experience will be like physically or emotionally – I’ve hear “you’ll be fine” and “you’ll have a great time” amidst talk of mosquitos, malaria, scorpions, and witnessing the conditions. We shall see…

Below is a film about Dadaab created by some FilmAid PVP members:

In your face

and of course, the apocalypse

Via Andrew Sullivan I saw Adam Ozimek’s post about brain-mounted computers. His game theory language aside, I’ve been talking for some time about how screens in contact lenses are inevitable and will cause a major paradigm shift.

Why would they be useful? They would allow for heads-up displays of information as people move through the world (imagine somebody’s facebook information appearing beside them.) It would be the screens in minority report, but on the real world. Gone would be the idea of a computer separate from our real world – you’d be able to “pick up” a file and throw it at somebody to transfer it to them, either with your hands or your brain.

Ozimek argues that the appeal of the contact lenses will be that people can seem smart and nobody would know if they were using one, but that’s not how technology is adopted. In the early stages of the technology, it will not be possible to use it seamlessly. Expect bulky, visible glasses with information clearly visible in reverse to others. Early adopters at this stage will be extremely proud of their purchases. It will go from geeky to cool (probably extremely quickly.) By the time the contacts get to the point where they are invisible, the technology will be so common that it will not be a sneaky competitive advantage.

Who will use these? I’m biased by who I know, but I predict it will happen in highly specialized sciences, then physics, then other sciences, then medicine. At some point there will likely be implants that offer even greater functionality, and I predict that doctors will be among the first to use them. The intense competition in the field, rapid pace of progress, and the usefulness of quick information access in day-to-day medical practice means that doctors who are not able to learn and relearn rapidly evolving technology will get left behind at a rate faster than other professions.

As for Ozimek’s conjecture that we will lose our capacity for memory, I agree. As long as this network we’ve built remains, I believe that expanding our conception of “our own memory” to a kind of hive mind of information is not necessarily a bad thing. However, yes, we are losing our minds. Most people lost the ability to fashion tools when bartering, and then mass production, came about. Most people lost the ability to memorize text when mass production came about. We should consider the disaster scenarios in our future and ensure we have people who can lead us through them. We want to still be able to build a car, a rocket, a company, a civilization if our internet is destroyed, if a continent is destroyed, etc. It’s more than just one technology – it’s an overall strategy.

"Wonderful" music video

Share it on Facebook. You know you want to.

Music video shot length

Yuri Tsivian’s Cinemetrics is a fascinating site which tracks shot length in films, calculating an average and a median shot length. It’s fascinating to compare films by this metric and see their edit structure visually.

I timed out the “Wonderful” music video and you can see the results below. Want to see what’s actually in the shots? You’ll have to come to the release party this Friday or tune in live online!

Want to see what's in the shots? Come on Friday or watch live!

Interestingly, it looks very similar to the graph for Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The videos are very different tonally, but I was watching the Bad Romance video constantly during preproduction, mostly out of admiration at the craftsmanship. Maybe it rubbed off…

Music Video Release Party October 15

RSVP on Facebook


Angels & Kings Bar
or watch online.

Hello Friends,

You’re invited to the release party for my first music video “Wonderful” by Mark Williams Band! Three months ago ten of us ventured into the Pocanos wilderness to shoot the video on a RED camera, and thanks to their tireless dedication we have a product that I am extremely proud of. Come join us as we venture to a magical fantasyland and have a rocking good time. If you can’t be there in person, we will also be broadcasting the event and msuic video online at a special website – http://musicvideo.everythingiseverything.com

The party begins at 9pm. At 9:30, Mark will play a short acoustic set and we will premiere the video. Angels & Kings is a sweet bar and they will be offering drink specials if you mention us: PBR + whiskey shot or 2 PBR’s for $5 before 10pm.

This event will also be a sort of goodbye party; I’m leaving a few days later for Kenya with FilmAid International, where I will be in a refugee camp for 2-3 months teaching film, helping with screenings, and working to develop sustainable programs. I’d like to be able to say goodbye before I go!

If you’re curious, you can listen to the song or read more about the production of the video.

Wishing you love and peace,

Michael

Cast:
Mark Williams (artist)
Noya Areto (beautiful woman)
Andrew Burten and Travis Erickson (sexy men)

Crew:
Michael Morgenstern (director/producer)
Mark Fagnano (AD)
Vadim Putimtsev (DP)
Mia Bienovich (costumes/set/makeup)
Han Fang Pao (AC)
Zach Charles (PA/awesomeness)
Toby Cohen (PA)
Katherine Atwill (PA)

Psalmnnet 2318

🙂

A few people have asked why I chose these two. They were drilled into my head in elementary school – the most obvious sonnet and the most obvious psalm. And I don’t really know too many others.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
He restoreth my soul, and often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
for thou art with me

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade. My cup runneth over.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.