Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Subway Dancey Dance Dance

Dance with a capital D train.

The D train takes about ten minutes to go from Atlantic Ave. to Grand Street.

We got on at Atlantic - all 16 of us - and got right into the dance, taped from 4 different cameras during this one-time ride. Jessie Winograd - the lead dancer - choreographed the movement of the dancers and I drew up a couple basic moves for the passengers. I mostly just wanted to see the dancers moving around and freaking out either in front of oblivious passengers or through the spaces between the oblivious passengers.

The subway stopped at Dekalb where thankfully no one got on - though at 3AM we were optimistic that we wouldn't be disturbed in our travels. It stopped again in the tunnel right before the bridge and then lumbered on over the water. I'd stumbled upon this isolated public space one night coming home from a bar last year, when I lived for a short stretch on the Lower East Side.

I tried to recreate the scenario of that first discovery by staging this on a Saturday night. But heading to the train station with so many people in our party made me nervous that we'd be busted. It wasn't the case. People barely took notice of us waiting en masse for an empty subway car. At around 3am, one - mostly empty - showed up and we seized the chance. If you look on the left of screen there's a fellow sitting in blue who seems truly nonplussed by our efforts. But otherwise, we were able to dance the eff out of that subway car.

Fun Facts:

- If you look closely, two people are reading the last book in the Harry Potter series (one with a cover, one without).
- The door closing in the beginning is actually at Dekalb Ave.
- The music involves a thumb piano brought back from Uganda

Dance arranged by: Jessica Winograd

Shot by: Josh Weisbrot, Casimir Nozkowski, Ian Savage, Kayla Graffam

Music by: Greg Glassman


Simon Astor
Seth Berkowitz
Hannah Bos
Oliver Butler
Dan Engber
Kayla Graffam
Chris Hull
Mary Lawless
Sydney Maresca
Aram Rubenstein-Gillis
Susan Stewart


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

TV uses bars & tone to make sure all its content matches

My parents have a color bars rug. Maybe that's where I got the inspiration.

That's an interstitial spot I made for the Independent Film Channel.

They asked me to make a spot that dealt with the same issues as a web series contest they were holding on their website. I could use any footage I wanted but I had to get it done fairly quickly so that and a limited budget ruled out doing a film shoot. I brainstormed a bunch of ideas that dealt with the internet or TV. Most of them had something to do with the strengths of the internet but characterized by language that I thought was too obtuse. Or too random.

So this spot was an attempt to be really direct. I thought about what I prized about the internet but didn't want to make it about why the internet was BETTER than TV. There are too many things like that out in the world. Instead, I just tried to outline the strengths of the internet without denigrating TV.

In the shower one morning, I thought of the color bars approach. Color bars are a great signifier of television that to my mind have not been overused in any shorts I've seen. Plus, I saw really clearly how color bars could be used to great effect on a tight budget. Once you start playing with them in an edit, you can get all Mondrian on their crisp, colorful edges. Originally, I thought the spot would be all color bars but the script got crazier and invited the use of more footage from all over.

In my travels to find readily available images that would work in the spot, I stumbled across a great resource for videomakers. Public domain. There is a lot of stuff - stills and footage - on the internet that is public domain. I found some great old movies that had no copyright which allowed me to download a few shots from them and install them into the spot.

I think a music video made from Max Fleisher Superman cartoons (which are in the public domain) would be the bees knees. I imagine you can't use Superman's likeness because that's separately copyrighted. But there's still lots of villainous scientists, killer robots and smoothly animated Lois Lane legs. Whatever the case, public domain was an exciting element to explore.

In the end, I really liked how the spot came out. It doesn't feel like a promo - my usual paid-for-hire format - and it employs a kind of DIY editing aesthetic. Apart from the motion graphics - supplied by Yoram Benz - it was more about brainstorming and then locating available images that suited the script. I worked with great editors who were very patient and into experimenting and some after effects work too.

Lastly, the music. At the outset, I realized that this needed a track of music that didn't just supply momentum and fill in gaps. I wanted something that took the standard tone and turned it into a melody. That was the only direction I gave Alexander Strung who created something very simple and emotional in my opinion. His band - The Chief Smiles - also did the music that is in my Subway Floor video.

Red Bull made me change some of the language (everytime you hear the word "web", I think it should be "internet") but otherwise IFC and them really let me alone. I also like that I got to stick it to Ted Stevens a little. Have you heard his whole speech attacking net neutrality? It is mind-meltingly ignorant.

"The internet is not a big truck! It's a series of tubes!"


Here are the full credits on the spot:

Editors: Karyn Bianco, Eyal Dimant, April Hartstein, David Kuther, Joe Pisch
Music by Alexander Strung
Graphics by Yoram Benz
Voice by Peter McHugh
Video Footage by Ian Savage
Still of Al Gore by Robert Scoble
Still of Oliver the Cat by Kristen Holt Browning and Sam Browning

Monday, February 11, 2008

And Another Thing

I don't like it when I get a ticket AND a green sticker put on my car's back window.

I feel like it should be one or the other. I know the parking ticket police work independently of the sticker-crazy street cleaners but the two penalties seem like overkill for an infraction that inconveniences no one except the giant sweepers' ability to swirl about the dust of the gutters. Would you notice the difference if a street cleaner serviced a street or didn't? I suspect you would not. Does it have vacuum capabilities? It looks like all it does is brush the dirt and grit into the center of the road for cars to naturally disperse to other gutters. Maybe a moving about of dirt and grit is all we require for the illusion of clean streets to be maintained.

Putting the sticker on the window at the edge of your blind spot is also just barely dangerous. If I felt the need to sticker up an offender, I'd put it on the body of the car. That way, it serves the same scarlet letter purpose but without the lane-changing obstruction.

Or better yet, I'd just think to myself that the $45 dollar fee was punishment enough for not being able to find a legal spot in your heavily trafficked neighborhood. I always assumed the alternate side of the street parking rules were really put into effect for the parking ticket revenue generation. Maybe I'm underestimating the effect of good street cleaning. Maybe it's just the month of peeling away that green sticker talking.

It is also possible that these are small fees to pay (all the tickets and the stickers) for having a car amidst such a wealth of public transportation. I have my car here so that I can better make movies and carry around gear but I do certainly use it to avoid the late night G train ride when I don't feel like waiting on a platform. The G isn't even that bad.

Friday, February 01, 2008

New York City - You're Welcome!

In January, I fucked up!

I got 4 parking tickets. That is a record for me.

It is not as frustrating as the month where a truck or similarly wide-bodied assailant knocked off my driver's side, side-view mirror and then I got TWO tickets for "missing equipment" sandwiched around a trip to a mechanic who kept forgetting to order the replacement mirror.

It is more frustrating than the time I went on vacation with my car parked legally for the six days I was away only to return to find the car towed a few blocks away to a new spot (a parade that wasn't posted anywhere sprung up on Graham Ave. and necessitated involuntary car-movings) on a street with street-cleaning scheduled before I got back. I explained my position in the email complaint field of the nyc parking ticket site and my ticket got blown away.

It is also not completely undeserved. For one of my tickets, I alternate side of the street parked for the three hours that the Thursday side was illegal (11am - 2pm) and didn't get down to move my car until 2:03pm. Those three minutes cost me $115 for double-parking. I appreciated the discipline of the parking ticket writer who noted that s/he wrote the ticket at 2:01. I imagine her standing there at 1:59, looking up and down the block and savoring the feeling of impending municipal revenue generation.

For another ticket, I parked 12-14 feet from a hydrant. I thought to myself: I think you have to be over 10 feet away from a hydrant to be legally parked. That was for another $115.

In my old neighborhood I used to park at the corner of Manhattan and Withers, right between the actual corner and a hydrant about 25 feet from the corner. My car was never more than 10 feet away and I never got a ticket. Standards for tickets change in different neighborhoods. In Williamsburg, where it is easier to park, they support your shady, subjective calculations. In Carroll Gardens where I live now, they are trying to make my mind melt out of my ears.

My last two tickets were of the smaller more reasonable 45 dollar amount - both for being in the way of the weekly street cleaning in my neighborhood. The thing that makes these tickets so special is that I got them because I had no other option. If you wait until 1am to park in my neighborhood, you will literally find nothing for a 15 block radius. As it is, I usually have to drive over to the fringe of Red Hook to find a spot if it's in any way late.

These 45ers were incurred because I literally didn't know where to go to find a spot once I'd passed the 1am time limit for reasonable parking. So I parked in illegal spots down streets I hoped the parking ticket police would not travel. Sometimes I get away with these illegal spots and sometimes I do not. In January, I did not.

There used to be a block of Columbia Street in Redhook where someone had knocked down the sign telling you illegal times to park. But The Man put the sign back up. I would like one day to be the kind of guy who both knows how to knock down signs and get away with it. Do I need a blowtorch? Jackhammer? Or just more natural strength?

Anyway - in February I've turned over a new leaf. No new tickets. Last night I went two blocks further into Red Hook to where I found a legal spot. It took me 22 minutes to walk back to my apartment.