Tuesday, March 18, 2008

update: back to work

I'm so grateful to have mostly kicked the flu by now and to have a little time to work and write. I'm supposed to be leading/participating in the Playwrights Submission Binge this month, but the illness really set me back. Plus, I don't have a lot I need to submit at the moment--but I do need to update my marketing materials (resume, bio, web site), so I'm working on that.

Last night, I spent a few hours getting the Rhombus web site put together, so we'll have some info there for the Six Views, Same Shape festival in April. I'm not done yet, but it's a lot better than what was there yesterday morning.

I actually made some progress on my new play, Constant State of Panic, this morning, which is good, because I have no idea what happens next, every day I pick it up. I do know that I need at least a complete first draft of a first act before the festival on April 26th. I'm grateful to be making some progress writing.

My whole triple-threat notion has been fairly soft lately, because I've done so little film writing. But in a couple weeks, I'll be on a team for the 48Hour Film Project, and I'm psyched about that.

Just the taste of filmmaking again has gotten me revved up. I found myself unable to sleep the other night and worked out a whole plan for turning my play, Pieces of Whitey, into a series of very short films, more like a mini-tv series, really, that I want to produce and then post online.

YouTube is amazing for how it has completely changed the landscape for short film distribution. When I was in college making short films, I could expect to show them to a couple hundred people on campus, and that was about it. A little thought quickly showed that making short films was an expensive source of frustration, if you were looking to reach an audience. I could reach a lot more people, more cheaply, by making theatre.

Changes in the past five years, in both video and computer technology, have changed the argument completely. (My elk video that I shot on my snapshot camera has been seen 700 times on YouTube since September.) For less than the cost of a small theatre production, I could buy the video and computer equipment I need to make a whole bunch of short films. And then I can distribute them, fairly easily, for much less than I could produce an evening of theatre. It's definitely got me thinking. I'm not going to give up theatre, but I'm going to check out making films again, a lot more seriously.

The kind of filmmaking that interests me is a lot like the theatre-making that interests me--I'm interested in low budget art that involves a community of artists and audience. I'm curious to see what happens next. The 48FP weekend will teach me a lot (I'm pretty rusty on my filmmaking skills and knowledge).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What I'm Watching: King Corn

Last weekend, we watched King Corn on video. This is a fun documentary inspired by Michael Pollan's writing. Two young guys out East with family connections back to the same farm town in Iowa want to learn more about the industrial food chain that revolves around corn (and results in cells tests showing that most of the carbon in their bodies came from corn). So they decide to go out to Iowa and grow an acre of corn (using modern industrial methods) and see what happens.

The whole film is very well put together. They don't talk down to the Iowa farmers--instead it's clear that the farmers know a lot about what it takes to grow corn and why the system works the way it does. Sadly, farmers growing industrial corn are caught in a dilemma-- a system that exists that allows them to make money growing a huge amount of corn. However, the methods harm the soil and produce a product (not a food--the corn they grow can't be eaten without first being processed) that isn't particularly healthy for the animals or people who consume it. And, though farmers were once thought of as independent souls at the heart of the progressive movement in America, the only money made by farmers is from payments directly from the government (otherwise the farmers would lose money----or, in a more sensible situation, less people would grow corn, prices would rise, and government payments to farmers could stop).

Though it's a far gentler look at the industrial food process than Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, the film does push gently at the viewer to take a hard look at the lack of logic in our current agriculture system. And it's pretty funny and fun to watch.

Lost a Week (down with the flu)

Just lost a whole week to the flu. Noah came down with it on Sunday night and missed the whole week of school, except for an attempt on Thursday that only lasted half a day. By Monday, my fever was almost as high as his, and we both stayed up there for a quite a few days. Tracy was out from work Thursday and Friday. (Only Kira has managed to avoid it so far...) Luckily it's not a stomach flu, but just one that makes you feverish, tired, and miserable.

It's amazing how your whole family being really sick can wipe out an entire week. We managed to buy a few groceries, though we barely cooked. I somehow put in a few freelance hours when I was lucid (which wasn't often), but the big week I had planned completely evaporated. I even missed my Rhombus playwrights meeting on Monday night, which sucked, because I'd reworked the first 17 pages of my new play, Constant State of Panic, and dearly wanted to hear it. The loss of a week on this play is a little scary, because I've got a public rehearsal/reading of the play coming up on April 25, and I'd like to be farther along than 17 pages, but it's been sort of slow going. This week, I'm not likely to have much writing time (I've got a freelance gig and friends visiting). Pressure is good, right?

We're all on the upswing now, and I think Noah and I will be mostly back to normal by tomorrow. Maybe Tracy by Monday. Infuenza Strain A, we were told by my father-in-law (very likely we all picked it up at his retirement party last weekend--he has it, too). Nice to know it has a name, I guess.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hope I can be sweded someday (Be Kind Rewind)

Last weekend, Tracy and I got out to see a very fun little movie by Michel Gondry, Be Kind Rewind. I'm a big fan of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (also directed by Gondry), so I had high expectations, and I was satisfied. It's an odd little movie, that at times feels both funny and lame, until you realize that part of the lameness is intentional. What the film ends up saying about art and community is near and dear to my heart. Though the film is nominally about making movies, it could just as easily be talking about what makes a small theatre group finally click with its community and audience.

It also reminded me of why the movies that I made in college were so much fun and so warmly received by the community around me (i.e. my dorm at MIT). I recently received an e-mail from a friend from college imploring me to get those old films transferred to dvd, so we could all revisit those days again. (I'm going to do it, as soon as I save up some cash.) Being reminded of those times has made me work harder to get on a team for the upcoming 48 Hour Film Project--I did find a team and we'll be shooting in early April.

Part of the movie has to do with friends at a video store trying to remake tapes that can no longer be rented. They label this as "sweding" the films. This has already taken off in the "real world" and there are a number of sites offering sweded versions of your favorite films. (It might help to watch Be Kind Rewind first, but you'll get the goofy humor anyway. Or you won't (in which case, don't bother with Be Kind Rewind). ((I guess a semi-official definition of sweding is: a neologism first coined in 'Be Kind Rewind' that describes the practice of re-creating something from scratch using commonly available, everyday materials and technology.)) It's cheap, fun art.

Here are some "sweding" sites:

I hope that something I write will be sweded by others someday.