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Posts published in “Film & TV”

Amortizing Creative Expenditures

I’ve long contended that for each dollar I spend on a particular piece of photographic equipment I must take at least one photograph with it. So, if I spend 1800 dollars on a Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS zoom lens, then I’d better well take 1800 photos with it. (note: I have. More than that, in fact.) It’s simple math, easily managed, and, most of all, it makes sense. I’ve written about it on here somewhere else before, I think, but I can’t find the post so you’ll have to just trust me. It has worked quite well for me as a guideline while informing new purchases and once I’ve purchased an item. Am I going to use x piece of equipment to take y number of photos or is it something I can live without? Now that I’ve purchased item z, I’d better throw it in my bag because there’s no way I’ve taken n photos with it yet. It has protected me from frivolous purchases in the past and made me think about using the tools I already have. It’s a good system. I recommend it to any photographers out there.

But photography is not my only artistic endeavor. I am also a writer (as you well know), a professional in the moving image field, and I dabble in songcraft. It occurred to me while I was walking to the Apple Store to purchase a laptop backpack—the current messenger style bag I use hurts my fucking back—that I don’t have a useful metric for justifying those purchases. No, “justify” is the wrong word. It makes it sound like I’m making an excuse for the purchase; I’m not. I don’t have a useful metric to ensure that I get my money’s worth out of an item. What sort of production quotas make sense to meet to make the expenditure, and thereby the time I’ve spent working to make that money, a fair trade? With the photography, it’s easy. I’m constantly producing. Look at my hard drives. They’ll tell you all about it. But that’s not necessarily true of video editing or music creation software. They are tools I use to create things but are not inherently productive in and of themselves. Music production software (Logic) can be used to make something from scratch. Editorial or VFX software is even more difficult because they are often just PARTS of the chain of production. Making beautiful photographs and making beautiful films are both difficult things, but photography is a much more solitary craft than filmmaking. A craftsman can make beautiful photographs all by himself, but good luck making a beautiful film all by yourself. It’s all but totally impossible.

But difficulty has nothing to do with it. The difficulty is just a challenge to the creator, a hurdle, a bump in the road.

Therefore, I propose this system to make my purchases of music and video tools feel reasonable. Consider it a challenge to myself to make the time I spend working, earning money to spend on tools, fruitful. To make the late nights and weekends at the office work toward making me a self-sufficient creator of things so that I can get myself to a point where all this dicking around IS THE JOB. Imagine that.

Guidelines for expenditures on video tools
For each hundred dollars spent on video tools, I must create at least one minute of finished footage. Dailies do not count. That’s absurd. Finished means that I’ve put time and thought into it. A finished piece is something I would not be embarrassed to show someone. I do not have to provide qualifications for rough bits in finished footage. 1 minute of footage per 100 dollars spent.

Guidelines for expenditures on audio tools
For each hundred dollars spent on audio tools, I must create at least one song or three minutes of mixed audio. Audio demands a higher creative price since I can sit and create without outside help. Audio also has two possible avenues for amortization since using audio software to mix for video is a perfectly valid use. A song is defined similarly to a piece of finished footage, that is, I’ve put thought and effort into it. I would not hesitate to post it here on The Black Laser. I do not need to qualify it in any way.

I think these are pretty useful guidelines, and will definitely help me focus my energies into short term, highly feasible goals. I’ve already mentioned plans to put together music videos, and many people know about the mystery that is Fantasies About Time Travel. I’ve also been thinking about dropping some choice Ghettotech beats under a pseudonym, like DJ Muad’Dib, MC Kwisatz Haderach, or Duncan Idaho. Bonus points for pinpointing how badly I just dorked out there.

Building a body of work

Long time readers of this site will know that I watch A LOT of music videos. Many more, in fact, than I post here. And no one can say that I don’t post a wide variety of videos. I love the music video as a venue for a band to promote themselves. Yeah, it just one step away from a commercial, but music videos are an excellent playground for people to experiment with imagery and animation and whatever. There is tremendous skill in being able to tell a story in 3 and a half minutes without the benefit of any dialog at all. Conversely, there’s tremendous training to be had in learning to tell a story in 3 and a half minutes sans dialog. No telling now! You must SHOW.

Well, I’ve been thinking about making a bunch of music videos for songs I like (so I don’t get annoyed listening to them a gazillion times in a row) for a while now as an exercise in editorial, vfx, writing, shooting, directing, color correction—you name it. The idea was born when I found out that the 5D Mk II I had pre-ordered supported video, and full 1080 to boot. Pretty exciting. And since I already own a fleet of lenses, I’m almost all the way there in terms of production equipment. All I’d really need is a tripod. But that expense can wait for now.

And since I’m already a proficient video editor, a decent photographer, a music buff, semi-skilled in After Effects, a decent colorist, and in dire need of some reel material, why not throw together a bunch of inexpensive (i.e., FREE) videos for random songs and use those to promote myself? I am FULLY confident in my ability to use the tools at hand to produce not only professional quality, but beautiful work. I have a sweet new computer, time on my hands, and the inclination to do so, so why not, right?

Right. Why not.

Consider this my statement of intent. Over the coming months I will be sharing with my fine readers the progress of these currently nebulous videos. I’m thinking of making at least three with no sort of deadline or guidelines beyond that they are awesome. I’m thinking of doing one metal song and one electro song at least to vary my visual palette a little. I don’t really know what songs I want to do yet, but I’ve got a hazy mental shortlist. The one constant on the shortlist is Genghis Tron. I don’t know why. Probably because they’re fucking awesome.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Want to help? Think I’m amazing? Leave a comment!

Akira on Blu-ray


I LOVE Akira. There are few films that have had as dramatic an impact on me as Akira. I remember the first time I got a glimpse of the incredible opening sequence. I was 9ish and at the house of a friend whose name was something like Makita, Maquita, Chiquita Banana, whatever. It was a long time ago. Sue me. We were on the same pitching machine team and I was at his house dicking around, playing basketball when our ball went over the fence. I gave him a boost, but his weight forced my hand into the wood, slicing a chunk from the top of my left hand. I still have the scar. We went inside to clean off the brand new hole in my hand and he suggested that we watch a movie. He popped Akira into the VCR and gave me a cursory explanation of what the hell the movie was about as he understood it. None of it mattered because I was hooked as soon as I saw Tokyo explode at the very beginning of the film.

We were unable to finish the film that day, but made it through the motorcycle chase scene. I was determined to see the rest of the film as soon as humanly possible. I was enticed by the stylishly graphic violence playing out before me, the streams of the motorcycle lights as they tore down the near-futuristic highway, the glistening neon cityscape of a decaying Neo Tokyo, the ruthlessness with which people were killed and mangled. I’d never seen anything even remotely like it. My experience of animation up to that point had been Disney films and Transformers and Go-Bots and Thundercats and Duck Tales—children’s fodder. I had no idea that animation was something that could be made for adults. Akira taught me that.

Later, I had a babysitter, Vero, with whom I would watch old Robotech episodes we would rent from West Coast Video on Woodside Road in Redwood City. When we’d eventually finished the entire first Robotech saga (I did not yet know the word “Macross”), we were at the video store and I suggested Akira based on my earlier experience. And she agreed.


It turned out to be even more intense than I thought.

There is a certain visceral way that children experience films that I remember but I do not experience anymore. Maybe it has something to do with having learned more about how films are made. Maybe it is due to the emotion deadening experience of growing up and feeling real pain. Maybe it is due to the real world taking me from a world of nightmares and demons to a world of tax forms and insurance and rent checks. Maybe I’ve just grown cynical. No matter. The point is that I remember feeling the film. As Tetsuo’s powers first began to emerge, a strike team tries to subdue him in the halls of the hospital and he rips them to bits, gore and blood dripping from the ceiling. Kei and Keneda racing down the sewer tunnels on the floating gun bike. The satellite firing upon Tetsuo from space. Tetsuo’s arm being ripped off and replacing it with bits of metal and wire and flesh. And, ultimately, Tetsuo’s monstrous transformation in the Olympic Stadium as his powers overwhelm and destroy him. I recall being so frightened by that last scene in particular that I didn’t see the end of the film—mere minutes away—until a second viewing of that rented video cassette.


So it should be no shock to you, oh reader, to discover that I was a little excited when I found out, via Matt Toder, that not only was Akira coming to Blu-ray (awesome), but that it was receiving a complete audio and video makeover. Thankfully I’m not talking about the GeorgeLucasian raping of beloved childhood memories or even the casual tweaking that Blade Runner (awesome) received. Instead, they gave the film a full HD make over with all the visual trimmings. Even better is that they went back to the original analog master tapes for the audio track and it really shows (hears? listens?). Matt sent me an article detailing the restoration the team performed to make Akira shine. Exclusive Report: AKIRA – Behind the Remaster

Clearly they went all out on the effort to present a 20 year old film to a host of new viewers. It is important too, since part of what makes Akira so bleedin’ amazing is its distinctive music and sound design. Until getting my Blu-ray copy, I’d never heard the film in anything but stereo, but even that was impressive, due in no small part to its incredible score. Here are some samples.

[audio:akira-02-clowns.mp3|artists=Geinoh Yamashirogumi|titles=The Battle Against The Clowns] [audio:akira-04-tetsuo.mp3|artists=Geinoh Yamashirogumi|titles=Tetsuo]

You’ve never heard a soundtrack like this before and I’ve never heard one since. Nothing I can think of except maybe Morricone’s score for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or Williams’s score for Star Wars and Indiana Jones is so specific that I can hear just two or three notes and know exactly where it came from. That is undoubtedly because anyone of my generation has heard the theme from Star Wars probably about 80 billion times, but I defy you to see the motorcycle fight sequence set against “The Battle Against The Clowns” and not have it burnt indelibly into your brain. Go ahead. Try it.


Last Friday I was discussing with a friend my top 5 favorite films of all time. Apparently I was discussing it with half the bar too, but that’s neither here nor there. Considering, I think that Akira is up there. If I had to answer the question right this moment, my list would look like this:

  1. Blade Runner
  2. Akira
  3. Throne of Blood
  4. Once Upon a Time in the West
  5. Amadeus

That is probably glaringly full of cinematic holes (where are the French films?!), but it’s MY goddamned list, so you just go to hell.

If you’ve never seen Akira, do. If you live in New York and you have my phone number and you are my friend, call me up and let’s have a movie night at my house. We’ll watch it in Blu-ray with 5.1 surround sound running at 192kHz. It’s so good it hurts. After that we can watch the Final Cut of Blade Runner.

Man on Wire

Here is the trailer for a documentary film I worked on last year.

It’s pretty awesome and if you like cool stuff—which I assume you do because, well, you’re here, right?—then you’ll like this. It’s about Philippe Petit’s wirewalk between the as yet unfinished World Trade Center towers. Philippe is a maniacal raconteur, a showman, a giant personality in a little body.

It came out on DVD a few weeks ago, so if you haven’t yet, check it out. It’s worth your time and money, I promise. I’m waiting for the Blu-ray.