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Archive for January, 2009

The PARAPLEX opened today, January 24, 2009 in New Orleans.  Sadly, I was unable to attend the opening.  Too much bills and paperwork to get through here in Los Angeles, but do plan to get down real soon.  The high tech PARAPLEX includes  paranormal art galleries,  hands-on interactive psychic testing exhibits, a simulated séance room , a Ghost Experience Simulator and its own on-site theater for workshops, documentaries and feature film screenings.  The PARAPLEX is located at 4800 Canal Street in the heart of New Orleans, in a  completely remodeled, 14,000 square foot historic mansion built in the late 1800’s as a private residence and later became a funeral home.  Many believe the location to be haunted and with our arsenal of cameras of varying formats, monitoring and recording all paranormal phenomena 24/7 and documenting interactions between the mansion’s “resident entities” and PARAPLEX visitors, we may finally get a ghost on camera.  This has been an idea for over twenty years for my friend, parapsychologist Dr. Larry Montz of ISPRUnconventional Media is already in pre-production on some documentary ideas and television series built around the location.  Parapsychology and paranormal research is now an integral part of our culture and the PARAPLEX will cater to the millions in their quest for information and experiences within the paranormal realm.   The continuously evolving PARAPLEX is destined to become a premiere attraction internationally, offering a signature blend of interactive paranormal education and entertainment.  Very exciting indeed.  Great news story at WDSU – Channel 6.

The PARAPLEX ANNEX, which I visited over Halloween last year and wrote about here, is located at 718 Orleans, in the French Quarter.  A mini-museum it also serves a full slate of paranormal events including Ghost / Parapsychology Expeditions, Psychic Boot Camp, UFO & Ghost Hunters Nighttime Swamp Investigations and the exclusive new tour, Anne Rice’s Vampires & Other Supernatural Beings.  I’ve already started cutting a documentary from my last visit on these expeditions.  Best place for updates is at NewOrleans.com

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Catholic Church of Elvis

Catholic Church of Elvis

The Sundance Film Festival of 2009 wraps up this weekend.  I almost went this year.  I even purchased a festival pass, but after watching the Inauguration Tuesday on television, I don’t think Park City, Utah was the place to be this week!  Of course, I didn’t know that last month when I changed my plans to attend the festival.  Family and work commitments forced me to pay out the 20% cancellation fee.

I will admit, I was also a little disappointed that none of the three films I produced were accepted this year into the festival.  Yes, I did fantasize about walking the slope of Main Street with three Sundance Premieres.  I suspected the quirky, very funny, but very low budget, DVD indie feature “Tales from the Catholic Church of Elvis” written, co-directed and starring Mercy Malick was not really the kind of film the Festival schedules anymore, especially when it’s still a work in progress.  And we did receive a wonderfully supportive letter for the uncompleted documentary, “Houston, We Have a Problem” that I’m producing with Producer/Director Nicole Torre.  The film is about the oil crisis from the independent oilman’s perspective and their exploration into alternative sources of energy.  Sundance’s loss, the issue is too important for us to wait a full year to resubmit.  The big surprise for me was that the terrific short film “The Sacrifice,” written and directed by Diane Namm and starring Chris Mulkey, Darby Stanchfield, Jon Lindstrom and Molly Quinn, didn’t get in.  It’s “Big Love” gone bad.  Maybe the issues of incest and polygamy were too close to home.

Of course, I’ve never really had great luck with Sundance, even back when it was the USA Film Festival in the mid-80’s.  It was one of the few festival’s that rejected “Travelin’ Trains.”  I’ve entered my script “Press>Play” a few times, both for the Screenplay lab and the Producing lab, never being accepted.  We’ve had a little more positive feedback for the project “Witness Trees,” but mostly because of the involvement of American Indian visual artist/musician Sandy Corley.

I know this reads like I’m very jaded about Sundance, but I’ve always believed in their mentoring philosophy.  What I find the most exciting these last few years is how they’ve embraced new media to communicate and educate.  You really no longer have to go to Sundance to enjoy the festival.  The homepage has videos and audio podcasts each day from Park City.  They’ve now added on Itunes short festival films and podcasts of panel discussions.  It’s a great resource for anyone that is considering making an independent film, in fact these days, (since hardly anyone is buying films any more), it might be the best part of Sundance.

The Sundance Festival website now has a section entitled, “Storytime,” for people to write memories of past festivals.  Fascinating, to see how things have changed through the years.  I’ve got my own memories, some very good.  My first time at the festival was in 1989 for just one day to see the screening of “Daughters of the Dust” directed by Julie Dash.  We had all worked very hard, for little money, on that film and really wanted to see how audiences would react.  I was the Location Manager and was extremely proud that the film won Best Cinematography that year.  In January 1993, I bought a pass to the festival for the first half, but stayed for the full 10 days.  I had been involved in the very early stages of prep for Victor Nunez‘s film “Ruby in Paradise,” produced by my friend and “Travelin’ Train” producer Keith Crofford.  When the buzz started to build for the film and I had the opportunity to escort a beautiful, young actress named Ashley Judd to screenings, I decided to stay.  A wonderful week of films capped by “Ruby” winning the Grand Jury Dramatic award.  I had such a great time that I went the following year with unpleasant results.  I had no pass, was just another filmmaker looking for attention, couldn’t get into any parties and froze my ass off.

I avoided the festival for over 10 years, partly because I moved to Los Angeles and didn’t see why I needed to go to Park City to make contacts.  In 2005, I had some cash and decided to go just for fun.  Things certainly had changed.  More venues, more people, more advertising and more traffic.  I shared a condo with DP Marty Ollstein, caught dozens of movies, sometimes 5 in one day, (I’ve since decided 4 is my limit).  Heard a great debate between Werner Herzog and Frederick Wiseman on the definition of “Cinema Verite”.  Saw people I kept promising to meet up with in Los Angeles, saw some old New York friends and made many new ones.  Saw an amazing concert by Yo La Tango.  I even went snowboarding.  My one and only time.  Even on the Park City powder, I feel that throwing myself up and landing directly on my back, on concrete, would be more pleasant.

This year, I’m there virtually, checking out the resources available online, catching some short films and staying warm.  For Unconventional Media, maybe that makes more sense.

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7thannualvesawards
Yesterday, the Visual Effects Society (VES) announced the nominees for the VES Awards and “Need for Speed:Undercover” was nominated in two categories, Outstanding Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game and the one that truly reflects Unconventional Media’s work, Outstanding Real Time Visuals in a Video Game.  Directed by Joseph Hodges with cinematography by Jeff Seckendorf, Unconventional Media produced all the live action portions to the Electronic Arts release.

Much has been written about the blending of the live action and game animation (and the use of the RED camera) including Moviemaker Magazine, Moving Picture Magazine, LA Splash and American Cinematographer.

This is the 7th annual VES award ceremony recognizing outstanding visual effects in over a dozen categories of film, animation, television, commercials and video games. Comprised of more than 1,600 members in 17 countries, the Visual Effects Society is the entertainment industry’s only official trade organization representing the full breadth of visual effects practitioners including artists, technologists, model makers, educators, studio leaders, supervisors, PR/marketing specialists and producers in all areas of entertainment.

The award ceremony will take place on February 21, 2009 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

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Last Friday I had to join all the other fans and watch “BattleStar Gallactica” at it’s normal scheduled airing time on the SciFi Channel.  Down to the final 10 episodes, I now have to wait a week to get my next fix.  I’m not use to this, you see I’ve only recently discovered this gem of television.  One of the best written shows I’ve ever seen, even better then “The Wire,” “Gallactica” blends fantasy with issues of religion, politics and human psychology.  It’s nearly an 80-hour, ever-evolving mythology about the few survivors of a nuclear genocide wandering the universe in search of sanctuary.  Heads up, if you haven’t seen the series you may not want to watch the YouTube recap attached to this blog.

Just like Steve Erickson writes in the January 2009 issue of Los Angeles magazine, I discovered the series this summer.  My friend Stefan Rhys had the mini-series and the first three seasons on DVD.  Once I started watching, I was hooked, sometimes watching 4 or 5 episodes at one time.  I couldn’t believe how good it was, with such a brilliant cast and beautiful women.  What the “frack” had I been thinking?  Even though many had raved about the show, I couldn’t get past the original ’70s cheesy show produced by Glen A. Larson and starring the late Lorne Greene.  I also don’t usually like science fiction but like Erickson writes, “Galactica is that thing that always seemed possible in science fiction but for whatever reason hasn’t been: an adult drama, built around adult relationships, that happens to be set in a science fiction context.”

It might have been Glen A. Larson’s attachment to the series that stopped me from watching.  I had never been a big fan of his television shows, (Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, Magnum P.I.) but back around 1997, I was hired as the Assistant Director on a syndicated television show, conceived by Larson, entitled “Night Man,” based on the comic book character.  Matt McColm played Johnny Domino, the misunderstood musician who battled crime as Night Man with a limited amount of super power.  He also drove a really cool car.  We had a lot of fun making the series in San Diego and I was introduced to many of the Assistant Directors that I still work with today, including on shows like “24” and a few feature films.  I also assisted for the first time, one of my favorite directors to work with, Rob Spera.  The problem was the cheesy visual effects and the writing and continuity.  I remember in one episode Johnny’s father, played by Earl Holliman, was eating a steak, even though in previous episodes his character had been established as a vegetarian.  Or when Michael Woods, who played Lt. Dann, was handed rewrites after we had shot the scene.  Funny memories now, but not at the time.  The next year it didn’t matter because Larsen took the whole production up to Canada to save a buck and we were unemployed.  The show was cancelled the following year.  On a side note, another former Glen Larsen television show, “Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century,” is being created as a 20 webisode series to premiere in 2010, as reported in Fan Cinema Today.

“Battlestar Gallactica” has never won a major Emmy, but it is no “Night Man.”  The premise is something we’ve seen dozens of times before, “Man has created robots (in this case Cylons) and the robots get smart enough that they start to be like humans and seek revenge,” but this show puts to question what it even means to be human, to have emotions.  It ties myth and imagination to the political issues of our times.  As Erickson writes, “exposing humanity at its wisest and most ruthless, its most compassionate and murderous.”  Now that’s the kind of television I’d like to be a part of, but for now I’ll enjoy the genius of Ronald D. Moore each Friday night.  For those who haven’t seen it, start with the mini-series on DVD and just try to stop, I’m warning you.  There’s nothing else like it on television, well, except maybe “Lost.” Doesn’t that start again this Wednesday?  Oh man, how am I ever going to get any work done?

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In a follow up to Monday’s Blog, seems the battle between the factions within SAG have dimmed the chances of a Strike.  Yeah!  According to Richard Verrier, writing for the Los Angeles Times Business section, Monday’s SAG board meeting to discuss the divisions over the Strike referendum became a “tug-of-war” over Doug Allen’s future with SAG.  Allen was hired by the union as chief negotiator for the new contract.  His role was to bring a new toughness to the negotiations, but it has only caused a growing rift between the membership.  After close to a 30-hour meeting on Monday into Tuesday, a majority of the board failed to oust Allen, but they did succeed in neutralizing him and his principal supporter, SAG President Alan Rosenberg.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, the meeting included allegations of voter fraud and an eight-hour debate on extending the meeting for three hours.  Yikes!  As I stated in my previous Blog, SAG must reconcile their own huge divisions before they authorize a strike.  That’s what they did at the WGA and that is why that Strike had the support, including SAG, of many of us in other positions in the film and television business.  As our concern grows with the deteriorating economic situation of the Country, it comes as a relief to know that there won’t be a work stoppage in our business as well.

On the other hand, in the same section of today’s LA Times, Verrier writes that feature film production in Los Angeles County is at its lowest level since tracking began in 1993.  Now part of the 2008 falloff was due to the Writer’s Strike and concern on the walkout by the actors, but with a 46% drop in the fourth quarter of 2008, we must begin questioning California’s competitiveness in the marketplace.   The film permit company, FilmLA President Paul Audley is quoted as stating, “we should stop talking about runaway production.  It’s ran-away production.”  We’re feeling the effect at Unconventional Media, with more production in prep in New Orleans and in Nashville, then here at the Los Angeles office.  We’ve got to figure a way to bring back the big dollar film productions and high end commercials that generate thousands of jobs and revenue instead of losing them to the incentives offered in Michigan, New York and Louisiana.  According to the article, only Reality TV, with an 8% increase has risen in Los Angeles production this last year.  That’s a bit of reality I’d rather not hear.

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The amazing musical artist, once again known as, Prince has recently been quoted as saying, “the Gatekeepers must change.”  This was in reference to his frustration with the major labels and the creation of his own record label and his three upcoming, yes three, releases.  The man is prolific.  He’s got a new interactive website, www.lotusflow3r.com, that has some of his new music and soon will carry videos and idea blogs.  It really isn’t that different then what any musician can create on a MySpace site.  He and many musicians have found the Internet to be the best home for their personal creative visions.

There was an article a few days ago in the LA Times by Randy Lewis about music Industry A&R guys.  Don Gierson, a music label veteran that teaches A&R classes at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, believes that it is critical now to understand and learn how to anticipate trends and harness new technologies to better serve the artists.  Jeff Blue, another seasoned pro and teacher there is quoted as saying the music industry is “evolving – and devolving-and more and more artists have to be their own record label.”  The article goes on to state that the harsh reality today is that few record companies have the time, money or interest to nurture acts anymore.  As I posted in a recent blog, we all have to be our own distributors.

We’re hearing the same thing in the film and television industry.  A new webisode series, FilmFellas, showcases influential and emerging new filmmakers discussing the challenges of the new independent film scene.  The full screen HD tells the story, it looks fantastic (I’m guessing the RED), a viewing pleasure.  We’re not going to be looking at compressed video much longer on YouTube.

The FilmFella guys and the A&R guys at the Musicians Institute are mentoring us all in how the Internet is changing entertainment.  I try to do this with this blog and the courses I teach at the Maine Media Workshops and with Jeff Seckendorf at One on One Film Training.  As the studios and record labels get bought up by congloms like Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, Viacom and Sony, we’re all discovering that we don’t need them anymore.

Well, okay we still need them financially, but hopefully not for long.  It still seems like the only way to make any money for your Internet projects is through sponsorships and advertising banners.  In these economic times, that money is not readily available.  Look at www.Hulu.com.  It’s television on the Web, with advertising.  It’s a great source for finding a television show or episode we may have missed, but at this point, no one is making any money from the convenience.  Which brings me to the potential SAG strike.  Because of all my actor friends, I promised myself I would stay out of that mess, but as I see traditional production slow down with the talk of another strike, I feel I must speak out.

I’m pro-union, a proud DGA member and certainly believe there are issues that need better resolution in the current contracts.  One of the biggest is how money is to be disseminated to the creative parties when projects are produced for the Internet.  The problem is, at this point in time, the Internet is a creative playground, but few are making any money including the big studios.  I think the WGA and DGA and even AFTRA were wise to table Internet discussions until the next contract meetings.  SAG should do the same.

Now is not the time to strike.  Too many other non-actors in this business will be affected, including Unconventional Media.  Few have recovered economically from the Writer’s strike.  SAG needs to work out their divisions within their own union first.  It’s getting ugly, according to the January 12th, Hollywood Reporter, SAG board member Frances Fisher (Mother in “Titanic“) distributed an email suggesting that SAG members use their upcoming SAG Award ballots to punish nominated actors — including Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell and Sally Field — who have advocated abandoning the strike-authorization vote.  Making it political, not about acting performance – for the SAG Awards.  Come on!  That’s just one example, it’s really become civil war.  Unify first please, before you put everyone out of work.

SAG needs to work with all of the other union members to get through these tough economic times instead of making them tougher.  Don’t sink the ship, Mama!  Go to www.nosagstrike.com for more information or go to the SAG website for SAG’s MembershipFirst side on authorizing the strike.

I agree that the Gatekeepers must change, let’s just be responsible and know what those changes really are going to be first.  As Tina Fey warned on The Golden Globe Awards last night, “there’s this thing called the Internet…”  It’s still in development.  I don’t believe you should set the rules before you know if the actual experiment worked.

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A very nice interview with Michael Catalano of Unconventional South in the recent issue of Nashville Music Guide Magazine.

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