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Archive for April, 2009

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Tucker Stilley has always shown an interest in quantum physics, but his “Virtual Artist in Residency” at The Monte Vista Projects Gallery is the first time I’ve seen so much work by one artist dedicated to the scientific theory.  It’s like a visit to SpaceCollective.org with paints and music.  Curated by his fellow Massachusetts College of Art classmate and friend, Sam Durant (who has a great show of his own “This is Freedom” at the Blum and Poe Gallery) this is an LA Times critically acclaimed, must see presentation that has been extended until May 3rd, 2009.

I’ve written about my brother-in-law’s amazing work on this blog before when a showcase of his video art was presented at the REDCAT in 2008.  Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2004, Tucker no longer has control of his limbs, so he uses a reflective bindi-dot on his forehead to control a complex system of computer technology.  The “How We Do It” video explains the method behind the creation of his on-going hyper-signal artwork, “The Permanent Record of NewJack_Rasputin.”

In the program notes for the Monte Vista, Tucker writes, “I feel it is logical, my own nervous system failing, that I would spontaneously generate an alter-ego, tear a hole-in-space and try to escape.  My situation warrants immediate and drastically uncompromising self-metamorphosis. An exquisite new aesthetic unfolds when you are standing on the deck of a burning ship. Being paralyzed amplifies the uneasy link between intent and action and brings into question the true meaning of this place and time that we occupy…and of what our ultimate audience might prove to be.”

If this is a blog about Unconventional Media, then Tucker’s pirate avatar, NewJack Rasputin is leading the charge, wielding a sword.  First stop at the gallery should be a read of the comic book, written and created by Tucker.  It is the backstory of NewJack Rasputin.  It is as cryptic as most of Tucker’s work, requiring close scrutiny.  Each reading I discover new thoughts and true life personal history.  Most of the comic book is available to view online at Tucker’s site, www.TuckerStilley.com.

There is a virtual media experience where gallery visitors and online viewers can interact with Tucker as he works.  The viewer has the experience of being inside the computer, looking at the artist’s “frailty and strength.”  Online, no matter where you live, you can catch Tucker making art – most days around 2 – 9pm, Pacific Time (Note: if you hear “crickets” he’s not at his console).  I’ve never seen the webcam technology put to better use.  As we watch we could become part of his next work.  At the gallery, there is a “keyboard” below the computer screen encasing over 465 used, reflective bindi-dots.  To the left of the computer are his recent brain scans.  Symbolic representations of the time Tucker has used just the turn of his head to create his art.  Above the brain scan are redefined photographs of three talents who also had ALS, Mao Tse-Tung, Leadbelly and Charles Mingus; now all with Mickey Mouse ears.

In one corner of the gallery is a collage of xeroxed photos and 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of printed words stained with red wine and tea.  (I’m in one photo, can you find me?)  Since the disease has made it difficult for Tucker to speak, the sentences, to friends, family and medical staff, read like poetry and haiku, a real understanding to the artists present psyche.  “T.O.E. (Theory of Everything),” a scroll of inkjet print outs and xerox photos overlaps one end of the word collage.  This is an older work, (which I’m proud to say I own a signed reprint copy), from his early days of computer art.  More stuff like this can be found at his website.  It’s a strong piece to have in the exhibit, not only because one image on the scroll shows Tucker drawing with his hand, when he could, but it also evokes the theories of time travel and quantum physics found in much of the recent works, many with “Time Weave” in the title.  One example, “Time Weave 63-11 Roberta” is a great representation of a person being in more then one place at a time.

The color prints of computer generated art, some of it originating from super 8 film footage or old photographs, much of it requiring viewing at different distances to fully understand the scope.  “Gimpcon Auto-collage, Self Portrait” looks to be a collection of patterns and shapes until you step back far enough to realize it is a portrait of Tucker wearing sunglasses.  Same holds true with “Last Wine Stomp at Dressle.”  My favorites of manipulating visual images into color were the “3-D Hawaii” series and “Midnight Nude at Noon.”

The “Ghost Photo” collage series reminded me of some of the first photographs from the last century that we’ve been researching for the New Orleans Paraplex documentary or stills from old silent films.  I also really liked “El Morro,” a freeze frame shot from one of Tucker’s short videos.  In the video, a big tire tube appears on the beach in a seven second circle of life at the edge of the Pacific.  In the still frame, the tire is frozen, peering out to the horizon, like a cast member from “Lost.”  Speaking of “Lost,” a shout out must go to the poster at the entrance to the gallery.  This is from a conceptual art piece Tucker did a few years back covering telephone poles with posters of an Iquana-lizard man lost like a neighborhood dog.

It’s an incredible show.  If you can’t make it to Los Angles, so much of Tucker’s art work can be seen on his website.  And just like his art, there are many “Easter Egg” surprises to explore and lead you to his music, video and other art.  It is a real interactive website.  Also visit “All Hands on Board,” a social networking site of friends and fans of Tucker Stilley’s work.  It is also another portal to his “Hole in Space” webcam.  For me, he is a mentor to the real possibilities that can be achieved with new media, new technology and new ideas.

Monte Vista Gallery
5442 Monte Vista Street
Los Angeles, CA 90042

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As a follow up to my previous blog on mentoring, I had the privilege yesterday of attending a director’s retreat sponsored by the DGA.  The subject was the best tools for directing actors in feature films and television.  It was a wealth of information that I’ll only be able to touch on here.

I came into the retreat with more experience then some from my theater directing background (I’m still a directing member with Theatre Neo) and having read Judith Weston‘s wonderful book “Directing Actors” and Sidney Lumet’s important book, “Making Movies.”  Both books were mentioned more then once.  I’ve never taken any of Weston’s workshops but have worked with director’s that have gone through her course and met her a few times at the International Film and Video Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops).  I can’t recommend it enough.

Director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, War Games), opened with a keynote address promoting his new book, “I’ll be in My Trailer.”  Badham, now directing episodic television, has been in the business for over 35 years.  He outlined five common mistakes director’s make that the other director’s (Neil LaBute, Kimberly Pierce, Jamie Babbit, David O. Russell, Jeremy Kagan, and Gordon and Helen Hunt) reiterated in the panel discussions.  First mistake, especially common in television is the “anonymous” director.  They all discussed the importance of introducing yourself to the actors, especially the nervous Day players.  Many directors get caught up in the technical and get flustered when the actors appear on the set with their own ideas.  Rehearsal is the most important thing and time with the actors must be scheduled into a production.  Television is harder because of time, but even a read through will help the director and actor’s relationship.  Come in early and go to the trailers while the actor is getting make up, introduce yourself, address their concerns before you go to the set at call time.

All the directors found it better for the production if they had enough rehearsal time.  Neil LaBute discussed respecting the actor’s process, no matter how crazy it seems.  Casting is so important especially with short rehearsal times, but if an actor is forced on you because of financing, you’ve got to research what that actor is capable of doing, rethink how you’ll approach the project.  At least, get a lunch meeting before you meet on the set.  Some actors know the camera, understand lenses.  They can deliver their performance in a few takes, others only really deliver after many takes.  The more you know about the actors personalities and previous work, the better you can plan your schedule, shooting the coverage of the actors based on their strongest ability to deliver.

The second mistake is hiding behind video monitors and yelling out direction or saying “nothing,” which is even worse.  Now, I’ve worked on a few feature films with directors like this and it never fails that the end product suffers.  If nothing else, say “great” after “cut.”  “More energy” is not good direction.  Action verbs that mean the same thing but at different degrees works much better then “Make it bigger” or “Make it smaller.”  Directors need to be by the actors.  Kimberly Pierce wears a small video monitor around her neck, so that she can do both.  Helen Hunt felt a little distance is good for sex scenes, certainly a limited crew around the actors.  All the directors hate the “village of idiots” that gather around a video monitor.

Both David O. Russell and Neil LaBute are doing their next film on digital so that they can just keep rolling, let their actors play, but Helen Hunt has been on a couple of digital features and finds them “too loose, not enough focus.”  Kimberly Pierce likes the ability to do more takes by changing the film lens and asking for the actor to give a different performance.  She sees no use in having the same take over and over again.  All agreed that having a second camera (B camera) will save you in the editing room.

Another big mistake is the director wanting to be the nice guy and never creating his or her authority.  Discipline actors that haven’t done their homework or learned their lines.  Failure is OK, but not reading the script is not.  It’s also useless to explain the scene to the actor, they can read that in the script.  They need to understand what their character wants in the scene and why?  But don’t give them the answer, they need to own the reason, then they can bring it to their performance.  Notes are important to the actor, but give it to them privately, a secret note, not a public shout out.

What if the actor doesn’t do what you want them to do, for the blocking of the scene or the line reading you expect.  It’s a big mistake to just tell the actor where to go, you need to help them find it out on their own.  Another big reason for the rehearsal process.  Gordon Hunt, Helen Hunt’s father and a long time television and theater director, including numerous episodes of “Mad about You,” suggests using the term, “how about” when prompting actors to try a blocking idea.  If the actor states that his character wouldn’t do that, then ask what his character would do, most of the time it isn’t the action, but a word that bothers the actor.  Hunt also revealed his secret to getting a line reading.  On the next take, if you are the director, you yell out to begin the next take at the particular line you want corrected and you give the exact line reading you desire.  It’s worked for him almost every time for close to fifty years.

The fifth mistake is saying “No.”  You need to help the actor get out of their personal polite space.  If an actor has an idea, let them discover it doesn’t work on their own.  I certainly have discovered this technique in many of my theater productions.  Actors have come in with some strange concept or prop and usually discover if it isn’t working.  On the other hand, they sometimes added a richness to the character that I didn’t think about before.  Be open.  “We will do it” is better then “you will do it”.  Also, realize that if an actor has a problem with his or her wardrobe, don’t ignore it because usually it has nothing to do with wardrobe and everything to do with the character they are portraying.  That’s an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Helen Hunt added much to the day because of her experiences from both in front and behind the camera.  In her view, all directors should take acting classes to understand the actor’s point of reference.  I agree and certainly find myself falling back on those Emerson College acting courses to guide my directing work.  Neil LaBute started as a student actor and many of his best films have been done working with actors like Aaron Eckhart that he has known since those days.  One of my favorite times directing was when I made the web series, “Unconventional,” because I pulled about fifteen actors that I had worked with in the theater, here in Los Angeles, and we created these characters based on my notes and the actors ideas.  There was no script, it was just me, a camera and the actors.  It was exhilarating and fun.  It’s the reason I got into this business in the first place.  It was nice to be reminded.  To quote director Martha Coolidge, “the most important role of a director is to work with actors.”

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820-afidiff09_laurel_cs31This last week I’ve been in the editing bay cutting down the video we shot of the Conscious Entrepreneur Experience workshop presented by Kim Castle and W. Vito Montone of BrandU.  I previously wrote on this blog about the amazing experience, but as I look over the footage something new is resonating.  A discovery that the importance of any business is to give back and mentor the next generation.  That’s how good ideas stay fresh and grow.

I never thought about teaching, other then the occasional workshops that I lead for One on One Film Training or at the Maine Media Workshops (formerly the International Film and Video Workshops), but as I get older I’ve started to realize how much I enjoy the mentoring process.  Maybe it’s because my parents were teachers or that my children are now young adults and no longer require as much guidance, whatever the reason, I enjoy sharing the experiences that I’ve had in over twenty years in the film and television business.  Hell, it’s probably why I’m writing right now.

Lately, I’ve been asked to sit on some media panels and every time I’ve not only enjoyed the experience, I’ve walked away with new contacts and some bit of new information.  Last week, I was asked by the posthouse Secret Headquarters to share my experiences as a producer using the RED camera on “Need for Speed:Undercover” and the Panasonic 900 on the documentary “Houston We Have a Problem.”   Not only was the food great and the folks at Secret HQ terrific, but the other panelists Sandy Collora, Drew Brody and Mary Liz Thomson had so much to offer about their own experiences.

I had the same feeling a few weeks earlier when we premiered our documentary, “Houston We Have a Problem” on March 27th at AFI Dallas.  The film, directed by Nicole Torre of New Angle Media is about the Oil Barons, Wildcatters, and roughnecks and their long struggle to feed America’s ferocious oil appetite.  A real inside look into the energy culture and just how our country became so addicted to oil.  The good news is the city of Houston and many of the oil honchos believe we must go “Green” for a secure domestic energy future.  AFI Dallas posted an interview on Vimeo.  The film played very well with great reviews on KERA (local Dallas PBS station) and even on IMDB.  I was asked to be on a panel about documentaries and the changes with online media, joined by “Rock Prophecies” director John Chester and Pete Schuermann of “Haze;” monitored by online SpoutBlog writer Karina Longworth.  The end discussion grew sticky with what is considered fair use in docs.  Once again, I enjoyed participating and learned some new things, as well as met some great new contacts.

I was extremely disappointed that I couldn’t serve on the panel at NAB when I was asked by PixelHead Network for Promax.  They had interviewed me a few months back at a Cinema Innovators Event about  my company Unconventional Media and our commitment to New Media.  I’m not going to make it to NAB this year because of memorial plans for a recent family loss, but really would have loved to share my production  experiences with a larger crowd.

I know that there are a lot of people exploring a new career for themselves as a “Life Coach.”  I’m not interested in that and don’t see that as a fufilling role.  To be honest, I’m not convinced many of these other people (some friends) should take that role either.  However, if someone wants some guidance, I’m open to help.  Some folks don’t believe they have the time in their business to assist others.  I think they’re wrong.  There is an interview with Joe Sugarman on the upcoming BrandU DVD.  Joe created BluBlocker Sunglasses and ran JS&A (forerunner of  Sharper Image), a highly successful mail-order company in the 1980s, the largest supplier of innovative electronic products in the U.S.  He pioneered many of the sales and marketing techniques widely used today, as well as introduced household products like the calculator, cordless phones, and digital watches to the world.  He declares that the most important thing in a successful business is helping a fellow human being.  It’s not how we usually imagine business people thinking, but as my own production business grows, I’ve come to realize it is the only way to think.  I’ve always been into helping others, I thank cutting this BrandU DVD is helping me understand why.

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