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Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending a free live performance by Bear McCreary and his team of world class musicians perform his original scores from the Emmy-deserving television show, “Battlestar Galactica.” It was the opening for this summer’s Grand Performances in downtown Los Angeles, a consistently wonderful showcase of world music.  We’ve been going for years.  One of those hidden treasures of LA.

As indicated on these pages in January, I think “Battlestar Galactica” is fracken great.  However, I didn’t really understand how important the series was until I attended a panel last week hosted by Geoff Boucher (LA Times Hero Complex) as part of the LA Times “Envelope” Emmy screening series. Writer/creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were there, as well as stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, but the surprise was that they were joined by United Nations Senior Human Rights Official, Craig Mohkiber and United Nations Senior Political Affairs Officer, Stephen Siqueria. I guess last March, this same group sat in front of the United Nations (video links here) and discussed issues ranging from human rights accountability to peace and justice in the world. They not only talked about how these issues related to BSG, but what we as nations can learn from the decisions made in the show, both by the military, demonstrated in the series by Admiral William Adama, played by Olmos, and, on the civilian side, by President Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell.

If who haven’t seen the show, tens of thousands of human survivors have escaped annihilation from the man-made Cylons by taking refuge aboard a group of spaceships, lead by the aging warship Galactica. They begin a search for a new home planet, the mythical 13th colony, called Earth, chased by the Cylons, many that look human. As President, Laura Roslin sacrifices thousands of innocent civilians, abolishes reproductive choice, executes enemy combatants without trial and nearly steals an election over the course of the series. That was the point of the UN event and the Los Angeles event billed as “TV – making global issues relevant.” After showing clips from the series, the speakers shared how these shameful and violating acts continue for real across our world. As UN official, Craig Mokhiber said, “every nation on this planet has broken the rules of human rights,” and talked about how part of the UN mandate was to safeguard the human rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and station. This fictional series gave us all an opportunity to think and discuss human rights, justice versus revenge, punishing people who perpetrate crimes against humanity, by watching episodes that take place on a spaceship in the future.

Isn’t that amazing? A fictional television show that carries significant political and world issue relevance. Most important, BSG was entertaining, I never felt like I was being preached too. That is the true genius of Ron Moore and David Eick.  In addition, the contribution of director Michael Rymer, as Moore acknowledged that night as “the third creative force that contributed heavily to our vision.” (It was fun to see the director get credit publicly for their creative input on a television series.  It rarely happens.)

It doesn’t have to be mindless, to be entertaining. That’s why I got into filmmaking.  To tell stories that make us think, react, research, formulate an educated opinion. We understand this to be true with documentaries, but as Basil Tsiokos reminds us in the terrific blog he wrote for indiewire,”8 Documentary Dos and Don’ts,” no one needs another wrongly executed doc film that’s only about message. Basil is a programming associate for the Sundance Film Festival and was Artistic Director for NewFest for twelve years.  He screens a lot of films and knows that a documentary can be important and informative, but it still needs to be entertaining.

That was our goal for the documentary, “Houston We Have a Problem” directed by Nicole Torre. The film explores our dangerous addiction to oil through candid insights from the Barons, Wildcatters, CEO’s and Roughnecks that comprise the world of Big Oil. An inside look into the culture of oil that explores the history of our dependency and how it has led us to the current energy crisis.  I’ve written about this film before here, when it premiered at AFI-Dallas and it continues to play the festivals. The issues the film addresses are important, but I believe we presented them in a fun, sometimes humorous, never boring way.

However, I am no Ron Moore. I’ve tried to write screenplays with significance, usually with them ending up being obvious and heavy.  I look forward to Mr. Moore’s television movie “Virtuality” airing June 26 on Fox about a group of astronauts who pass the time in virtual reality modules as their interactions are beamed back to Earth as a reality TV show. The new BSG series “Caprica” starts in January, about the kind of people, think us, that would create Cylons in the first place.  There is also “The Plan,” the Battlestar Galactica story from the Cylons perspective airing on Sci-Fi in November.  Directed by Edward James Olmos, a trailer was shown at the event and to quote Olmos, “it is breathtaking. It’s fantastic… I couldn’t have imagined this kind of a situation happening at the end of a show, where you would actually start at the beginning. That’s a masterful piece of understanding, Ron is a genius. Because after you see ‘The Plan,’ you’ll want to go back and view the whole series again.”

In these days of Twitter informing the world of election protests in Iran before the news can cover the story, important stories, fact or fiction, WILL FIND an audience. Smart filmmakers are figuring out how to find that audience. BSG is just one of many, many great shows on television, so why go out and spend big bucks on a crappy studio remake. If you want your film seen, it’s about getting it out there, any way possible.  In fact tonight, I’ll be watching the pilot episode of “Caprica” on DVD that was rented from Netflix. I’m sure the hope is that as a fan. I’ll like the new show as much as BSG and so when it airs, I’ll tell my friends and it will become “must see TV.” That’s forward thinking and we need more writers, showrunners and filmmakers to be looking forward and to tell the stories that have important relevance to our lives, yet still are entertaining. And so say we all!

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A few months ago Chase Bank introduced themselves to California by taking over Washington Mutual Bank.  I did not bank with WaMu, but based on my experiences with my WaMu credit card, I certainly feel sorry for those that did. Chase Bank is abusing their power and taking advantage of the small businessman, like myself. Just over a year ago I started Unconventional Media and took advantage of an offer from Washington Mutual for a transfer of funds to my new business account. The APR offer was 1.99%.

A couple of months ago I was informed that Chase Bank was now the proud owner of Washington Mutual. There were lots of cheesy pictures of happy consumers and reward programs, but no mention of interest rate increases, even in small print.

This March, I received a credit card bill reflecting an APR increase of 23.24%. I immediately called Chase customer service and spoke with a very nice lady named Brandi. They will not give you their last names, in fact who knows if these are even their real first names. Brandi informed me there was an increase, but they had made a mistake and some of the finance charge would be credited to my account in 7-10 business days. I received a letter that informed me of the rate increase to 9.99%. This month, I received a statement with no credit and still reflecting a 23.34% APR. I called Customer Service and talked to a very rude women named Wanda from Texas, who basically said that was the corresponding APR now on my account. There was nothing I could do about it and no one I could talk to about lowering it.

Well, there is something I can do about it. There is something we can all do about it. I wrote letters to the President and California Senators Boxer and Feinstein. The banks took billions in taxpayer bailouts, then turned on their own customers – hiking interest rates on credit card balances, changing fixed rates to variable, adding new card fees, reducing good customers’ credit limits. If at all possible, boycott Chase, find another bank, an honest bank.  There are a couple. Several comprehensive credit card reform bills have been introduced in the House and Senate during the 111th Congress. For instance, Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) has introduced the “Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009” (S. 414). This legislation would prevent credit card companies from increasing interest rates on customers in good standing for reasons unrelated to their behavior. Additionally, it would require credit card companies to notify customers 45 days in advance of an interest rate increase and would allow the customer to cancel the card prior to the increase. Support this bill, call your Senators, congressmen, sign the petition at www.Creditcardreform.org

I’ve paid off my Chase credit card account, but I am owed hundreds of dollars in overages. I imagine the same thing is happening to many other people, some who don’t have the luxury of paying off their bill. What the bank is doing is illegal credit card abuse and the industry must be reformed to protect the American consumer.

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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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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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nfs_maggie_in_hotel_2Nice Article on the Need for Speed: Undercover in LA Splash magazine.

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sunburstarborglyph1Last Night I saw the IMAX version of “Dark Knight” and all I can say is WOW!  Not only is the film a great story, but it is well acted and very well directed by Christopher Nolan.  I’d seen the film during its original release and enjoyed it at a regular movie theater, but after seeing the footage from the feature that was actually shot with IMAX, on an IMAX screen, I’m blown away.  Okay, I get it.  No wonder no one goes to the theater to see small independent films.  This is a movie worthy of the big screen.

Previous to “Dark Knight” I had seen only documentaries in the IMAX format.  I always enjoyed them, but wondered why the format wasn’t used more often for large scale productions, especially theatrical narrative films.  I’m not talking about blowing up 35mm prints for IMAX screenings, I mean really shooting with IMAX cameras.  I know the cameras are heavy and loud, so some projects are just not suited for the format, but I think it really takes a genius like Christopher Nolan to show what can be done creatively with the format.  These are definitely Unconventional times!

I have an IMAX movie I want to make.  Actually, I’ve wanted to make it for a long time, but now maybe the time is right.  For over 10 years, Singer-Songerwriter-Artist, Sandy Corley and I have been developing, “Witness Trees.”  Only problem is it is not a documentary or a narrative film like “Dark Knight,” it’s an art film (am I even allowed to say that word?).

Beech trees of the Southeast United States have stood for over one hundred years as unspeaking witnesses to sunlit mornings, lashing storms, nocturnal secrets, birth, death and historic occasions of celebration and despair.  Voices from the past still speak through the bark of these trees because beginning with the American Indians and later with the early European settlers, “Arborglyphs” have been carved into the trees, holding vital information and historical memories.  These are the messages spanning the Revolutionary war, the “Trail of Tears”, the war between the States and now, the present day.

You can see this is no ordinary film, it is a story as old as the forests.  Soon these Arborglyph messages will be silenced and lost.  Due to a natural end of lifespan, clear-cutting, acid rain, storms and their status as a non-timber “trash tree”, there is  a very little time left to document these “Witness Trees”.  Today’s remaining Arborglyphs are not only historical artifacts and national treasures, but are art forms from the Cherokees, Creek Confederacy, nameless soldiers, settlers and other travelers on the trails of our past, who left no other visible legacy.  This is an environmental story, an American Indian story, a “DaVinci Code” like story.

These trees exist and many have been documented and included on our website, WitnessTrees.org, but imagine an IMAX film with images of American Indian stories and legend, historical reenactments, environmental and scientific documents, with music and art inspired by these trees.  A film that makes you feel like you are in these forests like only an IMAX film can.  That’s the film I’ve always wanted to make.

I first met Sandy Corley, American Indian, in 1990, as she was developing a site sculpture and performance piece protest of the 500 year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America in 1992.  I was already a huge fan of poet/musician John Trudell and a strong believer in the spiritual and traditional programs of the American Indian Movement (AIM).  Sandy and her husband, Howard Deutsch, had been researching, gathering endorsements, shooting still photos and interviewing historians, authors, activists, wilderness magazine publishers, Georgia trail trees experts, Indian education directors, Georgia land lottery experts, anthropologists, archeologists, and others about this uniquely southern, endangered treasure, the Arborglyph.  In fact, much of Sandy’s music and art centers on these Beech tree carvings.  It was through Sandy that I later met others that cared and worked to save these Southeastern forests including Lamar Marshall and the wonderful organization, Wild South.

Since starting the project many sickening losses have occurred.  Little time is left to document the voices of these silent sentinels in order to preserve and pass on their messages to future southeastern generations and the world.

I don’t know how we got to this point, but speaking of sickening losses, something must be done now to free Leonard Peltier.  For those that don’t know Leonard Peltier, a Lakota Indian, is on Amnesty International’s list of political prisoners.  It is time to stop the 34 years of injustice that this innocent man has spent in prison.  Freedom for Leonard Peltier is way overdue!

If you saw the 1992 film, “Incident at Oglala,” produced by Robert Redford and directed by Michael Apted (and if you haven’t you should), then you will know that Leonard Peltier, a leader of AIM came to assist the Oglala Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the mid 1970’s.  It was here on June 26, 1975, that the tragic shoot-out with Federal Agents occurred.  The court record in this case clearly shows that government prosecutors do not know who killed the agents, nor what role Leonard Peltier “may have’ played in the shoot-out.”  It is known that Peltier participated in the planning of community activities, religious ceremonies, programs for self-sufficiency, and improved living conditions. He also helped to organize security for the traditional people who were being targeted for violence by the pro-assimilation tribal chairman and his vigilantes.  He is a father, a grandfather, an artist, a writer, and an Indigenous rights activist.  He is not a killer.  Leonard Peltier was convicted to two life sentences based on fabricated testimony and circumstantial evidence.  September 12th of this year marked his 64th birthday.

Another parole application will be filed this month. The earliest that hearing is likely to occur is in January 2009 (according to the Parole Commission’s schedule for in-person parole reviews to be held at USP-Lewisburg, where Peltier is currently imprisoned).  We must all help Leonard Peltier get justice and freedom.  Other persons guilty of worse crimes have been released time and time again on parole or pardoned, yet Mr. Peltier remains imprisoned.  Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Dalai Lama, the European Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Rev. Jesse Jackson are only a few who have called for his freedom. To many Indigenous Peoples, Leonard Peltier is a symbol of the long history of abuse and repression they have endured.

From behind bars, Leonard Peltier has helped to establish scholarships for Native students and special programs for Indigenous youth. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.  For more information check out his biography entitled “Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance” (St. Martin’s Press,1999) or contact Freedom Archives.

For me, Leonard Peltier is a white knight in dark times.  If people are truly ready for change, then he will finally be released from prison, just like Nelson Mandela was after the dark days of Apartheid.

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