Tuesday, May 30, 2006

MacSaber... a *very* good reason to buy a Mac laptop

Sometimes the people who think this shit up ought to get a Nobel Prize. I mean, seriously—consider how much entertainment value could result from watching two grown men hurling their $3,000 laptops around like reckless teenagers and reciting dialog from a film over two decades old... "Once I was but a learner, now I am the mast—fuck, I dropped my laptop!!!"

Here's what the developers says:

Now that you've spent entirely too much money on your fancy sudden motion sensor equipped Mac laptop, I predict you'll soon be swinging it around like a loon.

Introducing MacSaber. Using your Mac’s sudden motion sensor, this software turns your computer into a Jedi weapon almost worthy of taking on the real thing by making authentic lightsaber sound effects. It senses speed for the lightsaber movement sounds and acceleration for different levels of striking sounds.

Geeks always have the best toys.

Monday, May 29, 2006


I just started watching Deadwood and um, wow.

Deadwood is positively one of the most realistic Westerns I've ever seen and sure to set the bar for the Western genre forevermore. After listening to the pilot episode commentary by series creator David Milch, I learned that Deadwood's excessive profanity was one way they used to show the town's lawlessness... so I guess we all owe HBO our thanks, because cable TV made it possible to see this stark kind of drama. Unflinching real. It's almost painful to watch, even for me. I do, however, wish they would stop saying "cocksucker" every other word. I doubt it was used quite that often, and even if it were, it pulls me out of the story.

Now, I'm going to talk about a spoiler, but fear not—I am always highly conscientious about not ruining a story for others. I will say that in the second episode, there is a scene which is quintessential Western drama. An extremely intense showdown between the protagonist and antagonist... holy fuck, that's good drama.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Molly Parker in Deadwood's cast. In addition to being very talented, she has a regal beauty to her. And dressed in those fantastic dresses... Molly looks awesome!

I was also very happy to see Timothy Olyphant in the lead role. I took to him immediately in The Girl Next Door, where he was very, very funny. (Fun fact: his dialogue in The Girl Next Door was based on Cabin Fever director Eli Roth.) However, in Deadwood, Olyphant isn't quite on. He's good, but occasionally, I simply don't believe his performance. Maybe it's an intentional acting choice, but it doesn't work... yet. Things grow on you over time, so I'm holding off my judgement.

Friday, May 26, 2006

CHESS: Waiting For Mistakes

When my wife first learned to play Chess, she came to me one day with a book I had given her to peruse: "It says in this book," she told me, "that half of Chess is simply waiting for your opponent to make a mistake." She put the book down, crossed her arms, and looked at me with furrowed brows. "That hardly seems like fun."

And yet, that is in fact a large part of Chess. The only difference between me and the Grandmasters is that they can think about eight, nine, or ten moves ahead of me... and the player who can't think far enough is walking into a trap.

The game below is one of my favorites because it shows how you can be behind on points, behind on position, and stave off defeat just long enough in the hopes that your opponent overlooks something major. In essence, you wait long enough until your opponent makes a mistake, and then pounce. Some would say that's not fair, or even fun, but Chess is a game of war and war is a series of tragic injustices, many of which include shockingly stupid blunders that almost always benefit the enemy. It doesn't matter how you take the hill, just that you take the hill. Remember Rob Roy? Exactly.

Here's the entire game:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. a3 Bc5
5. Qe2 d6
6. h3 Bd7
7. b4 Bd4
8. Bb2 O-O
9. Ng5 h6
10. h4 Ng4
11. Nh3 Qf6
12. f3 Qxh4+
13. g3 Qxg3+
14. Kd1 Nf6
15. Rh2 Nh5
16. Na4 Bxb2
17. Nxb2 Nd4
18. Qf2 Qxf3+
19. Qxf3 Nxf3
20. Rf2 Nd4
21. a4 Bg4+
22. Kc1 Nf6
23. d3 b6
24. Nc4 Rad8
25. Ra3 d5
26. Ne3 dxe4
27. Rc3 Be6
28. Nc4 e3
29. Nxe3 Ng4
30. Nxg4 Bxg4
31. Rxc7 a5
32. b5 Rc8
33. Rb7 Rc3
34. Rxb6 Rfc8
35. Kb1 Bd1
36. Rc6 Nxc6
37. b6 Rb8
38. Kb2 Rc5
39. c4 Rxb6+
40. Kc1 Bxa4
41. Kd2 Nd4
42. Kc3 Bd1
43. Rb2 Rf6
44. Bg2 Ra6
45. Be4 a4
46. Nf2 a3
47. Rb8+ Rc8
48. Rxc8# 1-0

And here's the game with commentary:

1. e4 White opens with a traditional pawn move.
e5 Black returns with an equally traditional pawn attack.

2. Nf3 White attacks Black's pawn as expected.
Nc6 Black defends as expected with his own Knight.

3. Nc3 Another traditional Knight opening.
Nf6 Black responds as expected.

4. a3 Anticipating a Bishop advance, White preempts with an A-file pawn advance.
Bc5 Black moves out his Bishop anyway, but not too far. He must be trying for a Queen-Knight fork with a Bishop-Knight battery at F2.

5. Qe2 So White defends F2 by moving out the Queen.
d6 Wanting to attack with his other Bishop, Black prepares to move out his white-square Bishop.

6. h3 And White anticipates this by advancing his H-file Pawn one square.
Bd7 Black develops his Bishop only one square, maybe in anticipation to castle to either side?

7. b4 White attacks the Bishop.
Bd4 Black pins the Knight to the Queen-side Rook.

8. Bb2 Black moves the black-square Bishop to prepare for a decouvert with the Knight to move to B4.
O-O Black castles, and too early in my view. White can now focus all his energies on destroying the Pawn cover.

9. Ng5 Preparing for a Knight gambit at H7, White moves the Knight in close.
h6 Black attacks with his H-file Pawn... but this is still good: luring the H file Pawn off its rank opens up the H-file. Leaving the Knight in its position is safe, and good overall if captured...

10. h4 ...especially if it opens up a Rook attack by re-capturing with White's H-file pawn.
Ng4 Perhaps seeing this, Black opts to go for an assault on F7 anyway, forcing an exchange and leaving White down 3 points by losing his Queen to a Knight and Bishop AND forcing White to lose his castling option. For Black, the best defence is indeed a good offense.

11. Nh3 Aware that a "Knight on the rim is grim", White still values the castling option and defends F2 by moving his Knight back.
Qf6 But Black pounds on F2 some more by bringing out his Queen.

12. f3 White defends F2 by attacking the Knight and advancing a Pawn to prevent the attack.
Qxh4+ Black takes advantage of the Knight on H3 by moving his Queen in to pin the Knight and once again attack F2, including putting the King in check.

13. g3 Feeling cramped, and wanted to disabuse the Queen from pinning his Knight, White throws out a Pawn gambit to shoo the Queen away.
Qxg3+ It works, kind of. The Queen is now off the H-file and relieves the Knight from her pin. White must avoid the check, though...

14. Kd1 So White moves away from almost certain death.
Nf6 Black wisely moves his Knight out of danger.

15. Rh2 Not content to let Black put the Knight and Rook in the same pin situation, White moves his Rook to the 2 rank.
Nh5 Perhaps afraid of an attack on his Queen, Black moves his Knight over to protect the Queen.

16. Na4 Finally having some breathing room, White decides to use a decouvert to exchange Bishops.
Bxb2 Seeing that the F2 is no longer a viable target square with a bishop attack, Black agrees to the exchange.

17. Nxb2 And White has now cleaned up the Queen-side a little.
Nd4 Black takes advantage of his Bishop's capture by moving his Knight into the Bishop's old resting place at D4 to attack White's Queen.

18. Qf2 Unhappy with Black's Queen leering over the King-side of the board, and deep in White's territory, White offers Black a chance for an exchange.
Qxf3+ Instead, Black puts White into check and forces White into an exchange.

19. Qxf3 White takes Black's Queen.
Nxf3 Black takes the Knight, and attacks the Rook on the H-file.

20. Rf2 White moves the Rook onto the F file to both attack the Knight and allow the White's white-square Bishop some room to maneuver.
Nd4 Black retreats his Knight.

21. a4 By making a pawn attack B5, White tries to minimize the power of Black's Knight; now it can only retreat or be captured.
Bg4+ Black, still intent on using a battery, moves his white-squared Bishop to attack White's King.

22. Kc1 White has little choice but to retreat his King.
Nf6 Black repositions his Knight away from the edge, perhaps to take the unprotected Pawn at E4 and complete his domination of the center of the board.

23. d3 White is having none of it—he moves his Pawn up to protect the lonesome pawn.
b6 Wanting to eliminate White's double pawns on rank 4, Black nudges his B-file Pawn by one square. His next move will probably be to move the C-file Pawn by two squares.

24. Nc4 Anticipating the Pawn advance, White hopes to attack the (soon to be) unprotected Pawn on D6 by moving his Knight forward.
Rad8 Black defends against this by moving his Rook to D8.

25. Ra3 White jolts awake—he's behind 3 Pawns, and behind on positioning and development. To turn this game around, White must develop his unused pieces and reposition his H-file Knight as soon as possible. White moves his Rook forward, uncertain where or how he will move it next.
d5 Black decides to attack the Knight, but must not be paying attention because Black has left his Pawn at E4 unprotected. Surely White will take it...

26. Ne3 ...but White either misses the opportunity to take the E4 Pawn or chooses to fork the Bishop and D5 Pawn instead.
dxe4 Black charges forward, now ahead by 4 points (all Pawns, in fact).

27. Rc3 Finally taking advantage of his newly developed pieces, White decides to get revenge on Black's unprotected Pawns. Will it work?
Be6 Black repositions his Bishop to attack on the other side, especially useful as the diagonal to A2 is a clean shot.

28. Nc4 White opts to block that Bishop attack, even if it temporarily snuffs his own Rook attack.
e3 Not missing a chance to promote a Pawn, Black advances his Pawn without attacking.

29. Nxe3 And White takes the unprotected pawn.
Ng4 Black forces an exchange by forking White's Knight and Rook.

30. Nxg4 White takes the Knight...
Bxg4 Black takes the Knight...

31. Rxc7 ...and White can finally take the unprotected Pawn on rank 7. White knows having a rook so far back is bad news for Black, and just might offset the balance of power long enough to let White regain his footing.
a5 Black's not stupid—he doesn't want all his Pawns taken so he advances the A Pawn by 2, hoping for a capture and possible promotion.

32. b5 White doesn't comply; he knows if he can capture the B6 Pawn, then he'll be that much closer to getting a new Queen.
Rc8 Seeing the storm brewing, Black decides to draw the line in the sand by attacking the mischievous Rook.

33. Rb7 But White proceeds as planned by attacking the B6 Pawn.
Rc3 Black takes advantage of White's zealousness by advancing his Rook. With Black's Knight and Rook, 2 of Black's pieces are attacking C2. White knows what's coming—a Rook move to C8 to form a devastating battery...

34. Rxb6 If only White can get turn that Pawn into a Queen...
Rfc8 Exactly on cue, Black ignores the potential Queen threat by setting 3 pieces to attack C2. White glances over in shock—with the Bishop attacking D1, White's King is fast running out of places to hide. Mate is soon to follow if he doesn't try something drastic.

35. Kb1 "Get off the Rooks' axis of attack", White thinks. "At least Black won't be able to pummel me completely."
Bd1 Black places the final pieces into place—by forcing an exchange at C2 (a Black Bishop for a White Rook), White will soon be severely compromised. White is getting desperate and must disrupt Black's powerful double-Rook battery.

36. Rc6 White moves his Rook over to fork both of Black's Rooks, block the oncoming attack, and force an exchange, probably with Black's Knight. A poor exchange, but an exchange.
Nxc6 As expected, Black takes with his Knight. However, White realizes now that the power of Black's offense lays in the C-file. If the C-file is disrupted, it will weaken Black's attack and distract him long enough for White to bring in his other unused pieces. But White is grasping at straws now... winning is unlikely at this point and hinges on Black making a big mistake. Nevertheless, he must draw out Black's Rooks from the C file....

37. b6 So, instead of taking the Knight, White advances his Pawn. Black must move his Knight off the C-file to allow his two Rooks to dominate D2 again. Or he'll have to move his Rook off the C-file to prevent the advance of the B-file Pawn.
Rb8 Black chooses to dilute his C-file Rook attack by preparing to take out the Pawn.

38. Kb2 But White will make Black pay for this by taking Black's other Rook.
Rc5 So Black retreats his Rook to a safe distance.

39. c4 White uses this retreat to force his Pawn advance on the C-file, at last buying some time and freeing up rank 2 to make his F2 Rook more useful.
Rxb6+ Black is still in the superior position, and ahead on pieces by a count of 7 (2 Pawns & a Rook). He puts White in check by taking the defenseless B6 Pawn.

40. Kc1 White escapes the Rook attack while forcing Black to move his Bishop.
Bxa4 Black takes White's other defenseless Pawn. Now Black is ahead by 8 points.

41. Kd2 White knows the end is near and must escape quickly from the back ranks. His positioning is awful: his white-square Bishop is choking on rank 1, his Knight on the rim can't move... it's hopeless.
Nd4 Black's Knight hops into the hole at D4, and will likely move his Rook down to rank 2 to force a crippling Rook exchange.

42. Kc3 White wants to at least make Black's attack as uncomfortable as possible—by moving toward the pieces with his King, the Rooks are less powerful. Still, White knows he'll soon be dead.
Bd1 Oddly, Black moves his Bishop back to rank 1. White is scratching his head trying to figure out what Black is planning...

43. Rb2 But whatever—White takes advantage of the breather by launching a counter-attack, hoping for a miracle. If Black doesn't exchange Rooks, then White might have a fighting chance at turning the game around...
Rf6 Black hesitates and opts for both a safe retreat and an attack on the defenseless white-squared Bishop at the same time. This is Black's first major mistake: he would have fared better to force a Rook exchange and cripple White for an easy endgame.

44. Bg2 Rubbing his eyes, White can't believe what he's seeing—Black's King is in a vulnerable position on rank 8 with the only escape route on a white square at H7. If White can unsuspectingly move his Bishop to E4 and get his Rook onto the 8 file, then he can checkmate Black! So White moves his Bishop out of the Rook's attack... but with secret plans to slide it onto E4 to attack H7. Hopefully, Black won't catch on.
Ra6 Black has had enough. He is going to advance his A-file Pawn by putting his Rook on A6 as backup, and nothing is going to stop him. This would also explain Black's Rook move on #42 (moving the Bishop off the A-file path). This is Black's second major mistake: he isn't stopping to look at the larger picture.

45. Be4 White puts his Bishop into place...
a4 Still with blinders on, Black doesn't see the mate coming...

46. Nf2 White, too, gets distracted by pulling out his Knight from the edge to attack Black's defenseless Bishop. White must not believe his own good luck and has momentarily forgot his plan in a panic to win. White has made a crucial error... one which could mean obliterating his slim shot for a lucky win. Should Black use this move to study the board, he could still take advantage of White's mistake.
a3 Black has abandoned his Bishop; instead, he would rather advance his soldier forward to get a Queen... Failing to look at the overall board for a second time is Black's final, fatal error.

47. Rb8+ White at last succeeds in dealing the coup de grace! Black is too late to defend against both of White's Rook and Bishop.
Rc8 Black's last stand to defend...

48. Rxc8# 1-0 Mate.

You can view this game interactively at Its Your Turn here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Our Inter-Galactic Escape Hatch


Great scientists explain murky concepts very lucidly. I had the good luck of listening to Michio Kaku on NPR. Kaku is the author of Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos.

Kaku's specialty is String Theory, which is too difficult to explain here, but he did speak about "dark matter"—matter which has a weight like regular matter but which is invisible to us and is about ten times more plentiful than regular matter. What, then, is this "dark matter" made up of?

To answer that, think for a moment about a black hole—a star whose gravity is so strong that it has collapsed under its own weight and not even light can escape from its pull. Where does all the matter go that gets sucked into a black hole? Kaku suggests that the regular matter gets spit out into another universe, a parallel universe, where this matter gets converted into dark matter, presumably. Thus, the "inverted" black hole might look quite similar to a big bang. Could it be, then, that our own big bang was the result of another universe's black hole?

While mind-bending, Kaka turns it up a notch when he talks about the end of our own universe. "Eventually, billions of years from now, our universe will become too cold to be habitable... and we will choose to either die, adapt, or move on." Given that the first two options aren't viable, how could we leave our own universe?

Easy—we build an escape hatch to one of these parallel worlds. All we need are atom smashers 10 light years wide.

Did you get that? Can you even conceive how large that is? In layman's terms, it's about 60 trillion miles. From Wiki: "Earth's most distant space probe, Voyager 1, was 13 light hours away from Earth in September 2004. It took Voyager 27 years to cover that distance." Our nearest known star is Proxima Centauri and it's 4.22 light years away. So this atom smasher would have to be 1.56 light years larger than a round trip ticket to Centauri. Crikey.

Unfortunately, with machines that "small", we'd still only be able to slide mere molecules through this inter-universal portal. That means we'd have to use nanobots to "blip" into the other universe, get them to find a habitable place to thrive, recreate our DNA and personalities, and then repopulate.

To put it in the words of Alias' Marshall, "That sound—that "boom" you just heard—that's my mind, exploding."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Imperial Cough Drops

If Darth Vader had a head cold, how could you tell?

This solitary thought ran through my mind as my wife and I were scanning the aisles for cough drops today at the local co-op. Then I had this image of Darth Vader, the great Sith Lord himself, coughing like my wife, also looking for cough drops. And what if the store were suddenly out of cough drops?

So here's the inside of my head—Darth Vader, standing in front of the cashier, hand outstretched:

I find your lack of cough drops disturbing.

Uh... *choking*... wait! *choking*... we have one... final... pack!

...leave them to me.

Suddenly, I'm laughing hysterically for no apparent reason and my wife thinks I've gone completely bonzo.

Morale of the story: Be careful what you feed your kids; fill their brains up with Star Wars gunk and this is what comes out 30 years later.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Projects Update

After wrapping Nine is Mine, I've been asked by a lot of you some of the same questions. To save time so we can have a drink later together:

1. What's next for Ross Pruden?
2. What's up with the Ghoti trailer?
3. What's up with Safe Harbors?
4. Why haven't you been blogging recently?
5. When you film your next project, can I have a cameo?
6. Why aren't you getting back to me? Are you trapped under something heavy?
7. What sign are you?
8. Do you sign?
9. That's a stop sign.
10. I liked Signs. Did you?

Here are my long-winded answers:

1. What's next for Ross Pruden? + 2. What's up with the Ghoti trailer? + 3. What's up with Safe Harbors? + 4. Why haven't you been blogging recently?

I'm juggling a lot of Chinese plates now. It's hard to keep up, as I tend to overcommit at times:

a. I've got to finish storyboarding the FX sequences for the Ghoti (pronounced like "fish"; if you say it like "goatee" or "Giotii", I have ears like a wolverine and will come to bitchslap you. Well, I don't know if wolverines have great hearing, but they're cool-sounding mammals so they deserve to have great hearing, so if they did have great hearing, I would hear like them and would come to bitchslap you) trailer. This is the last major bit of post-production left, so after we finish these FX, we can edit it and move on to shopping it around for mon-ay.

b. Burn the Ghoti trailer footage onto DVD so it can be edited by my new guy in L.A.

c. Finish writing the treatment for Fool's Gold, the 600K feature I'll slated to write and direct (not my own story, but I'm adapting the screenplay)

d. Flesh out the storyline for Arousal, my feature film about an ebola-type virus infecting campers.

e. Flesh out the epic storyline for Safe Harbors, my 90% CGI feature film. This is the Kahuna I get asked about the most often, and with good reason because I won't fucking stop talking about it. I'm a firm believer in a great story being at the center of any project I'm involved in, because no amount of bells and whistles on a piece of shit will keep it from stinking up. Right now, Safe Harbors's story development is percolating nicely. I've resolved a large number of story quagmires, and can finally see how it could make for a great movie and/or TV pilot. The cast of characters is growing (and I'd be lying if I said I weren't already mentally casting roles as I meet more and more talented actors), the backstory is becoming more layered, the internal plot inconsistencies are getting resolved, the scene settings are designed to be on a massive scale... all in all, it's measuring up to be as epic as Lost. I don't estimate actually writing a detailed treatment until this summer or fall, but—given the amount of time I think about it during the day, thinking up new plot points and possible character storylines—the project is very high on my list of active projects. When its story is near complete, you'll be hearing a lot more about Safe Harbors. I will tell you right now that Safe Harbors is almost definitely not what it's going to be called.

f. Write the feature-length script for Ghoti. I blame Max. First he wanted it bulked up from 21 pages to 45 pages, now he wants 90. Sheesh... producers! Just kidding, Max—the feature-length script will be gravy. Wait and see.

g. Two more film projects coming up in June and July, maybe even three or four; details TBA.

So, obviously, lots goin' on. I may not be blogging for quite some time. At least, not as regularly as I would like.

5. When you film your next project, can I have a cameo?
I'll certainly try to give you cameos whenever possible! Keep asking me!

6. Why aren't you getting back to me? Are you trapped under something heavy?
That's two questions. Part A: See my answers for 1–4. Part B: No.

7. What sign are you?
Feces, the sign of the skunk. No, just kidding. Leo. On the cusp.

8. Do you sign?

9. That's a stop sign.
Um, okay... that's not a question, but whatever.

10. I liked Signs. Did you?
I loved Signs, and all things Shyamalan. (Yes, that does include Unbreakable.)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Segway Lite

As an über-geek, my friend Todd posts to a programming blog which appears to be very useful if your brain is the size of a tractor tire and you do coding in UNIX, LINUX, PLASTIX or MARGARITAMIX. Even though I understand only 15% of what he's talking about, I still read his blog on the off chance he'll talk again about his new MacBook Pro. After all, when hard-core PC users switch to a Mac, the sky is, indeed, about to fall.

Back in April, Todd posted this—it's so good, I just had to repost it:

New Segway Dali LE (Light Edition)
I’ve always been intrigued by the original Segway but until recently they were out of my price range. That all changed with the new Segway Dali LE (Light Edition). Here I am enjoying the commute on my new Segway Dali LE which sports the following features:

1. Powered by the EPA approved ultra green Personagy Drive™: no more recharging or running down the batteries.
2. Lighter weight: you can carry it up the stairs now, no need to lock it up on the street where it might get stolen
3. Sturdier: can now safely carry your whole family with the optional platform extender
4. Balance improving technology: the original Segway promoted poor balance by compensating for it
5. Possibly eligible for renewable energy vehicle tax credits (check with your accountant).
6. Degenerative breaking skid plate: just like the original Segway, simply lean back to stop
7. Newly endorsed by the Bush administration and the Homeland Security’s border patrol group
8. Already in use nationally by UPS, Fedex, and Sears home delivery
9. Durability: comes with a lifetime warranty, never-flat tires, and is completely submersible
10. Now available for $49 MSRP at Amazon or for a $7 daily rental fee from U-Haul.

Friday, May 12, 2006

One Take Forward, Two Takes Back

After watching Honda's astonishing 2 minute Rube Goldberg-type commercial (which I've since learned is called Cog and which I blogged about here) about 20 times, it hit me how glad I was that commercials exist. I don't watch TV anymore, but when I used to—every so often—a great commercial would come on and I'd go, yeah... cool.

Sadly, that occurrence was not often enough. Most TV advertising sucks ass and TV ads are actually the reason I don't watch TV anymore. There are too many commercials, and they're all really dumbed-down. Clever advertising is few and far between.

Not all advertising is shitty... I worked at a swanky San Francisco ad agency for almost a year, and I saw some excellent advertising come out of there (Hear Me's silent monk ads, for one), which showed me that creating ads is merely storytelling on an itty bitty scale. Something funny, or cool, or shocking... something that grabs your attention is the crunchy bit at the center of the advertising Tootsie pop. And Cog did that brilliantly. If there hadn't been a company willing to spend $6 million and four weeks and wait 606 takes to get the final cut... Cog would never have been made. And you simply can't watch Cog without being completely hypnotized by its genius, no matter what product it's trying to hock.

France even had a show showcasing exceptional TV commercials around the world called Culture Pub (or "Commercial Culture"). They'd spend the top half of the hour focusing on the history of a particular company's TV commercials, how a corporate brand had evolved over time, then the second half of the hour showing you the world's most brilliant commercials for that week. Every year, they'd compile the best of that year's commercials and show them at a movie theatre. It was like MTV for commercials.

Anyway, while I was watching Cog, I started thinking about the film shoot I'm on currently and about how much time it takes to light a feature film... it seems like forever. We arrive on set and three hours can go by before we're finally rolling (I'm being somewhat disingenuous here because scheduling conflicts with locations and named actors is also a culprit in the mix; lighting does take a long time to look good on film, though). When we do get rolling, it goes fast because we have two cameras rolling at once, sometimes even three. Because it's digital, filming has become faster and easier, but lighting always slows shite down... Yesterday, we shot a courtroom scene in two hours—which was breakneck fast—but we did it that fast only because we had to. Still, that means it is possible to film quickly if you're willing to make the decisions necessary to make it happen, like not carrying the the heavy ass 5K lights to and from the grip truck. If you have a 12 hour day, allowing an hour to unpack and an hour to pack the grip truck is standard. (It's no surprise, then, that Lars Von Trier and other filmmakers opted in their "Dogma" movement in 1995 to use only natural lights and music on set, but that fodder for another post.)

If I were going to film a low-budget film in hi-def right now, today, I'd get two glide cams, 2 tripods, a fucking great sound kit, minimal lights, and shoot two angles simultaneously and only during the day in quiet (preferably secured) locations. Most importantly, I'd rehearse with the actors until they knew their lines as if they were performing a stage play. Only after the actors were on book—and/or had found the best lines to deliver—would I start blocking with a cinematographer and bring in lights to setup. To that end, deciding all the shots and drawing up storyboards in pre-production would probably save so much time in production that I could let the actors deliver their best on-book performance first and then their best improv performance.

Great fimmaking like Cog starts with an amazing concept. Without that, you're toast. Then it needs great... what word to use? Enaction? (Yeah, I know that's not a word.) You're not exactly stoking a great performance, but actually teasing out the essence of the written material onto the screen. There are no actors in Cog, just moving parts, so "performance" isn't exactly the word. You get my point, though.

If you're going to film in the digital age, where technical problems like shooting ratios and film development lag have been minimized, then it seems like you should be using all the time you save by pushing it into other parts of the production instead of allowing familiar time sponges like setting up lights slow you down.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

For want of a Mega-Show...

Heard Bill Carter on Fresh Air the other day. He's the author of Desperate Networks: Movers and Shakers Who Changed The Face of Primetime TV and he had some interesting things to say about TV networks.

His main insight was that networks are starving for great shows. Not good shows—great shows. They are thirsting to find the shows will make their network a superstar. ABC was lucky enough to have two such shows at once—Lost and Desperate Housewives—and those two shows transformed the network from a flailing starfish to a white shark almost overnight. Fox has American Idol which apparently "obliterates" the other channels when it hits the air. If a network misses an opportunity to get the "next big show", heads roll. Desperate Housewives was actually pitched to NBC before ABC and the people who turned it down no longer work with NBC.

The problem with modern TV networks is that their search for the mega-show leaves no more room for the experimental quirky shows which find niche audiences. It took the original Star Trek three seasons to get cancelled. Now it only takes three episodes. How can anything truly original and creative ever come out of this business model? The clever stuff usually has to grow on you over time. If it takes an average of seven years for new magazines to go into the black, wouldn't you think it would take at least a season or two before a show can be deemed successful or not?

Regis Philbin's idea to save ABC from near-death in 1999 worked astonishingly well when he hosted Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Trying to desperately cash in on that success, ABC then flooded the airwaves with that show for four nights a week. When Millionaire's popularity finally waned, the network was left with a gaping hole it could not fill. ABC would have done better to choose one night to broadcast the show and train its viewers to tune in for that night only to watch Millionaire. Too much of a good thing...

The way to win in this game is not to play by the same rules. If you want to make TV shows, don't make them for the major networks. Pick a network that doesn't have a lot to risk (i.e. no money to lose) and give them something really exceptional. And make sure that your show gets a prime viewing time... and a consistent viewing time. More shows have been killed by switching their broadcast times. And if your show doesn't meet any network's criteria, play outside the box... literally. Stream your TV show online as if it were a network show. And why not? Netflix is heading that way already, and their speciality is DVDs mailed to your home.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Rube Goldberg Would Have Driven a Honda

My dad used to collect these incredible little books with catchy titles like Amazing Little Gadgets and Fantastic Machines and the like. I loved perusing them myself and always suspected that, had my father opted not to go into dentistry, he would have been immensely happy as an inventor. Family legend has it that my Uncle Charlie (my dad's brother) was so good at fixing things for his neighbors that he ended up hanging a sign outside his house saying, "Please take a number and wait".

It's no surprise, then, that my Dad was a huge fan of Rube Goldberg's delightfully silly inventions in the Saturday funnies:

Today, Mike sends me a link for a brilliant Honda Accord commercial based on a Rube Goldberg-type invention. As I watch this commercial, I can't help but think how my father would have been tickled pink to watch over and over and over again:

I can't believe which is more amazing to me—the fact that the creators of this ad designed an actual Rube Goldberg contraption... or that it really worked and that they successfully filmed it. Both are staggering achievements no matter how you slice it.

Check out this post I found about it:

There are no computer graphics or digital tricks in the film. Everything you see really happened in real time exactly as you see it. The film took 606 takes. On the first 605 takes, something, usually very minor, didn't work. They would then have to set the whole thing up again. The crew spent weeks shooting night and day. The film cost six million dollars and took three months to complete, including a full engineering the sequence. In addition, it's two minutes long so every time Honda airs the film on British television, they're shelling out enough dough to keep any one of us in clover for a lifetime. However, it is fast becoming the most downloaded advertisement in Internet history. Honda executives figure the ad will soon pay for itself simply in "free" viewings (Honda isn't paying a dime to have you watch this commercial!). When the ad was pitched to senior executives, they signed off on it immediately without any hesitation-including the costs. There are six and only six handmade Accords in the world. To the horror of Honda engineers, the filmmakers disassembled two of them to make the film. Everything you see in the film (aside from the walls, floor, ramp, and complete Honda Accord) are parts from those two cars. The voice-over is Garrison Keillor. When the ad was shown to Honda executives, they liked it and commented on how amazing computer graphics have gotten. They fell off their chairs when they found out it was for real. Oh! And about those funky windshield wipers. On the new Accords, the windshield wipers have water sensors and are designed to start doing their thing automatically as soon as they become wet. It looks a bit weird in the commercial. Just one-second of computer generation is used to link the two halves-when an exhaust pipe rolls across the floor. At one point, three tires roll uphill because they have been weighted inside with bolts and screws.
Posted by KymBuchanan at April 29, 2004 02:16 PM

What I love most about this ad is how it tries at every turn to highlight Honda's features. The windshield wipers having water sensors, for instance, is so very very cool. For some reason, I really like how the oil slows down those ballbearings...

Thursday, May 04, 2006


I swear I read the script before the film shoot. I read it cover to cover. And after reading every word, not once did it cross my mind that we'd actually be shooting scene 56 and 57 as written—in a strip club. I can only imagine the trouble I could have gotten into today if my wife had called me during our martini :

T: Hey, babe. Whatcha been doin?
Me: Uhhhhh... work.

T: Yeah? What have you been filming?
Me: Uhhhhh... actors.

T: Where are you shooting it?
Me: Uhhhhh... in a strip club.

T: WHAT???
Me: No, it's cool. I'm getting paid to take continuity pictures of the strippers.

T: You take pictures???? Of the strippers????
Me: Oh, sure. And watch them dance. I have to make sure each shot matches with all the others, don't I? Which means I have to really pay attention to each take.

Script Supervisor—it's the toughest job on set.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


The first day of a shoot is always a little difficult—in addition to making a film, you're also trying to suss out who's easy to work with, who's a pro, who's funny, who's cool, etc. And—seriously—this shoot is exceptional. Everyone is simply the bomb. Some of the crew already know each other pretty well, so they bicker like septuagenarian spouses, but that's par, right? I can already tell it's going to be a great 2 weeks. Now if we can just avoid that Ninth Day Blowout that always seems to happen...

Showed up today at 10:45 AM. Just got home at 2:45 AM. Yeah. Interesting day. Great commute both ways, though.

Also, today was like the Ghosts of Film Sets Past... we needed extras for a big bar scene and between three people on set (whom I had known from other films), we were able to bring in more people I'd seen from other films I'd shot locally. It was like a big family reunion!

Finally: HD cameras are getting ridiculously small. How much smaller can they get before they start to look like a $200 camera? Here's my prediction: in 10 years, not only will HD cameras will be smaller than the palm of your hand, but camera-phones will be able to shoot so much digital video (with sound) that some clever dude will shoot an entire feature with his cell phone and post it online. Could make a fun contest, huh?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Back in Business

Got back from our long-deserved Carnival cruise to Catalina and Ensenada last night. The weather for 90% of the trip was overcast, so we had to enjoy small pleasures wherever we could get them, including copious amounts of Boat Drinks. Oh, hell yeah.

Fortunately, I did win a $1 bet with Tracie that there would be a TV in our ship's room... and thank heavens, too—by the end of the trip, we were both getting bored to tears.

I'll be tied up for the next two weeks working as a Script Supervisor on a low-budget here in Sac starring C. Thomas Howell. This is generally thrilling news for me, since The Hitcher (starring a young Jennifer Jason Leigh, I might add), was one of my all-time favorite thrillers. In fact, It's not a stretch to say that particular film was seminal in stoking my passion for filmmaking so I can't wait to pull Howell aside and embarrass him profusely about that.

I mention the film because I'm usually so exhausted during shooting that I'll probably have to take a break from blogging. Still, I did want to post a few pics of our lovely week off in Oakland for Nancy's baby shower, our jaunt in Santa Barbara, and finally our cruise hijinx.

So here goes...


Tracie did a bang-up job gathering decorations for the party. Here, I had just heard a loud >POP!< and had started to examine the bulb glass. Tracie seems to look surprised, too, because the missing glass shards appear to have vaporized.

Voila! Nancy at her throne!

Women just glow when you hand them a baby. My wife is no exception. (Notice how Anikan Skywalker is standing on that infant's head? Weird.)

"I'm trying to think of an adjective and a verb for the Mad Lib. Damn it, Susan, I can't think of one... just please don't use your Mom voice on me, okay?"

We weren't using Whose Line Is It, Anyway? as inspiration, but it sure looks like we're playing "Laying-Standing-Leaning", doesn't it?

"Anthony cried, 'Holy Kentucky!'" This was one of the best Mad Libs ever. I'll post it if someone sends it to me...

My view of the room during the Mad Lib.

Hey, what's this helmet? Cool... I already feel like Russell Crowe...

Babies who are about to be born, we salute you!

I love you guys. I can't believe you're going to be parents!!! Can we play Hearts with five people?


Santa Barbara was our only day of the trip almost completely sunny. But those clouds were rolling in...

I love this pic. It says something to me about Raphael's paintings and his use of perspective.

If you haven't ridden a tandem bike with someone you love—someone whom you have free reign to yell at for screwing up, but also someone you have to completely trust with your welfare—then you don't yet know what it's like to really be in love. Neither of us crashed the bike, but for both of us A types, it was a uneasy stretch to have total faith in each other's driving. Even so, we both agree this was the highlight of our trip!


Another highlight: golf carting in Catalina (which is part of California??? WTF???). It's a 1 hour trip around Avalon. Crazy stupid fun. Thumbs up, Tracie!

Luv ya, babe!

I love dressing up for Cruise dining. She looks so killer in red, don't she? Damn.



For when you just can't take Spongebob anymore, go buy a piñata of his likeness. Remember, Spongebob can take a good beating—he's a sponge.

Even the local jewelry is cool.

Tracie gets freaked out by these silly Mexican wrestling masks, even the most benign ones like this Hello Kitty mask. When I ask her why, she just shivers, mentions something about the gimp from Pulp Fiction, and says she doesn't want to talk about it. Thankfully for her, I didn't feel too much of an urge to buy one.

Dat's it. All in all, the hyper-solicitation and overall pollution in Mexico left me cold. Mexico was a hard place to visit for me because I felt I was constantly being ripped off. Maybe if I had journeyed outside of the big city to meet some genuine locals, it might have been different...

Either way, I'm glad to be back and can't wait to finish off my projects! Stay tuned for pics from the feature I'll be working on...