Monday, April 30, 2007

I edit a lot

Now I have 2 shows to edit. And a 45 minute short film to finish off. I am busy, and expect much eye-strain in the next couple of weeks.

On the plus side, soon the 45 minute short film we shot in the holidays will be entirely in the past. We're screening it in a couple of weeks, so it will have to be done and dusted by then. We will then make a few souvenir DVDs of it, delete the 180Gb+ project from our hard drive, and never have to look at it again.

That will be nice.

In other news, I have stabbing pain in my head, and should really stop looking at a screen. But I think I'll do some more editing instead.

Dammit, why haven't the painkillers kicked in yet?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Footloose rocks

Footloose rocks.

Footloose is sweet.

Footloose is awesome.

I love Footloose.

Flashdance sucks.

Flashdance is lame.

Flashdance is crap.

I hate Flashdance.

(for Jenni)

Note: Flashdance is actually pretty weird - almost too odd to be classified as lame. It has ASS instead of EXPLOSIONS, but is in many other respects what you'd expect from the director. And it has weird dance bits that melt my brain.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Busy times

It's been a busy week already, and that was with a day off in the middle! Actually, the day off was the day of 2 rehearsals for the major production (dress rehearsals), so it was only a bit of a day off. The show is quite fun, and is only one act, so it should be very easy to edit once it's been filmed.

It looks like I'll be at the show for the next three nights, doing a rehearsal run of the filming tonight, proper filming tomorrow (with some extra borrowed gear), and seeing the show with my family on Saturday. I hope not to be filming on Saturday, but could always take up that role if needs be.

If it's anything like last year, I may not be able to film on Saturday due to unavailability of camera operators - though I think this year I only need 2 kids to do filming, and I have 4 signed up, so hopefully they'll come through.

Watching films in class continues to be awesome - laugh out loud response from my Year 12s to some parts of Shawshank, and the relatively powerful ending scene for today's viewing of Tommy being shot (about 20 seconds before the bell). Man, Shawshank is a great film, and I never get tired of watching it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Films are great

I'm watching films with 2 classes at the moment (and studying a film with a third), and it's wonderful. I love watching good films, and rewatching them, and trying to get students interested in more than the most shallow of surface readings.

I rambled a bit today about the difference between viewing for pleasure and for study, and how in a classroom context you should pretty much always have a pen in your hand when you watch a film. I think it's a sound practice, given that we lack the luxury of time in which to watch the film multiple times. It's a busy world, and there's always work waiting to be done.

Anyways, the films of the day are Shawshank Redemption, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I felt a little bad when a teacher came to visit me during one of the brutal prison rape scenes, but the teacher stayed a good 10 minutes after his questions had been answered, watching the film. It really is 'a corker'.

Debating will finish off the day - a subject I'm not hugely knowledgeable about, but which is fun, and inclusive. Here's hoping the kids see it that way!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday already?

It's been a great holidays, and I'm already looking forward to the next set of holidays. Term 2 looks like it's going to be quite busy, starting off with parent-teacher interviews and the filming of the major production in week one. Luckily there's a day off in there too :)

Armageddon is on tomorrow in Wellington, but I don't think Debbie and I will be going. Neither of us is feeling particularly well (we both have the traditional holiday colds and flu), and we've both procrastinated with marking and prep. I don't think either of us has more than a couple of hours of work to do this weekend, but a quiet resting up before term 2 is probably wise.

With that exciting update, I go to eat a pepper-steak sandwich (one cool thing about being on holiday is that we get to make interesting lunches - I'll be back to peanut butter sandwhiches and apples next week).

Monday, April 16, 2007

1 Week Down

Things Accomplished this Holidays:

*Made one 49 hour film as practice for the 48 hour film contest
*Many hours spent editing school horror film (assemble edit complete, most sound effects in place, some ADR added, colour correcting mostly done. Completing ADR, music, final sound FX to come)
*Sleeping in achieved twice, I think (where sleeping in is defined as staying in bed for more than an hour after one’s usual getting-up time)
*Watched several DVDs/Films – 300, most of QI season 4 (thanks Jenni and Lee), some of The Wire season 2, rewatched V for Vendetta, Underworld…)
*Did much ‘research’ for the 48 (watched the remainder of 2005’s DVDs that we hadn’t seen, watched disc one from last year)

And the one that gets the most attention today,

*Played an excellent game of PTA (Prime Time Adventures – a roleplaying game where the story you’re creating takes the format of a TV show, and you act as writers and ‘actors’ in your creation)

Phoenix (season 2, episode one)
Phoenix is an ongoing game about a small town where a cult coexisted with the town for many years, before withdrawing its children from the local school and becoming more sinister. The first season (of which 3 episodes were played out, the rest only discussed) dealt with the build-up to a confrontation/siege at the cult compound, and how certain children inside the cult, the sheriff, and a local school teacher dealt with the events.

I was an audience member for the final session of season one – the climactic siege at the cult compound. I found the game to be incredibly tense, really moving, and very well acted and constructed. As an audience member I got to frame scenes (players take turns doing this – choosing whether the scene will be plot or character focussed, where it will happen, who will be involved, and what the agenda is), and play occasional NPCs. It’s one the most hard-core gaming experiences I’ve seen, with people deeply in character, whilst simultaneously working together to create a compelling TV structure, knowing that a suitably awesome climax had to be coming, but not knowing what it would be until we got there.

One technique that was oft used was the posing of question after question, to delay the final reveal of what was going on. I loved this – you find the medical file for the sick character – it says he’s currently at Stage 5. You ask the technician what stage 5 is – he tells you that he doesn’t know because he’s never heard of anyone going past stage 4. They’re answers that aren’t really answers. They just make the audience want to find out the next piece of the puzzle.

Working this way allows different people to layer aspects into the mystery or plot, that can be explained later on. When you reach the moment when someone sees a way to connect several pieces of the puzzle in a satisfying way, everyone present gets the sense that there’s something coherent going on, that it all means something, and that informs everything that has already happened. You get to have the audience moment of “ah, that’s what was going on”, enhanced by the authorial satisfaction of “man, all that stuff I put in has really paid off, in a way that is way cooler than I could ever have imagined.”

As you can tell, I was well impressed with the game, and felt like I had really tuned in and was contributing during that episode.

Season 2 was a slightly different experience, as I joined as a cast member/writer for the show. The cult compound had been destroyed, the cult leader arrested at the end of season one. This meant that season 2 was going to have to be a little different in terms of focus.

After 1 hour of recap (what happened last season), and 1 hour of prep (what do we want to see this season, how have things changed), we started the episode. I was playing a doctor who had adopted one of the cult children (Saul, played by Luke).

I have much I could say about the experience, but I suspect other people will be talking about it over on NZRaG, so I’ll finish briefly here.

The game was cool. We hadn’t planned out much of what would happen in season 2 (we had a general feel, some issues to kick around, and a set-up), so the first few scenes were tentative, exploratory ones. And they were awesome. Debbie’s character wagging her first day of school to go to the ruins of the compound and mourn for her dead boyfriend (whom she accidentally shot at the end of season one) was incredibly chilling. Morgue’s character Boyd, a teacher, being confident and in charge at school was a refreshing contrast to his doubt and uncertainty in season one. Saul, the 8-year-old protégé of the cult interacting with adults as if he were one of them continued to be creepy, and the sheriff Molly struggling with her new fame as a Hero Cop, and with the responsibility of being Debbie’s character’s guardian, was fantastic to watch.

Best thing? The show keeps on surprising me. We talked about aspects of the show in advance, but it keeps coming out of left field with powerful ideas and unexpected revelations about characters.

The other best thing? My character fit into the show well, and despite the intimidation factor of joining such an awesome game, it all went well.

More Phoenix is planned for next month, and I can’t wait.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

48 Film Practice

On Monday this week, Luke and Sam supplied us with an envelope containing a genre, character, line prop for a practice 48 hour film for Cow Wins, the team Debbie and I are helming this year. Debbie has blogged about the process somewhat, so I’ll make my comments brief:

* The elements were awesome: Lysney Rogers, a compulsive risk taker; a toothbrush; “I’ve done this a million times before”; Reality TV

* Script writing is made much easier when you have a wireless keyboard, and a big LCD TV in the lounge. Everyone could read what we’d written, and everyone could take turns typing, without having to swap seats (not that swapping seats is a bad thing, except for the team member who’s still in a moon boot from a sporting injury – a torn tendon in the ankle I think).

* 5 people is a small number for a team, but is a great number for scriptwriting. We are all teachers, so we’re used to turn-taking, and twisting student answers to drive towards the point we have in mind, so we worked well together :) Actually, the group are all friends, and really do work well together. Contributions were very even, and criticisms or scepticisms were expressed in a straight-forward way.

* Having the script finished by 10pm leaves a good amount of time to get ready for the shooting day.

* Writing several graphic design type gags (like fake album covers, magazine covers etc.) may be a little unwise if your 2 graphically skilled people are also your editors.

* Arriving at your location (school) and finding cleaners, concrete cutters and huge drain-clearing trucks parked in various locations, all using noisy machines (concrete cutter especially) is not cool. Luckily a school is a big place, and with a bit of investigating and set dressing we were able to find some quiet spots to film in.

* Having one actor play twins, using only eyelines and screen positioning to sell the gag, can work surprisingly well. I may even be keen to investigate split screening at some point (tripod the camera, overlay one of the shots, then crop the one that’s on top – should be very simple).

* It’s a good idea to go grocery shopping before the 48, so you don’t have to spend part of the editing morning going to the supermarket.

* Using really tacky filming tricks like the aforementioned twins, and faking skydiving (in a way not dissimilar to Jenni’s flying in WMP) is fun to shoot, and can be convincing enough to be worthwhile. I want to revisit all the cheesy effects stuff Adam (and to a much less skilled extent, I) played around with as a teenager.

* Voice-over is fun to record, and can really help with exposition. Obviously it’s a tool that only suits some genre.

* Overall prognosis for the team: good. We’ll have a bigger cast on stand-by for the real 48, Debbie and I will make sure we’ve got all our shopping done ahead of time, another team member is going to be learning some basic editing skills this holidays, and we managed to write, shoot and edit our film to a respectable standard in only 49 hours. Sure, we were a little over the deadline – by about one shopping trip, give or take.

I think if our script is as easy to shoot as this one was, and we push ourselves just a little harder in editing (like getting an hour or two done on the Saturday night), we should have no trouble getting a decent film in on time.

Barring, of course, the dozens of unforeseen complications that we’ll have on the real weekend :)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Humilation as punishment

I heard a snippet of a news story this morning on Breakfast, and became rather curious. It seems that a school in Christchurch makes students wear orange overalls when doing detention cleanup.

There has been a complaint that this is a form of humiliation, and therefore shouldn't be done:

The New Zealand Parent Teacher Association (NZPTA) says the practice is unacceptable humiliation that makes the students stand out unfairly.

It begs the question of what the purpose of punishing students is. Is detention a deterrent, to stop other students offending, is it reparation for crimes committed against the institution or other students, or is it some sort of rehabilitative process? If it's a deterrent, making it unpleasant is a basic requirement. Taken to an extreme this would entail all sorts of Abu Ghraib atrocities, but the question remains - if you want to put other students off, is making an example of students who've done stuff wrong acceptable?

If it's a matter of paying society back, then wearing overalls whilst picking up rubbish may have a practical side to it that allows the students to really throw themselves into the tasks at hand.

If we aim to reform these students, then getting up close and personal with rubbish may be an eye-opening experience.

To me, it comes down to two conflicting drives:

*We all want our students to learn to do the right thing (gain academic skills, not damage other people's property, be acceptably respectful in their interactions with others), and a lot of the time that involves coercing them into doing things they don't want to do.

*NZ has a very high rate of teenage suicide, and we all remember how painful it was to be singled out or ridiculed as a teenager (most of the incidents of ridicule I remember came from my close friends, then the year-group as a whole). Our society has decided that physical punishment is not acceptable, so depriving students of time, contact with friends, or other liberties are the main tools we can use*.

So, do we accept clean-up duty with overalls? Are we crushing the self-esteem of fragile children by making them conspicuous? If so, does it serve the greater good of making detention an effective deterrent?

*Actually, a stern tone of voice is far and away the most often used, and arguably most effective tool for correcting errant behaviour in teenagers that I've come across.

PS - A colleague suggested that all detentions should involve the student completing a punctuation and close reading worksheet, or writing and proof-reading a piece of work. Those are the school-wide literacy focii for the year.

Monday, April 02, 2007

48 Team

Debbie and I had to come up with a team name today - a harder task than one might previously have thought. A few suggestions had been made by other team members, including ones involving the names of pets. But I came up with a simple lame pun, which allowed us to make a neat logo. We sent out a text for final suggestions / approval, then filled in the application form. If accepted, we will be registered as 'Cow Wins!'

Our team logo is going to be something like this:

but probably with a less masculine looking cow. The team has more women than men, so a super-butch cow is probably not the best look (though it was the handiest for throwing the sample logo together).

We have plans to make a practice film during the holidays, since we are pretty much a teacher team with a few students on stand-by.