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The Hollywood Arts Council held their 25th annual Charlie Awards at a luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. A wax figure of Charlie Chaplin, for whom the showbiz awards were named, was on display, along with an incredible life-like statue of Larry King, brought in by Madame Tussauds Wax Museum just for the event. The real Larry King was there to be honored with the Council's Media Arts Award for his broadcasting career and long-running CNN interview show.
The event's emcee was KABC Channel 7's "Entertainment Guru" George Pennacchio, and Hollywood Arts Council trustee Oscar Arslanian, publisher of "Discover Hollywood Magazine," produced this year's Charlie Awards celebration. It was great to see Hollywood at its best and all the folks who make it proud.
By Gordon Meyer
With all the memorials dedicated to Elizabeth Taylor last week, I was inspired to once again watch what many consider her most notorious film, “Cleopatra.” The film itself was plagued with scandals, like the very public affair between a married Taylor and her equally married co-star Richard Burton, major re-casting from the director on down and so many cost overruns that it almost put 20th Century Fox out of business. At the time, the movie got a lot of negative reviews, no doubt influenced by its pre-release notoriety.
There’s an old saying, that “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” which had to be coined in reference to movies like “Cleopatra.” We’re talking the kind of “cast of thousands” epic that Hollywood at one time gloried in. Economists estimate that the 1963 price tag of $44 million is comparable to about $320 million in 2011 dollars. And it shows on the screen, boys and girls. This picture has the kind of spectacle that today’s filmmakers can only dream of – and with no digital effects. Everything on the screen has an analog reality with some jaw dropping set pieces, like Cleopatra’s entrance into Rome.
But as we already know, you can have all the jaw dropping spectacle you want. If you don’t have great performances and a strong story, it doesn’t matter. With the objectivity of over 45 years, Taylor’s performance in this movie reminds us of why she epitomized the term “movie star.” The movie itself turns a major chapter in world history into a big screen soap opera with plenty of intrigue, personal and national politics, and passionate romance (much easier to buy Cleopatra’s romance with Burton as Marc Antony than Harrison’s Caesar). And yes, co-writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz did take a few creative liberties with historical facts, including set designs taken from periods of Egyptian history hundreds of years apart. But it all works.
The performances of Taylor and her co-stars are passionate, powerful and even a bit theatrical and over the top at times. But they’re also riveting. And part of a long-gone era of both acting and studio filmmaking. If I were a studio executive, while I’d have a hard time greenlighting such an extravagant production myself, as a film buff, I’m glad that there was an era where epics were part of Hollywood and that we can still enjoy them today.
As for Ms. Taylor, again, with “Cleopatra” she showed us what a real movie star in a bigger than life role is all about. Rest in peace.
It's easy to like the folks at the Hallmark Channel. They've been producing a lot of great ratings-grabbing family-friendly original movies that have made the cable network grow by leaps and bounds. And I see those productions as providing much-needed jobs in our industry. Because these days, every little bit helps.
The broadcast networks got out of the original movie business a long time ago, and so it seems Hallmark is filling the void in a big way.
Recently there have been big announcements from Hallmark Channels, with the emphasis on their original productions (mostly shot in the U.S.). The Hallmark Channel and spin-off Hallmark Movie Channel, intends to reposition itself under the umbrella title Crown Media Networks. This year, Crown Media will present a whopping 25 Hallmark Channel original movies, mostly holiday-themed, which has worked very well for the network.
In addition there are eight Hallmark Movie Channel original premiere movies scheduled; a new 13-episode unscripted lifestyle series called The Spirit Table, hosted by Maya Angelou; and original Hallmark Channel animated special, Jingle All the Way, a half-hour show featuring a Hallmark cards character Jingle the Husky Pup.
Martha Stewart shows will be back, with 160 hours of original programming including two one-hour primetime interview specials. Plus the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade will air again on Hallmark. And Hallmark Channel Home's lifestyle block will feature original series Emeril's Table, hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
There's no indication that Hallmark will get into the scripted series business for their regular schedule. But their ratings are solid without that right now. The Hallmark Movie Channel, a Nielsen-rated network, is now in 40 million homes, and projected to pass the 50 million subscriber mark by the end of next year. Continued success obviously means more crews working on Hallmark movies. Thank you.
"A Night at Sardi's" is an event that has Hollywood and Broadway talent come together, and we just attended the 19th annual awards and fundraiser benefiting the Alzheimer's Association. A lot of incredible talent was there presenting and performing, but the biggest star of the night didn't sing or dance. Robert A. Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, was honored with the Abe Burrows Entertainment Award. And it was great to see such a giant in the industry get the spotlight for being such a wonderful person.
Laurie Burrows Grad created this annual event to honor her father, the late playwright-director Abe Burrows, who was a victim of Alzheimer's. Iger was recognized for his extraordinary commitment to the mission of the Alzheimer's. Laurie said, "He is a long-standing supporter of 'A Night at Sardi's' serving as an Honorary Dinner Co-Chair for the past few years."
The award was particularly meaningful for Iger, who revealed that his mother has Alzheimer's. He respectfully gave credit to both his parents saying everything he has achieved, "I owe to them, because it all started with their love and support." What Iger has achieved is being the steward of the world's largest media company and some of the most beloved brands around the globe.
On hand to support the cause and enjoy the entertaining evening were industry notables Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, and Judd Apatow with wife Leslie Mann. Performing great Cole Porter tunes throughout the night were David Hyde Pierce (a long-time Alzheimer's advocate), SAG president Ken Howard, Wendie Malick, Vanessa Williams, Scott Bakula, Nick Jonas, Betty White, and many more, along with Seth Rogen who did a fine job with his hosting duties. They made "A Night at Sardi's" a night to remember.
Lucy Walker's film Waste Land was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and Independent Lens will air it April 19 on PBS.
It is just one of her many impressive productions (Devil's Playground, Blindsight), so it was interesting to hear Walker's response when asked-- Which is the best investment a filmmaker can make-- Grad School for Film, or make a film? She says, "I was super-lucky, as I had scholarships to help pay for most of my going to NYU Grad Film school. And also I had a lot to learn as I had never made a film before, and also I got a visa to come to NYC, so for me film school was a dream package."
But she acknowledges that "It is awfully expensive, and if I'd been in a different position I wouldn't have been able to go to NYU. I just advised a friend to leave film school and spend the money on a project. It can be a lot of debt to build up and head into an uncertain industry."
Then again, she says what's great about film school is that you "learn a lot, meet a great group of peers, and it really forces you to concentrate on making your projects. If I hadn't been at film school, it would have been so much harder for me to actually finish my short films, concentrate on my own projects, not work for other people, all that." So she says it's really a personal case-by-case question for every individual.
Waste Land follows Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, who travels to his native Rio de Janiero to create portraits of the local trash pickers out of the garbage they collect at the world's largest landfill. Walker had another film out last year called Countdown to Zero, about nuclear weapons, which she calls "the most urgent and important subject. And very scary."
Walker calls working in the documentary film business an interesting journey, and refers to the last 15 years of non fiction films the "golden age of documentaries."
There were some great moments at the 48th annual ICG Publicists Awards. Certainly a highlight was when Arnold Schwarzenegger (action star/former California govenor) showed up to pay tribute to Sylvester Stallone. Sly got a Lifetime Achievement Award, and took the time to thank the publicity professionals in attendance for working hard and making him look better than he deserves.
Stallone, mega-star, producer, director, and writer, has had an enduring career, with 35 movies that have grossed over $2 billion. Most famous for the Rocky and Rambo series of films, last year he had the blockbuster The Expendables, and is currently in preproduction for the sequel. A remarkable fact is that Stallone has had a number-one boxoffice movie in every decade for the past fifty years.
In the room full of publicists, who have seen stars come and go, everyone was in agreement that Stallone's Lifetime Achievement honor was well deserved.
Among the other well deserved awards handed out at the luncheon ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, was to Henri Bollinger, the longtime Publicists Guild chairman. He was feted for the work he has done for the Publicists organization for more than three decades. Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild which represents the publicists, presented the award to Bollinger, who was genuinely surprised.
Matt Damon showed up in his pajamas, saying he had been up all night working, and presented the Les Mason Award for achievement to Viewpoint agency chief Jennifer Allen.
The Bob Yeager Award honoring a PR person for outstanding community service went to Rosalind Jarret, SAG's publicity dynamo.
The publicity campaigns for The Social Network and the Warner Bros. TV/CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory won the Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Awards. For excellence in Unit Still Photography, Stephen Vaughan got an award for movies, and Danny Feld for TV.
Among the notable veteran publicists enjoying the event was the always-promoting Julian Meyers, 93, and A.C. Lyles, 92, the longtime Paramount Studios "can-do" fellow. The ICG Publicists directory was dedicated to Murray Weissman, 84, still running great campaigns for awards season.
It was great to see the good P.R. folks behind the scenes finally get some recognition.
Making films for foreign markets is complicated. That's what the legendary filmmaker Roger Corman told Frank Barron when they got together for a chat about the business, and I was there to listen to the two Hollywood veterans.
Corman said the international film business can be profitable with their various tax incentives. But there are strict rules. And the filmmakers have to consider where in the world they will be selling the film. Certain countries don't allow nudity. Others don't allow excess violence, or certain weapons being shown. All of that and many more factors, that have nothing to do with the storytelling, come into play during the production and editing process, if you want to sell to foreign markets.
As for filming across America, the tax incentives and credits have been helpful, but Corman believes politicians can make a bigger difference in keeping film companies in the U.S.
Years ago, Corman went to Washington to speak to legislators. Needless to say, it was a frustrating experience. He said, "I don't think the people in Washington are really aware of the immense economic importance of Hollywood productions."
Corman made a great point comparing the aircraft industry to the motion picture production industry. I'm sure he had research to back his statement when he said, "After the aircraft industry, motion picutres and television are the Number One export dollar earners for the U.S. And the aircraft industry is essentially subsidized by the government. So essentially, we are the Number One industry. But it means nothing to them (government)."
He said, "As a producer I am obviously concerned about budgets and runaway productions, but all things economic are important. I am reacting to the economic reality."
Toy Story 3 won an Oscar for best Animated feature, and among the folks director Lee Unkrich thanked was executive producer John Lasseter, who is the creative force at Pixar.
Just a few days before, at the ICG's 48th annual Publicists Awards, Lasseter received a very special honor as the Motion Picture Showman of the Year. Actress Bonnie Hunt (who voiced a character in Pixar's Cars, and its upcoming June sequel) presented the award to Lasseter, who is the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Annimation Studios, as well as the principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Hunt said, "This year, we honor a two-time Academy Award-winning director who is a pioneer in the modern digital era of feature film animation." She added that it must be a relief for the publicists who work with Lasseter on his movies "to know that you are publicizing something you can really be proud of." Lasseter later noted with appreciation to the publicity professionals that many times when he's been jet-lagged on international promotional junkets that the publicists have "saved my butt."
Lasseter spoke about his goal of making movies that kids and their parents can enjoy together, "Not just the first time you see it, but watching the movie over and over, for the 100th time."
Lasseter has done that very well with his Pixar films from the Toy Story franchise, to Cars, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, The Princess and the Frog, and last year's Oscar-nominated Up. All incredible breakthroughs in high-tech animation.
But when I asked him about the great technology he has developed to helped him with his storytelling, the nice guy in the Hawaiian-shirt smiled and corrected me. "No, you've got that backwards. For me it's always the story that drives the technology. It's the story and the characters that give the movies a heart," Lasseter told me.
That's so true, and very obvious when I think back to why I laughed and cried during his movies. No wonder Lasseter keeps getting awards. What a pleasure it was to chat with him.
I recently attended a truly remarkable panel discussion titled “The Spirit of Independence: A Roundtable Discussion.” Included in the panel were three gifted independent film directors who recently directed three incredibly different films with three very different directing styles, however, despite their creative differences, when combined, their films are up for nine Academy Awards. For any independent film to be nominated it’s a dream, let alone being nominated multiple times. Writer/ Director Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), Writer/ Director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) and Director John Cameron Mitchell (Rabbit Hole) all agree that being nominated is something special. “It feels like luck,” said Granik. “There’s a lot of strong films that don’t travel down [ the Oscar ] path.” She admits that “directing is very humbling because you don’t know if you really nailed it.”
Cholodenko talked about self promoting an independent film because lack of funding. She admitted to doing as many press events as possible to give the film a voice. “It isn’t Billboards, its manpower,” says Cholodenko. All three directors agreed postproduction is where your film turns into something exceptional that you wouldn’t expect in production. It’s also the place to find the gem scenes/takes that you would have never expected. It was also interesting to learn that none of them storyboard before a shoot or have substantial rehearsal time with their cast. Cholodenko who worked with Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo on The Kids Are All Right and Mitchell who worked with Nicole Kidman on Rabbit Hole both agree it’s best to give the experienced actors the freedom to collaborate with the director on the scene with as few takes as possible because the more takes the less real it will look. It will be interesting come Sunday to see who takes home Oscar.
Photos by Dyana Carmella
It's Oscar time for Aaron Sorkin, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network. It's the story of an unpopular Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Oscar nominated Jesse Eisenberg), who creates the "friend" friendly social network Facebook.
For me it's funny to think that one of the most popular guys in Hollywood, Sorkin, could really capture the loneliness of the movie's main character.
I've caught up with super-nice Sorkin at several events over the years, and its always like he's the honey-pot that all the bees buzz around at a party. That's probably because he's a great observer of human nature, and has great stories to tell. Many wind up on film or TV to much acclaim.
This isn't Sorkin's first Oscar rodeo. The film adaptation of his play A Few Good Men had Academy Award nominations. And the producer-writer has won a trophy case load of Emmys for The West Wing.
Both of those productions often utilized conflicting narratives, much like The Social Network does, to tell the different versions of how Facebook came about.
It is a complicated way of doing a screenplay, but Sorkin says he thought it would be exciting to dramatize all of the conflicting stories from the point of view of the different characters, rather than doing a conventional biopic.
Sorkin says he had many extensive conversations with the people involved at the start of Facebook "and everyone's perception of the events was different." The disagreements are what drive this story.
What is Sorkin's writing technique? He reveals that anytime he's writing an antagonist, he wants to write the character "as if he's making his case to God as to why he should be allowed into heaven."
Sorkin's characters are always very verbal, and The Social Network is a great example of that. He says he's envious of writers who are able to tell stories through the pictures they are describing, but he finds that difficult. "I write people talking in rooms. The challenge with this movie was the characters are much younger than I usually write about." So he needed to get into a language with a youthful rhythm.
Oscar nominated director David Fincher is "a great visual director," Sorkin praises, "and embraced all the language and added a haunting visual style." For The Social Network that turned out to be an Oscar-worthy marriage of the material and visual direction.
The Fighter has been nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for David O. Russell, Supporting Actor for Christian Bale, and nods to Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, both up for Supporting Actress. But none for the tenacious actor who was the force behind getting this passion-project made-- Mark Wahlberg.
The star of The Fighter, Wahlberg has been saying in interviews that his prize is seeing the movie get made after more than six years shepherding the project. But he might take home an Oscar, with fellow producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, if it wins Best Picture.
The true drama is about boxer "Irish" Micky Ward, whose struggle in the ring is matched by the battles with his family as he pursues a title fight. It takes place on the outskirts of Boston, on the working class mean streets where both Ward and Wahlberg grew up.
Filmed on actual locations in Lowell, Massachusetts, boxing scenes were shot at Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. And Ward's actual training facilities were used, Ramalho West End Gym. Also lending authenticity to the look of the film, they used cameras from the era.
Director Russell had worked with Wahlberg on two other movies, Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees, which was helpful during the filming process. Russell reported, "There's nothing better than having a collaborator that you have a great shorthand with, and he's shepherding the project along. "
Russell said Mark inhabited Micky. He moved like him, dressed like him, and got his style of fighting down perfectly. Wahlberg trained for more than four years to get in shape so the fight scenes would be real. No stunt double was used in the ring.
The reason the former '90s rapper know as Marky Mark really understood the role and fought so hard for the film was that it reflected his own struggles growing up. Wahlberg has since gone on to produce quality film and TV projects (he's executive producer of HBO's Entourage and Boardwalk Empire).
The Fighter has also been nominated for Writing, Original Screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, with Story by Keith Dorrington, Tamasy, and Johnson. Also nominated is Pamela Martin for Film Editing.
The Fighter is up against heavy favorites, The King's Speech and The Social Network, for Best Picture. But it's a movie that doesn't shy away from a good fight.
Very few documentaries find an appreciative audience, let alone get Oscar recognition. But Restrepo, nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary Feature category, is special. It is the outstanding National Geographic-backed look at the war in Afghanistan from filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, who were embedded with a military unit. From that point of view, it gives us a look at the reality on the frontlines we otherwise could never imagine. I applaud the filmmakers for the eye-opening experience, and for showing how ordinary men become heroes.
Last year it was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance. Deserving of the acclaim were award-winning photojournalist Hetherington and journalist/author Junger, who chronicled the deployment of U.S. troops at one of the most dangerous outposts in Afghanistan. When the film was released in theaters last summer, it was hailed by critics. Then it aired on the National Geographic channel in November 2010.
It is a really important film, and credit goes to Hetherington who has reported on conflicts for more than ten years. Junger is the best-selling author of "War" and "The Perfect Storm," who has previously reported from Afghanistan for National Geo for Into the Forbidden Zone.
I always thought that the government tries to keep journalists/filmmakers out of war zones. But Junger told me there's actually thousands of journalists, like him and Tim, who have been embedded with frontline units. He said, "The current embed system is a program that started in 2003. And the military provides an amazing amount of access to those units. Tim and I really felt very fortunate to be able to do the job that we did."
Hetherington explained what they did was different from most other journalists. "We spent much more time. I have friends who are reporters who do tours of duty, so to speak, that are about three weeks at the most with their combat unit. We spent ten months in total. So the length of time gave the intimacy that you feel in the piece."
Junger said it's important to tell a story like Restrepo, named after a fallen soldier. "It makes my life feel meaningful."
Even if it doesn't get an Oscar, the documentary is already a winner, because the troops who have seen it have said that they appreciate having their story told from their POV.
The meaning of the film for Hetherington was "I just think it's important to build bridges between communities in the world. We all share this world, and we need to know what is happening in Afghanistan. We need to understand the lives of these young men that we send over there to fight on our behalf. And I think that telling these stories is important." Amen.
Jeff Bridges is making the rounds at Oscar time, praising the Coen brothers, who directed him in True Grit which got him another Oscar nomination. Joel and Ethan Coen got Oscar nominations too, for Directing and Adapted Screenplay for True Grit.
Bridges has a special place in his heart for the Coen brothers, who gave him one of his most iconic roles as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
But if you look over Bridges incredible body of work you'll see that he has really embraced first time directors, and he is quick to praise them too. That's no surprise considering first time director Scott Cooper was at the helm of Crazy Heart, for which Bridges captured his first Best Actor Oscar last year.
At a recent PBS' American Masters session, Bridges chatted with me about his newbie directors, and what they mean to him.
"I've had great luck with first time guys. If you look at my filmography, it's just riddled with wonderful first time directors, from Michael Cimino (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot), Bob Benton (Bad Company), Steve Kloves, who did The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Scott Cooper too."
But you have to wonder at this stage of the veteran actor's career-- just how much direction does he need?
"Probably not much," Bridges admitted to me, "but I like it. I really look to directors to move me past my own conceptions, you know, to help me transcend myself. I don't want to be playing myself in every role. So when I get a different guy's thoughts on it, it really helps."
Bridges said he lets the first time directors know "He's the man. And I'm going to do my best to give him all my stuff. And they can cut it up and make a collage out of all my stuff, and move it around and paste it. And that's the way movies are made."
Knowing that, Bridges has a lot of respect for the director's position "as the main collage artist. He's going to cut all my stuff up. So I want to make sure that I give him what he is going to need in that editing process."
So Bridges said, "I particularly love working with first time guys who are just coming into it and they don't know what they can't do. They're fresh. And it's a wonderful thing to be part of that as an actor."
Bridges reminded that "Orson Wells did Citizen Kane as his first, and we haven't done much better than that."
The Oscar-nominated director of The King's Speech, Tom Hooper has already won the Directors Guild Award for the movie, which gives him an edge in the Oscar race. But prior to all the award announcements we talked with him about creating the impressive production.
It's a little picture about a personal struggle, yet its appeal has been huge. The story is about Great Britian's King George VI (played by Colin Firth) and his struggle to overcome his stuttering problem with the help of an eccentric Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Hooper loved the story, and said there was no resistance from the royal family. And he revealed the greatest gift that helped him direct the movie was a diary.
He explained, "Just nine weeks before the shoot, we discovered that Lionel Logue had kept a hand-written diary, which his grandson let me see, and I learned so much. So we set about rewriting the script based on this firsthand account of the relationship between the king and Lionel."
Hooper admitted that changes in the script incorporated some of "the best and funniest lines, which are taken directly from the diary."
Hooper is proud of the movie's buzz for awards season, and highly praises to his cinematographer and production designer for the period drama's visual style.
He filmed at locations in London, although Lanchaster House was used for interiors of Buckingham Palace. Plus Ely Cathedral was a stand in for Westminster Abbey.
I recently attended the first session of Film Independent’s annual Directors Close-up workshop at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles. The theme for the evening was Music and Sound in which Film Independent brought together an incredible panel including Director Matt Reeves (Let Me In and Cloverfield), Composer Micheal Giacchino (Let Me In and Up), Sound Designer/Sound Re-recording mixer Will Files ( Let Me In and Cloverfield), Supervising Sound Designer/ Sound Re-recording mixer Douglas Murray ( Let Me In, Cloverfield) and the moderator by Writer/Director James Gray ( Two Lovers, We Own the Night). The panelist dove deep into topics of sound and music and the role it played in making Cloverfield a thrilling cinematic ride. It was pointed out very early on there was no musical score in the film. Sound designers scored the film with high impact noises that kept you on the edge of your seat. Reeves wanted the film to feel as real as possible. “Sound was critical,” said Reeves. “Sound was going to fill in everything you didn’t see. The concept of Cloverfield was sound.”
Cloverfield was made on a strict budget and a majority of the money went into the visual effects. The filmmakers had to create a massive creature stomping through New York City without the audience actually visually seeing it. Clips of the film were shown then discussed by the panel. One particular clip I remembered was the scene the actors were in the underground subway and when the camera night vision was turned on, they realize they are surrounded by spider looking creatures all over the place. It was fascinating to learn that the sound the creatures made was nothing else than Reeves and his sound team at 3:00 am making loud noises then distorting them.
Will Files worked with Reeves on both Cloverfield and Let Me In, he mentioned, “Sound has a way of affecting you without you knowing you’re being affected.” The entire panel agreed that you want ideas to expand beyond just your vision. Directors need to input from the actors, sound designers and other s involved with a production because you will make a better film and ultimately tell a better story.
Several years ago Barber Tech Owner Eddie Barber pitched me on the “Steddiepod,” a device he labeled as “The World’s Most Versatile Camera Support System.” But I saw a problem in that cameras at that time were big and bulky while the Steddiepod system was developed for smaller camera packages that weigh under 7 pounds — and who would’ve thought you could shoot a major movie on such a small camera?
Now that many cameras are smaller and lighter, I thought the Steddiepod was worth a second look. With my Canon 5D in hand I recently headed up to the Sundance Film Festival with Barber Tech’s Steddiepod and a new WaCru DSLR Cage. I mounted the WaCru rig to the Steddiepod with a quick release so I could easily grab handheld shots. What an amazing setup!
The Steddiepod was developed long before its time and now Barber has since perfected this amazing camera support system. Not only was the entire system light enough to carry all over Sundance, the setup was quick and easy and helped me capture some amazing shots. For instance, the filmmakers’ reception held at the Sundance House was so packed that I couldn’t get near the podium. So I just extended the Steddiepod and supported it against my body to shoot over the crowd. It has a special balancing system that allowed me to get some great stabilized shots even when I was on the go. I also used it as a tripod and stabilizer to get steady shots of the crowd.
I later popped the WaCru rig off the Steddiepod and pushed my way through the crowd to get an interview with a filmmaker. And with the WaCru rig’s elegant design, I could easily attach my Litepanel Micro light and Rode microphone. This setup made it really easy to capture Sundance footage on the go and it saved me a lot of time while I got some fantastic shots.
The Barber Tech Steddiepod costs $499 and can be found at www.barbertvp.com; the WaCru DSLR Cage costs $239 and can be found at www.wacru.com.
By Gordon Meyer
It’s going to be an interesting Oscar race this year, to be sure, though I doubt there will be many surprises. Now that “The King’s Speech” took this year’s DGA honors, statistically it’s the film most likely to capture both Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, in spite of all the buzz about “The Social Network.” Frankly, considering the older demographic of the Academy’s membership, the subject matter of “The King’s Speech” is probably much more appealing anyway.
So what horse races there are will be in the other categories. Here are some of my predictions:
Best Actor: A tossup between Jeff Bridges in “True Grit” and James Franco” in “127 Hours.” While I don’t rule out Colin Firth’s performance in “The King’s Speech,” I’m leaning towards Franco getting the gold because this grueling and ultimately inspirational movie, based on a true story (always a plus in an Oscar race) is largely a one man show and he pulls it off brilliantly.
Best Actress: Natalie Portman for “Black Swan.” Halle Berry gave a truly Oscar worthy performance in the little seen “Frankie and Alice,” but since that film didn’t even get nominated, my spidey-sense tells me that Portman’s got the buzz.
Original Screenplay: While I really liked Christopher Nolan’s script for “Inception,” I suspect David Seidler will benefit from the growing momentum of “The King’s Speech.”
Adapted Screenplay: “The Social Network” in spite of its admitted lapses in accuracy.
Animated Feature: Even though “Toy Story 3” is also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which you would think might cannibalize the voting, I don’t think enough Academy members would take it seriously enough for Best Picture since it’s a kid’s movie for heaven’s sake. But that “kid’s movie” is so sophisticated and smartly written, I’m laying odds that it will beat out “How To Train Your Dragon.”
Visual Effects: While all the nominated films are standouts, I’ve gotta go with the “Inception” team. This award tends to go to teams that show us things we’ve never seen before. Normally I’d lean towards “Harry Potter,” but since that’s the first of a two-part movie and since there was that whole 3D conversion debacle, if that film wins at all it will be for Part 2 next year.
How accurate are my predictions? Stay tuned!
By Gordon Meyer
It’s a simple fact of life. You gotta have a desk to work from. And when so much of your work is on a computer, it’s always better to work on a desk designed for that computer use. My first computer desk was actually my dining room table. But over the years, I’ve worked on any number of inexpensive Staples or Ikea type assemble it yourself workstations. They were all designed for your simple, basic setup with CPU, keyboard and mouse and a monitor.
But there’s a growing trend, especially with systems intended for HD editing, to have multiple monitors in use. Having so much more screen real estate makes can be not just a luxury, but an actual requirement for editors, especially when juxtaposing multiple video and audio streams. Unfortunately, most conventional computer desks are designed to support only one monitor. That’s a problem.
When I upgraded my system last year to run dual displays (which spoiled me rotten fast), I looked for the perfect work desk. It had to be the right height to give me comfortable access to my keyboard, sturdy enough to handle a lot of abuse and with a wide enough “deck” area to support multiple monitors. Everything I saw at Staples and the lot would be a compromise. Then to my joy, I discovered the Anthro Console.
Anthro specializes in high end “technology furniture.” While it costs several times what I paid for my old metal and glass Staples desk, the Console, which is the model I’ve been living with for the past several months, is something that could easily provide a lifetime of reliable service.
If you click on the link (http://www.anthro.com/computer-furniture.aspx?desk=fit-console) you’ll see that the Console consists of two “C” shaped shelves, the smaller intended for your keyboard and mouse with adjustable height so you can work sitting or standing. I love that the keyboard shelf is so wide that I’ve got plenty of room for things like a notepad, my USB microphone or even the occasional dinner plate for my lunch. In fact, it’s rated to hold up to 40 pounds, which should be more than enough for anything you’d want on a keyboard shelf. The height of the upper shelf easily puts both monitors at a comfortable eye level and distance. I use dual 22” monitors, but the Console could easily accommodate a third if I really wanted it.
The whole shebang is on wheels, which makes it very easy to shift around in my environment, especially if I want to have my system turned around to accommodate visitors, or even to just make it easier to clean under. I like the fact that the Console was made to be flexible and expandable. Some of the options I took advantage of include a CPU side rack, clamp on document stand (kind of looks like a music stand with a flexible neck) and a flat panel monitor arm. Each of the six super strong aluminum legs has a series of holes so you can easily add things like additional shelves below the main surface. There’s even an option to add a second shelf 24” or 36” above the main shelf.
Like the other desks I’ve had, you have to assemble the Console yourself. Anthro provides all the tools you need, including a rubber mallet and a screwdriver with a hex head. I had to re-read the instructions and triple check the illustrations several times during the assembly process, because they weren’t always as clear as I would have liked. And although I managed to build the Console solo, it will make your life a lot easier if you’ve got some help, especially when it comes time to rotate and ultimately flip the desk over onto its legs. While I don’t have the exact weight of the Console, it’s probably close to 100 pounds fully assembled. So again, it will make your life much easier to have some help.
Once assembled, it’s a very impressive piece of furniture and works very well as an edit bay station. More importantly, it’s exceptionally functional, durable and expandable. In fact, I was told that Anthro fabricates all the components in-house at their Oregon factory.
Here’s the bottom line. Because the base Console desk is so sturdy and well designed and because of all the expansion options, this is a piece of workspace furniture that you’ll get productive use from for decades to come without going out of style.
I’m about to embark on a project that other entrepreneurs have been doing at various levels of sophistication for many years: create a website to promote my business. Because this is the first impression that many people may have of me and my business, it’s got to look like a million bucks, even if it costs less than $100 – and it will.
The process takes the following stages:
- Creating and registering a nifty domain name
- Finding an inexpensive web hosting service that includes a reasonable amount of storage plus email forwarding
- Designing and building the site
- Regularly updating the site with text and video content
I came up with what I thought was a pretty good name for my site, then starting shopping some of the sites that offer inexpensive domain registration, often discounted even further if bundled with a year or two of web hosting. One of the gotchas about the latter is that while the companies often promote low monthly hosting fees, you actually have to pay for a full year at a time so the upfront costs may be higher than anticipated.
For now, I decided to just register the domain name and then deal with who would host the site and how I’ll build it later. For now, I may even use my new domain strictly for email.
But, first things first – time to register that domain name, which it turns out was already taken, at least if I wanted a “.com” domain. I could use something like .biz or .info, but let’s face it – most people automatically look for .com. Fortunately by making a minor change, I was able to get my domain name as a .com. Thanks to a sale at Network Solutions, my registration cost only $6.99 a year.
When deciding who to register your domain through, some things to consider include how many years you want to initially register the domain for, confidentiality issues in the public domain ownership record (i.e. what shows up when someone does a WHOIS search on your domain) and what kind of web hosting packages, if any, they offer. The last element was at least initially a lower priority for me, but Network Solutions does have some low cost hosting packages that I may well consider when I’m ready.
My next step is to figure out who, in fact, will ultimately host my new site and what features can I look forward to, including any site building tools.
Even though I’ve been back from CES almost a month, I’m still wading through the mountain of promotional material, press kits and swag accumulated at the show. This year, that included a device I almost overlooked, which turns out to be a cool little perk for travelers. Or is it?
When I first saw the Green Play media player, I thought, “Here’s a nifty little USB gizmo that lets me access SD cards on my computer. Hey! They even included a 4GB SD card.” But it turns out that gizmo is actually a digital media player powered by Roxio. The idea is that by going to a conveniently located Download2Go kiosk, you can download the latest movies or TV shows in encrypted form onto your SD card on either a rental or purchase basis.
At present, most kiosks are located at major airports around the country since the current primary target market is busy travelers who want to get some video entertainment for their flight as an impulse buy. Since the SD reader is so tiny, it’s easy to slip in your pocket, which is great for travelers. According to the Download2Go website, it takes just a minute or so to download a full length movie onto an SD card, which is also being touted as eco-friendly since it’s on reusable media and there’s no packaging involved.
When I plugged in the sample that came in my gift bag, I discovered to my delight that it had a copy of the movie “Inception” pre-loaded onto it. Cool!
So how did it look and sound on my computer? Good, but not great. The picture is roughly a half notch below DVD quality with a slightly soft image. The sound was also good, but not great and certainly good enough if I were watching on my laptop with a decent pair of earphones. Although there were chapter stops, there was no bonus content.
When it comes to watching movies at home, I have to tell you that between the superb picture and sound quality and bonus content, I’m spoiled by Blu-ray and DVD. So any alternative delivery system like Green Play/Download2Go has got to have both a major convenience factor and price advantage for me to want to use. Since my nearest Download2Go kiosk is at the Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX, I have no idea how attractive their pricing is.
According to the Download2Go website, the plan is to roll out the service to your neighborhood grocery or convenience store as well as those airport locations where the service will compete with Redbox and Blockbuster kiosks and their $1 rentals. While you’ll have to provide your own SD card, presumably these kiosks will offer you the option of buying one as you can at their airport locations.
Consumers have said through their buying patterns, “Make it easy for me. Don’t make me work.” One of the reasons the disc kiosks have been so successful is that they make it easy for consumers to make an impulse buy. It will be interesting to see how well a business model that requires customers to supply their own storage media can compete with the ease and convenience of disc kiosks.