Short News

HublotThis year’s Academy Award winning shorts are featured on this page from the Film Shortage site, which is based out of Montreal (and to share with French teachers, Film Shortage has a Films de Chez Nous section featuring some Québecois shorts).  There are interviews with Kim Magnusson and Anders Walter, who won for the live action short Helium, and I also recommend checking out the other winners, the animated French movie Mr. Hublot and the documentary short The Lady in Number 6 (directed by Malcolm Clarke about 109-year old Alice Herz Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor and pianist).  Many shorts are featured on the Film Shortage site and filmmakers can submit movies as well.

gregbutlerposteronlineJust a quick announcement that I will be leading a conversation with award-winning VFX artist Greg Butler in Suffield, Connecticut on April 26, 2014.  Greg will be sharing clips and talking about his groundbreaking career, from earlier days of apprenticeship on such films as Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, and Starship Troopers, to his lead role in the creation of Gollum for Lord of the Rings and on to work as a supervisor of visual effects, including his nomination for the Academy Award on the final installment of Harry Potter.  If you are in the area, I would recommend checking out this evening hosted by the Suffield Public Library Foundation for a fun discussion of moviemaking (see also a classroom visit and my Close-Up interview with him).

I'm Here Spike JonzeAfter directing scripts by Charlie Kaufman for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and then collaborating with Dave Eggers to write Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze went solo to pen the script for his most recent feature Her and promptly won numerous awards for his effort, including the Oscar for original screenplay.  Aside from studying the script for Her, I also recommend checking out this far less known short that Jonze made in 2010, I’m Herewhich is a bit of a thematic and stylistic warmup for issues explored in Her.  Also, you can check out the links with each movie above for screenwriting perspectives and discussions with Kaufman, Eggers, and Jonze.    

Besides the clear applications to Chapter 7 of Moving Images (From Page to Screen), I’m Here also prompts topics explored in Chapter 5 — Personal Expression and Studio Production — by provoking questions of “Who made this? / Why did they make it?” and related inquiries.  In this case, Jonze, who has worked on music videos and commercials throughout his career, creates here a “commercial” that is 30 minutes instead of 30 seconds.  And that is not truly a commercial.  Well, it’s really a (long-ish) short funded by Absolut for production studio credit and some cachet, it appears.  “Merchants of Cool,” indeed.


Michel Gondry and Ellen Kuras on set of Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry and Ellen Kuras on set of Be Kind Rewind

The Oscars are just over an hour away, so here’s a quick post featuring some articles that appeared today.  First, cinematographer and director Ellen Kuras, who is a featured voice in Chapters 4 and 6 of Moving Images, wrote a piece about the art of cinematography in a discussion of the tricky art of collaboration and the difficulty of determining awards for everything that happens in the creation of movies.  Her work for many directors, including Michel Gondry (with brilliant photography for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewindamong others), Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Jonathan Demme, marks her as one of the foremost pioneers in the relatively recent arrival of women into camera crews in Hollywood.  She also directed the acclaimed documentary The Betrayal (featured in Recording and Presenting Reality in Moving Images).  

Marion Dougherty and director George Roy Hill

Marion Dougherty and director George Roy Hill

Another piece in this series about people or crafts that can fall through the cracks in moviemaking awards is about the role of the casting director, written by Vickie Thomas.  In particular, it points out a story about the production process that can be quite enlightening: The unawarded, but highly respected and quite astonishing career of Marion Dougherty, whose work is featured in the documentary Casting By.  

And pretty soon we’ll see who tonight’s big winners will be…

Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

This week, there was a post on Yahoo News comparing the Hunger Games movies and offering an explanation as to “why Catching Fire is superior to the first Hunger Games movie”— which is that it was shot in 35mm. with “old lenses!”  (I have to add that I have been astonished at the degree to which it has become a meme that the second Hunger Games movie is infinitely superior; literally every adolescent that I’ve heard talk about the movies says this, and some then go on to describe the first movie as if it were shot by a detoxing wedding videographer with a Fisher-Price handycam.)

jennifer-Lawrence-on-fire-in-New-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-TrailerSince issues concerning evolving platforms for image capture (both digital and celluloid-based) are addressed in Chapter 4 of Moving Images and a few of my mediateacher.net blog posts, I had to laugh when I read this article and thought, “It’s nice to see this much passion about cinematography in a Yahoo article!”  At the same time, I remarked, “Hmmm, the writer needs a few lessons — after all, the first Hunger Games movie was shot in 35 as well!”  This is why an understanding of Storytelling with Light from Moving Images can be so beneficial: One must look at all the decisions being made by director, cinematographer, and the lighting and art direction personnel on the movie that craft its look (and vfx too!).  It’s how you create and work with the light and all of the things that it’s bouncing off of.  In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out the clip from the Catching Fire Blu-Ray: it includes many interesting observations by cinematographer Jo Willems and director Francis Lawrence about visual communication, including selecting aspect ratio, working with film negative, devising approaches to shot selection through choice of lenses (such as the effect of using wider lenses on a project), and going “old school” in general.

aviatorAs an additional note, for those interested in the craft of acting, there was a superb piece on Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence by Manohla Dargis in this past Sunday’s New York Times, while for fans of Leonardo DiCaprio, a paired article by A.O. Scott was just as compelling.  Both essays from the Times “Awards Season” series provide excellent discussion points for thoughtful debates about contemporary movies and American culture.

OlympicsBiteAs a follow-up to the previous post about the Sochi Winter Olympics and media literacy — from the sporting events to the biographical portraits to the commercials — here is a follow-up that can provide more food for thought about motion picture communicative forms.  In particular, what are the ways in which sequences of images are communicating to us?  This is one of the main topics of Chapter 5 of Moving Imagesthe development of an understanding of narrative and non-narrative forms, and an articulation of types of non-narrative communication structures.

Taking that challenging topic as our point of focus, here are some recent examples from commercials that can be used to illustrate this concept.  If you have watched much American television recently, you may have seen some of these ads.  Here we go!

waltdisney-cadillacFor movie sequences that are non-narrative in structure — which are those  that “do not contain a narrative of events linked by cause and effect stemming from continuity of time and space” — in Chapter 5 of Moving Images four types of communication are discussed.  These methods are all defined in the glossary in Chapter 5 of Moving Images (pages 203-205).  For an example of a Categorical sequence (“Non-narrative films or sequences whose structure is based around images grouped into categories,” p. 203), check out the commercial Garages for the Cadillac 2014 CTS Sedan.

For an Associational sequence (“..films or sequences in which juxtaposed shots are linked by themes and shared references in order to evoke emotions or make a statement about the topic of the motion picture” p. 203), this spot by McDonald’s produced to run during the current Olympics is quite apt: Olympics: Celebrate with a Bite.   Interestingly, our Chapter 3 Close-Up interviewee, advertising copywriter Kevin Goff, discussed such an approach for an ad in our interview for Chapter 3 of Moving Images.  

EmpowerMoving on to Rhetoricalwhich may seem to be more difficult to find in a commercial due to its potentially more complex goals — (“non-narrative motion pictures that present evidence to support or debate their premises, common to documentaries because of their organized presentation and analysis of a topic,” p. 204) — examine Microsoft’s commercial Empowering that debuted during the Superbowl.

For the last category of Abstract non-narrative sequences, this commercial directed by Jonathan Glazer takes some cues from that category: Paint for Sony Bravia.  For a pure example of abstract filmmaking, Energie! by Thorsten Fleisch is a contemporary example of a short that won a number of experimental film awards in festivals around the world.  The director describes it as “an uncontrolled high voltage discharge of 30,000 volts exposed on multiple sheets of photographic paper which are then arranged in time to create new visual systems of electron organization.”  Or, of course, you can just turn to Disney’s Fantasia or masters like Norman McLaren.  Finally, here is a recent candidate for discussion: the video for the song Buffalo by Gaz Coombes, edited by Gaz and brother Charly Coombes.

timemachineAs a final note, for an example of narrative filmmaking in commercials, a particularly strong candidate in a recent commercial was the winner of the Doritos Superbowl competition, Time Machine (directed by Ryan Thomas Andersen and co-written by Raj Suri).  

Where Winter Olympics meet young filmmakers: snowboarding videos

Where Winter Olympics meet young filmmakers: snowboarding videos

Sochi 2014 is here!  There are so many topics to discuss, whether concerning cultural perspectives, world languages, geography, human rights and equality, world history and international relations, and, of course, sports, among many other angles.  For media literacy perspectives on the Games, I am posting right here a new lesson activity that works with Chapter 5 of Moving Images: Critical Notebook 5b.  This exercise encourages students to apply principles of media literacy to the images that they see as they watch the Olympics – from the personal interest pieces to direct sports coverage to commercials to power outages.

Image: 2014 Winter Olympic Games - Opening CeremonyAs we discuss or write about how we “experience” these Winter Olympics (or any similar event) from afar, it is particularly useful to raise questions about concepts that are at the core of the Olympics themselves: how does one interpret these events differently in another country or through contrasting media sources and visual traditions?  Students should be encouraged to seek out media from across the globe in relation to coverage of specific sporting events or ceremonies, sports figures, and commercial interests.  It can be highly enlightening to discover new perspectives on familiar institutions, events, or phenomena.  Including commercials.

I also recommend the continuously evolving video resources of the New York Times, which include a piece on snowboarder Mark McMorris that might be a big hit with high schoolers.

HedgehogOwlP.S.: I have to add that, on a personal note, whenever I watch an Olympics opening ceremony in the USA (and I have seen them from the vantage point of other countries, where the coverage is so very different), I am reminded of the lines from the Grim Reaper in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: “Shut up… You always talk, you Americans. You talk and you talk and say ‘let me tell you something’ and ‘I just wanna say this’.”  Couldn’t we ever just watch the actual ceremony in America with its actual soundtrack?  Do the commentators really need to be blabbing on about whatever comes into their heads while these amazing images from out of Tarkovsky and Hedgehog in the Fog are gorgeously floating by on the screen?  It’s really maddening at times.


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