Halo Top’s brilliant new commercial

Halo Top has released a new ad online and it’s really something. Directed by Mike Diva and released on his YouTube channel, it’s creepy and unsettling and generally provokes a bunch of emotions I wouldn’t think you’d want associated with an awesome ice cream brand.

In an interview with AdWeek, Diva explains how the ad came together:

I guess the CEO has been a fan of my stuff for a while. He basically just said to me, “We already have enough commercials that explain why Halo Top is awesome. We just want something in your style that just grabs people’s attention.” I came back and pitched my idea in person. It’s one of those things where I felt like, if I just sent it to him over email, I would sound like a crazy person. I had to get in front of this dude and illustrate why it’s going to be funny. On paper, it just reads like it’s super dark, you know? I downloaded a text-to-speech app and kind of acted it out, and played the robot parts on my phone, so he would understand why it’s funny for the robot to say “Eat the ice cream” a bunch of times.

There’s also this later in the interview:

A lot of people are drawing comparisons to Kubrick and saying it’s a take on 2001: A Space Odyssey. That it’s a direct homage. I actually didn’t want that at all. I had reservations about shooting in the 14th Factory Space Odyssey set. I didn’t want people to associate it with Space Odyssey just because there’s a robot in it. We yanked out all the furniture and redressed the entire room to make it look as different as possible. But of course, we still ended up getting a lot of those comparisons.

To quote Gob Bluth, “COME ON.”

All rewards have been delivered

Photo Credit: elldubphoto.com
This past weekend, The Primary Instinct World Premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival. On the /Filmcast, we talk frequently about how much technology is changing the film industry and how much viewing is moving towards streaming and online. But despite all these market forces, I can now confidently say that nothing beats seeing your film projected on a big screen. Seeing people line up around the block to see my film, and then hearing people laugh and engage with it in a darkened theater – there’s nothing else like it. I suspect it’s a feeling I’ll want to chase again.

One of the biggest, most emotional moments for me was actually fulfilling the final reward in our Kickstarter project: sending everyone a viewable copy of the film. Firstly, I need to say that the service we used for this, VHX, was excellent.  They have amazing, responsive customer service, along with a platform that did everything I needed it to. I’d highly recommend them if you ever need to fulfill a project, and it’s very likely they will be part of the mix if/when our movie ever gets sold on VOD.

While it was a pleasure to enter into this journey with all our backers, it was also a mentally taxing obligation. All these hundreds of people chose to give us money — they deserved not just to get a film in return, but one that was of high quality and that they will be proud of.

Sending out those copies to everyone meant that my obligation was over. I had run the race. I had delivered what I promised I would. And even if the film goes nowhere from this point forward, I can hold my head up high as someone who followed through on a very ambitious project. In a world littered with crowdfunding projects that never delivered, it feels like an accomplishment. (That being said – the film won’t go nowhere. We’ll have more to announce soon…).

For our final update. Stephen wrote a note to all our Kickstarter backers that I think eloquently sums up how we feel at this moment. I’ve included it below. If you’ve supported me in any way during this intense journey. I hope you’ll accept my gratitude.

***

It is hard to give credit where credit is due.

There have been too many hands that have helped me in times of need. I have tried to make a list to demonstrate how one small thing like The Primary Instinct is really the work of thousands. Literally. 
To:

Cedering Fox for encouraging me to write down my first story.

Robert Brinkmann for proposing we make a film—a wonderful collaboration resulting in Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party.

Andy Putschoegl for producing and editing it.

All of my friends that had to wear the same clothes for three days straight to be party guests.

That stupid horse, Little Red, that broke my neck and forced me to start writing more stories to save my sanity.

David Chen for inviting me to be a guest on the Slashfilm podcast at just the right moment.

David Chen for devoting uncountable hours, for no pay, to produce, edit, and promote The Tobolowsky Files.

David Chen (I’m sensing a trend) and Peter Sciretta for making a home for me at Slashfilm.com.

Jeff Hansen, the innovative Program Director at KUOW for taking the leap of faith to put The Tobolowsky Files on public radio.

Melinda Ward of PRI (Public Radio International) and the extraordinary talents of engineer Margaret Moos Pick, assisted by Mark Kausch and events coordinator Elisa Pluhar for making The Tobolowsky Files a national radio event.

HOWEVER …none of that would have happened if it weren’t for the efforts of Brandon Taitt, an unpaid volunteer who introduced Melinda to The Tobolowsky Files while working at his regular job in a computer repair store.

Ben Schwartz for making the introduction to literary agent Jud Lahgi—who said, “Yes!” – such a precious word.

Ben Loehnen, my brilliant editor at Simon & Schuster, for publishing my book of stories, The Dangerous Animals Club. David Lavin, Ken Calway and Octavia Ridout at The Lavin Agency for booking appearances.

To David Chen for harassing David Blum at Amazon Kindle into publishing “Cautionary Tales.” And Mark Crilley, a podcast fan, for doing the artwork.

There were many people on the radio who have promoted The Tobolowsky Files. Before anyone there was Nick Digilio at WGN. Nick has been there from before the beginning in support. He was the first person I sent a copy of The Dangerous Animals Club. I wanted his opinion. So many in the media have helped me. Marc Maron (WTF), Tom Rhodes, Liam McEneaney (scariest bathroom in a recording studio ever!), Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix) , Luke Burbank (Live Wire!), Jesse Thorn (Bullseye), Tyler Smith and Dave Bax (Battleship Pretension), Dave Davies of NPR’s Fresh Air, Scott Simon (Weekend Edition)…

Pause to take a breath. So much help.

Whitney Matheson at USA Today, Jim Philips of the Philips Phile in Orlando, Bob Strum and Dan McDowell at The Ticket in Dallas, Nadia Chaudhury for The Awl, Richard Sergay at Curiosity Project with Discovery Communications, Michael DeSenzo, Jennifer Wilk, Jenna Dooley of WNIJ Public Radio, Vanessa Finney, Colleen Horning at KTXD-TV, Brandon Isaacson, Mark McKeown, Wolfie Rankin, Elizabeth Shepherd, Anne-Marie Welsh, Jay Wulff, Philip Wuntch, Adam Yoffe, Joshua Youngerman, and John Swansburg from Slate.

David Farrier, journalist, comedian, bird watcher extraordinaire, who opened his country, New Zealand to us and his home as well.

Denis McArdle who did the same for us in Dublin (I didn’t live in his home, but I DID eat his sister’s food!) We haven’t even touched on the producers and theater owners that extended themselves for my stories.

Adam Zacks (Seattle Theatre Group / the Moore and the Neptune) and his wife Lynn Resnick at BFI Seattle, Michael Hawley (The EG Conference), David Hunt Stafford (Theatre 40), Nick Hinkle at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Robert Newton at his theaters in Worcester and Gloucester Mass., Rebecca Graves, Lauri Hennessey, Susan Hanson, Kim Cunningham, Hedy Anderson and Vashon High School Theatre Program, David Caplan (Bell House, 92Y Tribecca ) Robyn Tenenbaum (Live Wire!), Kyle Mann and Dan Forte (Kentucky Center in Louisville), Lietza Brass (Paramount Theatre in Austin), David Wolkin and Matthew Grob (Limmud NY), Cole Stratton (San Francisco Sketchfest), Clinton McClung at SIFF, Randi Caldwell and Randy Lubas (Ventura Comedy Festival), Ann Alexander and Carrie Rodgers at USA Film Festival in Dallas and Katie Hutton at Dallas Museum of Art.

Amy Carver with Friends of the SMU Libraries. Jennifer Hall at Aegis Living. The Classic Theatre in Auckland New Zealand, Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write, Wendy Hammers’ Tasty Words, Paul Morrissey of Alley Oop, Kimmie Dee, Brett and Lester Levy, Jr.

My friends at PIXAR: Galyn, Angus, and, of course, Dr. Wave for inviting me out to tell stories from The Dangerous Animals Club.

Super Frog Saves Tokyo – now cut.com – (Mike Gaston, Blaine Ludy, Jason Hakala, Joanny Causse) for going into the venture as partners with David and me.

Gary Matoso and his team from Vignette, and Joel Clare and his team for helping us with our Moore Theatre shoot. In the end, it all comes down to individuals.

Richard Kagan who bought a LOT of books for Christmas. I mean a LOT.

Matt and Maria Swanson for being our angels on The Primary Instinct, and funding a whopping 25% of our budget.

And you. 

I know. It’s overwhelming. It’s like the beginning of the Book of Numbers. Every name here, including yours, represents time spent and risk taken. Your time and risk are honored. David Chen and I will endeavor to return the favor with enjoyment. Thank you all.

 – Stephen Tobolowsky and David Chen

Why I Helped Produce ‘Layover’

This year at the Seattle International Film Festival, I saw a movie called Layover, which tells the story of how a young Parisian named Simone gets stuck in LA on an extended layover and ends up learning more about her hopes and dreams than she had anticipated. At the time, I wrote about the film at /Film:

Layover is a film in the tradition of Linklater’s Before series, and I found that it perfectly captured the paradox encountered by many a millennial: feeling trapped, while also realizing that the possibilities for your life are still endless. It’s a beautiful, moving, and wistful film.

Not only was I impressed with the film, I also loved the story of how director Joshua Caldwell made the film for about $6,000. Layover is a testament to what can be accomplished with a solid script, a strong directorial eye, a single Canon 5D Mark II camera, and sheer willpower.

In fact, I enjoyed the film so much that I signed on to become a producer for it. So what exactly does that mean?


In this instance, since Layover was already completed, there were very few conventional production duties that I could help fill. Instead, I helped provide finishing funds for the film and consulted on several elements of their distribution plan and publicity. You can read more about how Caldwell made the film here and here, and also read about his decision to directly distribute the movie. 

You can probably guess: The fact that the film was only made for $6K made it much easier for a person of my limited means to invest in it. A few thousand dollars of my money could go a much longer way on Layover than it would on a production that cost $100K or $500K. But beyond that, I saw several unique opportunities that becoming a producer would present.

Firstly, since I’m directing a film myself this year — and one that will very likely require self-distribution — I felt being involved with Layover would give me a front-row seat to all the challenges involved in getting the word out about a movie. Thus far, I have already learned a lot about what platforms to use to distribute, the advantages of each, and what the most effective ways of driving publicity are. Undoubtedly, these learnings will require a whole other blog post to cover.

Secondly, and more importantly, every year thousands of movies like this screen at indie film festivals around the country and are promptly forgotten or never heard from again. They are movies with limited appeal on the mass market – maybe they don’t have big stars, or maybe (in the case of Layover) they are shot in a foreign language and presented with English subtitles. I knew there was a risk that Layover would become one of these films, and with the audience I have via /Film and the /Filmcast, I saw an opportunity to bring attention to a film that would otherwise never have received it.

Finally, I saw it as an opportunity to get involved with a promising young filmmaker. I don’t know where the careers of writer/director Joshua Caldwell and his producing/writing partner Travis Oberlander will end up. But even if this is the only thing they make that I ever love, I’m very proud to have my name on it.

You can buy Layover right now for $6 with promo code “filmcast”, DRM-free. If you’d like to support an exciting new filmmaker, the concept of indie distribution, or my work in general, I would be grateful if you could check it out. Thanks!

Megan and Alex’s Wedding

I had the opportunity to film my friend’s lovely wedding last weekend at Lakedale Resort in Friday Harbor, WA. It was an unconventional shoot; since I was recovering from a recent surgery, I wasn’t even sure I could attend the wedding until a few days before the event, let alone film it.

As a result, I didn’t have a chance to film any of the preparations, first look, or any of the other conventional stuff that a videographer capturing the day would usually get. Instead, I just stole whatever shots I could during the ceremony and afterwards at the reception. What really saved me is that I was able to hook up a wireless lavalier microphone onto the officiant (Jason, a local friend) to capture the ceremony. All the audio in the video is from that single microphone, and it really gave the video a solid backbone.

This video was filmed with a Panasonic GH4, mostly at 24fps and occasionally at 72fps conformed to 24fps. The ceremony was lovely, although the lighting conditions were punishing from a photography standpoint – because the ceremony was outside and in direct sunlight, a lot of the colors were washed out by default and saturation had to be added back in in post. The microphone was plugged into a Zoom H4N (my poor Zoom H4N is slowly dying after many years of good service – pretty sure i will need an H5 soon to replace it). I used my standard cheap-o Polaroid rig to stabilize the camera, plus used a stabilization filter in post.

Technical elements aside, it was an emotional, joyous day. I hope the video is able to capture that.

Northwest Folklife Festival 2014


I’ve been having lots of fun playing around with my Panasonic GH4’s slow motion function. This weekend, after driving home from the incredible Sasquatch Music Festival (blog post/album coming soon on that one), I had a chance to check out the Northwest Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center on Memorial Day. Pretty awesome music and dancing abounded, but I was particularly intrigued by the “rhythm tent,” which apparently has a non-stop beat going on and a bunch of random people just getting down to it.

The above was shot handheld using a Panasonic 12-35mm Lumix lens with OIS activated. Graded using FilmConvert.

What’s in a name?

I was listening to an old episode of the Freakonomics podcast (which is based on the NYTimes bestselling book). The podcast and the multiple books that have come out in the past few years have been wildly popular; it’s hard to imagine a name OTHER than Freakonomics at this point.

But in the episode, one of the hosts talks about asking his sister for help in naming the original book. The term “Freakonomics” immediately leapt to mind, but there were also a bunch of other names that were considered, including:

  • Economics Gone Wild
  • Dude, Where’s My Rational Expectation
  • Bend It Like Veblen
  • E-Ray Vision

The publishers/marketers originally HATED the name “Freakonomics” and for a time, the alternates was seriously considered. But at the end of the day, they stuck with Freakonomics and the rest is history.

Now, in retrospect, all of those other names look TERRIBLE in comparison with Freakonomics. I mean, Freakonomics just FEELS like the right name. But that decision was not always so obvious, and certainly, they were going against the grain by choosing that name. Sometimes things that seem obvious after the fact are bold and dicey in the moment.

It’s interesting to think about because we’re in the process of making a film right now, and our tentative name for it is “The Primary Instinct.” I love the name – others hate it or think it’s way too vague. Worth keeping? We don’t really have a way of knowing. Sometimes you just need to make a decision and hope that it makes sense later.

The Seattle Color Run 2014 – In Slow Motion


I learned a very valuable lesson yesterday: don’t shoot at a Color Run without camera protection!

The Seattle Color Run (as with many other Color Runs) is a photographer/videographer’s dream, an explosion of color and sound with tons of movement and a diverse array of human beings. But the colored cornstarch they spray gets EVERYWHERE. It gets on your hair, on your clothes, into your orifices (mucus from my nose was blue-colored all afternoon yesterday!). It also gets onto your camera.

I saw a bunch of photographers running around with plastic bags on their cameras yesterday but honestly I don’t even know if that would have been adequate. A few grains of this stuff isn’t a huge deal, but if any more than that gets into your camera, it messes with the sensor, the focusing motor, etc. What a nightmare. I’m happy with the footage but I’m not sure if I’d ever bring a camera to such an event again.

On that note, the footage was shot on a Panasonic GH4 at 96fps with my standard camcorder chest stabilizer, then graded with FilmConvert. The grade on this is pretty rough. Since you’re lowering your bitrate when you shoot in slow motion on the GH4, it doesn’t really hold up too well in post when you’re pushing the exposure and colors. Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with some of these shots, and also pleasantly surprised that the Polaroid rig I use is adequate stabilization when shooting slow motion.

My only regret is that I couldn’t have spent another hour at this event filming more shots and coverage. But I was already getting really concerned at how my camera was getting all this cornstarch caked on top of it and I felt like I had to leave. I think I made the right decision. Maybe next time I’ll pick up one of these.