I’ve been diving into the work of Patrick Willems on YouTube recently and I enjoyed his piece on the art of the video essay.
Willems argues that the format is fairly stale at this point. Many video essay-ists are actually filmmakers in reality, but their essays don’t reflect the full breadth of their creative abilities. Why not?
I appreciate that Willems is trying to push the medium forward. His subsequent video essay on Star Wars begins to show what may be possible with the medium from a narrative standpoint.
For the past five years, I’ve been recording one second of video every single day, then assembling them to create a video representing that year of my life. I typically put these videos together after each birthday but I was a bit late this year. When I finally got around to it recently (see above), I made a startling realization: I’d been sick five times in 2017. I’ve written before about my recent illnesses but it wasn’t until watching the 1Second video that I realized how bad things had gotten.
I got a physical and a blood test and it doesn’t appear as though I have any serious diseases. But I’ve really run myself ragged this year and I need some time to step back and re-assess my priorities in life.
Thus, I’m going to be taking a two month break from the Slashfilmcast. For the first time in my life in over a decade, I won’t be running any podcasts. Instead, I’ll be focusing on my full-time job, my relationships, and my family.
I’m also planning on unplugging more — in some senses, at least. Starting later this month, I’ve committed to deleting Twitter from my phone for awhile and spending more time writing/blogging and reading. (That said, I will probably still auto-post some blog posts and Periscopes on there.) I realize I’m incredibly blessed and privileged to even have the option of doing any of this, and I am grateful to those in my life who have supported these decisions and made them possible.
I hope to return and join the podcast again for our Last Jedi review in December. At that point, I’ll know a lot more about the shape of things. In the meantime, we have a huge list of awesome Slashfilmcast guest co-hosts that listeners have been suggesting to us via email. I look forward to hearing new, exciting voices on the podcast. I look forward to learning how to relax a little bit more. And I look forward to slowing down the pace of things, for just a little while.
Last night, SNL aired a sketch about a deranged individual who was obsessed with the papyrus font in James Cameron’s Avatar. It’s a fairly amusing short film that derives its strength from being ultra-niche in its focus.
For months, a debate has raged on the /Filmcast about whether or not Avatar is still culturally relevant. The film is the most successful movie of all time yet left seemingly zero cultural footprint. One of the vaguely defined barometers of cultural relevance? Being featured prominently in an SNL sketch.
Looks like Avatar defenders just got another arrow in their quivers…
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.”
I missed this short film from Vice when it was first released in February, but am glad I finally found it. It’s a look inside the effort by Everything Is Terrible to not only amass the largest collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes, but also their desire to build a permanent pyramid in the Nevada dessert that will serve as a tribute to these “Jerry’s.”
On the one hand, there are probably better things for one to devote one’s time to than anything Maguire VHS-tape-related. On the other hand, this project gives me so much joy with its randomness that I kind of want these guys to succeed.
I was stunned by this Honest Trailer for Kong: Skull Island, which features the participation of the film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It’s rare to see a director be so blunt and relentless about criticizing his own film, but Vogt-Roberts deftly shows that he still has the self-awareness to recognize his own film’s weaknesses.
In retrospect, I now understand why most directors don’t do this kind of thing. With film being such a collaborative medium, there are many people who could interpret commentary like this as throwing them under a bus: screenwriters, actors, editors, (heck even the studio itself) etc. I’m sure Roberts is on good terms with all, but it just feels like the risk is large for misinterpretation.
That said, this is an extraordinary work of self-examination, taking place on the massive stage of an insanely popular YouTube channel. Kudos to Vogt-Roberts for putting the magnifying glass on himself.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” dropped last night, and has already racked up 19 million YouTube views. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the video is bold, arresting and features some genuinely interesting visual ideas.
But if you’re like me, you don’t closely keep up with Swift’s online feuds or her career goings-on. Thus, I found Chris Rosen’s analysis of the video at EW to be extremely handy in putting together WTF is actually happening in the video:
Taylor Swift debuted her self-referential video for “Look What You Made Me Do” during Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards. The video includes references to Swift’s own history (one of the tombstones in the graveyard reads “Nils Sjoberg,” the pseudonym Swift used to write Calvin Harris’ track “This Is What You Came For”) and nods to her feuds with Katy Perry and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. Ahead, a look at some Easter eggs you might have missed.
Incredible reporting by Vice News that captures the intensity and horror of this past weekend’s events.
I think many folks I know were hoping Charlottesville would trigger some kind of turning point in the national psyche — an incident that would finally wake people up to the level of resistance necessary to stand up to the hate.
I don’t know if that’s coming. In fact, I suspect that we haven’t seen the end of these divisive figures, who are now more emboldened than ever. As one of the Neo-Nazi interview subjects in the documentary explains:
We’re starting to unveil a little bit of our power level. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Wired has a super cool feature with Atomic Blonde stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, who breaks down one of the film’s fight scenes in extreme detail.
I saw Atomic Blonde last night and was really impressed by the action (here are some brief, Periscoped thoughts). There’s one fight scene in the film that people will be talking about for decades (not the one covered above). Definitely worth the price of admission.
Watch this 4K trailer for Tom Lowe’s Awaken on the largest screen you can:
This is the first time in my life where I’ve started crying from watching a trailer. The trailer itself is a beautiful work.
There are some insane, timelapse shots from the sky — shots that have never been attempted before. According to Engadget, this was done using “gimbal technology that allowed [Lowe] to shoot astrophotography scenes from a moving helicopter.” Incredible.
From the film’s website:
Shot over a 5-year period in more than 30 countries, the film pioneers new time-lapse, time-dilation, underwater, and aerial cinematography techniques to give audiences new eyes with which to see our world. Executive produced by Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio, AWAKEN is a celebration of the spirit of life, an exploration of the Earth, and an ode to the Cosmos.
This looks like a gorgeous exploration of technology and humanity in the vein of Samsara. I can’t wait to see it.
Travis Lee Ratcliff has a nice video essay exploring what makes a prequel successful. In short: characters and events in the prequel need to have meaning beyond their original context. Many prequels forget this (including Better Call Saul, at times) but I think Saul has really cleared the bar for creating something new and satisfying out of an existing world.
[Thanks to Søren from the Slackfilmcast for bringing this essay to my attention]
YouTube channel Shots Fired has one of the best breakdowns of the Silicon Valley opening credits that I’ve seen. Two fun details I hadn’t noticed before: The FBI trucks pulling up to Theranos’s building, and the porta potties next to Soylent.
In the past few days, I’ve driven the better part of 2500 miles from Seattle to Las Vegas and back again. To capture this trip, I used the timelapse feature on my GoPro Hero 5 Session and created the above video. A few production notes:
- Overall, I’m impressed with the image quality of the Hero 5 Session here. Where it really shines is how rugged it is. I would not feel comfortable leaving my phone or my DSLR camera baking in the sun for over 10 hours, but the Hero 5 Session (at $300 new) is not only a lower priced investment, it also survives in extreme conditions easily.
- The Hero 5 Session’s battery life is not great. To record a timelapse this long, I needed to power it using an external power source connected through the USB-C port. This limits where you can easily place the Session, since it always needs to be powered, but ultimately allowed me to film continuously for 12+ hours.
- Obviously the biggest downside of this timelapse is that I did not have some kind of car mount. Instead, I put it on the car dashboard, which resulted in the camera drifting quite frequently and needing to be repositioned. Still, the Hero 5 Session’s grippy texture helped make the video at least somewhat usable.
- After experimenting with many different time intervals for the timelapse, I believe 2, 5, or 10 seconds to be the ideal for a trip of this kind. Anything longer is too jerky and doesn’t make for a pleasant viewing experience. Your mileage may vary.
A crazy person made a new edit of Blade. Dubbed “The Solo Cut,” this is Blade if only shots of Wesley Snipes were used. According to the video’s description, “The shot was also removed if it was only Wesley Snipes but other people were speaking in it.”
Aside from being hilarious, it’s also unexpectedly poignant. Blade is juxtaposed against all these dark, moody backgrounds, just doing his thing by himself. I kind of want to give Wesley Snipes a hug after watching this.
[Thanks to Ben Aston for bringing this to my attention]
I’m back from an incredible Hawaiian vacation and ready to roll up my sleeves and get back into the blogging game.
While I was in Hawaii, I purchased a GoPro Hero 5 Session and used it to film many water-related activities. One of those activities was visiting the Banzai Pipeline, or “The Pipe.”
The Banzai Pipeline is one of the most dangerous surfing spots in the world, with an average wave height of 9 feet. When you see and hear those waves crashing onto shore, you truly appreciate the power of nature. It is insanely beautiful and the kind of setting you’d imagine if you dreamt about such things.
I shot a bunch of footage using high-frame rate modes on both my GoPro and my iPhone 7. The above video is the result.
TheCameraStoreTV is one of my favorite YouTube channels. They offer in-depth reviews of cameras, delivered with an affable tone and an air of fun.
One series they’ve been doing is “Wooden Niccolls” in which their main host, Chris Niccolls, tries to re-create famous scenes from movies, but using the consumer-grade cameras that they have access to. For their latest entry, they tried re-making a scene from Goodfellas using the upcoming Panasonic GH5:
These videos are very amusing, and the final results are impressive. It seems like it truly is possible to get pretty close to the look of a scene from a classic film, so long as you have the right lighting setup. However, this is also true of a lot of other high-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras these days. I would’ve appreciated a closer look at exactly how much you can push GH5 footage in post, or what flexibility you have with GH5 footage in non-studio conditions. That being said, the ungraded GH5 log footage they show in the video looks fantastic.
I used to own a Panasonic GH4 and while I enjoyed shooting with it, I eventually sold it because I just didn’t find the Micro 4/3rds format (and the Panasonic lenses I used with it) delivered on the sharpness, bokeh, and separation that I was looking for in my images and videos. Moreover, the low-light performance was just not comparable to competitors. I’ve recently fallen in love with the Fuji X-T2, which is a camera I take with me almost everywhere.
That being said, the GH5 looks really formidable in its video specs, and since Canon doesn’t seem to really care about the mirrorless/DSLR video revolution, I might check it out just to see what’s possible.
Industrial Light and Magic has released this spectacular visual effects breakdown of the climactic space battle sequence in Rogue One.
The most impressive part to me is that massive lighting array they show, which I assume they use to shoot actors in X-Wings interacting with the space battle. A similar, much more elaborate rig, was used for Gravity. It’s cool to know that even for shots where you maybe see these pilots for maybe a few seconds each, they still put so much care into getting the look just right.
I recently had a chance to watch this year’s Oscar-nominated short documentaries. While my favorite film was The White Helmets (currently streaming on Netflix), I also found 4.1 Miles to be very powerful. It tells the story of a Greek coast guard captain whose job has unexpectedly become saving refugees on a regular basis.
In addition to telling the story from an unexpected perspective, there are some stunning cinematography decisions here that make it a gripping short film. I hope 4.1 Miles affects you as much as it did me.
[This post contains some very minor plot info from John Wick 2]
Last fall Spike Jonze released a new ad for KENZO fragrance with actress Margaret Qualley:
One of the most spectacular sequences in this ad takes place around 1:50 in, when Margaret dances in front of a hall of mirrors. As the camera does precise, gorgeous movements around her, you never once glimpse a reflection of the rig that the filmmakers are using.
Ian Failes at Inverse has a great explanation of how this was achieved. According to VFX supervisor Janelle Croshaw:
Doron Kipper and Jesse James Chisolm (from Digital Domain) spent hours surveying the mirrored staircase. They used tiny pieces of tape on the mirrors to capture the points needed. Lots and lots of panoramas and high dynamic range images (HDRIs) were taken. During the shoot a clean plate was captured with the Technocrane without Margaret and then the Technocrane was cleared out and a clean plate was captured with a handheld cam. Spike and team were super cooperative in clearing the frame for as long as we needed which was very cool considering those mirrors pretty much reflected two whole floors of the Dorothy Chandler theater.
All of the data collected enabled us to build an environment in compositing software Nuke and also achieve a camera track usable for projections (where the live action footage is ‘projected’ onto a CG version of the environment to enable camera movement). The tracking geometry was mirrored to represent the reflections in the mirror and that mirrored geometry was used to muscle through the matchmove. It wasn’t easy and Jim Moorhead, our matchmove artist, put so much care in to this shot. In the end there was a lot of hand painted clean-up and the shot was split amongst two companies and multiple artists. Artist Rob Fitzsimmons became the keeper of the shot, managing the paint patches and ensuring the quality level was kept to the highest standards. His perfectionism and strong eye made the shot as seamless as it is.
This video came to mind for me recently because I just saw John Wick 2, which has an even more impressive sequence that takes place in a room full of mirrors. I’m not sure whether similar techniques were used, but director Chad Stahelski does describe his process briefly in an interview with Movieweb.
I found most of last night’s Super Bowl ads to be pretty uninspired. Unlike years past, there were very few moments that will be cultural flashpoints, discussed heavily for the weeks to come.
That said, 84 Lumber, a Pennsylvania building supply company, made what I consider to be the best Super Bowl ad this year — a short film that told the story of a mother trying to immigrate into the U.S. from Mexico. There are a couple of quasi-controversies that sprung up as a result of the ad:
- They only showed part of the ad because it was deemed too controversial to depict an imagined version of Trump’s border wall (read more).
- Some viewers were angry because they thought the ad was advocating for illegal immigration (read more).
One overall theme that was obvious: corporate America is rebelling against the government’s position on isolationism and nativism in a big way. They are betting that Trump’s attitude is not only wrong, it’s also unprofitable. We’ll see soon if they’re right.
There were many more examples of this. The Anheuser-Bush ad really got to me, as an immigrant (even though its story is completely fabricated):
And this ad by Coca-Cola is actually from 2016, but took on special resonance last evening:
What were your favorite ads of the night?