Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nerd City, USA

I really did not know San Diego Comic Con was the same week I happened to be in San Diego. My wife will go to her grave believing otherwise. I went on Thursday and it ended up being quite a day. I intended to meet up with Scott Phillips and Bill Cunningham (who both did a lot more blogging about the Con than I have) but ended up bumping into a ton of other people instead. I guess that's the difference being in the middle of Indiana and fairly close to LA.
For instance, literally the first person I set eyes on when I walked into the convention was Steve Seagle. Steve used to work as a contract faculty in the Speech Department at Ball State University right across the sidewalk from my office, and we both went to the same (read: only) comic book shop in Muncie at that time. But it was more like I knew of him rather than knew him as at that time he already had a little street cred writing some indy comics and I had done nothing (no, this wasn't a week ago; it was many years ago). He later left Muncie and wrote Superman and Uncanny X-Men and created the popular program Ben 10 under the curious moniker "Man of Action." I have often thought that if only he had hung a little tighter with me, he might have been able to make something of himself. So we are standing there chatting and I forgot to remind him how much I loved Primal Force because suddenly he said, "Hey, there's Grant Morrison," and there went Grant Morrison.
A short time later I am checking out some DVDs at a distributor's booth when I hear a guy talking about a movie that sounded familiar. And I turned and said, "Are you talking about Tomorrow By Midnight?" which he was, because he was the director, Rolfe Kanefsky. It took me a few minutes to remember that his pal Jay Woelfel had sent me this unreleased gem and I told the guy at this booth his company should definitely pick it up. So if it gets picked up somebody should send me 10 percent commission. I'm just sayin'.
That was just the first hour or so. I saw enough of geekdom's finest to fill many more posts, but I will let the reader speculate. I checked out a bit of the independent film festival and stood in a long line to hear J. Michael Straczynski (worth it, I enjoy his work and his writing and found it inspirational, except he said he never had writer's block) but spent a bulk of my time in the Artist's Alley and the few rickety aisles in the back where they stuck the independent comics people, where my heart always lies. This is also where I bumped into some people that knew Sex Machine director Christopher Sharpe who I happened to overhear talking about A Scanner Darkly and can be added to the long list of people who can't believe I never meet most of the people I work with (again, the Indiana thing). I will soon provide a list of what I picked up in Indy Row that was good, bad, and indifferent but am still sifting through it all and will have to report back later. However, my pal The Mighty Caveman has alread inventoried his swag here.
More later; until then, I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Monday, July 28, 2008

California Knows How To Party

I have been offline in San Diego, California, which might as well be another country. It's 75 degrees pretty much all year round and people stay home from work if it rains. You see oranges and lemons all over the place and exotic flowers growing out of cracks in the sidewalk. It is basically a paradise on earth except for the "sun tax," which means $3 cokes and $8 hamburgers everywhere, and the fact that if you didn't pump in water you'd be living in a place that looks like the above photo. Which I know because I have seen Chinatown a few times. But it houses one of the nicest places I have seen in any city on planet Earth, Balboa Park, home to art museums and botanical gardens and the San Diego Zoo and other sites, many of them free. We also ate at nice restaurants in the city's Little Italy and in La Jolla (which I found out is the same place as La Hoya), visited the Gaslamp District and the maritime museums (memorably the docked Midway Musuem) and chilled out at night at the Keating House. We went down to the Gay Pride Festival and caught Kathy Griffin's act. And yes, for loyal readers, I spent an interesting day at Comic Con. More later; until then, I am at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More Dead and Long Live

I got a lot of hits on my musings about grassroots DV and its next incarnation, and lots of comments here and in emails. Thanks to one and all for the continued feedback.

Longtime reader Scott writes, I read your blog post on the new face of grassroots cinema. Interesting stuff, and certainly a lot to think about. I'm not sure how much I like the idea of working hard on a project only to make it available for free, or at least doing that on a regular basis. I think there's a sense of entitlement that young Internet users have -- they not only want everything without paying for it, but they also take pride in being the first to make something that should be paid for available for free...I realize that what you're talking about is different than the wholesale theft of movies, but I think it all comes from the same place. I also think a lot of this "mumblecore" and whatnot stems from impatient people wanting to make movies, but not wanting to make the effort to do it right -- they want to invent some half-assed way of crapping it out without bothering to light or mic anything or even do a halfway professional job of shooting it, then turn that half-assedness into a new "movement" to lend themselves credence. Maybe it's the crotchety old man in me talking, but I don't have any interest in that sort of stuff -- I feel like I work hard as a writer and as a filmmaker and it irritates me to see both those forms reduced to Internet shorthand (don't even get me started on the self-proclaimed "writers" that litter the Net). I guess my opinion could be summed up thusly: the easy, worldwide availability of shit doesn't make it any less shitty, no matter how much people try to make you think you're looking at gold. Jeez. I'm gonna go back out on the porch and whittle my stick.

New reader Michael writes, I enjoyed your blog post and feel your perception of technology and media is right on. Itunes seems to be the leader in the technology of transporting media via Itunes, but it is all mainstream and one has to find other sources for projects that are more grassroots or independent. I don't like watching full length movies or reading lengthy manuscripts on my computer either, but I've noticed, though it's too expensive right now, Apple selling Apple TV and large TV monitors so one can watch their computer media content on their big screen TV's. Then you have Amazon's release of the KINDLE.
The wirless reading device is suppose to read like paper, but it's pricey at the moment too. But I think the switch in technology and media that you mention in your article is inevitable, which is why it was great for the writers to fight for their part in it all now.
Another new trend I see is webisodes. Many people, who might have never gotten their break otherwise, are getting Hollywoods attention by creating a webisode series, each on being 3 minutes long. Why 3 mins? I think it's because, like you and I, people don't want to 90 minute movies on their computer. But people, including me, will watch a 3 minute webisode (even during their break at work).

This is basically the kind of thing I'm talking about.

I'm trying to get smarter by going to this.

By the way, my alma mater, Ball State University, is working on a feature film this summer with one of probably our top ten most famous Telecommunications alums (after David Letterman), Doug Jones. Unbelievably, he was the sports mascot for the Fighting Cardinals when I was in town, now he's in Hellboy movies and Pan's Labyrinth and played the Silver Surfer and more. Meanwhile, one of the dudes in the bottom ten alums wasn't asked to do anything with it.

Keep hollerin' at me at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grassroots DV is Dead; Long Live Grassroots DV

Every summer I like to sit down and write one script entirely for myself. I have actually never sold a spec script--every one of my fifteen or so projects have been for hire--so I generally write something that I alone might enjoy and then if something one day happens with it I can be pleasantly surprised.

This summer I decied I would write the script on the Celtx open source platform and then release it under a Creative Commons license. The summer is half over but I have barely gotten started. I think part of it is that I have been sensing some new trends and trying to sniff them out, of which all of the previous stuff I mentioned is a part.

Back around the turn of the century, 1999 or so, I decided with my career settled in and my kids growing along, I would spend a year trying to get my freelancing career on track again. In the late 80s I saw the mom and pop video store boom lead to a strong need for direct to video content (that old pals like the Polonia Brothers filled), but at that time I was a young father and rookie employee and I watched from afar. Content is a hungry beast that always needs to be fed, so when I saw DVD taking off so strongly I knew that need for direct-to-DVD content would be there.

I started trying to re-learn the genre content again. I had grown up on Japanese rubber monsters and Italian sword and scorcery and Russian sci-fi but had a long layoff in college studying film and watching French New Wave and Italian Neorealism and the like. I watched the movies and felt out the trends and started off with two specs; a horror story about a backyard wrestling star possessed by a demon called ONIBOCHO: THE DEMON KNIFE and a dark fantasy everything-but-the-kitchen-sink scarefest called SWORD OF THE ZOMBIE and later DOOMED SWORD RISING and later RING OF THE SORCERESS based on various people's interest. But as I said I have never sold a spec. But I did catch the eye of longtime b-movie producer Mark Polonia, who tested me out on a bigfoot movie script titled AMONG US that is still playing on cable today, and the rest is perhaps history if not truly current events.

At that same time I was starting on a parallel track. I found out that there were a lot of people making their own movies, b-movies and other genres including some that don't easy bear defining. People were screening these in all kinds of funky places and swapping them in the mail. The technology gap was closing such that people felt empowered to produce their own content outside of the mainstream. Where these movies screened were called Microcinemas, and before long the genre for this type of movie was called Microcinema, dubbed so by no less an authority than Wired Magazine.

For me, the big site at the time was ReWind Video, started by a bunch of Canadians who espoused "amateur" filmmaking. I was personally involved in public access television at that time (and now manage the third largest public access television facility in Indiana) and saw this as a natural extension. They launched a film festival, Microcinema Fest, which ran for seven consecutive years before going on hiatus this year. I met a lot of very talented people through this site and the fest and before long filmmakers Jason Santo, Gary Lumpp, Joe Sherlock and I were swapping VHS tapes in the mail and writing each other intricate and sometimes scathing reviews of this work. Santo has always been an ambitious dude, and five years ago this month he launched Microcinema Scene with Gary and I as contributing writers. I wrote hundreds of articles and reviews for the site over the years and piloted the ship for about a year after Jason moved on and before Christopher Sharpe, who I worked on with SEX MACHINE, took over the helm.

ReWind Video has become a wiki and Microcinema Scene is not as active as it once was. The Fest, that I contributed to in judging, MCing, and otherwise the last four years in South Dakota and Illinois is in transition. I think a lot of the early adopters of microcinema in the late 90s have gotten more into family and job commitments, and I saw a disconnect between them and the next generation coming through the ranks. The change in troops didn't really impact me, because I waited until I was an older guy already before I ever got involved. I just kept getting older as most of the people around me got younger.

I think part of what happened was the technology gap has narrowed even more, and I think that with YouTube and its related ilk, as well as the impact of DV in Hollywood, the need for community has lessened somewhat. Back when everybody was shooting SVHS, Hi-8 or even early GL-2s and the like nobody was fooling anybody about where their work was ending up, and I think there was the sense you could be more experimental. Now I think the young Turks can see a more smoothly-paved road to acceptance than their predecessors.

But as this light dims somewhat I have sensed something else on the horizon. There is a lot of talk of free independent content and of the internet as a delivery platform for this content. Again we see a lot of early adopters (too many to list here), from people like the Four Eyed Monsters folks who released their feature free on YouTube in sections to the Butterknife detective show by those mumblecore guys to Cory Doctorow releasing his novels free in a variety of forms to Warren Ellis writing Freak Angels for the web to people writing pulp fiction and otherwise and setting it loose as PDFs. There is Creative Commons and tons of content readers for video and text. People catching fire through viral video is becoming commonplace.

Mainstream movies and television are trying to figure out how it all works by posting TV shows on their sites and so on but again my interest lies with the grassroots efforts. I think we are on the cusp of the next thing, but I fear I am too old to fully grasp it. When microcinema took off I was still doing video production on a daily basis and pretty much knew what was going on tech-wise. Now I am in management and the production guys hope I don't interfere with what they're up to too much. I had only shot a little HD before I left my previous job and I had to finally admit that too many versions of FCP have gone by and I can't keep up any more, which is a shame because I was a pretty good editor, I thought (though my shooting and directing are still pretty sharp, in my opinion). Part of my problem is that I don't like to watch movies on my computer screen (except my own movies on Netflix's "Watch It Now" function, of course) and I don't like to read books on the computer much either (but somewhat tolerated The Shadow on my old Palm Pilot). I don't watch YouTube often and never download music.

But lots of people do all of the above, and again the cry for fresh content is or will be as deafening as it was with VHS and DVD. I think part of the problem is people trying to figure out how best to use the web to deliver new content, and I'm not convinced anybody has it right yet. I do believe, however, that a large amount of this content will run along genre lines, pulp content most specifically. There is something about the immediacy, and some would say the easy digestability and quick discardability, of pulp fiction that seems ready-made for the internet.

None of this is news to people who are involved with it or have been following it longer than I have, but I am taking this summer to figure out my part in it. I have released some of my work under Creative Commons licenses (and they can be found on this site) and my next spec will be as well. I had pitched the idea that this year's Microcinema Fest be an intensive production workshop with the goal being shooting and releasing a feature under Creative Commons with all of the raw footage being made available to the public domain. Although there was some interest, there was not enough to justify resurrecting the Fest this year, but I am still thinking about doing this on my own this Fall.

It seems to be an interesting time. But though I have guessed right on trends before I have also guessed wrong. I never thought CDs would take off because they just looked like little versions of records. I'm not sure if this "free content, internet platform" trend has a name yet, but I'll keep looking.

In the meantime, give me a yell at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Straycationing on the Fourth

I've had more people email me about my Westie puppy than my last few script projects, so I thought I would post a new pic. This is Bonnie and I at Whitewater State Park at the beginning of a three-mile hike for which I only carried this five-pound weight for about two of those miles. We had a nice picnic and stopped for frozen custard on the way home.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

For I Am The Great Cornholio

I'm probably opening myself up to a lot of bad google searches, but as longtime readers know I try to offer a plethora of helpful information. Here I am showing how I built a cornhole board set. When I was a kid, this used to be called "beanbag toss." Somehow, at least in this great midwest, it has become known as "cornhole" and is now sweeping the heartland. I have seen a lot of people playing it in their backyards, on camping trips, etc., and I was like, I should get myself a set. Then I learned they were clocking in at $100 a more. So, thanks to the trusty interwebs, I found some free cornhole board plans online and started building. Here I am with about $40 worth of lumber and some plans I am trying to make heads or tails of.
Mesure twice, cut once. You can buy the main board pre-cut at a store., and the rest is basically 2x4s. I thought I would need to buy a big piece of plywood and cut it to shape but then the kid was like, "Are you making a cornhole game?" and he gave me the secret handshake and took me right to the pre-cut "gaming boards." Even if you aren't a dude that likes tools much, you will never go wrong in life with your own mitre box saw (pictured here).

Here I am putting the frame together. The American Cornhole Association has very specific parameters for how these are supposed to be built, and I am totally serious.
Here I am trying to figure out, with a 99-cent compass from Wal-Mart, how to make the hole exactly to ACA regs. This was a colossal pain in the butt.
So I said to hell with that and bought this bad mamma jamma off of ebay. With paint, a few extra nuts and bolts, and paint I had a shade under $50 in this project. I decided not to include the cost of this six-inch hole saw (I paid about $35 on ebay, they are about $45 in stores) because I rationalized that I would be using this for other projects. During the course of building this initial set my kids both asked for a set and two more relatives have expressed interest as well. Santa's cornhole shop is going to be busy.
These legs should actually be inside. I misread the directions and cut the legs to 12" before realizing I needed to cut an angle to snug them up inside the box. So to follow ACA regs I just wing-bolted these to the outside. They do fold up flat for easier carrying. These are heavy mothers, though.
Boring picture of finished boards, painted with a quart of white glossy house paint. I also sanded all the raggedy-ass edges. I used wood screws that I alread had to put together the frames and nail the tops to the frames, but had to go to the hardware store for the wingnuts and bolts to make the legs close up. Again, about $50 all together.
I bought an industrial-strength marker and drew my own pictures on the boards. I know my drawing is a little shaky, but I wanted people to know I had made these myself and didn't settle for some crappy decals or something.
I doodled around for a long time and finally settled on kind of a generic monster theme, partially based on what kind of paint I had in the garage to finish these out with. Yes, I actually practiced these on scrap paper beforehand.
My son got conscripted into using his artistic talent to help me finish the painting on these. That was a bacon double cheeseburger I grilled for bribing purposes. Also I think he realized if I finally get these done I will start on his Colts cornhole game for fall tailgating.
You can see the colors of my kids' rooms, my bathroom, and my garage door on display.
My son, actually more talented than I am in artistic endeavors, redid all the lines after the paint dried. Can you tell I went to see "The Incredible Hulk" shortly before doing these designs? Having a lot of green paint around (see garage door) didn't hurt. The other one was supposed to be sort of a Godzilla thing but now I am going to tell everyone it's The Abomination.
We finished these in the backyard in the shade.
Field-testing. I fear my son has done more tailgating than I thought.
A natural chick magnet.
You can make the bags, too, but we were eager to play and bought these at a sporting goods store; $20 for 8 in two different colors. In this case, I'm not sure you can make them for less.
Happy Fourth of July Weekend, everybody! We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I Dreamed That Jimmy Page Would Come From Santa Monica And Teach Me To Play

I owe three peeps some coverage of their scripts. I am getting bad about that. I need to do some reading. One is horror, one I think is romance, the other I am a little afraid to read.

Me and my Little Brother Harold would snooping around for HeroClix commons at a local gaming store and came across the new D&D, which I think is version 4. Maybe I'm old school (okay--I was hanging around at the Keep on the Borderlands when it was just a lemonade stand) but my droogs had long debates about whether to go from Classic D&D to AD&D back in the day, and then in fairly rapid succession we have 3 and 4 (remember, there were many, many experience levels gained between when 1 and 2 came out) and I hardly have gotten to play 3 and now I have to throw it away and buy 4. Perhaps my last adventure has been written in that tome of legendary deeds.

Thinking about scoping out this.

If you have Netflix (and by the way, the queue only holds 500, as I found out) you can now check out SEX MACHINE with the "Instant Play" option right off the site, which is pretty cool. Thanks to Peter Bruno for the heads up.

AMONG US has been available on "Instant Play" for a while.

PETER ROTTENTAIL and RAZORTEETH you still have to get off of Netflix the old fashioned way.

If you don’t have Netflix, you can still find them at discriminating video rental outlets, late-night cable, Amazon, ebay, dollar bins, etc.

Give me a shout at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

When the Blues Come Callin' at the Break of Dawn

I have started working with Celtx and so far find it to be very agreeable and intuitive. I'm just beginning to putter on my summer spec script (and the summer is one-third over!) but like what I see so far. I like the open source concept and the price point (free!) is certainly right for the blossoming screenwriter. I will report back more later.

I have always liked Joss Whedon because my daughter and I used to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer together and did some father-daughter bonding over it. We used to call it Buff-K, for some reason that has been lost in the sands of time. Now Whedon is busting out all kinds of awesome with this, which is a little bit of everything I have been thinking about lately.

Here's a cool article about where and why Dungeons and Dragons sprung up when it did, instead of in Ancient Greece or whatever. It was because of my midwestern brothers from Wisconsin and Minnesota, natch!

Speaking of the greatness which is D&D, I think I have linked to this before but it bears repeating. If this were true, I would be Anton LaVey by now.

Give me a yell at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.