Category Archives: Media

Seasonal Crows

Most of our time in school is dedicated to student learning and the celebration of student achievement, but each year, our school hosts an Art Exhibition for works created by the adult members of our community. If you choose to, you can allow your work to be sold by silent auction, with a portion of the proceeds going our Student Service Committee to support the work our students do within the local community. It’s a pretty good gig.

I created two pieces for this year’s exhibition, including this piece, “Seasonal”.

Seasonal-Screen

This is a collage of Instagram pics and other digital photographs that I took, sorted and layered with varying degrees of transparency. I didn’t know what to call this piece, as strictly speaking, the images don’t represent all of the seasons. But it does feel seasonal to me. Like passing time with a lot of motion with a few moments of clarity and the traces of something ephemeral–memories or ambitions–present over everything.

The second piece I exhibited is called “Crows”.

Crows-Screen

We live on the top floor of our apartment building, and one morning the crows were sitting on the roof there and taking the occasional flight about and around before returning to their perch on the roof. It gave me a chance to get some great shots against a neutral background. The images on the left and right are un-retouched, just as I shot them. The centre frame is a composite of several other shots.

I haven’t written anything for a very long time, but I had a sense that visually, these crows needed text to accompany them. Or typography, maybe. So I started thinking about words for crows and then words as crows and then a couple of days before the exhibition, I started to hear the poem and wrote it down.

Separately, the poem is this:

What Needs Out
there is a murder in each of us
a monochrome of misshapen
characters mutually aflutter and
cawing for water, for a bellyful,
for birth at every moment of their
age; each cry a loose cohesion
of shadows and the things they
mean in the swirl and science of
reasonable flight and what needs
out now: jubilation and despair
and yearning for and for;
they flap and gather, beaks agape
misunderstood scavengers hoarding
clever for later, a shiny thing for the
nest, to sparkle between the sticks
and tarry feathers, those points and
balms we settle our hollow bones
angularly over to press out
pollock-speckled eggs of heavy
slate-green and ink, each to crack
on arrival of another hungry word.
beaks agape they flap and gather
and flutter and caw, dark forms of
cacophony and unarticulated dreams
aspiring to the tidy murmuration of
precise elocution–pretty and
ephemeral–shaped, evaporated and
reformed on an invisible web of water
vapour and rising sighs.
hungry, the word-crows flap and
gather against themselves, beat out
their commotion and ego and corvid
noise, their murderous need of a
single melody, clear syntax and
conviction.

Most of the time, I write, take photographs and generally make art to please myself. Often, I don’t even get around to sharing it with anyone. That might sound self-indulgent, but I think art is only self-indulgent when it is made with indifference to (or contempt of) its audience, even if the audience is just you.

That said, in addition to expression, I think art is also communication. Sometimes it is nice to share your work with others and to have it land, to palpably feel the closing of that loop of communication and see that something you’ve sent out has been, in some way, received.

I love seeing what my colleagues present in this exhibition. And I’m grateful for the opportunity.

From Cadaques

FromCadaquesScreen
I haven’t been taking a lot of photographs recently. I’ve been feeling like I need something new to explore with the camera, but while I wait for that to arrive, it’s given me reason to revisit my archives. There are a lot of images there for that I like for any range of reasons, but I have never worked with them to any finished form. So recently, I have been working at creating collages. I like the way that layers of things allow you to look at them for a long time and continually see different things make new discoveries. I like how it allows different compositional impulses to work at the same time – symmetrical and asymmetrical, static and dynamic. I love the sense of play in the process of creating them.

This image was created primarily out of images I took on the way home to Barcelona from a day out in Cadaques. A combination of light-noise shots derived from long exposures of the road and traffic, and dark silhouettes of road-side trees. There’s also a shot of some trees from Beijing in the mix.

I printed this image and hung it in our school community art exhibition. It’s sale has helped to raise funds to support our student service groups.

I like the feeling here of the coolness of a fading twilight, the ghosts of dancing shadows.

How does it strike you?

Eat the Frog, Part III

I posted a while back, a script that I had written even earlier that I use with my students for a number of purposes. I’ve used it to teach them how to write and format screenplays, we’ve used it as an audition piece, as an acting exercise, as a directing exercise, and as a sample of how an idea goes through the different processes of treatment, outline, screenplay, shooting script, and storyboard on the way to becoming a film. But until last year, we never actually made it.

Last year, we decided to film the script as a project that would introduce some new members of our Filmeisters club to the skills and procedures of filmmaking. The filming of the project went pretty well, I think, and the students started to understand some things like why films are seldom shot in chronological order and to think enough about the quality of light to wait a month and a half to shoot a scene for the seasonal shift to put the sun where we wanted it at a time of day we could shoot. And where in the past, students might have used music they didn’t have the rights to use, on this project, we reached out to Leftover Cuties, whose music we loved, about using their songs on the soundtrack and were given permission. I posted stills from the shoot in an earlier post. There’s been a lot of good learning.

One of the other things we learned was to record sound separately from the video. Video cameras tend to auto-level the sound they record, so they try to make the traffic in the background of your shot the same volume as the dialogue the actors are speaking. Recording sound separately gives you much cleaner sound and records (mostly) only the sounds you want to hear. However, by the time we got to editing, I didn’t have time to teach the editors how to synch up the separately recorded sound and work with it, so we had a couple of false starts on the editing and then summer came and whole thing got sidelined.

Almost a year later, I sat down on our April break and got out the all the footage from the film again, and started to edit it. There were still some audio problems to fix, but thankfully the actors were still here (which is not always the case in international schools – actually two of the supporting actors had moved to other schools, one of which is in Sweden), so we were able to do some dialogue replacement and a bit of foley to clean up the rough bits.

When I wrote the script, I wrote it as an acting challenge, to give student actors something more real to play than the big, jazz-hands parts that populate school musicals. I wanted to write something where the story wasn’t so much in what people said as it was in the way they said it. When we started filming, I realized that one of the most important scenes for me is the opening one between the two boys. When I wrote it seven or so years ago, I had been aware of homophobic attitudes in the boys at the school where I was working. So I really wanted to write a scene where the boys considered the possibility of one of them being gay in a sincere and accepting way. Where one boy’s perception that the other might be gay wasn’t a punchline or a shot. However, if the lines were delivered in the wrong tone the whole thing would come off as exactly that. In the filming, the actors changed some of the lines, which changed some of the subtleties, but overall, I think the scene plays as I intended. I hope the larger audience will see it that way too.

I am really grateful to have the opportunity to work with students who are willing to put in the work and the hours it takes to make even short films. For the courage of the students who are willing to act in them, especially when they are asked to play something close to their real selves and real emotions. I love how much I learn about these students when we work together this way. I love how talented they are and how much they develop so quickly.

I hope you enjoy the film.

Eat The Frog – Production Stills

Yokohama, Japan. March 2014.

I mentioned a while back, that I work with a group of student filmmakers–The Filmeisters–after school. Last year they made one 42 minute zombie epic called Diploma. This year the group almost tripled in size, so we are making more, shorter films.

The first, “The Bureau of Broken Hearts and Faucets” is written and directed by Jun Sekiya, who wrote and directed Diploma last year. It’s the story of young man who wants to sue Love for the five disastrous relationships he’s had in the last year. Another project is a music video, and we have at least three new scripts in development. The last project is this one, “Eat the Frog,” a film about the fragility of those first moments of attraction. The script is here, in an earlier post.

I wrote the film almost seven years ago, as an acting exercise for students who wanted to play something more emotionally sensitive than the big musicals we do as school productions. Then I used it to help new screenwriters understand screenplay formatting. Last year, a couple of students filmed part of it, but lost all of their footage before editing. This year, the students helped me to rewrite the script and bring it up to date a bit. They insist that the fact that characters talk on the phone makes it too implausible, but I stuck with it. You gotta dance with them that brung ya.

It is difficult to teach filmmaking and direct a movie at the same time, and I’m afraid the film will suffer for it in attention to detail, but in the bigger picture, I hope there are some more students now who have fallen in love with the process of filmmaking. And there are still a lot of beautiful moments to savour, in the filming, and in the film.

These are production stills from the footage we shot.

Nourish 2014

Yokohama, Japan. February 2014.

I have a lot to catch up on. I designed this poster for this year’s Nourish conference at school. It is a Saturday workshop about wellness, and this year’s conference was, well, nourishing. In no particular order, some reminders from the day of the things that nourish us:

• Community – what we give and receive with those to whom we belong.
• 6-Second Cuddles – longer, if you wish.
• Passions – football and coffee specifically, but choose your own.
• Making a place your own and becoming a regular.
• Running – for exercise and meditation and the practice of noticing.
• Self-awareness – for understanding yourself and others.
• Not making any one thing too big – it’s all just stuff that needs doing.
• Spark – identifying that thing that makes your life hopeful and meaningful.

I left the conference thinking of a lot of things that have nourished me, one of which is a love of cinema. And then I thought of Stranger Than Fiction, a film I was teaching in my English class, in which the closing monologue goes like this:

As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick.

What nourishes you?

Diploma

This year, I started a filmmaking activity for students at my school. A group of juniors signed up, already seasoned from a local film festival win the previous year and eager to get started on a new project. They decided they wanted to make a zombie film. I warned them that the downfall of most student films is trying to create something that they would see in a summer block buster without having control over locations and props and special effects that block buster budgets pay for. I encouraged them to think smaller and tell a story more dialogue-centered and character-driven. They summarily ignored me.

For which I am most grateful. When they set their minds to making a zombie movie, they started working on the story about a student who is determined to finish his diploma in spite of the zombie apocalypse. It isn’t a comedy. I told them they would have to work hard to sell me on that premise, that the only way I’d believe it is if finishing the diploma was like an anchor of routine in a world gone mad. We agreed that it would also be best on our non-budget to show the zombies as little as possible, and to get somebody figuring out how to do zombie make-up as quickly as possible. Bad zombie make-up makes a thriller into a comedy in a hurry.

The students set to work. Jun Sekiya took over the writing duties and, ten drafts later, produced a screenplay of about 20 pages. A screenplay usually translates to a page per minute on screen, so they were looking at a 20 minute film, which is a significant undertaking. With some script rewriting and ad libs along the way, the final film comes in at 42 minutes. Normally a student film that long would make me vary wary, but the truth is, these boys did a really solid job and the film is worth the effort, because in the end, it isn’t really about the zombies; like all films worth watching, it’s about the characters and how they are challenged and grow.

The filmmakers took their movie to the Kanto Plains Film Festival and won a gold medal and the Palm d’Or, the festival’s top prize. The film also won awards for Best Camera (Sunbird Tsai), and Best Editing (Jun Sekiya), shared the award for Best Actress (Hiyori Takashima) and got a nomination for Best Actor (Yuki NItta).

Sometimes it’s easy to forget to dream big when your pockets are feeling light. Our group, who call themselves the Filmeisters, have a few other projects on the go (including another zombie script), but those will have to wait for the fall. I am grateful for having the chance to work with these young filmmakers, and for being reminded of how much I love the art of filmmaking.