So I took a couple years off

28 Jul

My last post was nearly 2 years ago, just before starting my journey in the third class of the MBA/MFA degree program at NYU. I took a long break after realizing that I knew nothing about anything and needed to concentrate on learning, collaborating and working rather than talking.

Lately I’ve found myself reflecting on what’s happened over the last two years and wanting to engage with the interwebs again, now older and a bit wiser. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Michael. A Prospect Park Joint

30 Aug

MJ

Yesterday, I spent a couple hours at Spike Lee’s celebration of Michael Jackson’s 52nd birthday. It took place at Nethermead Field, a part of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. It was a fairly simple production, mostly consisting of DJ-spun Michael songs with occasional performances by local rap poets and short chats from Spike. There were no shortage of Michael impersonators, dancers and wannabes. But mainly, the overall outpouring of people simply paying tribute to Jackson for changing their life, music, the world, etc. was palpable. Continue reading

Inception Review, Part 2

21 Aug

Unfinished business

Oh, so you thought that just because I titled my last post “Part 1” that there would be a follow up? You thought that just because I mentioned that a second devil’s advocate post was on the way that I meant that literally? And you figured it would come within a few days if not a week, certainly before Inception started leaving theaters? Wow… how do I say this… It’s a big world out there and I don’t like to see naive kids like you getting hurt. Be careful out there.

The last couple weeks were spent shutting down shop at work and moving from SF to NYC. Now I’m getting settled and figuring out the big city. That’s for another post. Let me close out this saga first…

Inception: The good stuff

It’s a lot easier for me to pick at the specific stuff that bugged me about this movie than it is to wax poetic on all the things that were amazing about it. Let there be no doubt, it’s an milestone film with terrific production value. I’m sure it will be a smash at the Oscars and will probably enter the library of classics for many. A few reasons why…

Presenting a good idea and NOT ruining it with a twist

Twist endingChristopher Nolan’s ambition in creating an epic delving into multiple levels of reality in such a smart, specific way is admirable. None of his past blockbusters have had a plot as gray-matter-heavy as this one, nor have many films for that matter. In fact, the overwhelming majority of today’s theatrical films have predetermined conclusions. They’re formulaic and stereotypical and often try to escape it by adding a “twist” at the end. But most of the time viewers expect that too, and what kind of twist is it if you know it’s coming?! Nolan started with a complex idea and didn’t distill it down. True, it’s so complex it takes the majority of the movie to lay out all the rules, but the end result is a film that viewers haven’t stopped theorizing, writing and talking about for weeks. We should celebrate a filmmaker who takes that kind of risk on a high budget film. The primary thing I was worried about was the twist at the end ruining everything I had just seen. But again, there, he didn’t go for a cheap trick. Lots of folks think they know the “correct” way to read the story. However, in my opinion, Nolan smartly designed it to be ambiguous — there is no right answer. Thus, guaranteed discussion and debate.

The music

The soundtrack may have played a bigger role in the film than any other feature or character. Go ahead and press play now (I hate pages that autoplay, though it did cross my mind to go all MySpace on you. You’re welcome). Hans Zimmer masterfully created a theme that was both fast-moving and big enough to support the film’s complexity. Epic scores almost always use repetition to iterate upon a theme throughout several hours (Enter any Philip Glass soundtrack). Zimmer’s arrangements manage to keep their freshness and intensity throughout the film. Much of the time, I wasn’t even aware music was playing. It did its job of sweeping me into a higher emotional involvement with the scene. Like my grandfather used to tell me about playing drumset in a jazz band, the soundtrack’s job (usually) is to provide backbone for the film, a foundation upon which to build character and scene. It’s by not drawing attention to itself that it succeeds. Zimmer succeeded.

I’m calling it here: Hans Zimmer will win the Oscar for Best Original Score.

The visual compositionInception scene

What can I say that you don’t already know? Even if you haven’t seen the film. The best effects are displayed in the preview. Everything from the zero-gravity fight scene in the rotating hallway to Paris folding in on itself to the barren dreamscapes of the 4th (or was it the 5th?) level of reality are shockingly cool. Especially on an IMAX screen, these effects are currently unparalleled in their luster and getting your blood pumping.

The camerawork and set design are striking. Everything maintains a dark and often gold appearance. Other scenes appear drained of their original color and then polished to a rich shine. This all helps exacerbate the question of what is real and what is dream. Do you dream in gold?

Soon (really) I’ll write about my experience in NYC so far.

Cheers,

Colin

Inception Review, Part 1

2 Aug

Inception

I’ve spoken with a lot of people since seeing Inception this week. In the process, my mind has become split between the stuff I wish had been better and that which I have subsequently come to accept as reasonable. Thus, I’m going to review the film in 2 parts. This first one will focus on how I felt after I left the theater — namely, disappointed on a number of fronts. The second one will play devil’s advocate.

WARNING: Thar be spoilers here.

Continue reading

Life in a Day: TOMORROW

23 Jul

Life in a Day

Tomorrow is your opportunity to have your footage included in a Ridley Scott / Kevin MacDonald film through YouTube’s “Life in a Day” project. Don’t miss it! Film anything you like, as long as it takes place on July 24 and isn’t edited. Good luck, guys, can’t wait to see what you come up with!

A thing I love #3: Unpolished grit

18 Jul

Gritty wall

I love documentaries. The immediacy of the characters having no script or preparation makes their tension more real and keeps them from feeling formulaic. That’s why I like fictional pieces that strive to accomplish a similar documentary feel through unpolished editing, fast, handheld or unfocused camera work and non-professional acting. As “reality programming” becomes more outlandish and production crews for scripted pieces tailor their technique to respond to the prevalence of user-generated content, the line between fiction and fact in film and videos is fading. As with fantasy, it takes work and skill to capture realism, but the potential result with realism is that the viewer remains immersed in the story long after the viewing.

The fast-paced, “viewing-through-the-eyes-of-onlookers” style of feature film City of God combined with some non-professional cast members is a fantastic example:

New Spice

17 Jul

Old Spice Guy

Everyone with an internet connection is aware of the viral Old Spice campaign that’s been building at breakneck speed (at one point cranking out 1 video every 7 minutes!). It’s transforming a brand best known as your grandfather’s aftershave into one as trendy to reference as a Seinfeld episode and provoking a slew of user responses (see here and here for 2 ends of the spectrum) on YouTube, Twitter, etc., guaranteeing free viral marketing for quite a while.

This is an amazing example of how the immediacy and interactive nature of online viewing can instantly turn the stale into the hip and achieve reach far beyond any ROI you could expect from a more traditional campaign. Creative directors are taking note. I’m hoping companies are too. Stuck with a “safe” brand? Not seeing increased mindshare by telling folks it’s good for them, their parents used it, or it’s better than the other guy’s? Follow Procter & Gamble’s example closely. In the Old Spice campaign, they took a huge risk unlike any they’re used to. This required a huge amount of trust in soliciting user suggestions and allowing a creative team to quickly create witty responses. Which is scary. But look at the results!

P&G could very easily have failed. Why didn’t it?

  1. The TV commercials already had huge positive response. P&G knew that.
  2. They established specific guidelines at the beginning of the online experiment. This helped solidify trust between the ad agency (Wieden + Kennedy), Isaiah Mustafah and the Old Spice execs.
  3. They believed they would be able to spin gold so they did it. At a certain point, it just comes down to knowing you have a good idea on your hands.

I can’t wait to see other less socially relevant or struggling companies take similar risks. I’m talking to you, pencil manufacturers, non-digital camera makers, airlines and auto-makers. Even if you don’t get it exactly right, you’re guaranteed some street cred, you’ll learn more about embracing social advertising and hopefully create a presence and loyalty within a young, savvy and engaged demographic.

I leave you with the YouTube’s staff response to the Old Spice video.