Monday, January 30, 2012

The Elite Left Wing Media

I rarely comment on politics online as I found that engaging with unknown forum wackos often solves no real problems. And while I'm considered a moderate liberal in Canada, I probably am Left Wing in the U.S. Which gives you an idea of how liberal Canada is even though we have a Conservative Prime Minister, who's politics would compare with a moderate Democrat here in the U.S.

I worked for Bobby Kennedy back in 1968 in Indiana just a few months before he was shot and killed in Los Angeles. I was one of those kids in sport coat and tie who went house-to-house to register voters and my territory was the African-American areas of Indianapolis.

But that's another story.

I have watched most of the Republican caucaus debates with interest and objectivity, something I learned when I worked in TV News. I don't really need to dwell on the debates too much as it's pretty self-evident that the Republican Party is fractured and falling apart. Evidence of this is simple; look at who's running.

And to be fair, my Liberal party in Canada is going the same way. In fact, they lost the last election and were, for the first time, not the ruling or opposition party. We have a handful of parties in Canada, including Quebec's own party.

So I watch the debates to see what happens as the candidates go after each other with everything they can find or make up.

Then there's the Newtster.

Even his own party doesn't want him and for good reason. Look back to the Clinton years and you'll see he's not going to win anything. Even Bob Dole and Ann Coulter don't like him, not to mention a growing list of prominent Republicans.

But it didn't matter to me until Newt said this:

The Elite, liberal media.

Newt has a great way of getting people on his side, except maybe for women of whom 80% today don't like him. And I'm sure you know why.

The "media" has been taking heat, primarily from Conservatives, but I hear it everyday how the news media is so bad. Is there too much media? Probably. But there's too many tablet books, too many types of cell phones, too many channels on TV, etc. etc.

I worked in the news media, first as a TV news writer, then as a film crew who went out to film the news (not video-- film).

The first thing about "news" is this; it's not always good. The saying goes "if an airplane takes off from LA to Chicago and lands, that's not news. If it takes off from LA to Chicago and crashes -- that's news."

But - as far as bias, no, that's not the rule. Most news media go for as much objectivity as they can and that's where Newt and his kind don't like it. They don't note Fox News because it is biased - to them. It's practically the media arm of right-wing Republicans.

And Newt knows that if he says something about the elite, liberal media, that his audience will applaud and he will get off having to answer a pertinent question that the media asked. I give this to Newt, he's a lot smarter than his supporters.

I have a test that I offer to people who differ with my objectivity theory. I will challenge anyone to watch the network news shows at 6:30pm every day with Brian Williams and the other two and tell me what they say that is biased.

Well, so far nobody has taken the challenge, one person did but after ten minutes he walked out.

I agree that some of the news is way too sensational and even dumb, but biased; for the most part no,  they really do try to get the story objectively. I don't like how they sensationalize storys, especially murders and other crimes.

But without them, where would we be. Who would be our voices?

Probably none of you remember Edward R. Murrow, the legendary TV news personality of the 1950's. Actually I don't remember him either. It was during the McCarthy hearings where a sociopathic politician named Joe McCarthy was accusing hundreds of Americans, including actors and writers and directors, of being communists.

And this led to many of them going to jail, leaving the country and even being blacklisted for years afterwards.

Murrow would broadcast from CBS and detailed the hypocrisy and lies that McCarthy spewed and it led to a giant backlash from the public and even with congressmen who were at the hearings. In the end, it led to the crash of McCarthy and his right wing attacks at innocent people.

And there's also a great movie to see if you haven't already. It's called "Goodnight and good luck" which was Murrow's sign-off. The movie is recent, directed by George Clooney. Yes, that George Clooney.

The lesson - watch TV news with a critical eye, definitely but don't believe anyone who says they're biased, except for Fox of course.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

And the best movie is...

Well, the nominations are out and the LA Times carries it's usual Entertainment segment that's larger than all the other segments put together. Everybody will have their opinions, who should have gotten a nomination, who shouldn't have and who deserves it the most.

For the most part, it's a pretty average group of nominees, once again Meryl Streep is nominated for once again doing what she does better than any other actor in the world, and yet makes it look easy.

And she seems to live a real life as well, not the high maintenance actors who are either in re-hab or soon to be in re-hab.

But about the movies, they're still doing the 10 best for some odd reason, my favorites are two; Woody Allan's Midnight in Paris and Martin Scorceses Hugo. Both have that element that good feature movies should have; that being a genuine feeling of the story and an element that takes you into another world of fantasy where all things can happen.

On the other side is The Descendants, a favorite no doubt of George Clooney fans, of which I dare say are mostly women. I do like Clooney as well, Syriana was great, as was Good Night, Good Luck.

But The Descendants is a Hallmark TV movie, a nice movie, even admirable, but not a feature movie, more like a TV movie. Only difference is a few curse words.

So what's the difference between a TV movie and a feature. These days it's harder to tell because so many feature movies look more like episodes of Law and Order than The Verdict. But the main element is that thing that takes you into the story with powerful performances and a feeling you don't get by watching a TV movie.

And by the way, I like TV movies, in fact most of the movies I've written and re-written were TV movies, so I am not knocking them. The biggest problem for TV movies is that you are catering to specific audiences and thus, the writing tends to lower the bar for the lowest common denominator -- the least intelligent person watching.

Hallmark's credo is that anyone can enter a living room and watch a Hallmark movie without feeling awkward or uncomfortable. A few F-bombs would certainly not qualify there.

And then there's The Artist. A silent movie. A brand new silent movie. Made by a Frenchman too. I haven't seen it but my friends who did either liked it or didn't. It went from brilliant to boring. Hollywood has taken to it because it's about... us. Movie makers. Hollywood likes to slap itself on it's back, how wonderful "we" are.

I'll hold my opinion until I see it later this week.

How does one compare movies? My friend Marilyn, a film historian,  has a great bar:

How does it stand up to Bridge on The River Kwai?

Bridge on The River Kwai was movie entertainment and spectacle at the same time with some of the best performances you'll ever see. In 1958, it won 7 Oscars and a few dozen other awards.

Paris at Midnight and Hugo almost stand up to that standard, and they really are two different movies, although the element of a dreamlike fantasy runs through both. Hugo is more of a movie fan's movie while Paris is more of an intellectual movie (try watching it with an audience in a blue-collar town -- I did, my 2nd hometown).

Spielberg's War Horse is a good movie in an old fashioned way, even at his worst, Spielberg can still bring out emotion. You know, that element that doesn't include car crashes and CGI monsters.

I haven't mentioned The Help because I feel a little divided by it. Being Canadian, I have what most Canadians feel, a genuine dislike of the south. Blame it on all the movies we've seen set in the south. Remember, Canada did not have slavery, in fact England banned slavery 50 years before American wrote it's Declaration of Independence.

What would you think if your impression of the south was In The Heat Of The Night, ironically directed by Canadian Norman Jewison. And an Oscar winner with 5 wins. (Not for the director, but I have this theory that Canadian directors and actors never win Oscars).

On that note, George Lucas just released Red Tails, an action story about the legendary Tuskagee Airmen, which consisted of black fighter pilots in WW11. Lucas couldn't find any studio who would take it on, he eventually paid for it himself.

Even when he had screenings for studios, some never showed up.

This is George Lucas. How much has he made for the studios? Billions of dollars. And they wouldn't come to a screening of what is essentially an all-black cast. Lucas put in a total of $100 million dollars in both production and advertising, all of it his own money. It opened with $19 million, respectable, but not block buster.

Back to the awards. The lead actors aren't anything special, rarely are, but the supporting male actors this year are exceptional, all of them at their prime and all good. Naturally I'm hoping for Christopher Plummer, another Canadian boy in his early 80's.

And come Oscar, I will sit in front of the TV with potato chips and french-onion dip as I have for at least 40 years and watch the return of Billy Crystal.

Yeah, I know, get a life.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The future of cameras.

"Rich Lackey thinks 4K is the future, not out of necessity but because "we can sell it and fuel untold billions of dollars of business in cameras, post, data transmission and networking infrastructure, televisions, new portable devices and of course, content production. Since when has need ever really fueled consumption in the digital age."
                                                       - Digital Age Magazine

 For those who don't know 4K, it's basically a concept in digital cameras. Your basic DV camera which is now pretty much gone, was around 480 pixels (those little square dots that make up the picture) and now we have 720p which is HD and the higher amount 1080p which is the highest resolution to date and 4K meaning 4000 pixels. 

Sort of like the difference between 8mm film and Super 8 and then 16mm and 35mm. Obviously the picture at 35mm is way superior to 8mm (at least for those of you who remember 8mm).

Our movie world was fine with 35 mm as a standard for movie film and every movie you saw up until the 2000's, was most likely 35mm. It's the same film used in still cameras, both SLR and Rangefinder styles.

35mm is still being used now, many of the drama series still shoot it as do features. There are differences in both film and digital both pro and con for each format. And film will still be around for awhile.

But the point I'm getting to is this; how good does it have to be?

4K resolution is almost as good as film (and notice I said "almost"), in fact, on the screen it's almost comparable. Where digital fails is in contrast levels primarily in the blacks. Digital doesn't handle blacks as well as film does even at 4K.

Contrast is basically the difference between black and white. Film is believed to have a 1000:1 ratio while digital is much less. Thus film always wins. But digital at 4K is getting closer.

But the point of this blog was to suggest something else -- how good is good? Already actors dislike digital because it's so damn sharp and all those facial lines begin to really show up actor's facial flaws. In fact they're creating special make-up for actors to help hide them lines and imperfections.

And as the author of the quote at the top suggests, it really isn't about pixels nor 4K, it's about selling a product. Like Apple and Microsoft and thousands of other corporations, they have to continue to "upgrade" their products.

And so do the camera manufacturers. A big deal in the last few years was the introduction of the Canon 5D SLR (Single Lens Reflex camera and later to be dubbed the DSLR for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera.  And last December I saw the newer video camera replacing that Canon 5D and while you can get a 5D for around $5000, the new video camera started at $10,000 with no lens!

And then Canon is now introducing the new version of the 5D.

There's just too many damn cameras.

When I began shooting film around 1970, we only used film of course, but a person could buy a camera and keep it for the rest of their life! 

No upgrade, no new technology, no plastic casing.

And you could still shoot with it, even today in 2012. My favorite was the Arriflex 16mm BL and you can see that in the photo I used a few blogs ago.

It's a beautiful camera, still good in 2012 and still being used now and then through-out the world.

There were a handful of different film cameras, Beaulieu, CP 16, Auricon, Bolex and Eclair were 16mm. Arriflex had both 16 and 35 and the Eclair also had a 16/35mm camera. I saw someone using an Eclair NPR a year ago. This is me with a Bolex back in the 70's.

The Godfather of all film cameras was probably the Panavision camera, which is only available as a rental.

But there's another issue as well, something besides the constant upgrades we are required to make to our song list and cameras...

And that's the story.

You know, that thing where actors pretend to be other people.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Nai Yang Beach, Thailand

The entire day after our 4-day diving trip, I felt like I was still on water and the ground was moving beneath me. After being trapped on a boat with a strict schedule, it felt good to walk around, lay and do nothing, and have the freedom to pick a restaurant.

We had two nights left on Phuket Island before flying out. Instead of staying at crazy Patong Beach again, we opted for something a little more quiet and headed to Nai Yang Beach. We rented a bamboo bungalow right on the beach for 300 baht ($10 USD)... what a steal! The hut is hardly big enough to hold a double mattress and a mosquito net, but it was more than enough. We didn't need to spend much  time in our room anyway with the ocean just 20 feet away. 

We decided to take a long walk along the beach one fine day. Towards the end, the sky turned from sunny to black in an instant and dumped buckets of rain. We had walked too far out and there was no where to go for cover but under a tree. The tree didn't do much. We were soaked to our underwear and had a long walk back ahead of us. So much for a romantic beach stroll! I was one grumpy traveler. I blamed Yuriy. Silent treatment on the walk home. It's times like these that most people don't imagine when they dream of traveling.

We didn't take many pictures in Nai Yang because our camera was still broken. These were taken with our back-up compact camera. 

Next up is Singapore, but we didn't take many photos at all (camera issue). Then, Indonesia!

- Julia

Today we posted some 2011 highlights on our wedding photography blog. Check it out to see what we've been up to since coming home from our around-the-world travels. 

The beach directly in front of our bungalow. 

Bamboo bungalow where we slept for $10 a night.

Our sunny beach walk turned dark and wet. Yuriy is smiling but I wasn't.

Most restaurants in Nai Yang are right on the beach, no matter how cheap they are. We almost took it for granted after a few meals. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Liveaboard Boat 2 | Similan Islands

We just wrote a couple posts here and here about our liveaboard scuba diving experience in the Similan Islands. We were on (or in) the water for 4 days and 4 nights, but had the option to go to shore on a dingy to hang out on a secluded beach one day. Of course Yuriy and I jumped at the chance. 

This tiny island has no civilization and we were the only boat that had pulled up in the middle of the afternoon. It was extremely peaceful and still. The sun blazed down and I had to run on the sand because it burned the soles of my feet. We hiked up a trail to the top of the hill to take in a beautiful view of the Andaman Sea, then laid around with books and pumpkin seeds until we were rounded back to the ship for another dive. 

This is the life. 

- Julia

The Concept of Copyright

Whenever you write anything, be it a sentence or a screenplay or a book, it is copyrighted. You don't have to pay to have it copyrighted and you don't have to do anything. It just happens.

Well, sort of. (there's always a "sort of") 

For example, if you sell a screenplay to a U.S. studio, they will inevitably sneak in a clause that says they own the copyright. In perpetuity. Throughout the known Universe. Really.

So what happened to that copyright that you own? You give it up by selling the screenplay. Hollywood learned a long time ago to grab up everything. A clause in their contracts says "work for hire" and just like that you lose your copyright.

Most other countries, like Canada, simply don't allow transfer of copyright.

But they try. 

I had a meeting over Christmas with a cable company representative in Calgary. It was about the video footage I got on Georgie Collins, an actress, now 86, who played a role in Ghostkeeper. I edited a version of it, 13 minutes long, and it can be seen on Youtube by clicking on Georgie under Materials in this blog.

I had thought about extending the Georgie video as she talks about her early years as a child and eventually going into the acting profession. She is the Grand Dame of Drama in Alberta and I thought I could extend the video to 30 minutes as a tribute to her.

I was turned down by some broadcasters but then had an opportunity to have it shown on a local cable station. A "cable station" in Canada is a specific channel that provides a full-scale broadcast studio for anyone who wants to put on a local show, gardening, local events, anything.

It's also known as a "local access channel".  It's there because the government makes them have this local access in exchange for allowing the broadcaster to sell his 150 regular channels.

The representative was very excited about this possibility (and yes, he did say he was "excited). My friend who introduced us thought this would be good too. I figured that while it's not a real broadcaster in the sense of TV shows and drama, it's more for someone who wants to do something in their neighborhood. Still an audience is an audience and right now nobody else wants Georgie's tribute.

Then, after a couple of weeks, an email arrived and they were still excited, and offered their needs and wants and --- copyright of the finished product.

It is customary to sell a program to television by license, in that you license them to have a certain amount of broadcasts (also referred to as plays) under specific rules.

I had suspected that they would ask for it for free, as they rarely pay for anything but I wasn't expecting a copyright issue.

Suddenly the game changed. I could not, nor would not give away any aspect of copyright for many reasons. My copyright on Ghostkeeper means that I own it. By giving away the copyright as is often done in the U.S. , I lose that right.

Meaning that the local access channel could say they own several minutes of Ghostkeeper. And that would make it very difficult to sell Ghostkeeper or any parts of it. In fact, impossible.

I emailed a few friends, all of whom agreed that giving copyright to the cable company was not going to happen. Rather a licence could be agreed on, giving very minimal and specific rights for a certain period of time. After all they're getting the Georgie video and specific scenes from Ghostkeeper itself, for nothing except a licence.

Say, they can show it 20 times over a period of 1 year. Local access/cable channels often repeat shows so that's a realistic start. Oh, and no copyright.

What this is about for me is Georgie. She is a wonderful lady and a great actress and at 86, more than worthy of a tribute and it's not right for her to be caught in a copyright catfight, in fact nobody knows this except me, 3 references, my friend and the very nice access representative. And you.

I sent the email today but the rep is out of town so I'll hear from him Friday or next week. And just in case, I'm making a few other calls, there might be someone out there in Alberta who wants to honor their homegrown star.

BTW the cable company that I'm dealing with made $1.2 billion in 2011 and paid $24 million to it's former CEO Jim Shaw.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Being underwater is the closest feeling to flying, and who doesn't dream of flying? You become totally weightless and free to move however you want. You get a bird's eye view of the ocean floor drifting beneath you and it feels like you're parachuting over a beautiful planet. My mind could hardly fathom that the beauty underwater wasn't made by man but 100% natural. The coral and plants often looked like they were designed and built with the help of an architect. I couldn't help but feel giddy every time I bumped into a school of fish. It's amazing to be completely surrounded by so much marine life.   

After scuba diving in Thailand, I wondered why more girls don't dive... there is so much color, sparkle, bubbles, and dancing light. It's impossible not to feel like a mermaid. It's truly magical and there is no way photos can convey the feeling.

We dived a total of 14 times and each time the boat docked at a different spot along the Similan Islands. Some cool things we saw: turtles, manta ray, freaky-looking eels, dragon fish, 4 foot long tunas, puffer  fish (blows up into a spiky ball!), star fish, sea horses, Nemo and a ton of his cousins. We were really hoping to see some leopard sharks that are in the area, but no such luck. 

Scuba diving is truly an experience unlike any other. I have been around the ocean so often but never took the time to think about what is under the surface. It's an amazing discovery and I think every person needs to dive at least once in their life. There's got to be a reason that God made so much beauty and life underwater. 

- Julia

These photos were taken by our dive partner and friend, Steve, who had underwater housing for his compact camera. Light waves travel differently underwater and objects lose their color the deeper you go, so you need to have special equipment for underwater photography which we didn't have. The images look very blue/faded which is not how we saw them with our eyes!

The scariest thing we saw was a bunch of Moray Eels. We usually found them winding through coral or grass or we would spot one standing perfectly still with it's head poking out. Every time I saw one it made me stop in my tracks. These guys were 1-2 meters long. It doesn't help that they have a really mean glare and opened and closed their mouth so you could see teeth inside!