Sunday, December 28, 2008
The thing about HDTV now is that if you watch HD it looks great, but anything else looks WORSE than it would on a good old fashioned tv. Not to mention frame rates look funky, and aspect ratios (my biggest pet peeve) are commonly messed up even by networks. So even HD channels will be stretched or squeezed, and sometimes they even have the nerve to broadcast "HD" films in a 4:3 aspect ratio with the sides cropped out!
All I want to do is watch some movies in the best quality I can, and a good old fashioned dvd player plugged into any of our HDTVs makes these films look like shitty video. What a bad time for television.
Friday, December 19, 2008
1. More billboard shots. Check.
2. Kitsch b-roll. Check.
3. Dillon b-roll. Check.
4. Suzanne 2nd interview. Check.
5. Interview with Al Schafer's son. Yeah right.
6. The final shot. EXTRA CHECK
7. Miscellaneous... well that's a story on its own.
I came up to Dillon early Wednesday morning, stopping many times on the way to pick up shots of billboards. When I approached Dillon, which is a few miles south of SOB, I went for a back-road joyride looking for a road that had some billboards on it. While driving I saw two guys hanging outside a house. Now this is rural South Carolina so you can probably imagine that this residential neighborhood resembled a mix of a used car, scrap metal, and flea market lot more than the suburbia most blog followers are used to.
So I stopped and chatted with these friendly strangers for a while. And by chatting I mean I received a short sermon about faith in the lord before they referred me to a man named Bill Coward. Ah the irony! The only local that would talk is named Coward!
So I took a trip up the road to a convenience store that Bill owned and got a solid interview about Dillon and a local perspective on Al Schafer. After the interview I asked Bill and a few others at the convenience store where I could find some old timers that would be able to tell me some myths and legends about Al Schafer. They told me to go to Hardee's around 6am. A few hours of shooting, watching tv in my motel, and sleeping later and I was off for a wild goose chase of a morning.
I arrived at Hardee's around 6:30am. There were only two old timers there. When I approached them, one told me I needed to go to SOB and talk with the owner. He wasn't that friendly about it either. I don't really blame him because from what I can tell its not all that hard for people in small towns to hold grudges against each other.
I left Hardee's and went to Bojangles where a few more old timers were having their morning coffee and breakfast. They said they didn't know much about Al Schafer and directed me to, of all places Hardee's. But they said to go around 8:30.
So I filled up my gas tank, put some air in my tires, and wasted about an hour and a half worth of time before going back. This time Hardee's was jam packed with senior citizens. It was like walking into an American Legion. I approached one of their tables and although these guys were much nicer than the 6am crew, they didn't know much about Schafer either. They told me to talk with a Mr. Wiggins at the Herald down the street.
So I drove to the Dillon Herald, the local newspaper with high hopes of speaking with an old fashioned newspaper writer. But the Herald my pals at Hardee's were talking about was the Herald office supply store, which happens to be right next door to the newspaper office.
Mr. Wiggins was not at the Herald and the people working there did not know his number. More likely, they didn't want to give out his number to a stranger. Dead end galore.
I went back to my motel, watched some tv and checked out. At the desk I asked the twenty-something clerk if she had any leads for me. Before telling me to see a Mr. Watts at a car dealership she divulged that SOB facilitated drug trade and that her aunt was Al Schafer's "unclaimed" child. However she would never say this on camera, and I doubt either bit of information is true.
Mr. Watts, like Mr. Wiggins, was not at his dealership. But his secretary Sharon was nice enough to make a couple of phone calls for me. One was to a local Judge, but nothing panned out.
Finally, Nasty Nate arrived at SOB. After an SOL morning, we went to Mexico Shop East in search of a Miss Evelyn. The woman who wrote her masters about SOB quoted Evelyn several times and informed us that she was Al Schafer's half-sister. However she had no formal means of correspondence with Evelyn, and only knew that she "hung out" at Mexico Shop East quite often. I'd stopped in the day before looking for her and the employee told me she'd be working the next day.
I stopped by Mexico Shop East a few hours before Nate came and they told me Evelyn would be back later. A quick cig after Nate pulled up and we walked in to find Evelyn who happened to be there. Evelyn is a sweet 85 year old lady, and she agreed to do the interview as long as her "lines" didn't show up on camera. And her interview... couldn't have been better. Almost all of the scenes about Al Schafer were lack more sources, and she hit the nail on the head with great stories from the mouth of a relative. She gave us a perfect testimonial about Schafer's character, which is exactly what we needed.
Walking out of the interview I felt extremely relieved. While capturing the footage last night Nate called and I told him exactly what I think: we've finally got a documentary on our hands.
So my morning of dead ends aside, the (hopefully) final trip to SOB has left us with everything we need to put this film together. That is except for an interview with Dr. Walter Edgar...
I have a full 3 days to edit, hardly anybody left to distract me in Charleston, and high spirits going into the cutting room.
Monday, December 15, 2008
This winter break will mark the beginning of the most crucial stage of the South of the Border documentary. From here on out we'll be transitioning away from filming and focusing in on the editing process. Don't get me wrong, I've been doing a fair amount of editing here and there throughout the semester, but its finally time to put a draft of this sucker together.
However, before I hole up with my computer I'm going with Nasty Nate for what will hopefully be our final trip to SOB. Though most of our interviews are done, here's what we still need:
1. More b-roll of the awesome billboards SOB is known for.
2. More b-roll of the "kitsch" that SOB sells.
3. B-roll of Dillon, SC
4. A special interview that involves footage from the last doc made about SOB
5. Hopefully we'll get an interview with the founder's son, but if not it wouldn't be the worst case scenario.
6. The final shot, which will be filed under top secret until further notice.
7. And whatever else we might stumble across while there.
Other than that, Nate and I have been trying like hell to get in touch with Dr. Walter Edgar from USC. He's a big-shot South Carolina historian who wrote the founder's obituary. He also happens to have strong opinions about certain SOB folklore. Though interviews with other people might not be such a big deal, we more or less need Walter Edgar for this doc to succeed (at least in my opinion). Hell, if I have to I'll drive to Columbia everyday until he agrees.
Finally, part of SOB's story involves the outlawing of video poker in South Carolina. Religious groups and other anti-gambling organizations supposedly ran a fierce anti-video poker campaign before a state-wide referendum. There's no doubt that they ran commercials. I need to track these down ASAP.
The icing on the cake is that we're now planning on doing a premier at the 2009 Charleston International Film Festival. That is if they take us, but lets be honest South Carolina people LOVE things that have to do with South Carolina. Either way, the deadline for submissions is sometime in January. Now what exactly does that mean?
Well, Virginia Friedman, who runs the Center for the Documentary at CofC, and helped get us our grant let me borrow a book about film festivals. According to this book you can screen film a film as a "work in progress" or WIP. Filmmakers often do this so that they can hold multiple premiers because a screening as a WIP doesn't count as a legit premier. This makes sense because I saw a WIP film about Hunter S. Thompson a few years ago at the Full Frame Documentary Festival.
But here's the bottom line: I need to have a working draft cut together by the end of winter break. Its as simple as that.
And the whole work in progress screening may sound like a novel idea. But the last thing I need is to stick around Charleston to finish a film. So more realistically speaking, this doc needs to be done before next April or I'll probably lose my mind.
The good news is that we've come up with a list of all the scenes that are going to make the film. Even better news is that I've made rough cuts of about 3/4's of these scenes. The bad news is that the rest of the scenes need to be cut together, and everything needs to be tightened up. Finally, the news that walks the fine line is that the scenes need to be organized into a watchable film! This friends is the most important and thereby hardest part.
Though part of me is overwhelmed, the thought of finally seeing a draft of this long and drawn out project is all the motivation I need to get it done.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Missing Link Records was a large mostly vinyl music store that recently downgraded to a tiny building outside of the arts district that helped give its former location(s) some character. I'm a huge fan of vinyl and at one point Missing Link had a huge selection. The worst part is how I found out about its closing.
My friend Zach and I drove to the new location and saw a sign on the door that said the location would be closed "indefinitely". Somehow or another Key Cinemas entered the conversation and when I went home to look up movie times I read about how it had closed too. This theater would show the kind of the real independent cinema that has at best a small chance of making it into the bigger chains. Last year the opening of an "art" theater that also plays popular Hollywood films probably helped seal the deal.
On a brighter note, I found a few issues of Carmel Magazine while at home. Carmel is a suburb of Indianapolis that is apparently worthy of its own monthly magazine. I found two covers particularly funny and my next blog will be those covers with fun captions.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Talking with someone through a computer screen is weird. Ah the technology! I soon began to think about other uses of webcams and how a lot of people use them to vlog. After hopping on the blog bandwagon I've decided to start a vlog. Just kidding. But I would like to digress on the subject.
There's something about experiencing a real person that's gives a sense of who that person is. And experiencing a video of a person is the next best thing to seeing him or her in the flesh. When a person vlogs as opposed to blogs, what they're essentially doing is recording a message to the world. Its a peculiar phenomenon.
With this in mind, I've picked up a few subscriptions to vlogs over my time as a Youtube member. I think the most interesting vlogs are the ones of real people. The vlogs that don't have any production value or edits are my favorites. These blogs are just normal people throwing part of themselves out to the world... in the form of a video on Youtube.
I did a search tonight for "First Vlog" on Youtube and pulled up about 10 videos. These three are the most intersting:
A 16 year old kid with braces talks briefly about his small town life. He apparently has an "online reputation" as a blogger. Interesting...
A 12 year old girl from what sounds like Britain talks about giving too much information out on the internet... and her love of eating. Weird as hell.
An American college student vlogs while studying abroad in Holland. She mostly gives out tips to people who want to study abroad but I'll go ahead and assume the vlog's partly giving her friends and family a way to keep up with her.
I could surf Youtube all day looking at these first vlogs, and I might even keep tabs on a few. But here are two vlogs I've seen before. I subcribe to both of these guys but I rarely check their vlogs out:
This is one of the saddest videos I've seen. The guy's name is Alonzo and he's a graphic artist/designer. His blogs are mostly uplifting, he's religious, and a bit nerdy. His youtube name is AVTpro, and this vlog was made the day after his mom died.
Its kind of shocking to see someone talk so openly and publicly about something so personal. I almost felt uncomfortable watching it. But its definitely a way to deal with problems. From surveying his vlogs, Alonzo comes off as a really nice guy and its horrible to see something bad happen to him.
To end on an uplifting note, the last vlog of note in this blog will be one by Benny Coma. According to his blog, Benny "is available, for a nominal fee, to legally perform weddings, funerals, and non-denominational bar mitvahs". He mostly does sketches but this video is a bit different. I don't know if it actually counts as a vlog because its actually just a guy singing a song to a webcam, but I'll count it anyway. The song is called Olive and he wrote it for his daughter. Someday she'll be happy he did this.
I've joked before about making a documentary about vlogs. The weirdest thing to me is that young kids are really into this stuff. To think your entire life could be chronicled on the internet... this notion will undoubtedly be a reality for some. The internet blows my mind.
Though its not likely that I'll ever start a vlog of my own, I do appreciate them. Anyway, a blog's good enough for me.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Packed with wholly inappropriate and politically incorrect jokes, this show was destined to end up on HBO.
Though this series is a comedy, any tv/film dealing with the subject matter of high school will surely include themes and situations we've already seen (or even worse experienced). But the thing that sets this show apart from others is its faux-documentary format. The mockumentary genre is usually reserved for film.
If nothing else this show will prove to successfully emulate the look and structure of a documentary... about high school life like you've never seen it before. Therefore expect no conventional television plot from Summer Heights High as the 30 minute episodes consist of quick humorous interwoven scenes almost exclusively involving the three main characters.
With only seeing the introductory episode, I think the thoughtless humor and lack of plot are conducive to fast paced entertainment, but these things take away opportunities to sing to the moral wants/needs of the audience, which is the theoretical reason people enjoy watching film/tv. When the characters aren't tried by worthy causes, when they don't have a chance to be express themselves through anything more than dick jokes, I can't help but get the impression that Summer Heights High is just another sign of the times where ultra-dumb humor rises above the rest. Don't get me wrong, its fun in short doses but not worthy of a stellar review.
The other problem I had with this show was the pace of the editing. There are far too many cuts. What happened to the good old days when cutting between one shot and another would convey something. I know this is television for the face-book generation but in my opinion cuts should be made for a better reason than simply keeping attention deficit-ed (new word, yeah! sorry I lost my train of thought) viewers from switching the channel.
If you believe watching television should be little more than pure entertainment, then Summer Heights High is for you. As immature as the humor is, its filled with plenty of laugh out loud moments. And on a final note, its impressive to see that an unknown actor (at least in the States) has somehow written and starred 3 times in a single show.
The Good: Jokes push the limit of being in really bad taste.
The Bad: Face value humor and an obnoxious editing detract from any sort of meaningful viewing experience.
The Ugly: When I said offensive jokes were good... that doesn't include the ones making fun of handicapped kids.
Watch this show if: You need to stop thinking for 30 minutes... and have HBO. If not there's always MTV or Youtube.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
The City Green from Jesse Berger on Vimeo.
After weeks of procrastinating I finally put The City Green online tonight. Though Youtube is my preferred online video service I used Vimeo because the film is over the 10 minute limit for Youtube uploads. I'm not a fan of watching films online partly because the quality is worse but more because its hard to concentrate when you're sitting in front of a computer. Oh well, enjoy.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I finally got around to filming nude people and surprise surprise, it
wasn't porn! My friend Becca who works for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art helped get me a job which entailed filming a movement performance piece entitled "The Pentagram of Loss" and editing the footage into a five minute video. Luckily for me Pinky Bass, the artist responsible for creating the performance insisted I film the rehearsal as well. I ended up going with the mentality that I was shooting a documentary and cut together a short "mini-doc". Here's the final product:
Pentagram of Loss from Jesse Berger on Vimeo.
Apparently another videographer was set to do the piece but this fell through. I'd like to think he/she was too intimidated by the whole naked thing. To be honest neither I, nor most people I know have had the chance to see a performance so strange. And who would have thought it would occur in Charleston?
I tried my best to show clips which exemplify the character of Pinky Bass in the video. From what I could tell, she was kind, humble, and eccentric in the fun artistic way. Instead of brooding in despair, she's used her artistic nature to get over the loss of the five people who meant the most to her in life.
When I described the piece to a friend he basically asked if avant garde acts of the likes have real artistic merit. Utilizing the human body in its natural form may come off as shock-value, though it should not. I'd like to point out that Pinky's motivation for the piece is derived from real tragedy. And there's no getting around how brave it is for an older woman to be nude in front of a group of people. She also had enough artistic integrity to convince other people to act in the nude as well so kudos to her.
Filming such interesting material only happens so often and I'm quite thankful for the opportunity.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Now its time to finish filming and get serious with editing South of the Border. Nate and I are going to make what could be our final trip (in the context of this doc) to SOB sometime soon.
This fall break I brought my computer and hard-drives containing all the footage to North Charleston where I'm cat-sitting. I was holed up for a solid 48 hours without the internet sorting through the many hours of interviews and b-roll we have. I also began testing out ideas for scenes. Now that I've become thoroughly acquainted with all the newly organized footage its about time to put together a draft.
I had the chance to get in touch with journalist Lisa Napoli last week. She made a 30 minute documentary about South of the Border in the early 1990's. Nate and I didn't find out about this until we were reading the master's thesis Laura Christenson wrote about the place and saw the doc in the footnotes. When I first saw this I got a terrible feeling in my stomach because the worst thing in the world would be finding out half-way through shooting that our film had already been made. I tracked down a copy of the film and watched it a few months ago. Luckily it takes a completely different angle than ours.
Talking to Lisa was re-assuring, and just what I needed to kick-start the editing process. She's become a really successful journalist, and my first "contact" in L.A. where she currently lives.
She also gave us permission to do a special scene that involves using an "excerpt" from her documentary.
The interviews we have so far have a good bit of substance, and the rough "scenes" I've been working on show some promise for a fun and quirky doc. This roadside attraction happens to be a brilliant slice of Americana, and that is definitely going to come across well in this doc.
Monday, October 6, 2008
We filmed the band and cut together a little piece:
Besides being really talented, I hold a lot of respect for these guys (Dennis Gruenling, Steve Guyger, Doug Deming, Mookie Brill, and Dean Shot) for being nice enough to let us use their music. We need independent artists because using major label music can get you sued... or worse because music rights problems can hold up distribution.
In my quest to find music for our film, the guys from this band are by far the most down to earth players I've met. A few other artists I talked to were completely full of themselves. For example New York band The Wiyos told me via email that they weren't interested unless the film was guaranteed major distribution, and that they'd have to see a final version of the film before they would agree. We're students, we're definitely not going to make any money off this project, and we'll be lucky if we can get any sort of distribution at all. Who do these guys think they are?
Dennis Gruenling was quite an interesting character. He looks bluesy, talks bluesy, and personifies the struggling artist type. He admitted to sometimes sleeping in his van, and this isn't your punk cousin that decided to drop out of college and tour with his band. Dennis has been playing for quite some time and is recognized by blues aficionados as an accomplished musician. Though his chances of knocking whatever shitty group off the top of the charts are slim, I was surprised to see how many videos of this guy are on youtube. I feel like I've uncovered an underground blues movement that I had no idea existed. And that's exciting in its own rite.
Thanks again to the members of the Tribute to Little Walter for being cool with us and giving me my first real blues concert.
Friday, October 3, 2008
The City Green took us about three and a half days to shoot. I wrote it last summer with C.J. Avery who I met through my good friend Alex Hesemann. Alex is credited as Phantom Producer. What the hell is a Phantom Producer? Here's my critera:
1. If it weren't for this person, the film might not have happened.
2. The person must live in another state and never work on the set.
3. A Phantom Producer must be involved in the film from when its first conceived to the final cut.
Taylor Townes plays the one and only real actor. The music in the film was composed by him as well. This was my first experience with using any type of storyboarding, and my first (and hopefully last) artsy-fartsy film. This was also my first time shooting with a dolly, which I built with Nasty Nate. Antonio Robinson was my assistant director and right hand man on the set. Finally, Zac Mallard did the drawings used in the film, which turned out well for that purpose and have also been an excellent marketing tool.
Above everything else, this film is an ode to some of my favorite places in Charleston. The owner of City Lights, Sean, was nice enough to let us shoot inside and made the suggestion that we screen it there as well. At first I was apprehensive because City Lights is a small venue, but it later dawned on me that it could be an intimate experience and it will hopefully be easy to turn out a packed house. By the way this event is free... so come.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The call time for this shoot was a brutal 7am but I picked up a delicious breakfast from McDonalds to get the day started right. This was a HD shoot, and video was shot to disk rather than tape. My job included dumping footage from cameras onto hard-drives and taking production stills among other things. We wrapped at 7pm and besides an impressive farmer's tan, all I've got to show for a long day's work (until I get paid) are the pictures I took below:
Probably the best picture I've ever taken.
The crowd starts turning out.
Justin filming Mayor Joe Riley...
Who interrupted a crazy ukalaylee band...
Suzie Webster of Evergreen Concepts...
Her husband Drew Franyo...
And their oldest daugher in the middle.
A Taco Boy showing off his sauce bottle skills.
A priceless face.
Another priceless face...
And a sad looking dog to top it all off.
*The guy in the top left
was my roommate freshman year.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Following up their Oscar triumphing No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers dished out a playful and wry take on intelligence in their latest film Burn After Reading. Set in
Though John Malkovich does an excellent job of portraying the spiteful and broken down Cox, the story quickly shifts away from him to a web of seemingly unrelated characters who are miraculously joined together. This tactic is usually a mistake. Fortunately this contrived story finds strength in its own absurdity. Plays on intelligence/stupidity are used on everyone from high-ranking CIA officials to the plot driving dimwitted conspirators. The only thing holding this film back is Brad Pitt. He’s simply too much of a celebrity to take seriously, or un-seriously as he is supposed to be in this film. His character is supposed to be annoying but considering how annoying he is in real life, almost any other actor would have been a better choice.
Besides that, what made this film do it for me were things I enjoy in most other Coen Brothers films. An abundance of tension is used to keep the audience engaged. Bad guy stereotypes aren’t always given their just desserts, just as characters we empathize with receive tragedy over salvation. And underlying everything else, this film takes the myth of love/marriage and thoroughly dispels it.
In Coen Brothers films it’s the little things that count and Burn After Reading is no exception. Dry one liners are well written and performed, as are the bit characters who contribute to some of its funnier moments. Another high note of Burn are its Hitchcockian red herrings which work to delay the unraveling of mystery. Though this film is hardly the Oscar material that No Country turned out to be, Burn After Reading stands on its own as a smart and offbeat comedy. Its flaws are minor enough to be overlooked and considering what it had to follow up I can’t say I was disappointed.
The Good: Bit role gems such as J.K. Simmons as a C.I.A. official are worth every bit of the $9 or more you’ll pay to see this at the theatre.
The Bad: Without spoiling too much, the climax is somewhat muted and the abrupt conclusion leaves a few loose ends.
The Ugly: Brad Pitt
See this film if: You’d enjoy sleeping with your twice removed 3rd cousin… and that cousin is Dr. Strangelove.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
1. Burst onto the blog scene and build legions of loyal supporters that will click on all my ads and eventually make me a millionaire.
2. Write things about people without using their names so I can passively yet aggressively get some seriously gratifying payback.
3. Meet an internet girlfriend.
On a more serious note I'll be posting updates of my current film projects, random youtube videos, film reviews from time to time, and rants about things I find annoying. All I need in life is another distraction so expect updates quite often... at least until I get burned out on this blogging thing.