Sidebar: The Relevancy of Answers

A Day at the Park

A Day at the Park

A very interesting find.  Very apropos to the mantra of EYESthatHEAR:

“What’s the point if a wrong answer will stop you from returning to the right question.  Although sometimes people have no questions to return to… which is usually why they defend them, with such strong conviction.

That’s exactly why I am extra cautious with all these big ol’ answers that have been lying around, long before we came along.  They bully their way into our collection without being invited by any questions of our own. We accept them just because they have satisfied the questions of so many before us… seeking the questions which fits them instead…

My favorite kind of answers are those that my questions give birth to.  Questions that I managed to keep safe long enough to do so.”

~ Kostas Kiriakakis ~

I believe there are ultimate, universal answers that define our existence.  However, those dynamic answers are connected to a myriad of questions, purposed to challenge how we look at those answers with our finite understanding.  We think our little answers ARE the explanation of that universal answer but, when challenged, our little answers can be smashed into irrelevance. They are deemed insignificant and inadequate.  When found wanting, too many cast both the little and ultimate answer to the curb, disregarding both as a collective ‘wrong.’  But in reality, our answer to, or understanding of the bigger answer was the one in error – not the ultimate thereof.

Much to think about.  Much to “see with our ears, and hear with our eyes” differently.  Each time.

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What IS EYESthatHEAR?

The essence of ETH is storytelling.  It is a Brand born to unify all things I find contributory to the telling of stories through the eyes and ears of my own perspective.  I am a photographer, videographer, editor, graphic artist, writer, singer and musician.  Traditionally, these outlets are how artists tell stories.  But there is now another tool capable of telling stories just as poignantly: Social Media.

On the canvas of the Internet, we paint the story of our lives.  Be it personal or business, the stories we choose to tell are largely open to interpretation – both by self and by others.  Herein lies the art: how an individual crafts, shapes, prioritizes, links, and projects their story (or NOT do any of those things) determines what that story is. The beauty lies in choice and control, or the choice NOT to control.  Whatever the choice (or non choice), the story finds its voice.  I think about it this way:

I have a great passion for the moving image – how footage is shot and arranged within a sequence and scene.  The mood and tone of the scene are dependent on the pacing, relation, or juxtaposition of each shot.  A quicker pace or sharper cuts may make a sequence seem more rigid and serious.  A slower pace and smoother transitions may convey thoughtfulness and warmth.  Content disseminated through varying channels of social media can have the same effect, depending on their timing, style or scale.  Heavy facts mean business.  Conversational tones mean personal.  But that doesn’t mean business is always about facts, or that personal is always warm and conversational.  Switch the contextual roles and you have a humanistic business culture that identifies with their customer, verses a serious and militarily minded person who may be seeking a management position at a correctional institution.  Whatever the choice, careful and purposeful action will determine what story is told.  Back to my point:

What is EYESthatHEAR? It’s a culmination of all things the eyes see, hear and feel juxtaposed, or in tandem with all things the ears hear, see and feel.  The gap between my last blog and now is rather embarrassing, but I’m less apologetic than I maybe should be.  Why? Evolution.  It takes time and space. EYESthatHEAR has undergone a bit of that. Now it includes the artistic interpretation of social media and it’s power to influence – just the same as all other forms of media and art do.

Influence: on me and “how so” on others.   That is ETH.

How NOT to Make Friends

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Infamous Fish-Hooking Move

I’m not going to pretend I fully support Internet regulation and governmental piracy controls.  But I’m also not 100% certain that streaming sites adequately protect the artists they broadcast.  For me, there are a lot of unclear and undefined demarcations.  On one hand I can’t police the entire web on my own, and I would appreciate someone uncovering misuse on my behalf.  At the same time, if you give a thief an inch, he’ll take you for a mile.  This applies to both ends of the argument: ignoring copyright infringement on the basis of 1st Amendment rights, or allowing power to rest in uncertain hands of legislation.   Should the power to regulate and police be with the streamers?  I believe so.  But then we have cases like the YouTube vs. Viacom one of 2010.  This was one of those, “He Says, She Says” cases where both try to “fish-hook” the other side out of the way.  An embarrassing amount of evidence surfaced, proving gross levels of arrogance and the conflagrant abuse of power – on both sides.  Viacom said YouTube had the responsibility to prevent copyrighted material from appearing on their site, but turned a blind eye for fear of losing site traffic.  But Viacom stacked up as no saint, either.  A head executive was quoted directing viral videos be made to look like fan rip-offs – then uploaded to YouTube from a non-business affiliated location.  We want to trust big companies with big resources to keep the fighting clean.  We want to think that we don’t need Big Brother chiming in.  But here we are witnessing a failure of the private sector to keep things honest, or the outright creation of big-box pirating sites like “Megauploads.”  Positioned as a file-storage and sharing site, MU says their piracy-policing tools show they are trying to do things right.  But the U.S. government says their “safe harbor” resources are just a cover.  They claim instead that Megauploads is one of the largest piracy hubs on the net.  Similar to Viacom and YouTube, lead executives left soft-copy trails throughout their email exchanges suggesting awareness and support of illegal practices.  Even if the case fails to gain traction, it is still another example of media powers disregarding copyright laws.  But such pride doesn’t exist solely on a bigger corporate scale.  New schemes and pirating practices are maturing like mold on bread every day.  In March of this year, a twenty-something from Southern California admitted to illegally collecting copyrighted movies to share on the net.  IMAGiNE Group, the company he worked for, was purposed to circumvent pirates by streaming movies online as they hit the theater.  Ironically their employee Sean Lovelady, along with other co-conspirators, illegally captured audio from film premieres to enjoin with stolen video of the film available online.  In short, IMAGiNE employed pirates.  Their pirated content was uploaded to servers owned by IMAGiNE.  Employees of IMAGiNE shared the copyrighted information with each other.  Did IMAGiNE know?  The case doesn’t say.  Even if they weren’t, did they set in place preventative measures against system manipulation?  The question could be posed to YouTube, Viacom and Megauploads, all the same.  So who will be their fact checker?

Enter from left stage: SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, on the heels of PIPA, the Protect IP Act.  The DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, already shuts down pirated content in singularity, but the SOPA and PIPA are designed to attack sites as a whole.  According to the Justice Department, it isn’t enough to simply delete offending content but the sites that host the stolen content.  Sounds reasonable enough – like shutting down crack houses for making and selling drugs.   Of course pirated media are not life-threatening substances, but a law is a law: creations are under copyright protection the moment they are created.  If someone breaks that law, they are accountable for the consequences.   Silicon Valley argues it will stifle innovation and deter start-ups from “starting up” for fear of costly legal fees in the event of ‘accidental’ copyright violation.  But do doctors picket against expensive liability insurance?  Do construction companies storm Washington for being required to have Worker’s Compensation?  No.  They don’t because accidents happen.  Without those types of insurance, they could lose their business.  In the long run, it protects them.  If you want to run a business then treat your company like one.  There are costs associated, and if budding Internet companies want to operate, then they will have to put in fail-safes to keep it running.  Copyright cases surface all the time, and injunctions are ordered at the expense of the offending party – whether unwitting or not.  If you don’t want to go to court, perform due diligence in keeping you site clean.

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Spotify says NO to SOPA/PIPA

But let me step off my soapbox and examine the other side of the argument – the one I’ve previously stated: Crooks abuse power.  In theory, involvement by the Justice Department would help artists protect their source of income.  But do we have a clean record with regards to corruption and greed?  No.  Referring back to the “crack house” example, how many times do we hear of cops who have fallen from grace, taking spoils for themselves?  Respect for governing power has not had a good track record in our country.  I want to slap the hands of pirating enablers just as much as any other artist, but I also don’t want another Pandora box of regulations and policies opened – one that, based on historical facts, will likely be manipulated for gain.  So here I am – we are, stuck between a rock and a hard place.  The cases above prove piracy is no small peanuts.  But should we trust a government agency to take stewardship over it?  Which is the lesser of two evils: ‘trust’ companies to police their own hosted content, or give Big Brother a pass to suffocate free flow of information like Russia, China or Iran?  Tricky indeed.

The Puritanical Debate: Film versus Digital

Since its inception, digital image capturing has faced serious resistance from film professionals – both in still and motion.  The argument being film tangibly preserves an image while digital is a simple rearrangement of ones and zeros. Yet digital is heralded as the next evolution of the art form.  My point of view is that shooting films on film is the highest form of the art because it requires a higher degree of professional expertise.  But when a top director, Martin Scorsese, not only shoots digitally but also in three-dimension (something many pass off as gimmicky), it makes me think twice.  Part of me wants to scream, “Sell Out!”  While the other part, the side that reveres Scorsese, gives him a pass.  There must be something to it if Scorsese, director of the gritty film Raging Bull, takes a leap towards it.

            gizmodo.com

Even so I still prefer film to digital.  Never mind that I own three digital cameras (DLSR, HDV and iPhone 4s).  Don’t judge me.  I have what I have because of production and post-production costs.  In managing a motion media product, I am constrained to my budget – or the lack thereof.  Had I the choice –and the means – I would choose film.  Is it more complicated? Yes.  Is it more costly and time consuming?  Yes.  But I’m a purist in my opinion that images captured on film are real.  Images captured on digital are not.  You catch a crappy image on film – it is what it is.  Honesty.  You catch a crappy shot on digital?  Just hit delete and no one will know.  Janusz Kaminksi, one of Steven Spielberg’s regular cinematographers interviewed with the LA Times, saying that digital makes for a lazy photographer.  I concur – from experience.  “When I was your age….” (and I’m only 30, mind you), I learned to shoot photography with a film camera.  My training took me from black and white, to color and then to slide film, working each in the darkroom and on the light table for hours.  The smell… the feel…. The frustration of seeing my mistakes slowly reveal themselves under the chemicals… It was a process to process.But that time spent made me a better photographer by motivating me to ensure I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.  Importantly, if not more in this context, is the fact that film capturing was a very organic experience. You could literally capture a piece of life, recording it into the emulsion of the film.

     photo.net

Photography and filmmaking are much different now.  Instead of perfecting exposure and camera control, shooters “Chimp.”   ‘Chimping’ is when a photographer shoots a shot, look at the LCD screen or monitor, shoot the shot, look at the screen… adjust settings (or just leave it on auto)… shoot.  Look at screen…. Etc.  It’s why Kaminski laments digital as “the death of the cinematographer,” and creates a co-dependent relationship between the photographer and the review button.  Kaminski continues, “If you see the image on the digital screen I think people become lazy, they get satisfied with just seeing the image, they’re not going for visual panache, not getting the story through metaphors… With film there is still mystery.”  Gone is the confidence that comes with knowing what, why and how a shot is captured.  I won’t lie and say it hasn’t happened to me.   My discipline died when I drank the ‘chimping’ punch.  A ‘sin’ I will never forgive myself of.

But you can’t ignore the fact that digital is here to stay, and professionals like Scorsese and Cameron are on board.  It would not be prudent to push against a bullish trend, but maybe converge the two artfully.  Newer digital cameras are capturing on 4K sensors and projecting “as-is” onto the screen.  Examining the process of traditional 35mm filmmaking and distribution, multiple duplications and projections actually downgrade the film to 1K by the time it reaches the screen.  Audiences have never really “seen” a 4K film in the theater.  Even so, there is still something organic about seeing a movie made from film.  But according to Filmmaker Magazine (Spring 2012 Issue), there is a new generation of filmmakers who hate the texture of film grain.  They are annoyed by small imperfections or the act of looking into a separate world rather than participating in it.  I don’t see that as a bad thing.  We often watch a movie to escape… to see and feel something not akin to real life.  Digital… just makes it too real.  Maybe it’s the way we “old-timers” (again… I’m 30 years old) grew up.  The story of film-making may soon be relegated to rocking chair conversations being reminisced from the front porch.

                   pro8mm.com

Fortunately there are companies still trying to preserve the art of ‘real’ filmmaking, while at the same time marrying film and digital for more efficient post-production workflows. Pro8mm out of Burbank, California is a full-service procurement, rental and processing house for 8mm and 16mm film.  They stock a self-invented Super 8 negative film (16X9) along with Super 8 and Super 16 cameras re-engineered for practical use.  Pro8mm creates digital masters of the film while preserving the look and feel of its original capture.  No I do not work for Pro8mm and no I do not get a cut for ‘selling’ them.  More or less, I am selling the idea that film is not dead.   But Super 8?  Whoa.  Who talks about Super 8 anymore?  Apparently  J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg do. It may take a bit more effort to proselytize its enduring viability, but making films with film is still a valid and valuable medium to work with – a resource professionals persist in using when managing the product of their film.

Links:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/19/entertainment/la-ca-oscars-cinematography-20120219

http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/news/2012/04/good-things-in-smaller-packages-large-sensor-motion-picture-cameras-a-year-later/http://www.pro8mm.com/our-mission.php

Film Tax Incentives: Roll the Credits!

State tax incentives and credits are a hot topic on the minds of all filmmakers these days.  A war wages between two perspectives: entitlement and excess, with each side arguing their views on incongruent grounds.  One side argues the tax credit is a waste of resources, calling for the elimination of film incentives all together.  The other side says without state incentives, film production would move out of state or out of the country – taking jobs with them.  Films take flight elsewhere for two reasons: artistic and economic.  Nobody can help the artistic factor of flight.  But if the states were to eliminate film incentives all together, the production would go to where the benefits are: other countries.  There is definitely an unhealthy “race to the bottom” between states vying for the filmmakers’ attention.  But because tax incentives are prevalent throughout the world, it would behoove the United States to create programs that encourage homegrown films.  After all, according to Select USA, the U.S. leads the world in film and music recording revenue.

However, there are some sustainable truths to the arguments against film tax incentives.  Mark Robyn, Staff Economist for the Tax Foundation wrote that, in some states, a film tax credit is an excess expense.  “Though there are embarrassingly few of them, the studies that use more realistic assumptions and take into account more economic effects have always showed that states lose money on film tax credits. “   One of the main arguments for incentives is that they draw production business to states that would otherwise never see a film crew.  Robyn argues that whether there is a credit or not, films will still be made – especially in places like California.  Therefore, California should not be spending state funds on film incentives – especially in the economic position the state is in.  Another argument states that film productions should receive credits based on their being an economic multiplier.  This is a one-sided argument, seeing how economic stimulation from new business is not unique to the film industry.  So why shouldn’t new companies, based on this comparison, receive similar credit?

I argue that they do.  From the Small Business Development Center’s website:

“America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners continue to grow their businesses and create jobs due to unprecedented tax cuts that have been signed into law over the past two years. This includes billions of dollars in tax relief from laws such as the Recovery Act, the Small Business Jobs Act, the HIRE Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.

Zero Capital Gains Taxes on Key Investments in Small Businesses

  • Capital gains taxes have been fully eliminated on certain small business stock – providing an incentive for key investments in small businesses.

The Recovery Act excluded 75 percent of capital gains from the sale of certain small business investments held more than five years. The Small Business Jobs Act went one step further – excluding all capital gains from these investments in 2010 after the passage of the Small Business Jobs Act from taxes.” (SBDC.gov)

The site page continues in listing nine other tax break or credit benefits as part of its “Fact Sheet: Tax Breaks for Small Businesses.”  So what’s the correlation?  Filmmaking is a business.  Each new film is, in essence, a brand new start-up small business, with the producer acting as lead entrepreneur.  Both take risk, and both suffer from a high rate of failure.  According to statistics, 96% of small business start-ups fail within the first year.  Only half of the left over 4% survive more than four years.  Alexander Malyshev, Former editor of Media Law & Policy wrote, “Put simply, most films lose money, but nevertheless hundreds of films are produced each year – almost in defiance of the laws of supply and demand.”  He’s referring to the roughly 600 films of which only a handful generates big-ticket success.  A little over 500,000 small businesses are registered every year.  96% of that is… 480,000, leaving a ‘handful’ still in existence.  Wisconsin Commerce Deputy Secretary Aaron Oliver says the number of jobs generated by film production is finite. “[It is the] ‘least effective’ economic tool… if we had to choose, we could get one full-time job on a film for one year or we could get twenty factory jobs that might last for 20 years.”  Our present economic reality says different.  To argue that the opportunity cost for government spending on film tax credits is a non-productive use can be applied just the same to small business ventures, given the rate of failure.  When 96% of start-ups fail after the first year, why shouldn’t the same employees of those failed businesses join up with a film crew that comes into town?  Their ‘job security’ will be about the same.

Still… there are more accountability measures that keep small businesses responsiblethan there are for film productions.  I agree with Robyn in that the budgetary treatments of film incentives should be more transparent. However, I do not agree with Robyn that film credits should be lumped into education and public health spending categories.   Instead, registrations and answerability measures should be emplaced if filmmakers are to seek tax breaks.  I think a major factor in film revenue failures is that filmmakers do not treat the production as a business.  They do not value it enough as a product by which money is made.  A major factor of success in business includes not only money and crew, but also education, experience and a reason – or purpose.  Filmmakers would do well to learn something about business and how to plan for long term revenue goals ­in addition to cinematography, casting and craft service.  But how do you measure the intangible, or as OCU’s economist Kyle Dean says, “an inexact science?”  Implement tax liabilities and assign risk premiums based on track records of producers and production companies.  Then maybe filmmakers will think twice about pouring state money into a love-child film.

There is nothing wrong with taking risk when creating art, just like there is nothing wrong with giving your best shot at starting your own business.  It’s the American Dream.  But there is something wrong with misusing taxpayers’ dollars.  That I can agree on.  It doesn’t help anybody to fuel the growing assumption that all film producers are solely interested in chasing the biggest and most lucrative tax incentive.  It also doesn’t help to argue predominantly on the ‘glamour’ factor that films bring to varying states.  In my opinion, that comes from a weak and condescending attitude.  Argue instead that you, as a filmmaker, are an entrepreneur.  Therein lies the entitlement to state and government support – just like a small business.  The clout and respect will come – only if you treat it like a business.

Ref Links:
http://www.247advisor.com/artman/publish/start-up-statistics.html
http://taxfoundation.org/news/show/27135.html
http://www.civitasreview.com/budget-taxes/welfare-for-movie-stars/
http://www.nyls.edu/user_files/1/3/4/30/84/88/19.2 Financing Film MLP.pdf
http://www.taxfoundation.org/blog/show/26750.html
http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/printer/27690.html
http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma/2011/10/14/what-we-learned-about-film-incentives-at-wednesday’s-tax-credit-task-force-meeting/
http://www.sba.gov/content/fact-sheet-tax-breaks-small-businesses
http://selectusa.commerce.gov/industry-snapshots/creative-media-industry-united-states
Image: http://www.enloop.com/blog/small_business_spotlight_davidson_films

Ode to the Athenian Philosophers

Dear TEDtalks.  Oh how I wish I could say you are both enlightening and inspiring to me, but I cannot.  There is nothing ground breaking or revolutionary about your initiative (i.e. the term “accelerated innovation”), as all I could think about when watching your videos were the competitions hosted by Socrates and Plato during the reign of the Roman Empire.  The only difference is the forum for exhibition is a digital one.  I will say I was impressed with Christopher Makau: a man who organized a TED event in the Kibera Slums of Kenya.  I also identified with the words of Gale Tzemach Lemmon in her speech about women entrepreneurs being the example – not the exception.  Still, I struggled to sit through enough videos to find a topic I could find my own heart in.  Maybe it’s because I’m more inclined to watch American Film Institute interviews, or “Behind the Scenes” vignettes included as part of DVD supplemental materials.  And maybe it’s a matter of taste, not preferring to sit through pontifications of budding orators presenting established thoughts and ideas as if they were brand new.  It’s harsh.  I know.  But what is a blog roll without a little honest opining?

I prefer humble, private discussions with leaders in my favored industry – directors like Sydney Pollack.

ImageHere’s a man who is totally unassuming, yet a genius when it comes to interpreting the life of humanity through film.  Director Shekhar Kapur spoke in a TED event on how we are the stories we tell ourselves, and I appreciated that.  But the format for delivery is not for my taste.  Give me a two-camera shoot with the subject and interviewer sitting in a private den or study, talking about the simple geniuses of every day life – not as if they are new discoveries, but in a place of respect and reverence.  I don’t need all the trappings of elaborate set design and hoards of enamored people.  Let the films, the work of these greats speak for themselves.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.”