Thursday, March 5, 2009

LOST: Season 5:Ep. 8 "LaFleur"

I always planned on blogging both about my method (and evolution) as a storyteller AND also talking about the stories that I like/inspire me. Serial TV shows (that is, TV shows that tell a story in the long form) are my current favorite format. It takes the visuals of the film, and applies it to a long form of storytelling - where time is taken to explore both plot and character development at pace that fully immerses you in the experience. Currently, the epitome of this experience for me is the show "LOST". And I couldn't be happier than to have an episode like this week's (titled "LaFleur") to begin with.

But before I dig into this week's episode, I suppose I should explain why I love this show, and how it is I came to love it so. As well as provide the backstory for the ongoing debate in my apartment between me and my roommate (I love "LOST", he used to - but has lost interest in this pun intended).

See, we both discovered "LOST" on DVD. If you are a fan of the show, then you know the premise (airplane crashes on mysterious island, survivors deal with monsters, scary "others", and an assortment of ghosts, abandoned science/research stations, and time/space displacement) and you know that the first two seasons spent the majority of time with character development against the backdrop of weirdness, and the third season redefined the concept of "teasing" by constantly showing weirdness, and then refusing to provide any explanation for said weirdness. Season Four began answering questions, and this trend has continued to this (the fifth) season. However, the answers are coming more in the form of exposition right now, rather than just answering the basics (what the hell is exactly going on?)

Now, when you are watching a show like "LOST" on DVD, you can keep watching until you are satisfied. Alot more story can be told by sitting through 4 episodes in a row, uninterrupted by commercials, and always knowing that another 45+ minutes of story is at your finger tips - should you decide you want just one more. That makes for a very satisfying experience - even if you have to suffer through a bunch of poorly written episodes - like some of the early Season 3 episodes.

But you have to have much more patience when dealing with a show on a week to week basis. Especially when dealing with a show like "LOST" which has always been about the journey, and not so much the destination/endgame. And a show like "LOST" has such a dense story to tell, that it has to be careful to provide just enough exposition, while still maintaining much of its mystery. This becomes increasingly difficult as we get closer to the endgame, and the audience has become way too familiar with show's MO's (giving us a "who is that?" moment, and then showing us its the least likely person). However, this show has taken advantage of this comfort level of the audience in the past (see third season finale)

Having said that, I have no illusion that we're going to get the BIG answers this season. Who is Jacob? What is the monster? What is the island? But what we will get is as much backstory as is required to be set up for the endgame. And in this case I would like to remind those people who have lost faith there are two big factors hinted at in the first two seasons:
1. As John Locke explained the basics of backgammon to Walt in the pilot episode - to sides compete, one light, one dark.
2. The Dharma Initiative - which despite the revelations we've gotten since Season 2, is still shrowded in much secrecy. For instance - who thought Charles Widmore was with the DI until it was revealed he was actually an Other? I'll go ahead and be the first to raise my hand.

Therefore, this season really has two big objectives. First - move the pieces/characters into place in the setup for "the war" (which has been eluded to since the begining), and giving us the background of the Dharma Initiative. Last week's episode "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" gave us hard evidence of the former, while this week's episode has started to provide the later.

In my opinon, this season has been all about turning everything around. All of a sudden, those characters who seemed omnipotent, are now clueless, and our main characters are the ones spooking them out, giving them mystery. The scene between Sawyer and Richard (the ageless wonder) Alpert is a perfect example of this. How could you not love the look on Richard's face as Sawyer blew his mind with knowledge of the hydrogen bomb, and of John Locke. I don't care how "Back to the Future" it is that the main characters are now triggering past events that effected them in earlier seasons. From my understanding, the story was always going to go here. What happened, happened - as Daniel (not me, the character) keeps saying. I mean, how else are we going to really know what was going on with the Dharma Initiative?

Last night's episode explored so much of what we always wondered, while also providing new ground. Forget about the revelation that Sawyer & co infiltrated the DI and were causing the course of history to occur. There was so much more there. Some examples:

1. Remember the foot from season two? Sooooo creepy. Well, how does THIS grab you? Its as if the writers are telling us "there is alot of history on this island - all of it important - and all of it will be explained in due time. I don't think you can explain the statue without exposing some of the answers to the big questions (who are the others, what is Jacob, what is the island). So for now, we'll have to be satisfied that the writers are steering us in the right direction.

2. We learned that Horrace is the "current" leader of the Dharma Initiative. No sign of Dr. Marvin Candle...or Pierre Chang...or whatever his name is yet. But we'll get there. And what is it that they are doing there? I think we're getting there too.

3. We learned that whatever is causing pregnent women to die on the island, has not happened yet. I think this is significant.

4. Did I mention the scene between Sawyer and Richard? Do you remember how maddening it was that "The Others" knew so much about the flight 815 survivors in seasons 1-3, and we had no idea how. Its nice to see the tables turned a bit. I am sure some scenes where we'll see the tables turned on Ben is in our near-future as well.

I think we are primed to learn SO MUCH in the upcoming episodes. You can't spend this much time with the Dharma Initiative without revealing information a ton of information about the island, the others, etc.

Wow, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface, and yet the hour grows late. I guess I can take advantage of the fact that there is no new episode of Lost next Wednesday, and accumulate my theories on what is going on. For now, l'll summarize that I love this show, and last night's episode provided many examples of why.

And now that I got that out of my system, its time to flex my own creative muscles and turn my attention to the "SPR" trailer. More on that next time...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

One Blog Per Day - Check, One Shot Per Day - Check.

Well, its Wednesday. Hump Day. Whip'em Out Wednesday. Whatever you want to call it (Wednesday).

I am staring down the barrel of a long weekend - not the kind of long weekend you want (more than 2 days), I mean "long" as in stuff to do. In fact, my weekends are all packed to the punch this month - and if you have been keeping score, you know I have a major editing project (the "SPR" trailer) with a soft deadline somewhere in mid April (I haven't received real confirmation on when the trailer is expected, but since I am suppose to pass my work along for sound mixing, and it will possibly be sent back to me with notes to add/delete/change things - I figure mid-April gives us enough time before the book's release)

So, my current two favorite pass-times will be time-sharing my evening. Trailer work, and "Lost" watching (which if you have been following this time-travelling season, it can be considered "work" as well). I am currently working at the rate of one shot per night - that means the trailer grows by one new shot each night. So before I can sit down for some sweet, sweet, "Lost" action - I'll have to complete my one-shot-per-night objective. Thank God for DVR.

I'll spend tomorrow analyzing tonight's "Lost", but today I'll tell you about my one-shot-per-night procedure. (Note: eventually I'll have to start completing more than one shot per night, or I'll never be finished - let alone finished by April).

1. I drive to work listening to the song that will the primary sound bed of the trailer - the song, band, and band leader all deserve their own post dedicated them, so I'll go into detail about the song in the near future - for now, just know that it's really catchy.

2. I get an idea in my head - I literally see an action play out to a specific portion of the song. I make a mental note about it. Many times this action-to-specific-part-of-song is nowhere near where I am in the trailer timeline, so suffice to say that I have many shots on que right now. But thus far, I have been lucky enough to come always have the next shot/cut/transition in mind when I sit down in front of "Biff" (Dave's nickname for my editing computer, which is so big, it looks like it would bully other computers.....other nicknames are "the time machine" and "Hydra".....but I digress"

3. At some point in the evening, I finally sit down in front of "Biff" and start preparing my next shot. I have all of the "SPR" comic strips & drawings stored in my computer, but they usually require some adjusting in photoshop due to the need for something to always be in motion - I believe this to be a key trick to editing a book trailer, since nothing bores the eye more than a stationary picture. So if a drawing isn't animated, there needs to be "camera movement" or some kind of transition occuring.

4. Anyway, I adjust my pictures to fit the trailer, and then insert them into the timeline - cutting it to get maximum effect in minimal time. This is also key because I am still in the "first act" of the trailer, and almost up to the 30 second mark. Considering the original thought by the "SPR" creators was that the trailer be 60 seconds....well, you do the math. But I think Dave is enthusiastic enough about the trailer at this point to want to see how far I can take this thing....and Dave, you aint seen nothing yet (and anybody else reading this - you literally aint seen nothing yet....but again, I digress)

If all goes as planned, this trailer will be a visual spectacle - meaning it'll keep you interested all the way through, and even ramp up your excitement level as we build towards the climax of the Trailer's "third act" (which I have already practically storyboarded mentally in its entirety - say that 5 times fast). I couldn't be more excited and nervous about a project....since it really is breaking new ground for me (not a real flesh & blood person to be seen anywhere). I really hope Biff can handle it.

Did I mention I was also excited about "Lost"?

More on that in the 'morrow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All Work and Snow Day Makes Dan a Dull Blog

Now, I realize that this blog has the potential to become a national, if not international (if not, intergalactical) sensation, but all you non-NJ/NY readers will have to excuse me if I play it a little local today.

See, we recently had a bit of snow in the last 24 hours. It was enough to trigger a wonderful phenomenon known as the "Snow Day". Its like a little gift from the "lazy gods" who reward you with an unscheduled vacation day. And since I am in Hoboken, with nary a driveway to shovel (or a car to plow out), I was completely free to do whatever I wanted. Work tiredlessly on the "SPR" trailer, enrich the internet with another detailed blog post,.....or take multiple naps inbetween multiple OnDemand sessions with my TV.

So, yes....while I did get some work done on the trailer, my brain definitely wanted just as much of a Snow Day as the rest of my body. I am only human. One. Lazy. Good-for-nothing. Human.

But the good news is we have a whole week work and play to talk about! Not only will I dive into my thought process & philosophy for this trailer, but also I will discuss my latest favorite form of storytelling - the television serial. I plan on discussing my favorites ("Lost", "Big Love") and the ones I hate - yet can't turn away from ("Heroes").

In the meantime, I'll have to cut this one short - since yesterday's snow day has given today the power punch of both a Monday AND a Tuesday. Gotta go pay the bills.

Oh - and a big shout out to my lil' sister, who turns (gulp) 28 today! Happy Birthday B!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wanna Disappoint Mom? Two Words: "Punk Rock"!

It's time to get the word out! There's a new book coming out in July, and its called.......

"So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)"

It's written by YA (that's "Young Adult" to you and me) author, Micol Ostow. And while there is a special place in my heart for the written word, my brain is hardwired for visuals (which helps with the whole filmmaking/editing thing), so its a good thing illustrator David Ostow did such a kick-ass job filling this novel with comic strips that interweve through the chapters, elevating this story above a mere novel, or graphic novel. Its both, and its niether - a perfect blend of what makes both formats great.

Ok, so you get the gist - "So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Yor Mother)" (or "SPR") is a groovy blend of words and pictures. What is the story about? Why am I pimping it out? How could I even know enough to pimp it out when its not hitting bookstores until July? And wasn't I going to write about my new editing project today?

Well, David Ostow just so happens to my roommate and bestest friend in the whole world. And Micol Ostow just so happens to be his sister. Which makes me an "insider"! That's right, I may not be a member of Team Ostow, but I walked in on many a creative meeting between the two. And since Dave's drafting studio (bedroom) is on the other side of our spaciaous (and awesome) Hoboken apartment, I watched the whole graphic portion of the novel come into being. I even have a cameo in one of the strips! Welcome to minute one of my fifteen!

For those of you lazy motherf*&#'s that didn't click on the link I provided, "SPR" is basically a story about dreaming big, breaking molds, and the consequences that follow. Specifically, its about a group of privaleged high school kids that live in the bubble of a tight Jewish community in North Jersey. Its not exactly the type of environment you'd expect a punk rock band to emerge from. But that's exactly what Ari Abramson, a junior at a religious private school, sets out to do. And from a student body more suited for prayer and study, than sex, drugs and rock & roll, Ari sets out to recruit the band that'll make him a rockstar. Intrigued? I know I am. Is it July yet?

If it isn't obvious yet, my new editing project is related to "SPR". Or to be more specific, the marketing of "SPR". The days of one-sheet ads for new books are gone, my friends. The fine people of the publishing industry have taken a page from Hollywood's gamebook, and now - books get trailers! That's right - just like the ones you see for movies. Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself, bee-yotch! (Sorry, that was uncalled are not a bee-yotch)

Which brings us full circle back The Powers That Be have decreed that "SPR" needs a trailer, and since I was the first editor in the vicinity of the book's creators, I was called up from the minor leagues. See you later, youtube suckers! I'm getting embedded on an a publisher's offical website!

But I'm getting waaaaaaay ahead of myself. I only started work on the trailer this week, and its a whole new area for me. Animation! Well, not traditional animation. Dave an I are collaborating on using his drawings to make a trailer that stays true to the style and tone of the book, while also whetting your appetite and giving your eyeballs boners. (ok, again...that was innappropriate...but cut me some slack, Jack - I've been staring at computer screens for 12 hours today. Plus I'm reeeeeeeeeally sleep deprived. So just give me a pass on the whole eyeball boner thing, ok?)

Now that I've introduced you to "SPR" and caught you up to speed on my current project, I'll leave you to your thoughts. Or I can leave you with Dave's thoughts, or Micol's - you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

Next time on "Burn After Blogging": "SPR" Trailer updates, whatever thoughts are going through my fried brain, and 10,000 more words of pure blog goodness!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Let There Be BLOG!!!!

And the internet saw that there was blog, and it was good......

Man, am I excited! Today is the first day of the rest of my blog. Seriously, I have been meaning to kick this thing into high gear for over a week now. But like a wise songwriter once wrote, "I run good, but I'm hard to start, and my breaks are bad so I'm hard to stop". The proof is in the pudding (as the kids say) that the first part applies to me. Let's hope that the second part is just as accurate, eh? (elbow, elbow).

You see, I need this blog. It completes me. This is not hyperbole (ok, maybe a little).

I'm a storyteller. Its not just what I do, its who I am. Its not a calling, its my nature. To create a world, structure a narrative, and use my imagination to capture somebody else's........damn....I litereally ache to do that. And when I do.....I feel complete. Like I am walking the path I was meant to.

And the road goes both ways. To get drawn into somebody else's world, be it through written word, moving pictures, or a live performance. I love it all. When I sit at the edge of my seat in suspence, shout out loud in disbelief over a mindbending plot-twish, or feel depressed as I read the last few pages of a book because I don't want to say good-bye to the characters....I can't help but step back and be in awe. For that writer, filmmaker, musician, artist.........for that storyteller to create and share something that's emersive and so emotionally provoking, how could I not want to return the favor?

My drug of choice is filmmaking (writing is my misstriss). While I love all aspects of the filmmaking process, my heart belongs mostly to post production. Specifically editing. Its like sculpting, but instead of a lump of clay, I use a lump of footage to create something. For example:

This is an old piece of work I did. Its a movie trailer for "The Big Lebowski". No, not the official theatrical trailer - let me be clear I am in no way affiliated with the production or marketing of this movie. It was my final project in an editing workshop I took at the New York Film Academy. (Actually, I lost the original version and later recreated it shot for shot on my home system). Its just an example telling a story (albeit not mine) in a way that both entertains AND sells the movie. Go ahead and watch it. If you are both entertained AND teased afterwards, then I did a good job with the trailer. - To be fair, its much too long to be an actual trailer, but it was one of the first things I ever did!

Now for something a little more fun!
Basically, editing is a little like magic. The filmmaker/editor uses various tricks (cuts, pace, music, sequence) to tell a story by connecting unrelated pictures and video clips. If that doesn't sound completely right to you, its because the whole point of this "magic trick" is for the audience to never notice they are even being tricked in the first place. The audience might be moved by top-notch acting, blown away by special effects, or left breathless by brilliant camera work. But the untrained eye will not notice the genius of the editing - its the invisible conductor holding the symphony of film together. Recently, a trend of creating "mash-ups" appeared on the internet. Originally it was an example of the importance of editing - somebody took the movie "The Shining" and edited a trailer out of it, making it look like a romantic comedy. This sparked a wave of creativity across the internet as people recut movies of a certain genre and made them look like a completely different type of movie. (One of my personal favorites is "Ten Things I Hate About Commandments" - a recut trailer of "The Ten Commandments" that makes it look like an teen comedy from the late 90's). I decided to toss my hat into the "mash-up" arena, and I took the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" and cut a trailer mash-up that makes it look like a horror movie. Don't take my word for it, experience the power of editing yourself and click the above link.

Those two trailers were personal projects - just playing around with a medium I love. But its just the tip of the iceberg. I am now a gun for hire. I have created a series of short ads for a law firm, and am working on a longer infomercial for them. I also have a really, really exciting project that I just started - a project who's progress I hope to document with this blog.

But the hour grows late, and this new project deserves to be introduced in a new blog post all its own. Besides, this is only the first post of the rest of my blog. We have time.