October 20, 2011

New York, New York

I'm here, quite suddenly, working as production designer on a feature film called "Light Years." Would add more, but we shoot in 11 days! Time to get to work...

October 14, 2011

Quilts of Valor - Day One (Perham, Minnesota)

Over the next few days I'm traveling by bus with a group of 30 quilters, all of whom participate in a network called Quilts of Valor. They deliver (in this case by hand) hand-made, heirloom quality quilts to wounded soldiers returning from combat as a symbol of their gratitude for the soldier's service.

The idea is: soldiers comes home from active duty, and despite all the hoopla associated with a war or conflict, very little is done for them when they're spit back out of the machinery of the modern military and back into civilian life. There's certainly no big parade, and sometimes not even a thank you. These quilters feel that soldiers shouldn't go their whole lives wondering if anyone else cared one way or the other.

With that in mind, I'll be traveling with a group of QoV quilters to film and document their journey on behalf of Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting (a very popular program out of Iowa Public Television, and big sister to the internet sensation known as Quilty). We'll be escorted by an honor guard of motorcyclists, and headed for military hospitals at Fort Hood and Fort Sam in Texas to deliver 1,000 quilts.
Earlier today I flew into Fargo, and am staying the night in Perham, Minnesota before heading out tomorrow morning. I'm in the home of the Caugheys, who are helping organize the trip, and are longtime Perham residents. The town's lifeblood these days is fed in large part by tourists attracted to the ridiculous number of lakes (pictured above), and a company called KLN Family Brands, who transitioned a few generations ago from farmers to makers of potato chips, licorice, and dog food (fortunately not all in the same factory).

KLN, as I've come to find out, is a surprisingly progressive, and family owned, company. For instance, they've let residents use company vehicles to shuttle little league players to faraway baseball games, they have profit sharing benefits with their employees, and have even helped cover shortfalls in the local school's budget so their workforce wouldn't have to contend with closing elementary schools. It's rare to find a company so readily invested in the livelihoods and communities of their workers, and that attitude has certainly helped Perham withstand the downward cycle plaguing the other agricultural communities in this part of the country. The vibe here is nice.

Tomorrow: hitting the road...

October 13, 2011

New(ish) Work: "Forget Me Not"

This little movie premiered August 30th, 2010, at Chicago's Landmark Century Cinema with an hour-long program of shorts (hand selected from my friends and peers). This was also the day we started principal photography on Munger Road. So It's not really new, but after a year in the festival circuit it'll finally see the light of day.

You can watch it below, or find it posted in the film section. There are also behind-the-scenes photos over in the photography section, where you can see early sketches, Mitch the PA just after a bookcase fell on his head, and other fun things.

I started work on the film in 2007, and finished it in stages over the next 3 years while I finished my film degree at Columbia. It was built, staged, and shot entirely inside my first Chicago apartment (with the exception of the obvious exteriors and vignettes), much to the chagrin of the people I lived with. Through master sneakery, flim-flam, and elaborate ruses I got my hands on nearly every piece of equipment Columbia had available, despite not having permission to use any of it.

I hope you like it.

 Additional music by Andrew Bird, and poster by Matt Bors, both of whom you should know and love.

October 10, 2011

Found Object: "PressPausePlay"

I've been waiting for this movie for years. Not in the sense that I heard about it on a website, tracked it's release, and finally saw it for myself. More like, It expresses ideas I've been grappling with, and espousing, and sharing with my peers for years. You can watch it in its entirety for free here.

PressPausePlay is a documentary about new media. Music, Film, Visual Art, computing, technology, industry, and all that good stuff. It assembles a host of artists, professionals, and experts and discusses the elephant in the room:

Namely, things feel different now compared to when they used to, and not merely due to nostalgia.

While the above statement is probably accurate for any period in human history, something about this time is different. Maybe it's just that I was alive during the "used to" period, and am a struggling artist in the "now" period, and will hopefully be alive (and successful) for whatever is to come next. Maybe I'd be expressing the same idea if I were born in 1941 instead of 1981. But still. I played Nintendo when I was 6, and I used a personal computer with internet access at 13, and now that I'm just shy of 30 I can do more things on my phone than anyone would have imagined 10 years ago, much less 30 years ago. We still have war, and poverty, and all the problems we've had as a species since the day we were a species. But still, something now is different. Right?

I've been alive for, and cognizant of, some of the most sweeping changes in popular culture in several hundred years, and as a person (consumer, artist, whatever) it's incredibly invigorating and vexing at the same time. In contrast, my little brother is 9 years younger than me. He and his friends share a common language with me, they like many of the same bands, and have seen many of the same films, and lived through many of the same economic, political, and industrial hiccups. Yet, they awoke to this culture well after the institutions that grew up with had already died. All that, in 9 measly years. They never even had a chance to use Napster, for crying out loud, and yet they live in a culture that was changed by it. Things will always change, but PressPausePlay helped me put a finger on why this time around it seems different (even if it isn't (though I think it is)).

Change has been so rapid that nearly every institution created to support art and popular culture (or exploit/capitalize on it) has been dismantled or reborn from scratch several times over. Yet, there are still wealthy, working, privileged hacks and artists working side by side, just as there have been for centuries... So what's a guy like me to do?

It's difficult to understand the contradiction of a sophisticated digital age, and the child-like playfulness that these new tools give us the ability to run with. The idea of expressing an idea to "everyone" via the internet is incredible, but first, how can I afford the computer or camera or electricity or education I need to express that idea? Like I said, invigorating and vexing at the same time.

I don't think technology is the key to Utopia, nor is it the harbinger of doom. But it sure is something.

October 5, 2011

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

This isn't much of a prediction, but much ink will be spilled over the death of Steve Jobs. Knowing my friends, I'm sure there'll be a mixture of reverence and "what's the big deal?" and crass humor, as befits such an incredibly ubiquitous public figure.

Jobs was my favorite kind of genius. In a cultural, economic, and political landscape fettered with recycled bullshit, Steve Jobs invented things. Not just ideas, either, but actual, physical creations. He was a guy who moved currents.

In today's corporate world, which has such little regard for human welfare and dignity, I hesitate to put too much on the shoulders of a businessman. It's artists and thinkers and writers that typically earn the respect I think Jobs deserves. Still, despite whatever Apple's laundry list of questionable deeds will amount to over the years, I believe Jobs was much more than just a successful capitalist.

To borrow the closing quote from the above WIRED article:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” Jobs said. “Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
R.I.P. Steve.