Monday, 12 March 2018

HYPOCHONDRIACS UNITE: we have nothing to fear but AI and the NRT

Who could guess that asparagus, or at least the compound, asparagine, that give it its name could help spread cancer? At least that's what a plant-based scientist at Cambridge University claims. Not everyone is on the same page. Other scientists have found that asparagine, and other foods with an amino acid, helps to slow the spread of breast cancer. It seems a lot of the food we eat is dangerous to our health. French fries, for instance, pack a triple whammy: 1. potatoes are BAD for people with high blood-pressure; 2. cooking in oil at high temperatures is a NO-NO. 3. the overdose of salt. That goes for chips too. Sugar is verboten – it causes the insulin to shoot out of the pancreas at an accelerated rate. It is now being compared to tobacco in terms of dangerous. Happy to report that butter, cream, cheese have been taken off the 'AVOID' list. It's been revealed that the research was bogus.

Heart Attack Grill (Photo:
AI I am being touted as being the answer to the answer to health care.  People of a certain age talk about getting a robot caregiver when they are really old.  Don't count on it. They sometimes crap out. And who wants a 400 pound, 5-foot hulking bot stalking around the house. And besides, experts such at as Sherry Turkle, media prof at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), wrote at the end of her book 'Reclaiming Conversation', that AI is the next big threat to us humans.

ALPHABET, the omnipresent tech-giant has got into healthcare with CALICO (an acronym for California Life Company). Its mission: health, well-being and longevity. It's connected with several research groups including, the University of Texas Medical school and the Broad Institute at MIT.

According to their site they are using their core values to guide them on their journey.  Well, good luck. But then there's THERANOS, whose founder is Elizabeth Holmes.  A Stanford University student, she left before she graduated to start her revolutionary nano-blood-testing company. Instead of having to take vials of precious fluid it would only take a pin-prick to get a complete blood profile. Walgreens, the giant drugstore chain, sighed up. Her board consisted of rich guys, including Henry Kissinger, Warren Buffet and Elizabeth. Both the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal wrote scathing article s about her and her secretive company.. Walgreens backed out.

So fellow Hypochondriac, my advice is do not go online to check your symptoms – you will find a dozen or more fatal disease that fit. And do not buy Merck's Manual of Symptoms – it scarier than any horror book.  But if you cannot resist checking, I recommend the Mayo Clinic site. It has a lot of common sense solutions. And be happy if you don't live in the US where they run medical commercials on TV 24/7. Cheery visuals show happy healthy looking people who must take some serious meds to stay looking that way. A soothing voice tells you how fantastic they are. Then POW. A dead serious voiceover tells all the bad side affects that could occur. They usually end with the disclaimer: in case of (whatever the side affect) or death call the company. Cheers.

Sources: the Net, Wall Street journal, the New Yorker, TV, personal experience

Next week: WOODY ALLEN bakes a turkey and it's not even thanksgiving
Note: poor Woody.  He got forgotten for a couple of weeks, but his last movie deserves to be trashed.

Note: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Unfortunately, as far as I know, butter, cream, cheese and other saturated fats are not off the hook. Delicious as they are, they are still bad for you, increasing cholesterol and the risk of heart diseases. The research was NOT bogus. The science still stands, despite what you may have read somewhere, or worse yet, seen on the telly.

- Eki

Monday, 5 March 2018

New PROJECT: making the CASE

The Shark and I came up with a project idea and I pitched to Erkki. He had objections. And I could see his point. It's a political 'VOTE' video about American kids and we want to use old footage (in public domain) to illustrate it. Our aim was to be nostalgic,  cheerful and appeal to Independents. Erkki said that's what the Trumpsters (mostly, but not all, Republicans) want: Make America Great Again. He pointed out that life is better now. He's right. Most things are, but not everything. And negative news and views get attention.

Making America Great Again, 1948 (Wikipedia)
For instance, while the infant mortality has dropped in all wealthy countries, the US is at the bottom of a list of  20.On the other hand back then more than twice the number of American infants died at birth than the 6% per 100,000 today. American schools have fallen behind to 14th place from 1st place in the world-ranking - income-inequality is given as the major reason. Between 1950 and 1960 there were 12 children killed at schools compared to 246 children killed in schools between 2000 and 2018. Now the kids at the high school in Parkland, Florida want action on gun control. They created the Twitter hashtag #neveragai and quickly organized  March for our Lives in Washington D.C. The students also confronted politicians and came out on top. 

Michael Moore has just completed a new documentary (1'52”). He compares schools and culture in Europe to those in the US. No. He's not fair and balanced, but some things hit the mark. Our problem is how to make a 'get-out-the VOTE' video using old footage and not fall into the 'Make America Great Again' trap. When bad news gets attention and good news falls flat. Erkki, any ideas?

Sources: OECD school rankings, the Economist, Financial Time Weekend, the Net

Next week: HYPOCHONDRIACS UNITE: you have nothing to fear but AI and the NET
It was scheduled to be posted this week but got lost in my machine. Now the Mac doctor has to find it.

Note: After writing this, Maggy came up with a completely new idea that took my objections into account. It will be different, but i think something we can agree on. Cool. This is how things work out, bouncing the ball back and forth.

-- Eki

Friday, 23 February 2018

Fishing for FINANCING

A guy I met at a film seminar asked me what I thought was the most important thing about making a movie. I said, 'MONEY'. He thought that was so un-idealistic. By comparison getting a project commissioned was easy. Our editor at TEEMA, at the time, a division of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). Our commissioning had a limited budget. We got 15,000 euros and the series was 100'.  The  Swedish-division of YLE gave us another 15,000. That meant we had to chase down more money. We started with EU Media, the European Union media funding group. But when I checked the application, I thought, 'no way'. And went back to the EU Media Finnish rep. She said to think of it as an elephant that you bite off bit by bit. It was a nightmare that went on and on... We got the grant: 15,000 euros.

We tapped the Swedish Cultural Foundation and got 5,000 - a couple of the architects were Swedish-speaking Finns. The Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave us another 5,000. We got to use the YLE's archive film at no cost, but that meant they had 50% of the rights. I felt like a small-time Hollywood hustler. The upside was we made a lot of useful funding contacts. Almost the number one job of a producer. Especially at a small company.

A random, unrelated chart (for business credibility).

Every time we got a commission it was the same routine. When Esa-Pekka Salonen agreed to let us make a doc about him I knew we would need a bundle. We filled out the 100-page application for EU Media funding and they turned us down. But they liked the subject and suggested we try again, with an entirely new concept. I let out a loud groan. But decided to have a go. The second time we got 15,000. I know, I know this money business is boring. But even big-time stars, for instance, Orson Welles, spend a lot of time trying to nail down financing. Sometimes it takes years to get a project off the ground. Small doc makers, especially, get burnt out after a while. They know the routine. And it ain't so much fun the nth time around. But making movies, videos, etc, can be addictive. And you have a Brilliant Idea... And...well you know the rest.

  1. PORTFOLIO. .Even for the smallest project make a portfolio. It shows you've thought the project from start to finish. It should have a synopsis (one page). A treatment (one page).A budget (one page). A team list with short bios (one page). If you don't have a project commissioned, try to get 'letters of Interest' from people who have expressed a serious interest. 
  2. CONTACTS. Send hand-written 'Thank up' notes to donors you have met in person (this sounds so last century, but it makes an impression).'Thank you' emails t online contacts. Write cheerful upbeat responses to 'rejections'. You might pitch another project to them later. 
  3. ACCOUNTABILITY. Set up a separate bank account for each project. Transparency is essential and often required. 
  4. UNANTICIPATED EXPENSES. Stuff happens. Add 7% to the budget...
  5.  IT'S A WRAP. Wait till the project is completed and delivered to break out the champagne. 

Sources: Personal experience. Film seminars, commissioning editors

Next week: HYPOCHONDRIACS UNITE: WE have nothing to fear but AI and the WEB

Monday, 12 February 2018

The Dreaded HOUR

Hour-long documentaries seem to be about 10 times tougher to make. But many commission editors want them. They fill the schedule and are often cheaper. Erkki and I have watched (separately) the two-hour-long docs we produced. Both of us came to the same conclusion – they should be cut by half. A lot of boring hour (and longer) docs are circulating, especially film festivals. I saw one (forgot the title) at the Woodstock film festival. It was about woman singers from the Middle East. I stayed for only 25 minutes because all the women did was talk. Not one song was sung. But I was impressed that they got the financing.

Chasing Esa-Pekka, 2008
When 'Chasing Esa-Pekka' (Esa-Pekka Salonen, at the time conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra) was commissioned we knew we had a hard task. Music (especially about a classical music conductor) is the worst. I mean, there's the orchestra (they almost all look the same) and the conductor waving a baton around, even though he is good looking and a celebrity. The Shark (LMP story editor) pointed out some pitfalls:

  1. Several docs had been made about Esa-Pekka and like other stars in their field who have been interviewed a lot, he tended to repeat himself. She told me not to fall in love with my subject. 
  2. Ask tough questions. 
  3. Find stories and make sure they connect. 
  4. Shoot in as many different locations as the budget will allow. 

That part was fun, because we decided to go to Los Angeles to film the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Milan, where Esa-Pekka studied, Stockholm, where he would appear with other famous music people. London, where his new piano concerto would be introduced by the great pianist Yefim Brofman. Along the way, we interviewed a lot of famous music people. In retrospect, too many.

Most hour, or longer, documentaries don't deserve an hour. But I saw an exception: 'The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma'. It packed a happy wallop. First of all the 'strangers' were fantastic musicians and engaging characters. A couple stood out (Yo Yo Ma didn't take center stage. He was just part of the troupe). And gave other cast members more footage. They must have had a healthy budget, because the whole bunch, plus crew, went to all sorts of exotic locations. The documentary was relaxed and casual – like friends getting together for a barbecue and playing music. If you're planning to make an hour doc remember the Shark's three hard and fast rules:

  1. No long car driving scenes to eat up footage.
  2. No long conversations on the phone.
  3. Keep your 'talking heads' to a minimum. Unless they're like the doc that Erkki raves about where two scientists do nothing but talk for an hour and a half. But then he's a science geek.

Sources: personal experience

Next week: Fishing for FINANCING

Note on ROBOTS WAR: Erkki wrote an informative review of some of the new AI gear he's using and and a PS. But AI, and other tech advances, are also part of the problem. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund, and a billionaire, thinks the next financial meltdown will be caused by the rising income-inequality between the top and the bottom 60 to 80%. But kind of work will the bottom 60 to 80% do? Ray Dalio didn't have the answer.

Source: 'Lunch With' – Finacial Times Weekend

In addition to that scientist discussion series Maggy mentioned, i've been glued to the screen by a three hour long grainy VHS that consisted only of a screenshot of the Lightwave 3D animation software, with an occasional cut to the instructor guru's face (whom i later got to know BTW, thanks to the wonders of the Internet). The point here is not to take away from what Maggy wrote above, i definitely do agree with the rules of thumb, but to once again underline that the story is the king. And the despot can be a good one even if naked. The emperor's clothes do not matter much really, even the prettiest wardrobe will not help a tyrant. In other words, if you're truly interested in the subject, and you get the information you crave, all the filmmaking glitz is pretty irrelevant. You will still happily watch the whole thing, even if it's two hours. Or three.

- Eki

Friday, 2 February 2018

ROBOT WARS: San Francisco fights back

Imagine walking down Polk street in San Francisco and getting bumped from behind by a robot delivering pizza. That could have happened before then SF passed a law. Now a human being has to accompany robot deliverers. And only nine are allowed to be on sidewalks at any one time. Other robot incidents have set the city on edge.  A robot-guarding a mall fell into a fountain and drowned himself. It caused an outpouring on the web. But the topper is the robot who guarded a pet shop. He weighed 400 pounds, was 5 feet tall, wired to get lots of information, including photographs and videos He could also summon help if needed. It was offensive to this high crime neighborhood where homeless people camped out. At one point his sensors were cover in sauce and he was kidnapped. When the pet shelter got him back to (we don't know if they paid a ransom) the robot was returned to his tech-creators.

Robot Wars (© BBC)
And that's not all. The city has changed since the tech invasion. More than half the cars that clog the streets are either UBER or LYFT. AirBnB has caused enough problems that they now have to register with the city and have a license to rent out rooms. So do Uber and Lyft. Housing has become so expensive since the tech-boom that a lot of middle-class residents have moved. The center of the town has become more like other major cities:  the ubiquitous haute designer boutiques and expensive, trendy restaurants,.  So much venture-capital money is sloshing around SF that anyone who has a new idea and can sell it, has a chance to cash in. It's the 21st-century gold rush. Techies are swamping the city, home to four of the five giants,

The 19th century Gold Rush and the tech revolution have a lot in common. They both turned the town int the rootin' tootin' place to be. After the1906 earthquake, the city was re-built into one of the most, if not the most, charming, accessible cities in the US. Big enough to have an opera house, lots of museums, a first-rate orchestra and fantastic food. Lots of Europeans came to cook. Including the Basques, who became famous for their cuisine. They loved SF so much they opened a cultural center, which is still there.  The Chinese staked out a part of the town for their own.  Other ethnic groups settled here as well.  Europeans loved this city with its elegant hotels and graceful way of life. And then BAM. Silicon Valley arrived.  And it all changed. Unlike the gold barons who put money into rebuilding the city, many multi-billionaire tech-titans are known for their libertarianism.  And are buying secluded islands in Ne Zealand and preparing for the worst, worst. What do they know that we don't? We need a robot-spy.

Source: an article by Leslie Hooks in the Financial Times weekend.

Next week: The dreaded HOUR

Note: Erkki ate last week's illustration. Nothing goes to waste at Littlemargieproductions.

Robots are coming to our line of work, too. Unnoticed. The cameras have some artificial intelligence (hey, that's a face, let's focus on it!!), and they are often stabilized with active robot-like gimbals that have orientation sensors and motors to keep the camera level at all times. I use both techniques on almost every shoot without even thinking about it. I've been also looking into motion control, which is essentially using a robot to control the camera moves. It adds at least one axis of motion to the capabilities of the gimbal, with precision and repeatability. These systems have existed since the 80's at least, but have been extremely cost-prohibitive. Right now we're at the stage that affordable systems can be built in DIY fashion (yes, i'm making one), but commercial systems still are too expensive for smaller businesses.

- Eki 

PS: The ├╝ber-rich libertarians know that the precariat is aware of their "greed is a virtue" philosophy, and are gathering their pitchforks. Viva la Revolucion, off with the head!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Mining for MOVIES: Youtube GOLD

One night bored with Trump trash on CNN, I googled a movie I love: 'The 39 Steps', and '1939', 'movie', 'youtube'. A whole bunch of little boxes with a scene from the movie, the title, and the lengths popped up on the screen. Some were short previews, others were the whole movie. I clicked one. Pay-dirt.  And a sidebar of other choices. I watched this early Hitchcock movie with a glass of wine. And thought, WOW, I can see this again and again... After that, I found a whole slew of my favorite Hitchcock's, including 'Rear Window'.  When it got up to a triple-feature day, I thought it was time for rehab.

Searching for "Alfred Hitchkock"
Netflix and other sites have huge film choices, so I joined. Everyone told me I could find anything I wanted. Wrong. Most of my searches came back with 'alternatives'. I finally discovered that these film sites don't have licensing agreements with every country.That was my problem. I went back to youtube.  I don't always find what I want. Sometimes I try over and over to get a movie. And suddenly it turns up on the sidebar. But it's fun to search. Sometimes you stumble on a winner. Camilla (the shark) says if you want to work in media you have to watch all sorts of movies, documentaries, videos. Amazing to see the technical progress made between 1930 and 1935. I showed Erkki one scene from an English movie: 'Storm in a Teacup' (1937, Vivienne Leigh, Rex Harrison):  a horde of about 500 different breeds of adorable dogs invade a posh dinner party. They create incredible playful chaos for several minutes.  The human actors are helpless victims are helpless. I wondered how they could stay in character. And how the crew pulled it off. I love this scene. Even Erkki, who can do all sorts of computer manipulation, was impressed.

Now we're working on a new project: we plan to use film clips that are in the public domain. I found out a lot of new-ish movies available because they failed to renew copyrights.  When hen I search by genre, I get a list from A to Z. For most tech-savvy users this must sound like first grade ABCs. Or even kindergarten.  But for me who bangs away on my mac and gets into a mess, it's practically a bloody miracle.  By a lucky stroke, I learned how to find film (some classics) from the Golden Age (mid-thirties – mid-fifties).  And make new videos out of old movies. EUREKA!

Source: Youtube

Next week: ROBOT WARS; San Francisco Strikes Back

Monday, 15 January 2018


Unless you're a relative, a close friend,  famous yourself, or better yet, all three, making a documentary about someone who is even semi-famous, means dealing with their minders.  After 'Chasing Esa-Pekka'  (at the time conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) and 'Frank & Alvar' (architects, Frank Gehry & Alvar Aalto) we said never again.  The Talent was fairly easy but the Minders were armed guards at the gate.  Nice, polite but fiercely demanding.  Esa-Pekka had a PR company guarding his image. They wanted him to see every foot of material before the edit – we had 51 hours.  And made us edit a great line.  I asked him if there were any rough spots in his charmed life after he replaced a conductor in London and got rave reviews. He said, 'There were girls, I was eating, drinking and fucking around.' Bing! But our commissioning editor kindly asked us t to delete it.

Thought I was cured.  But an article in the New York Times about the chefs of San Sebastian (in the Pays Basques hooked me. The town with 187,000 inhabitants in Northwest Spain has earned 16 Michelin stars, the most per capita in the world. It's become a foodie's mecca. What made the story land on the front page was an unlikely twist: instead of competing, the chefs were friends who helped each other. Led by two old hands – Juan Arzak and Pedro Sobijana. The Shark (LMP story editor) loved the idea. I made the reservation for three at Arzak. I told them we had a film company in Finland and were interested in making a documentary for YLE (Finnish Broadcasting Company) about the food culture in San Sebastian.  When we got to the restaurant they gave us the royal tour. The kitchen with its 30 chefs, the wine cellar, and the lab. Juan Arzak came out and gave us all a kiss on both checks and we took selfies. Then we went to lunch.

Art food (rye bread, sausages and ketchup). 

Lunch was six courses of edible art. We drank extra dry sherry and lots of wine. It was great fun and perfect film material. I called my contact at Arzak to thank her and told her I'd like to come back and do a short test film. She sounded excited about the idea and asked me to email a synopsis. The story we wanted to tell was how Juan and Pedro, after their three-star restaurants were a success, encouraged young chefs to get on board and make Basque cuisine famous. We wanted to include something about the Basque history, one of the oldest, if not the oldest in Europe. Then the ax fell. Arzak thought the documentary should be about them. Juan's daughter Elena is taking over from her father and has got lots of media attention. But one thing we've learned:  a one-hour documentary needs a ton of material.  One three star restaurant, no matter how great, would not do the trick. We passed. T.S. Elliot said, 'Between the idea and the reality falls a shadow.' That says it all.

Next wee: Mining for  MOVIES: Youtube GOLD

Re: AI SHRINK: Erkki thanks for the info about Eliza. But she's not a German Shepherd and I'd have to go online and blah-blah into the whatever-sphere.