Thursday, 3 May 2018

New project: ABE LINCOLN TWEETS

Spacewhale's Music Corner

When Erkki and I have a project ready to edit we go to his studio on Vattuniemenkatu 19 (translation: Raspberry Cape's Street 19). I love SPACEWHALE. It's like going into the belly of the beast – different than the regular world. It's a guy place that's friendly to women.  In one corner there's a hanging out place with couches, coffee table, frig, coffee maker.

The studio has a high ceiling and a green screen for shoots. At one end is a bunch of musical instruments. When Erkki and his pals have the time they come here and blast away. When we're working and Erkki needs a pause, he bangs away on his drums.  Against one wall are a couple of editing machines. They're old and take time to warm up. While we wait Erkki brags about the super-computer he uses in his home-office.

I like this project and come prepared. By mining movies in the public domain, I found one directed by the father of American cinema: D. W. Griffith. My jaw dropped. 'Abraham Lincoln' made in 1930 was in the public domain. I watched the movie six times and the Shark helped plan the story.  Also which scenes we thought would be good. It was Trump who gave us the idea. He said Lincoln was the greatest president and he, Trump, was the 2nd greatest.Whoa. Erkki and I decide to declare a tweet war. Pitch Abe's words of wisdom against Trump's trash.

We decided to update Lincoln to the 21st C. His quotes make as much sense today as they did in the 19th C. We downloaded the footage and went to lunch while we waited. Then Erkki designed the twitter bird and the opening. He had to concentrate so I had to shut up. But it was fun to watch the bird come to life. We chose the scenes from the footage and put them in the right order, then the music. We used the Civil War music (in public domain) from the film and Erkki laid different tracks over it. Lots of thump-thump percussion. We looked at it over and over and corrected anything we didn't like. We started at 10:00 am and finished at 9:00 pm. My brain was fried. But we both said, 'that was fun.' Check out 'Abe Lincoln Tweets'.




PS: D. W. Griffith's 'Abraham Lincoln' was voted one of the 50 worst films, but the crowd scenes are fantastic. And the production values, especially for the 1930s, are excellent.

Source: youtube films in public domain

News/Views/Boos
Next week: HELSINKI: what's HOT, what's NOT




Note: This was a fun project, it's also been a while since i've made any loop-based music - quite refreshing. Also, i agree on the relevance of Abe's quotes.

One thing to mention, Maggy is the only client i let sit with me when i edit. That used to be the norm in the olden days when editing was done from tape to tape, and making changes to edits after the session was very, very complicated. Add to that the pretty steep cost of the editing hours (those tape machines cost a Mercedes Benz each), and every client wanted to supervise the edit, breathing on my neck.  Had enough of that back then. Nowadays i have an editing / 3D animation / audio workstation at my home office. All feedback from clients is done online - usually, i edit a full version of the project, which then goes to the clients as a simple link to a file on Google Drive, for evaluation and revision notes. Rinse and repeat. I prefer the modern way, but there was something very appealing in the old linear process - you needed to be committed in a completely different level when making edits, and what you have after the editing session was pretty much the final product because A) the client was there all the time to approve stuff as we went on and B) changes were so expensive and slow to make.


Finally, about the computer at the studio - it indeed is old. But back in it's hayday, it was the hottest thing in town. Also, was not cheap. 8 CPU cores, 16 GB of ram, SSD drive, and a Raid 0 array as the media drive, the best NVIDIA GPU of the time. Not bad for 2006 - and not that shabby even today, over ten years later. Which is like two or three eternities in computer speak. The hotness i have at home (16 cores, 64 GB ram, dual GeForce TITANS etc.) isn't that new anymore either, i recall i bought this machine in 2013 or 2014. It won't be THAT long until this one will go to the studio, and i will have yet another five-grand toy at home. The thing with this kind of higher end machines is - you really can use them professionally for years. And when it's time to retire them from the daily crunch, they still have a few more years of life in them as decent "normal" computers.


PS: Writing that last paragraph was fun - i enjoy thinking of Maggy reading the semi-jargon, trying to decipher what the heck i mean ;-)

- Eki

Sunday, 1 April 2018

ARCTIVSTI MANIFESTO: MARX &ENGELS updated for the 21C

A cartoon by Eki
Not some red-blooded communist but two true-blue capitalists asked themselves, what would Marx and Engels write today? They went back to the original Communist Manifesto and had a surprise.

About 73% or the original was relevant today. If the Financial Times is correct,1% of the world's population owns as much wealth as the remaining 99%. Inequality, especially in the US, has gone off the rails. The two author-archivists; Rupert Younger and Frank Partnoy, updated the other 27%. Marx and Engels packed quite a lot into a 37-page pamphlet. A friend in the US bought Activist Manifesto on Amazon for seven dollars A bargain.

The inequality Fixers should look to Scandinavia for ideas. Yes. There are rich people in these northern countries, but most would be considered small fry in the US. Forbes magazine's 'list of the world's richest people' will tell you who they are. But Finland, one of the most egalitarian countries on earth, was named the happiest country in a UN report. The skeptical Finns I know laughed and asked, 'Who, and where, are these people?'

Inequality is not the only big issue that needs fixing. The kids from Parkland, Florida, who watched their friends get shot and murdered while in school, decided to take on gun control. In less than five weeks they organized 'March For Our Lives' in 800 cities around the world. And they are just getting started. 

We wannabe activists should be inspired them and buy Activists Manifesto to read what Marx, Engels, Younger, and Partnoy have to say. We might also check out Fair Shot by Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook. He thinks that everyone below a certain income level should receive a base income and tax on the rich to pay for it. A friend in Helsinki told me Finland was already experimenting with this idea. The Shark thinks retirees should become activists. She's right. We have time and experience. And guess what, it might be fun.


Sources: Financial Times Weekend, the Guardian, CNN

Next month (littlemargie blog is on the road in April): NEW PROJECT: Erkki and Maggy make a political video

Note to Erkki: I saw 'The Post' and like it. But...got tired of the low-lighting which seems to be the mode du jour. I would have liked more context. For instance, Nixon's aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were perfect villains. They must have been scrambling to do damage control. And how about a few more Washington D. locations. I wanted a little more show and a little less tell. But cheered when the good guys won.


Note: The current government here in Finland is the worst ever, or at least worst i can recall. It's Trump white house lite, really. If not worse. They are tearing down the social security, regulations, education and environmental protections built over decades. Slashing every public program they can, getting rid of every public employee they can - and when they can't they make laws to cut wages. And unemployment benefits. All this while attempting to privatize everything from health care to social security, disregarding our constitution and the advice of the relevant experts. They are doing a frighteningly efficient job at destroying our little Scandinavian paradise. And a scary high percentage of the population is blissfully ignorant and may well vote for the same disaster to continue in the next elections. 

The illustrations on this blog are different from usual, they are actually cartoons i made (just for fun) and posted on a closed forum group, on a discussion about our government's actions. These are now published for the audience at large for the first time, translated into English for your convenience. The first one (on top) was to counter the idea that employees that demand a livable salary are greedy, sucking the life out of the poor, job-creating company owners. The second one (below) is about our current government's "Community Agreement" (that's the sort of newspeak they use, BTW). When the labor unions declined the "agreement" to reduce salaries by 5%, the government just wrote it into law, among with some additional asskicking for the workers, like shortened vacations, as a punishment for not making a deal. It's a madhouse here, i tell ya!

-- Eki

Another cartoon by Eki



Sunday, 25 March 2018

WOODY ALLEN bakes a turkey, and it's not even Thanksgiving

Poor Woody. He's lost the plot. Some critics say his personal life has spilled over into his movies. Well, whatever. WONDERWHEEL lurches along from one cliche' to the next. Tedious is too mild a word. Kate Winslett, married to a schlump (Jim Belushi) should have won an Oscar for over-acting. Justin Timberlake at the hunky lifeguard floats through his part as her picked-up-on-the-beach lover. The rest of the cast is ho-hum. But the plot...

Wonder Wheel, New York (Wikipedia)
Older women married to a shlump falls for a hunky lifeguard. Shlump's unloved and unwanted daughter comes back to the family nest after escaping from gangster ex-husband. He shows up and wants her back. Schlump's ten-year-old kid is an arsonist who sets fires all over the place, including his shrine's outer office. Lifeguard meets sexy daughter and falls in love.  He wants to dump older woman. She ain't happy and gets revenge. She alerts gangster to ex-wife's whereabouts. The action takes place in a saturated-colored Coney Island. It never looked so sad.

But for some reason, we stick with Woody. Every year he makes a movie and every year a lot of his fans go. 'Wonderwheel looked like it was made on the cheap. Sill, it made me nostalgic for the old Woody. Especially 'Manhattan Murder Mystery'. When Diane Keaton and Alan Alda sat in the car and did a stake-out on their suspect, I wanted to jump in with them and get in the game. Well, those days are gone.  WHAAAAA.

Source: personal opinion

After watching those kids march for their lives, and hearing their sad stories, next week's post will be: ACTIVIST MANIFESTO: MARX & ENGELS updated for the 21C

Note on Erkki's comments last week about saturated fats: He'll be happy to know my go-to medical advice, site, MAYO CLINIC, agrees. And here's another bit of good news. A friend and I were having lunch with wine. She dropped a bomb: she said she'd read in a reliable source, that one daily glass of wine was enough to raise the risk of accelerating certain cancers. AAAAARRRRRGGHH.


Note: I must admit I haven't seen any of the late Allen movies. Perhaps I should, if not else, just to have something to argue with Maggy ;-)

-Eki

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: http://www.theburgerreview.com)
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.  

https://healthyforgood.heart.org/eat-smart/articles/saturated-fats

- 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.

5 SUGGESTIONS
  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