Category Archives: Rants

Rants

“Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” – The RA Scion redux

Last Fall, Seattle Hip-hop artist RA Scion worked with a Brooklyn-based producer named Rodney Hazard and gave us all an album that defied expectations and elevated Hip-hop music. “The Sickle and The Sword” generated a ton of well-deserved buzz, but was quickly cut off due to some legal confusion and drama on behalf of the producer. The producer demanded that the album not be sold or distributed, and the album was cut off short.

Not so easily defeated, RA Scion and his team began searching for a new producer to bring to life the vocal tracks that had been abandoned by Hazard’s beats. Vox Mod‘s work caught RA’s attention, and “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” was born.

Here are links to the album:

I’ve spent the last week listening to the new album. The old version was one of my favorite albums to come out of Seattle, and I’ve been apprehensive about what the new sound and the new take on this beloved material might be. Not knowing what to expect, I abandoned expectations and dove in.

The surprising news to me is that the essence of the first album has generally been transferred to the new album. Despite the fact that Vox Mod apparently hasn’t heard the old album at all (or at least he hadn’t when The Stranger interviewed him), the album achieves a similar vibe that is conscious, mystic, intelligent, uplifting, challenging, and incredibly clever.

Here’s a track listing that compares the new track titles to the old:

#The Sickle and The SwordSharper Tool; Bigger Weapon
1Ex Oriente LuxPassage to Transience
2Constant (feat. Daniel Blue)Fixed (feat. Daniel Blue)
3In VenerationOpalescent Jetsam
4BackwoodsPlush Portal Stylings
5The Prospector's AppraisalIntrospector
6On Saturnalia Eve (feat. Blake Lewis)Venus in Transit (feat. Blake Lewis)
7MyrrhLaurel & Wine
8Hoof x HornHolly & Oak (Again & Again)
9BloodletterInterceptor
10Woodwalker (feat. Mark Shirtz)Finding Forbearance (feat. Mark Shirtz)
11Hungry Like (feat. Rodney Hazard)Patina Green (feat. GMK and Royce the Choice)
12Black FridayRun One Through
13OurSpace (feat. Romaro Franceswa)Interstellar Parish (feat. Romaro Franceswa)
14Seven Gen. (feat. Greg Cypher)Res Publica (feat. Greg Cypher)

I’m blown away at the contribution that Vox Mod gave to this project. Songs that didn’t quite land with me before, like “Hoof x Horn,” have evolved into some of my favorite tracks. “Holly & Oak (Again & Again)” replaces “Hoof x Horn” and brings far more to the table than the first version was able to bring. Vox Mod’s irresistible beat on that track turn head-nodders into dancers. The track flows and soars and drives through you, building and teasing and rewarding the listener.

Other songs feel so different from the original that I had to go back and listen to the Rodney Hazard versions just to make sure that I was remembering it right. Hazard’s “Seven Gen.” was a positive song but it never really resonated with me. At the Fall 2013 album release party, I was blown away at the energy of the live version and wondered why the recorded version was such a different experience. Its replacement, “Res Publica,” takes the song from a solid song to a classic. As it comes across in its place as the final track on the album, it feels like RA Scion has taken a trip to the future, through deep space, and is now coming back to Seattle with the same pragmatic intelligence that made Common Market so popular. One of my favorite tracks out of all of his work, “Res Publica” feels like coming home to the 21st-century answer to “Tobacco Road.”

RA Scion and Vox Mod

In some cases, I miss beloved tracks from the first album – “Woodwalker” and “On Saturnalia Eve” were two of my favorites. The tracks that replaced them, though they have identical vocal tracks by RA and Blake Lewis (Mark Shirtz recorded new lyrics), have very different feels. They are solid songs, they’re enjoyable to listen to, but I miss my old favorites. It’s bound to happen, and I’m just grateful that I was able to get a download of “The Sickle and The Sword” when I still could.

In the vast majority of instances, however, I can’t think of anything other than what I’m listening to. The album has a maturity, cohesiveness and sense of purpose that the old one never was quite able to achieve. “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” is a start-to-finish journey that rewards listeners who like to sit down and soak in an entire album, start to finish.

“The Sickle and The Sword” was an ode to the harvest, reaping beats from the earth. It carried the mystery and melancholy of Fall, and was released near the Autumnal Equinox. Now we have “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon,” released almost exactly on the Vernal Equinox, which somehow takes the same vocal tracks and infuses them with new life. The album has grown, the Spring is here, and we’re all hoping that this new duo will last a long, long time.

You don’t know what the word “Storyboard” means, do you?

You just said “storyboard” to refer to something that isn’t a storyboard. I’m not sure if you said that because you heard someone else say it incorrectly at some point, but let’s clear the confusion up right away. I’m telling you because I care about you, and I want to save you future embarrassment.

Storyboards are a series of pictures used to pre-visualize a story. They’re commonly used in Hollywood movies, but also are used heavily in advertising, interactive media, and video games. They help by providing a common visual understanding between the director, director of photography, visual effect supervisor, producer and other key creative figures in a production.

Here is a storyboarded sequence from The Amazing Spider-Man:

Here’s what some Dreamworks storyboard artists look like when posing for a photo at work: (usually they look much more tired, and are drawing on lightboards, drafting tables, or something similar.

If you want to learn more about the visual art of storyboarding, you can read one of a large number of excellent books on the topic.

So just now, when you used “storyboard” incorrectly, here are some things that you may have meant:
  • brainstorm
  • script
  • mind map
  • treatment
  • notes
The fact that it has to do with a story does not make it a storyboard! Storyboards have pictures. They take time. They’re often drawn by professionals. They are used for specific purposes.
Would you use the word Gaffer to refer to the person who refills your water while you’re eating at a restaurant? No, because that wouldn’t make any sense. It also doesn’t make any sense when you call your written notes a storyboard.

How to film and edit dance

How to film and edit dance to convey spatial continuity

Why do dance-centric films and television vary so widely in their ability to engage viewers? What principles can we follow to better convey the energy, beauty and athleticism of live dance, even though audiences will view the film in conditions that are highly detached from the live experience?

This topic merits a long book, rather than a blog post, and I’m purposefully ignoring many aspects of dance on screen, including the arts of choreographing for the screen, creating or choosing a set that works well for filming dance, staging dancers within that set, costuming dance for film, and varying techniques of lighting dance for film. For today, my emphasis will stay on two aspects: the camera and editing.

I will add to this post over time, so if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.

Filming Dance

1. Lens Choice

I have read a lot of discussion in the academic community about the supposed difficulty of translating a three-dimensional art form (dance) into a two-dimensional space (the screen). While those challenges would in theory apply to any performance art displayed on the screen, I suspect that this discussion stems from a generally-perceived flattening of 3D space and loss of location reckoning when audiences see dance on screen.

“Matched” (presented by The LXD, directed by Charles Oliver, DP Alice Brooks), was originally filmed and presented in 3D. Is its impact lessened in 2D?

Continue reading »

Copy seeks to become the new Dropbox

Copy app logo I love Dropbox. I use it daily to sync business data and project documents (but not the source media) between various computers on our office network. It’s simple, powerful, and free (or cheap, if you want more storage). Today I learned about Dropbox’s worst nightmare: Copy.

Copy is a Dropbox competitor that has awesome improvements over Dropbox, but is otherwise very similar.

Some of the improvements over Dropbox I’ve noticed so far:

  • You start with 15 GB (2 GB on Dropbox), and get 5 GB for each referral (250 MB for Dropbox). $99/yr plan is for 250 GB (50 GB for Dropbox).
  • If you’re sharing a folder between several people, the space used on each account is also shared. With Dropbox, a 12 GB file shared by 3 people would occupy 12 GB of space on each account. With Copy, it occupies 4 GB of space on each of the 3 accounts.
  • More powerful management of selective sync (where certain folders don’t sync across, such as Lightroom preview files).
  • Easier management of shared folders (which tend to easily get lost/misplaced with Dropbox), using the preferences pane for the desktop app.
  • A very cool workgroup/company sharing feature, which gives plenty of options for sharing folders among coworkers. Dropbox has a workgroup mode and shared folders, but Copy’s implementation is far slicker, in my opinion.

Company features in Copy
Otherwise, all of the key features of Dropbox seem to be present in Copy: web/desktop/mobile app access, automatic backup and syncing, easy sharing (including with people who don’t use the service), etc….

It doesn’t appear that Copy has the same level of encryption as Dropbox has, so I wouldn’t jump into this if you have highly-sensitive information (this means you, Jason Bourne).

Try it out. Use one of my links and you’ll get an extra 5 GB as a referral bonus. It runs well as a parallel app to Dropbox (and Google Drive), and is definitely worth the install.

Apple is abandoning pros. Who will replace Apple?

System 6I have been using Apple computers since about 1991 (when I was 10), when I bought a used Mac Plus from my neighbor, an architect. I have owned a steady line of Macs since then, even though my parents and (later) employers often insisted on using Windows machines. I am highly competent in Windows 95 through XP, but have always been dissatisfied with its lack of core stability and Microsoft’s apparent lack of concern for the end user experience.

I’m not alone in the media world. Though Windows and Linux machines are often found on many media desks, Apple computer has been the primary tool of choice for photographers, designers, artists, editors and musicians since at least the mid-1990s (if not much earlier).

Apple’s move towards the consumer and prosumer markets

In the last three years, however, media professionals have become increasingly dissatisfied with Apple Computer. Some of the grievances include:

  • Lack of updates to the Mac Pro line
  • “Nerfing” the Macbook Pro line, making it more like Macbooks (weak graphics cards, fewer professional expansion options, increased difficulty in adding RAM and hard disks)
  • Late-2012 iMacs are more difficult to upgrade than nearly any previous Macintosh computer
  • Final Cut Pro X ($299) replaced Final Cut Studio ($1299) by downgrading its functionality, making it more affordable and more accessible to prosumer and enthusiast users, unusable by Hollywood and many high-end media professionals
  • USB 3.0 was adopted very late; 3rd-party USB 3.0 devices (PCI cards, USB 3.0 hubs) are mostly unsupported in Mac OS X as of today
  • With OS 10.7 and 10.8, OS X is on a path to become more like iOS

Apple is gradually moving away from the niche pro market (a few million users) to a the mainstream market (hundreds of millions, potentially a few billion users). Following the booming success of the iPod and iPhone, more and more casual users are switching to Mac and Apple wants to accommodate them.

From a business standpoint, Apple is under the legal obligation to maximize profits for its shareholders. As I write this, Apple is the most profitable company in the world, but competition from Google, Samsung and other high-tech companies is fierce and intensifying. If Apple wants to make as much money as possible, they seem to have decided that they can’t afford to invest in the relatively-miniscule, high-maintenence world of professionals. True, Apple’s marketing team hasn’t entirely abandoned professionals yet, but it’s clear that the development end is weaning us off of the Mac.

Fair enough, but where do we go now? Who will rise up to replace Apple? Continue reading »

The Moral Responsibility of a Media Creator

Media is an unavoidable juggernaut of influence that both grows from our society and feeds back into it. When media professionals create, they are essentially either nurturing or poisoning society through every creative decision.

Through the history of storytelling, enormously talented people have helped to shape public opinions and sensibilities. Ancient kings and queens used to hire bards and pay them handsomely to entertain the masses with songs about their great empire. These rulers hoped to sway public opinion and create a narrative that would endure beyond their reign, and storytellers were one of their most powerful weapons. That tradition still endures in most of the world, though it’s draped in layers of subtlety and complexity.

I write this from the perspective of a budding bard who has been hired by all sorts of figurative kings to help tell the tales of their conquests. I primarily direct music videos and commercials, but I’ve spent years working in Television, documentary film, and the performing arts. I’m frequently asked to use my skills and talents to promote ideas, music, and brands. I work a lot and most of my experiences have been amazingly positive. I’ve worked with hundreds of talented, motivated, hard-working, gifted people, and I’ve studied them closely along the way.

Occasionally, however, I decline a project. Let me explain why.

Garrett Gibbons film director

My Morals

As a matter of policy, for a number of reasons, I generally don’t mix my professional work with religion or politics. There’s a critical point where my beliefs and my professional life intersect, however, and that’s what this blog post is all about.

First, let’s talk about where I’m coming from, and what all of this is based on. I know that it’s increasingly uncommon and increasingly unpopular, but I believe in God. I believe God is our creator and someday will be our judge. I believe that this life is both a test and a lesson. It’s a time to grow in our ability to become more like God is, to learn to love others, and to grow in the face of adversity and overcome challenges. I believe that families are sacred and that our relationships with other people are one of the most critical aspects of life.

I believe that everybody is accountable to God for their time and talents – God gave us life, gave us each unique propensities, interests and strengths, and I believe that he will hold each of us accountable for how we use those gifts during our time on earth.

Statistically, a large portion of you are shaking your head right now, convinced that I’m an idiot. Or maybe I’m only mislead? Maybe you’re concerned that I’m dangerous and am going to try to force you to live your life like I do. Maybe you’re angry with me for being so narrow-minded. Maybe you’re ordering a copy of Marx on Religion right now (Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes; “religion is the opiate of the masses”), planning to have Amazon ship it directly to my office, which you somehow got the address for by using some stalker-fu. Maybe you think you’re the one who’s going to change my worldview with the same argument that convinced you to whatever your belief system is.

Continue reading »

Macklemore & Ryan Lews hit Billboard at #2 with their album “The Heist”

This is huge for artists. This is huge for fans. This is huge for independents.

This week, Seattle locals Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made the Billboard top 200 at #2 with their album “The Heist.” The #1 album right now is “Babel” by Mumford & Sons, also an indie act. The top two positions on the carts are independents without studio funding or strings attached. For at least one week, these artists beat the record label circus at its own game.

As the Billboard article notes, this success “comes after years of steady growth.” To quote lyrics from the opening track on this album:

The Greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint.
The Greats were great because they paint a lot.

Work hard and keep working. Don’t accept mediocrity. In this world it’s anyone’s game now.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

“The Amazing Spider-Man” mini-review

Here is my brief review of the latest Spider-Man film. I am a huge nerd and a longtime fan of the comic books. I have an irrational affinity to Spider-Man stories and wanted to voice my response to the movie.

Overall: 8/10

Production team

Amazing Spider-Man theatrical poster

  • Screenplay: Alternating between 9/10 (at times) and 2/10 (at times). Too many screenwriting cooks must be the reason for this spoiled broth.
  • Directing: 7/10. Many moments are awesome and well-directed. Others are unintentionally hilarious. The inconsistencies were very distracting. The overall feel was excellent, however, and the essence of Spider-Man was conveyed far better than in any of the previous films.
  • Editing: 10/10. I didn’t notice it.
  • Scoring: 2/10. Distracting and inappropriate music through most scenes.
  • Motion capture and CG animation: 10/10. Some of the best I’ve scene. Spider-Man’s movement was beautiful and life-like.
  • Photography: 10/10. Loved it.
  • Lighting: 10/10. One of the best-lit action films I’ve seen.
  • Art department (sets, props): 10/10.
  • Visual Effects: Alternating between 10/10 (Spidey’s sewer web-spinning scene) and 2/10 (the scene with the cheesy dialogue while the kid was escaping from the suspended car; the fake flames looked like a 1980s-era episode of Dr Who).
  • Sound editing: 5/10. The slow-down sounds in the very last scene were a good example of how to ruin a movie with bad sound design.

Acting

  1. Andrew Garfield: 10/10. Incredible dialogue and physical acting. (Amazing performances by stunt artists as well.)
  2. Emma Stone: 10/10. Unexpectedly awesome chemistry between Gwen and Peter.
  3. Rhys Ifans: 3/10. Melodramatic. Unintentionally humorous performance.
  4. Martin Sheen: 8/10
  5. Sally Field: 7/10
  6. Denis Leary: 7/10
  7. Irrfan Khan: 2/10. Helped Rhys Ifans make some hilariously poor B-movie scenes.

Note to Mr Webb: Lizards smell with their tongues, not their nostril holes.

Note to audiences: Stay and watch the credits. There’s a bonus scene, but you should watch the credits anyway. Most people leave before the movie is over.

Bieber Minus Bieber

This is so fabulous! I edited the original Justin Bieber piece and love this remix (sans Bieber) that inkyblob made. It brings the focus to the excellent dancers who the creative team loved so much.

Freelance Condescending Wonka

This response should cover half of my work inquiries.

Freelance Condescending Creepy Wonka

Freelance Condescending Creepy Wonka