Tag Archives: School

A Day At The Track

Or, How I Made A Mess Of Myself

For the last semester, in my advanced cinematography class, we have been involved in producing some marketing footage for Kirkham Motorsports. Kirkham makes replica Shelby Cobras. It has been a really fun project that was broken up into three sections. We had a shop day where we filmed promo footage at their shop. A day was spent at the Nebo loop, part of the Wasatch mountains, and, the last was part was spent at the Miller Motor Sports Park. I was really excited to be a part of this, especially after being raised by my gear-head father. I spent most of the day near the track, filming close shots with Chris Hill and Brandon Beckham. It was a lot of fun watching these cars making 130 mph passes. It wasn’t long befire I was really itching to have some of the action to myself.

During lunch, the opportunity arose to do some in car filming. Me and Chris both jumped at the chance to do it. Chris hopped into a Cobra, and I jumped into a brand new 2007 Subaru WRX Sti. Now, many people may balk that I would rather jump into a Subaru then hit the Cobras. I have been a huge Subaru advocate for a long time, and thought the idea of doing 90 mph all-wheel drive drifts sounded like a good idea. So, we took a few laps, it was great. We played chase camera to the Cobra, and got some good footage.

The shooting was pretty intense. It took every muscle in my body to try and keep the camera straight, and true. I ended up wearing a full face helmet that after a few laps started to get a little stuffy. Now, I have been snowmobiling for most of my life, and am used to wearing a helmet. This helmet, as soon as the lid shut, latched shut, and I was unable to open it…

As we raced around the track, I was giddy for joy. I just about giggled, but I thought the dude next to me might think less of me, so I restrained myself, and pushed ahead. Lap after lap, as the g-forces worked on me, I started to get a little queasy. Now, when I was a kid, I used to get car sick really easy, so I put down the camera, and just focused on the road ahead. I decided that some air would help, and I tried to lift the mask of the helmet. It wouldn’t move. It decided to just stay fastened shut. I used both hands to try to get the helmet open, but nothing would get it open… I started to get nervous, and a little bit of claustrophobia settled in on me.

It was the last lap, and the driver asked me if we were done. I was eager to finish. And we headed for pit row. I put the camera at my feet, knowing that it was valued around $7000, to the cars $35,000. I pushed and pulled to do everything that I could do to get the helmet off, but to no avail. I ended up puking into the helmet before I got it off. Then, all over the car. Then all over the sidewalk. It was way embarrassing… What a way to end the semester, puking all over yourself in front of your peers and a client.

In the end, I was able to get it all cleaned up, and the driver of the car was way cool about it. I feel bad knowing that he was only able to get a few laps in his cobra, and only a few more before the Subaru got destroyed for the day. I hear that we are going to have another track day, I will stay out of the the car, and there might be a little less mess at the end of the day.

My Hockey Final…

Yes, I had to write a final for my hockey class… So, we are asked to write a great paper that is interesting and humorous about a time when we attended a hockey event. I will tell you, this has been the most hockey-fueled semester of my life. Aside from being an avid Mighty Ducks fan when I was a kid, (I later grew out of it… quack, quack, quack…) I have never really been that into hockey. About a year ago, a friend talked me into attending a drop-in event. I was a little leery, but, up to a challenge.

As we arrived to the ice, with modern-day giants stood looming over me, I took a moment to consider the options before me. On one hand, I could duck and cover and take the easy route and seriously avoid bodily harm, or, stand boldly, and go where no Spurlock has gone before–to the goal. I decided to go with the latter.

Side note…

For a few years, my family had season passes to Cottonwood Heights Rec Center. We went ice skating all the time, and I thought that my abilities where strong…

That was then, this is now…

So, as I paraded down the ice, waiting for the puck, it dawned on me that I have absolutely no hockey abilities, and that I would be better suited warming the bench or perhaps folding towels… As I smashed into the ice, and fell on my a$$, I gained a new found respect for nice thick pants.

Now a year later, and a semester of professional hockey lessons, I am feeling a little more comfortable on the ice, and the butt pads and cup that I got are really helping that out…

Why You Should Go To Film School…

Well, my last post about college caused a stir. I guess that was the point. Just to clarify, I wrote that on April 1, 2007, or, in the free-world April Fools Day. I thought that it would be a fun joke to plan on my family and friends. My mother-in-law, and wife are going to kill me if I don’t finish school, so, I thought I would add this, and give some good reasons to stay in school. As another point of clarification, this is only an argument for Film school, not college in general.

So, without further adieu, here are 10 reasons you should go to Film School:

1. Peer connections.

Your classmates may be the most valuable resource you’ll ever have. Go through the program, make friends, find alliances, and when you get out, stay in touch with everyone. As long as you realize there’s life after film school and don’t burn your bridges while you’re there, you’ll be able to find collaborators for your own projects, or possibly get a job on another classmate’s project. While you’re there you may even meet a writing or producing partner–the Joel to your Ethan Coen. That’s not a good comparison, since they’re brothers, not classmates, but… you get the point. Also, peer connections aren’t the only advantages that come with a film school degree; you’ll also get…

2. Industry connections.

Because film is a so-called “glamour” industry, everyone and their mother wants to work in it; this means the barriers to entry are more prohibitive than they are in, say, the hospitality industry. Breaking in is hard. But going to a program like USC or NYU, (even UVSC) gains you instant connections to an alumni network. This can be in the form of your professors keeping in touch with previous students who now work in the industry, it can be through your school’s career services, or it can even be in the form of finding out at a job interview that your would-be boss also went to your alma mater (suddenly your job prospects are looking up). But for many of these interviews, to even get your foot in the door you need…

3. Technical know-how.

While listing 10 reasons not to go to film school, I asked, “can art be taught?” While that inspired some debate, I don’t think there’s any doubting that craft is certainly teachable. I would even note in support of the “art can be taught” argument that, while at my first semester at the U, I learned how to draw; I would argue that being taught to sketch “mediocrely” [sic] is, in fact, merely an instruction on craft. So while no one can teach you how to be the next Scorcese, they can teach you camera framing, continuity editing, or high and low-key lighting. If you think you want to specialize–that is, if you want to be an editor or cinematographer, for example–then film school can certainly give you the technical knowledge to be proficient in those areas. And while you’re learning the technical aspects of film, you’re also getting….

4. Intelligent feedback.

Your professors and peers, being educated and theoretically intelligent when it comes to film, can give you sophisticated feedback on your own projects and ideas, and help mold you into a better filmmaker. Outside the haven of film school, it’s not easy to get together a group of film-aware individuals, and have them critique your project. Considering that film school typically takes place during your formative years, the collective wisdom and advice you receive during your attendance could help inform your whole career. And much of this advice comes from…

5. Mentors to push you.

Shooting a no-budget DV flick with all your friends in it, and then showing it to that same group of friends and getting their “that’s me on screen, this is awesome!” feedback, may not be the best way to develop your inner auteur. If you go to film school, you may or may not meet a great professor that inspires you in your studies, but if you do, that experience alone can be worth the price of admission. A good professor can push you to work harder and be more daring than you would be on your own; even if you don’t find any particularly great teachers, however, the professors can collectively teach you…

6. History and theory.

Even if you want to make experimental, avant-garde films, you’re still standing on the shoulders of giants. Not knowing theory and history is the equivalent of saying ignorance is bliss. Many young aspiring filmmakers cultivate a belief that “truly” creative films are created in a vacuum–and it’s easy to buy into this, given Hollywood’s current penchant for remakes, adaptations, and other “homages”–but skipping an immersion in history and theory is one sure way of shooting yourself in the foot, not only in terms of your own knowledge of what’s been done before, but in terms of…

7. Credibility.

Diplomas are a necessity in many professions; film is not one of them (I’m still waiting for someone’s “directed by” credit to be capped off with a “Ph.D”). Nevertheless, industry vets looking to separate the wheat from the chaff will often take you more seriously if you graduated from film school; at the very minimum, it shows you’re serious about it (because, as already stated, everyone and their mother wants to be in movies). Of course, what truly matters in film is not where you went to school, but what’s on your reel and what credits you have to your name; that is, what you’ve actually done. And in order to accomplish things, you need…

8. Time for your projects.

If you opt out of film school and do the 9-5 thing, pursuing your own projects on the side can be prohibitively difficult (to a certain extent, this depends on what your day job arrangements are). Working a day job and saving up your money to work on your own blood-sweat-and-tears project has a certain romantic appeal to it, but you’ll need funds, equipment, free time, and last but not least, collaborators. Film isn’t like writing, where you can sit down and do it yourself; for the most part, you need someone in front of the camera, too. And even if you’re shooting a documentary all by yourself, you’re most likely going to need large chunks of time set aside to shoot, which you might not be able to swing with an employer who expects you to show up to work every day. Film school gives you the collaborators, framework, and the time and space to work on your film pursuits (unless, of course, you go to a film program where only one in ten gets to actually produce his or her project, and everyone else becomes crew…). Also, if you stay in film school, you’re more likely to…

9. Stay the course.

If you throw yourself into the working world, you’ll tend to go where the opportunities are, and often times they aren’t always film-related. I’m not saying that you’ll come out of school with your sights set on being a writer/director and somehow end up becoming an air traffic controller, but I am saying that it’s likely you’ll take some detours along the way. If you go to film school, you’re setting aside three years to focus on film alone, and it’s one way of ensuring that you won’t get sidetracked. No matter how focused you are, however…

10. You either have it or you don’t.

Yeah, it’s the same as my #10 reason not to go to film school, but that’s exactly the point; it applies to both lines of reasoning. If you’re truly motivated to express yourself through the medium of film, ultimately… you’re going to find a way to express yourself through the medium of film, degree or not.

Summary

No “10 reasons why” list is ever going to make up anyone’s mind about film school (nor would a “3,457 reasons why” list). Ultimately the decision of whether or not to go to film school is dependent upon personal, not general, reasons: whether you enjoy the classroom environment, how well you get along with professors, how independent you are, what your level of film education and technical abilities are when you’re making the decision, what type of films you eventually want to make, how you want to make them, and a hundred other personal factors.

Still, these are ten pretty fundamental reasons to go (or not). If you’ve read both arguments and crave further food for thought, chime in with your opinion in the comments.

Why I Have Decided To Drop Out Of College

I have decided that I am done with college. It is difficult, I am a little worried about the reality of my decisions, but I think that it is the right thing to do. I have been going to Utah Valley State College for the last three years, pursuing a degree in Multimedia Communications Technology, with an emphasis in Film and TV production. I have been interested in film for a long time, and it seems like a great fit, however, there are few reasons that I don’t think that I will be back next semester. Here are a few of points that led me to my justification, maybe they can help you out too…

1. But… He didn’t go to film school.

Of my favorite filmmakers… Very few went to a film school. Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, Spike Jonze… None of them went to film school.

2. Digital Video.

One of the great reasons to go to film school was the chance to and the opportunity to shoot on film. However, now, this is not neccessary, with the advent of digital video, many films are shooting video with the same cheap cameras that I have been using in school…

3. School is expensive.

It’s easy to justify spending six figures on an education because you’re investing in the future. Plus there is a loan structure in place for repaying your debt, and there’s a vague promise of a job once you have a degree in hand. But tuition is incredibly expensive, and you’ll be paying it off for years to come, unless your last name is Rockefeller. If you think you have a great idea for a film–and that’s a big “if,” requiring enormous amounts of faith in yourself–then you may be able to produce your project for a whole lot less money than the six figures you’d spend on a degree. And once your labor of love is done, you can distribute your project using…

4. The Internet.

The biggest difference between today and 30 years ago isn’t the advent of DV cameras, it’s the advent of mass, free distribution like YouTube, iFilm, and a hundred other online sites. You could have all the talent in the world and a DV master of your piece de resistance in hand, but without the ability to put it out there for some recognition, you’d be up the creek. In today’s era of amateur filmmakers being snatched up off of YouTube, however, you can be assured that there’s an audience out there, there’s a way to put your film in front of them, and there’s a cadre of scared executives ready to hire anyone who understands kids these days. Another relevant aspect of the internet is the informational aspect; you can find intelligent film reviews, interviews, and forums for discussing movies online, which didn’t exist several years ago. All of these things help you find…

5. The Long Tail

Pre-interweb, it was much more difficult to find niche content that catered to your personal interests; but now, as Chris Anderson has written, even smaller films manage to find an audience, profitably. Even if you’re making a niche film about heroin-addicted Latvians who skydive blindfolded while listening to Jethro Tull (actually, that sounds pretty interesting), you can find an audience for it. Ten thousand interested audience members spread across the country won’t get your film seen in any one theater, because the geographic concentration of them is far too sparse to sell 100 tickets at any given location, on any given night. But ten thousand interested viewers on the internet means your film can get viewed ten thousand times and passed on many times over, through email, blogs, and myspace. Suddenly you’re the authority on terminal-velocity Latvian addicts and have lined up funding for a sequel, without ever stepping foot in film school. And the Long Tail isn’t just relevant as a producer, it’s also relevant as a student, because…

6. Netflix + books = critical studies.

Classic, avant-garde, and generally obscure films used to be hard to get your hands on. Film school, once upon a time, was a great way to see movies you couldn’t see anywhere else. But 90% of the movies you’ll see in film school today are available on DVD. Not only that, but instead of having to pay $4/pop to rent them on your own, you can just sign up for an all-you-can-eat DVD rental service like Netflix and watch, rate, review, and queue films to your heart’s content. Combine this with a few trips to the local bookstore and some Amazon listmania to get yourself a set of film history and theory books, and you’ve got a halfway decent critical studies program in your bedroom. That is, assuming you’re motivated enough to put in all the work on your own, without grades, peers, and deadlines–which is not easy. Still, you can always…

7. Learn by doing.

Between the corporate video, television, and feature film industries, there are plenty of jobs out there. Rather than paying to learn, you can get paid to learn (Mark Cuban seems to have done okay with that). Regarding film specifically, there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach: the disadvantages are that you may not be surrounded by like-minded peers who can give you valuable feedback, you may get on a track that’s not of your choosing (instead of being able to focus on one specialty at film school), and you may not have much time outside of your day job to pursue the projects you really want to. The advantages are that you’re supporting yourself instead of going into debt, you’re building up your resume, and you’re gaining an understanding of how the real world works. And learning by doing is better because…

8. You can’t teach art. Can you

At the heart of the “should I go to film school?” question is an even more basic question: can art be taught? No. Yes. A little bit? Who knows. Personally I’ve always felt that there’s something fundamentally disingenuous about teaching how to create. Yes, as a professor you can explain how a piece of art was created, you can further a student’s understanding of the art form as a whole, and you can refine a student’s technical know-how. But there’s no right or wrong way to create. Of course, on the flip side, having a great professor who gives you good feedback and pushes you in the right direction can make the whole film school experience worthwhile (I’ll talk about this next week). But many professors teach formula as technique, and you want to make sure it’s your own vision on screen, not your professor’s. Regardless…

9. Don’t study film, study life.

My problem with Hollywood today is not a lack of craft, and my problem with film school is not a lack of theory; both of these areas of expertise are arguably more refined today than they’ve ever been. But what’s mostly missing in Hollywood today is the writing–what’s actually being said–and while they can teach you in school how to say what you’ve got to say, they can’t tell you what to say. If film school costs $100k, I’d say you’d be better off traveling the world, reading a lot of books, doing volunteer work, and meeting a lot of people along the way. If you skip film school to travel the world and you’re insecure about your understanding of the 180-degree rule, read the Wikipedia entry on it and be on your way. If, in the course of your travels, you discover that you’re not interested in being a filmmaker after all, that’s probably for the better too, because you would’ve realized that eventually, even if you got your degree in film. Because ultimately, when it comes to filmmaking…

10. You either have it or you don’t.

Barry Diller said recently that “talent always outs.” That is, if you’re talented, you’ll eventually make it, regardless of whatever obstacles you encounter along the way. Film school can help you become a better filmmaker–it can refine what’s already there–but if you don’t have the raw creativity, ability, and motivation from the start, you’re doomed even if you’ve got a degree in hand. Conversely, if you’ve got what it takes, you’ll eventually make it, whether you go to film school or not. This is why there’s no right or wrong answer to the film school question; it’s reductive, but… you either have it or you don’t.

DIY Fig Rig

305393447_b85d0c36db_t.png

I saw a post the other day on DVGuru.com about a DIY fig rig, I was amazed, and had to try. The results were great, and I am so happy with them. Images can be found here.

I thought that I would add my parts list, and some of the things that made it easy for me on this nice little DIY.

1x Five foot piece of 3/4 PVC pipe

10x 3/4 PVC chevron angle pieces umm… You know what I am talking about.

2x 3/4 PVC T’s

1x 3/4 PVC X

2x 3/4 PVC Plugs with a 1/4 inch whole drilled in it

1x 4-1/4 – 20 Carriage bolt

2x 1/4 inch fender washers

2x 1/4 inch wing-nuts

That is about it. The next step is trimming all of the PVC pipe to the correct lengths. With the five foot section of pipe, cut to these lengths.

5x 6 inches

2x 3 inches

4x 2 1/2 inches

2x 1 1/2 inches

That is all the cutting. About the easiest way that to put it all together is by doing it in two halves. That way you can press them together. After you get them put together, you screw the wing-nut to the bottom, and then add the washer. But the bolt all the way through, and unless you are adding the camera right away, put the other wing-nut on the top.

This was a really simple, cool project. I was anxious to get this started, as I wanted to take it skiing at Brighton the next day. You can check out the video here.

Special thanks to Shygantic for the specs.