Friday, January 29, 2010


If I could travel back in time to shoot a documentary, I don't think I would focus necessarily on the great historical events in history. I'm fascinated with the question of what everyday life - intimate family life - was like in ancient times. What did the family talk about around the equivalent of our kitchen table? The world over the last several hundred years has accelerated fast and faster, to the point that today our lives are fundamentally changed from just a decade ago.

I wonder about day-to-day Rome or ancient Egypt. Some documentation exists, but most tell about the life of the nobility. I wonder what life was like in advanced civilizations in which there were no great changes in status, style and technology for centuries at a time. It's impossible to imagine such a world from our modern perspective. On the other hand, I suspect that basic human nature hasn't changed - the family dynamic almost certainly existed in recognizable form five and ten thousand years ago.

That's really the underlying beauty of creating documentaries that explore some aspect of the human condition - there's common ground to be found with almost anyone - the fun is finding where the common ground lies.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


My nephew Greg posted a status update on Facebook recently that was a quote from author Alvin Toffler (Future Shock). It was too good to let it simply disappear into Facebook limbo, so I wanted to pass it on to all of you!

If you don't have a strategy, then you'll just be part of someone else's strategy.

Ujjual Nath, a friend and supporter of Freshi Films, added:

"My version: All decisions seem reasonable when you lack a strategy."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I work for Freshi Films as Director of Production. On occasion, I also teach filmmaking. In 2006, I had the opportunity to travel to India with Freshi to lead a week-long filmmaking workshop with Indian teens. Including a bit of site-seeing (yes, we visited the Taj Mahal), we spent ten days in India.

While "Bollywood Steps" didn't evolve directly from that experience (the main subject is married to a colleague), it was definitely inspired by the intensity of our journey. India is an ancient culture, and it seems that thousands of years of tradition are constantly on display. While hundreds of years of foreign domination (India regained its status as an independent state in 1948) still impacts that country in massive infrastructure and bureaucratic challenges, the country is moving in an exciting direction.

The kids I had the privilege to work with in our workshop were the greatest possible introduction to India. Their spirit of adventure motivated our entire team. To this day, some are my friends on Facebook. Though the kids I profile in "Bollywood Steps" were born in America, I see some of that same sprit. I'll leave it to the audience to interpret what is Indian - and what is common ground between our two societies.

Monday, January 25, 2010


With computers, smart phones, and everything in between becoming ever more ubiquitous, more and more Americans have constant access to more information, more forms of (usually sedentary) recreation, and, undeniably, more constant communication with friends and family than ever before. We won't understand the long-term benefits or consequences of our ongoing transformation for another generation, perhaps - but I believe that most people would agree that we live a world (or at least a nation) fundamentally different than the world we inhabited just ten years ago.

Even more recently, these devices have evolved rapidly as creative tools. While computers have provided new opportunities for creative expression since the dawn of home computers, today's technology allows for increased collaboration and mobility. Most smart phones include video recording capabilities - and, increasingly, editing tools. Iphone apps include tools for creating imagery and music - It's possible to shoot, edit and post online a podcast or YouTube video without touching a laptop or desktop computer.

Combine the ability to create with an improving platform for connecting and collaborating, and the next several years seem to promise an entirely new opportunity for artists around the world to work intimately with their compatriots. It already happening - search "collab" or "collaboration" on YouTube, and you'll discover many small groups of users - tens of thousands of miles apart and of all ages - working together on a variety of innovative projects. From these early experiments will almost certainly emerge entirely new opportunities for creative, micro-economic (i.e. individuals doing business together) and personal interaction.

Friday, January 22, 2010


While my documentary, "Bollywood Steps" isn't an emotionally sensitive film as a film like "Streetwise" might have been, I've still pondered my impact on my subjects through the production of the film.

For my young subjects, the very fact that I was creating a documentary about them will have an impact. Though I was careful not to give the boys any impression that they were in any way "larger than life," there is naturally a tendency to feel "special" to be chosen as subjects of such a project. The best I can do is minimize my profile and impact on the individuals I'm profiling.

For "Bollywood Steps," that means a small crew (my crew generally was limited to myself and one other person), a low-profile camera, and little else - aside from the formal interviews in the documentary, I generally depended upon natural and existing light. It's also my responsibility as a documentarian to make certain that I don't impose myself on the situation. In my opinion, I have no right to insist on my subjects - or anyone in the environment - to behave unnaturally or even unusually accommodate my presence. In reality, most people will be willing to give the filmmaker what he or she wants and accordingly. As often as I can, I try not to telegraph my intentions.

It's impossible to measure the impact my camera brought to the situation at hand. I do know that everyone concerned became more at ease as I continued to shoot the documentary over the eight months or so that I spent. Time will tell as I bring the film out to a growing audience.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The 1984 documentary "Streetwise" followed a group of teen runaways on the streets of Seattle. Nominated for an Oscar and recipient of many other awards, the film, like "An American Family" is nearly forgotten today, and unavailable on DVD.

"Streetwise" made an impression on me for two reason. First, of course, this was a documentary that offered an unusually intimate look into the lives of street kids. Filmmaker Martin Bell and his team had earned the trust of their subjects to an extraordinary degree, and were able to present a unique perspective on a generally mis-represented population.

At the same time, the film disturbed me for purely ethical reasons. I couldn't help but wonder if the teens in this film were amping up their behavior for the camera, motivated to more and more outrageous conduct. I wondered what they were like when the cameras were gone. Some have called this film "staged," but I feel that, perhaps, the subjects of the film picked up on the interests of the filmmaker, and, in effect, gave him what he wanted.

It's a constant concern for documentarians attempting to honestly portray the world around them - to what extent do they impact their surroundings, and how can they minimize their influence?

While "Bollywood Steps" was a different sort of film altogether, these questions did figure into the production. I'll discuss my experiences in my next post.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I believe that one of my early inspirations in documentary filmmaking was a PBS program, "An American Family," which followed the large Loud family of Santa Barbara for six months in 1971. 300 hours of film was cut into a 12 one hour episodes that captured the national imagination. Not only was this the first intimate "behind closed doors" portrait of an American family, it also recorded the collapse of that family. By the last episode of the series, the parents were divorced and the teen and young adult children were struggling with the monumental changes hanging over their lives. During the course of the series, one child revealed he was gay, and thus became the first openly gay character on American television.

Today, when "reality shows" are rampant, this all may seem quaint in comparison. The "John and Kate," "Big Brother" and "Survivor" freak shows purport to portray real people. After all, we're told, they're not actors. Remember MTV's "Real Life," which placed a series of young adults in special equipped homes and geographic environments? These shows don't represent reality. All participants are cast, just like actors, to provide for the best conflict, and the most outrageous results. In shows lke "John and Kate," families are chosen for their oddness - either in numbers of children, physical issues, or over-the-top personalities. The Balloon Boy incident, created by a family desperate for "reality show" attention, shows just how bizarre the "reality" world has become.

"An American Family," however, was different. While I'm certain the Loud family was chosen for the promise of conflict and (at the time) relative similarity to the PBS viewing audience, the entire 12 week series was shot by the time the program aired. This was, it seemed, an typical (though upscale) nuclear family: Mom, dad and the kids. The audience could identify with them - and so feel a more intimate connection when the family collapsed.

I'd like to say this was reality - but in truth, it's quite possible that the upheaval in this family was, just like today, impacted by the presence of the documentary crew. In those days, compact video equipment didn't exist. The Loud family's home was wired with heavy lights, audio equipment, heavy film cameras and full crews that no doubt added to the stress in a family already on the edge. In "Big Brother," cameras are tucked away with the hope that the participants will lower their guard and forget they're being observed. I believe that such an approach with a American family today would be as intriguing, engaging and ground-breaking as "An American Family" was in its day. Given the right family, and careful production that's as unobtrusive as technically possible, I believe that such an approach with an American family today would be as intriguing, engaging and ground-breaking as "An American Family" was in its day.

"Reality" doesn't have to be a freak show.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Perhaps I'm going out on a limb here, but:

1 - The World will not end in 2012
2 - A Shadow Government is not poised to take control and throw dissidents into secret federal detention camps.
3 - We are not about to be thrust into a Marxist - Leninist Dictatorship.
4 - An earthquake will not dump California into the ocean.
5 - Nostradamus the Bible and the pyramids are all open to interpretation, and yours is not necessarily the right one.
6 - The Masons don't control the world, nor does the Queen of England, Jews, Arabs, Rockefeller, the Trilateral Commission, or Lizard-like aliens.

Prove me wrong.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


One would think that the enormous and growing volumes of information available at our fingertips would make for a more informed, compassionate and fair-minded society. While this might be partly true, I also see an increasing willingness of the public to accept some information without question. Comments on any video on YouTube display a peculiar sense of paranoia - almost anyone and anything can be interpreted as a reason to hate for all of the usual suspects: race, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, or even class warfare.

On Facebook, I've been invited to a wide range of independent Facebook Groups that purport to represent resistance to nefarious plots by Facebook management to attack Facebook membership in any number of ways, from charging for access to the site, to promoting one political position over another. These are usually founded on groundless statements that begin with something like "Facebook management is planning [insert horrible action here]," followed with a great, noble call for resistance.

Like people, corporations are certainly not saints, and very often represent or support particular social and political positions. However, the suggestion that an evil "Facebook Management" would create anything that would create major roadblocks in the continued development of the company is groundless.

Charge for Facebook? Really? Creating a paid service would drive nearly everyone away, and cause a collapse that would ensure that Facebook will never make money - or even survive (AOL was once a paying service - remember them?). Premium services within Facebook are slowly developing (for example, games that one can play for free, but pay for additional in-game content or advantages) - but converting Facebook to a paid service would be corporate suicide. And even without knowing Facebook Management, I'm confident they're not bottom-feeding idiots (yes, even if some people believe changes to the interface prove ill-conceived).

Finally, the assumption that Facebook would take any position that would run counter to widespread political and social opinion is naive at best. In an increasingly reactive society, for Facebook (or any corporation seeking a wide apolitical audience, for that matter) to take high-profile positions that would offend a wide selection of users and trigger a vocal backlash from the public, government representatives, and media is inconceivable.

Look for the evidence. Please.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Recently, Microsoft announced that the "Natal" add-on for XBOX 360, along with the Milo game I've previously discussed here, will hit the stores for the holiday season late this year. For the uninitiated, "Natal" will be an add-on for the game system that will not only allow for various games to be played without the use of a controller, but will also allow for more natural interaction with certain games, incorporating speech and pattern recognition.

I think that this technology is proceeding somewhat stealthily, considering the impact it will have on mass entertainment. Gaming is one thing - this will be an entirely new genre, with a far wider appeal (and that's considering that gaming already has a huge appeal).

Saturday, January 09, 2010


During the last couple of years, a great part of my free time was taken up in with shooting and editing "Bollywood Steps." Now that the documentary is complete, I'll be working on getting it out into the wider world. In the case of this particular film, I have multiple goals. The most important:

First, I'll be entering the documentary in a number of film festivals, to develop a wider awareness of the project.

Second, I'll be seeking a suitable distributor to bring "Bollywood Steps" to television audiences around the world. Generally, these sorts of projects are sold to individual markets by skilled distributors. It's not impossible to "do it yourself," but I'm not interested in re-inventing the wheel!

Third, I'll be seeking direct sales avenues - there's a wide range of new opportunities for this, which could include online venues (i.e. and features that didn't exist just couple of years ago, including digital downloads. Not every independent documentary is suitable for this sort of distribution, but this particular film, I believe, has a unique appeal to certain audiences.

As I work on all of these goals, it's critical, at the same time, to develop the Next Thing. What's the Next Thing? Oh, you won't get it out of me that easily!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Mystery of Google Wave

At the end of November, I had the opportunity to join the Beta testing of Google Wave, the new online collaboration utility. It combines features of email, chat, and other functions in a whole new approach. Google describes it this way:

Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Unfortunately this is one innovation that seems, as yet, to be a mystery to almost anyone who has had the opportunity to try it - including myself. It seems to do a little of everything, but not much of anything.

It might possibly serve to create a creative environment in a virtual office, assuming that employees are online at the same time, so that the give-and-take of a actual office might best be simulated.

Has anybody found an effective use as yet for Google Wave? I'd really like to hear about it!

By the way, if you would like to explore it yourself, I have one more beta membership I can give out - first come, first served.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Thoughts on "Bollywood Steps" - Fusion / Confusion

My documentary, "Bollywood" explores the attempt by an expatriate Indian choreographer/dancer to both train American-born Indian kids in Bollywood-style dance, and encourage a sense of identity with their Indian heritage. In the group on which the documentary focuses, all the boys are first generation Americans. Like millions of first-generation children before them, they live a dual identity, with their family life still strongly reflecting their heritage, culture and religion, and the outside American socieity, which, despite what many people might think, has a culture, mood and attitude of it's own, which in turn is built from those hundreds of unique cultures brought here from other lands.

For first generation American kids of any culture, the result could initially lead to a confusion of identity. In time, though, I believe they're discovering a new fusion - a new definition of being an American in the 21st century. The kids in "Bollywood Steps," I think, are creating an entirely new interpretation, unique to their generation, of what it means to be Indian-American.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Unexpected VERY COOL TV-Series-To-Movie Adaptation: "UFO"

Many of you may not be familiar with "UFO," a cool, early 1970's Gerry Anderson tv series about a secret human defense force (in the far-off year of 1980!) protecting the earth from aliens bent on harvesting human body parts. It was a cool, if short-lived series with a chilling premise and a sleak futuristic design. It's largely forgotten today, but I suspect it won't be for long. Read more about the project here.

Director Producer Matt Gratzner, who is developing this adaptation as a movie trilogy to be completed over the next decade, is a great guy - when I was teaching a filmmaking workshop at Pacific Lodge Boys' Home ( a residential group home for teens transitioning from juvenile hall back into society), Matt took the kids in my workshop on a tour of New Deal Studios, his special effects facility in West Los Angeles. Since I began working with Freshi Films, he did the same thing for an educational video we distribute to schools nationwide, enabling kids anywhere to gain a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process.

Here's the opening of the original "UFO"series - look beyond the dated special effects and just imagine what the movies could be.....

Friday, January 01, 2010

My Favorite New Technology Developments

  1. Natal Milo - Those of you who have read my blog, or follow gaming technology, won't be surprised at this selection. Natal is a new add-on for XBox that will allow the system to respond to the user with such sophistication that controllers won't be needed in most cases, and natural verbal interaction with on-screen characters will create an unprecedented illusion. If this comes through as demonstrated, the result my very well be an entirely new form of entertainment beyond traditional gaming.
  2. As a filmmaker, smartphone tools like the Artemis Digital Directors Viewfinder and, from the same company, the Helios Sun Calculator (which determines the position of the sun at any given time of day) are very cool Iphone apps that have a real practical use for the film/video professional. The whole "apps" thing, whether it's Iphone related or not, is really a whole new world (and a whole new business). The computer / high-tech industry continues to develop in directions we couldn't have anticipated just a few years ago. The tablet computer - which is midway between a digital book reader (like the Kindle) and a laptop computer, is said to be the Next Big Thing on the horizon - I'll be curious how that product will fit into the rapidly expanding landscape of -dare I say it- gadgets. I don't mean that in a negative way, either - we live and die in the gadget universe. We've come to live in a James Bond movie, with technology beyond anything "Q" could have imagined.