Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Shooting started this week and it was certainly good to be back behind the camera and talking to people. At this stage, the project is still taking shape and I’m on the hunt for treasure, i.e. the magical images or words that come forward that I wasn’t even expecting. Friends and acquaintances are still recommending people to me for potential subjects and many others are telling me their own story.   There are a lot of people who have grief in their life and loss they can do nothing about but learn to live with. It is very humbling to me that with just a few words of my story, they are willing to share their own.

On the tech side, I love the C100. It’s really like shooting film again with the ease of capturing audio the video way. For those in the know, I think I took the zebra settings a bit too seriously and was down by maybe one more stop than was necessary but the bokeh is still beautiful.  The Canon CN-E lenses are serious business!

This morning I came across an article What Should We do with the Online Dead?

The issue of virtual memorials struck a chord with me, although not everyone, including my sister, leaves a blog or personal website behind that forms the backbone of an online legacy. I am well aware that I am the keeper of her memorial in whatever form it takes and the film I am doing now is an aspect of that. To me, there are real issues to be explored along the lines of “How Should We Behave About Death Online?”

A friend of mine from school told me how she and her husband raced home after the death of his mother, rushing to tell their children in person before they saw an aunt’s posting on Facebook. They got home within twenty minutes and the Facebook posting had already gone up but fortunately their kids had not seen it yet.

I remember also a young girl still in high school in the hospice kitchen with her best friend. I was getting a cup of coffee and her father had just died moments before. With tears coming down her face, she was calling her friends to tell them what had happened and pleadingly asking them to stay off of Facebook until she could decide how to handle it.

In the day after my sister’s death, aunts and uncles who hadn’t seen my sister in years took to posting on Facebook, taking public sympathy laps that I found extremely vulgar and self-serving (especially for people in their 60s and 70s). The relative that started Facebooking, hadn’t seen my sister the last year and a half of her illness and had had a bad final phone call with my sister that caused my sister to ask me to cancel any wake we might plan for her. Other relatives who chimed in were ones that hadn’t seen her in even longer. One uncle, who seemed so sentimental online, never returned my sister’s last phone call to him three months before she died. (She left a couple of messages and he basically blew her off.) He and many others did not even attend her funeral. However, online they treated my sister’s death as if it was some kind of event or happening of which they did not want to be left out. But worse, it seemed that they were crafting a false relationship for the public to see that portrayed them as far more present and loving than they were.

In the end, I realized their Facebook postings were mostly for themselves, serving as a construct of a family and love and loyalty that they did not actually possess and a very weird way for them to publicly grieve amongst themselves and with other Facebook friends unrelated.

So much of social media is driven simply by our efforts to construct reality and ourselves, to get others to see us as we want to be seen, to accumulate numbers of friends and connections that in many cases do not at all signify real relationships, and to build a look of a life that may never ever have existed at all.

I’ve spent a long time deciding on what to do with my sister’s things – her physical remains, her clothes, her journals, everything she had. I closed the credit cards and bank accounts and paid the debts that could be paid. But for now, I’ve let her social media and email accounts be. They are certainly not Michelle, not even close to who she was. But every once in a while someone posts something on her pages. It’s really something about themselves, something aspirational, something myth-building about a relationship that they do not have and most likely never had at all. It’s fantasy and like all fantasies some of their postings are beautiful and some are ugly.

David Eagleman expresses…beautifully in his collection of short stories, SUM: “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” So on the one hand, we get to carry our loved ones with us much longer than perhaps we thought. But on the other hand, Eagleman also says, “Since we live in the heads of those who remember us, we lose control of our lives and become who they want us to be.” So it’s a double-edged sword. But it’s our double-edged sword; it’s just the nature of our impermanence. The situation isn’t much different as when we’re alive; even in living we are what people think we are.

I still do wish that people would be more humble and modest and delicate and would refrain from jumping on social media the moment they hear someone they know has died. I may be the keeper of my sister’s memorial but the thing I spend the most time thinking about how to respect the mystery that was my sister, the life inside her that only she knew. No amount of digital portraiture can do that justice for any of us.

Since there’s always a lot of querying going back and forth between doc filmmakers in regards to gear, just thought I’d share some technical info on how I’m shooting the Secret Maps. I’m shooting to the Ninja 2 from Atomos. I love the Canon cameras but the bit rate for their internal capture is way too low. The Ninja captures ProRes right from the sensor and requires no special apps to load right into FCP.

I wish Canon would develop an internal space to take an SDD instead of hanging a deck like the Ninja off the camera but as you can see from the photo, it is do-able, even for run-and-gun shooting.

Wish this little piece of gear made the POV Survey. Maybe next year.

I am very pleased to announce that New York Women in Film and Television will be acting as the fiscal sponsor for my new film, the Secret Maps of Sad Men. I’ve been a member for years and I look forward to working with Terry Lawler and all the wonderful gang at NYWIFT again. NYWIFT also did a lovely screening of my last film, Running in High Heels. It’s great to be part of their community.

More details to come on how the Secret Maps can be supported by your donations.

This weekend a lot of writers took note of the Sunday NYTimes article by Julie Bosman, “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking“. Bosman reported that we writers need to work harder. It’s not enough to be in marketing and promotion mode half the time. It’s not enough to being tweeting and blogging up a storm on the side. If you want to stay a writer, you need to up that output and be prepared to give away more of your work for free. Quote:

The push for more material comes as publishers and booksellers are desperately looking for ways to hold onto readers being lured by other forms of entertainment, much of it available nonstop and almost instantaneously. Television shows are rushed online only hours after they are originally broadcast, and some movies are offered on demand at home before they have left theaters. In this environment, publishers say, producing one a book a year, and nothing else, is just not enough.

To tell you the truth, this article wasn’t a surprising read for me. What did surprise me was the reaction of some other writers.

Chuck Wendig, a writer I dig on Twitter, wrote a post called, “On the Privilege of Being a Writer” detailing the hard lives of labor of his ancestors and telling us writers, to paraphrase his wonderful Wendiggity voice, “Stop crying you stupid crybabies. You aren’t doing mother f*#%ing manual labor.”

Another writer, Marie-Paule Graham, tweeted to me that we needed perspective as we aren’t curing cancer. And, of course, she’s right. Writers aren’t on the path to curing cancer. (Although, it should be noted, the medical and pharmaceutical industry hasn’t cured it either.)

What we writers are, however, is part of the economy, that big, screwed-up, globalized division of labor and allocation of wealth machine. If it makes a writer feel better to take the view that being a writer is like being a privileged escapee from the workforce because we writers can work in our pajamas if we want, well, OK. But it happens not to be true. We’re not that exceptional. Unless you are Ted Kaczynski writing your manifesto on home-pulped paper in the woods, you are part of the economy.

Since the banking crash of 2008, America’s productivity has notably grown in spite of a workforce that now has five million fewer workers. Fewer workers are carrying more of the workload (and without the army of worker mecadroids modernity promised us!) If you’ve ever been the survivor of a layoff, you’ve been told before, “Sure, you get to keep your job. And the reward is you can do Bob’s job too, since he’s fired. Of course, your pay will stay the same. Employment is prize enough!”

It’s simply more work for the same pay. The literary market is demanding the same sacrifices of its workers. While I’m certainly grateful I’m not confined to a career of hard manual labor, these developments are nothing to be happy about. They are a formula for burn-out whether applied to writers or teachers or ‘cubicle creatures’.

But enough with gratuitous rhyming. What happens now to the writers who aren’t machines, who can’t brand-up and hire a team like James Patterson, who can’t turn out literary product like widgets? The literary world has had its share of one-hit wonders. Are publishers even going to take a look at a writer with one fabulous book if they don’t come with a ready-made “platform” or if they can’t be certain that a steady stream of more will follow?

Writers have always lived by “publish or perish.” But like the rest of economy, the current market may be steering towards the entrenchment of a literary 1% in which 99% of writers work away for little benefit and the top 1% sucks the wealth out of the market on the backs of others.

UPDATE May 18: Marie-Paule Graham wrote me to say she thinks her tweets were misrepresented in my reference to them above. So, you decide. Here’s our brief Twitter stream of 13 May below:

Maryann Breschard @Breschard @mpg4 2K a day is like rock n’ roll on the road. U can only do it for so long before the burnout comes & u trash a hotel room.

Marie-Paule Graham Marie-Paule Graham @mpg4 @Breschard Tell that to the cancer doc with her never ending stream of patients. Perspective is all I’m saying

Maryann Breschard @Breschard @mpg4 OK, but tell the cancer doc in question he or she now has to see twice as many patients per year for the same pay.

Marie-Paule Graham @mpg4 @Breschard She does. AND this year she took a pay cut.

Again, I would argue that writers being required to produce more for less pay (no advances, free novella giveaways, etc.) and doctors being required to do more and take pay cuts are both reflective of the something common in the globalized workforce.

Oct 15

Blog to Death

A guy named Miles Lennon has done the science (not really) on the typical life cycle of the blog in “Why are 95% of blogs abandoned?” For me, maintaining a vigorous blog is impossible because of a dozen things every day that make my life thrive better than blogging. What many of the blog-inclined learn is that group blogs work best because constant updating is required. My uncle posts on Salon.com – when he wants. My friend, Valerie, is a publishing expert at about.com. Even a guy like Andrew Sullivan, who often ranks as one of the top individual bloggers, doesn’t do it alone. A while back he had to come clean that he and a staff write his blog. But as a former editor of the New Republic he had the access, means, and know-how to eventually adapt editorial techniques to his blog. (The staff is now credited on his main page and he is listed as “Editor” BTW.)

Due to so few of us being able to call upon staff, we individual bloggers fail. We fail a lot. We fail so much that most of us would be mathematically better off opening up new restaurants which only fail at a rate of 59% in the first year. But for those who cannot cook either, here is what Lennon wants you to know about blogging:

Blog Lifecycle

1) Euphoric moment of inspiration 2) Pseudo-maniacal and self-indulgent perusing of domains 3) Careful consideration of theme and design 4) The inaugural post – “Hello world!” 5) The 2-4 post honeymoon phase 6) Waning and changing interests 7) Feelings of desperation and apathy from low engagement 8) Inevitable abandonment 🙁

It turns out that this cycle may not be uncommon. Surveys have shown that 95% of blogs are abandoned within 120 days and 60-80% of them abandoned within the first month.

Writing 5am to 7am is not my habit but the former habit of Brit Raymond Tallis and he’s produced a new book about one of the subjects I love to follow in a pop-culture manner:  neuroscience.    He has a dim view of how publishing and pop culture demands have bent research to what he deems ridiculous conclusions.

Those trends, as Tallis sees them, are like “intellectual illnesses” metastasizing from academic labs into popular culture. He sees the symptoms in neuro-economic thinkers who explain our susceptibility to subprime mortgages by describing how our brains evolved to favor short-term rewards. He sees them in philosophers who claim that our primate minds admire paintings of landscapes that would have supported hunting and gathering. He sees it in neurotheologians who preach that “God is a tingle in the ‘God spot’ in the brain.”

Whatever the case, his book’s title is very pop-culture and most amusing for a guy who disparages pop culture: Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity.

Who knew one could have inflammation of the Darwin?

A bit of a neuroscience debate regarding where evil resides in the brain ran across a couple of publications this weekend. A bit in Slate regarding fMRIs ability to find evil acts in the brain pronounced:

The new neuroscience represents the latest chapter in a millennia-old and still divisive cultural conflict over the problem of evil, the latest chapter in the attempt by science to reduce evil to malfunction or dysfunction rather than malevolence. 

Will Wilkinson at the Big Think responded with a big simplistic tch-tch:

About evil specifically, it seems obvious that people with perfectly normal brains do evil all the time.

It seems inevitable that neuroscientists will eventually discover a pattern of neural activity that coincides with what we deem evil acts or evil thoughts.    If science can identify and address the neural activity that coincides with “evil”, it could also identify and intervene with the neural activity of the perception of “evil”.  Theoretically, evil, as we know it today, could go on and science could negate human capacity to perceive it just as easily as it could be used for a  prevention scenario a la “Minority Report”.

The question once again is:  how will science in the hands of humans be used and who will be using it?

Simply because there is math in everything and the more you see it, the more beautiful everything is.

It puts a little glimmer of hope in my heart to hear that the Department of Energy is following up on a potentially very good development in solar power. From the Boston Herald:

A Massachusetts company has won a conditional $150 million federal loan guarantee to develop a dramatically cheaper way to produce the silicon wafers that are the key component of solar panels.

The U.S. has a small but growing 5 to 7 percent market share of the world’s solar energy industry, according to a report for the Solar Energy Industries Association. China and Germany are leading players in the market.

The price of solar energy is a major competitive disadvantage, even compared to other renewable sources of electricity.

A U.S. Energy Information Administration projection of the cost of electricity from new plants coming on line in 2016 puts the cost of solar at 21.1 cents per kilowatt hour. It’s cheaper than offshore wind (24.3 cents) but much more expensive than land wind (9.6 cents) and conventional coal (9.5 cents), for instance.

But 1366 Technologies says its manufacturing process can chop the price of solar electricity down to about 4 cents per kilowatt hour by 2020.

It has been so disheartening and depressing to watch the market forces that be keep solar and wind priced prohibitively expensive by subsidizing oil, coal and gas and depriving clean energy of investment. If Germany can commit to getting rid of nuclear energy and China can take the lead in developing renewable, non-polluting energy, so can the U.S. It’s just a decision.

It’s actually sort of sorry to have to admit that I’ve never spent a night in a place dark enough to see the Milky Way properly. Shoot. Does this mean I have to start a bucket list now?

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.