I’m going to be in the movies!

Nacho Vigalondo, Elijah Wood, and Tim League

Nacho Vigalondo, Elijah Wood, and Tim League at Fantastic Fest 2010. I assure you, the party is always where Nacho is.

It’s true! I am currently slated to be an extra in the new Nacho Vigalondo film, and filming happens TONIGHT! It also sounds like I’ll get to sling my camera around at the shoot, so I’ll be able to document a single night of behind-the-scenes goodness.

I’ll be arriving at the shoot at 9:00 PM CST, and I’m scheduled to be there until 8:00 AM CST. Thus, if you’re a nightowl and want to hear about what happens on a movie shoot, tune in to my Twitter feed. There is normally a lot of waiting around on a movie shoot, so I’ll probably have plenty to say online.

I’ve not heard specifically which film we are shooting tonight, but I presume it is Open Windows. Really, any Nacho Vigalondo movie is a good thing. If you haven’t seen Timecrimes (currently available on Netflix Streaming), you should have a look.

The Hobbit: 48fps or 24fps?

Unless you have been living in a cave, you probably know that Peter Jackson’s new mega-opus The Hobbit hits American screens very soon. You probably already know a couple other things about the project:

  1. This is the first film of a trilogy, which is odd because the original book is only about 300 pages long.
  2. It was filmed in HFR, aka High Frame Rate, which means it runs at 48 frames per second instead of the normal 24.
  3. It was also filmed in 3D.

No, I have not already seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, though a few critics have already seen the film and their mixed reviews are starting to hit the Internet. I try not to hate upon a film I have not yet seen, and that is not my intent in this post. Instead, I just want to jot down a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over, here on the eve of viewing a shiny new piece of cinema technology.

First of all, I’ve heard people ask what format they should see the film in. I’m a big believer in seeing a film in its original format. If it was filmed in 3D, see it in 3D. If it was filmed in 48fps, see it in 48fps. If it was filmed in IMAX, see it in real IMAX (not in Digital IMAX, mind you). The Hobbit was filmed in 3D at 48fps, so I have every intent of seeing it in that format.

That said, 48fps is a rather jarring leap of technology. If you are a passive filmgoer and you don’t really care about HFR and just want to see dwarfs and wizards and stuff, I hear that the 24fps conversion is pretty good. The conversion adds motion blur between the frames, so it should reduce the judder you normally see in digital-to-film conversions.

Why am I hedging my bets on 48fps? I’m usually all for new technology, and I haven’t even seen HFR in action. What gives? Here are my concerns:

    • By all reports, HFR looks very, very different from what we expect from a film. It seems that many critics are finding this distracting. My guess is that the public will be even less forgiving.
    • Nobody knows how to direct movies in HFR yet. The Hobbit is a great big experiment. Directing a 3D film is different from directing a 2D film; directing a color film is different from directing a black-and-white film; directing a silent film is different from directing a sound film. HFR is no different. It will take time for directors to figure out how to best craft an HFR film so it tells a story without jarring the viewer.
    • HFR hides nothing. Special effects of all kinds — CGI, makeup, matte paintings, whatever — all rely to some degree on sleight-of-hand. Many movies benefit from having a sort of thin veil between the audience and the movie magic, whether it’s the black-and-white cinematography of 1933’s King Kong or the heavy film grain of Minority Report. The Hobbit is being filmed in high-definition 3D digital HFR. That’s like trying to do a magic trick in a hall full of mirrors and video cameras.

In a nutshell, I don’t have anything in particular against HFR, but I suspect that putting HFR and The Hobbit together may be a poor marriage of story and format. A better introduction of HFR probably should have looked like the early introduction of IMAX filmmaking: documentaries tailored to be immersive experiences. Making The Hobbit into a massive trilogy was already a tall order; positioning it as the vanguard of a new cinematic technology may be one burden too many.

It’s doubly worrisome that this choice came out of Peter Jackson and Weta Studios, who in the past have made truly wise decisions in marrying low-tech with high-tech.

I’d love to see HFR work out. I think there is potential in the technology to make truly extraordinary cinematic experiences. I’d also love to see The Hobbit work out. I hope my concerns are for naught, and that I have a truly grand time watching the film.

Cinematic Oddities: Hot Summer (1968)

Some time ago, Bill Stiteler urged me to look up this film on Netflix. The pitch: “It’s like a Frankie and Annette beach party movie, but it was made in East Germany!”

How could I resist?

Bill’s pitch is dead-on, both factually and descriptively. The plot of Hot Summer (aka Heisser Sommer) is as airy as cotton candy, featuring a herd of teen girls (who are probably actually in their late twenties) and a herd of teen boys (who are likewise suspiciously adult) who all go on a beach holiday on the Baltic coast. Fluffy songs and dance numbers ensue!

…as well as a trip to a collective farm!

It’s true. Someone in East Germany decided they wanted all the fun of a beach party movie, except without all those capitalist bits. Living behind the Iron Curtain was a blast for teens, right?

The film is more overtly a battle of the sexes than a piece of Communist propaganda, but there are definitely “how to be a good Communist” lessons sneaking in here and there. Mostly, the film just feels like it has the plot equivalent of a mentally challenged puppy. The weird delight of watching this film with our current historical perspective is seeing the film alternately grasping at Western entertainment values and Communist political values.

I’m not sure I’d call Hot Summer a good film, but it certainly is a unique film. If you’re the sort that enjoys digging into political subtext, this flick is a gold mine. And it’s a musical! Who doesn’t love beach party musical numbers?

“You are NOT going to Godwin the post about the German beach movie! … DAMMIT!”

How We Pissed Off Tim

Last night, PowerPoint Karaoke had a rockin’ show. All four of our performers, borrowed from the ranks of Fearless Comedy and Vilification Tennis, blasted the audience with comedy. At one point, I nearly fell out of my chair laughing, which would have been a problem, as I was onstage running the slides. But lo, it was awesome.

This morning, I discovered that one of our judges, Tim Wick, included our show in his weekly column, “Shit that Pissed Me Off This Week“. That doesn’t exactly sound like a good thing, but here’s what he had to say:

OK, guys, I don’t know how to convince anyone that staying up past their bedtime on a Thursday night to watch this show is so totally worth it.

The structure of this show is such a slam dunk hit, you could put a completely boring person (like Jay Leno) on the stage and they would be funny by accident.

But they don’t get boring people.  They get some of the funniest people in the Twin Cities comedy community.  You know why?

Because doing PowerPoint Karaoke is a complete blast!

And tickets are only $7.00! $5.00 if you have a Fringe button!

If you live in the Twin Cities and you aren’t going to PowerPoint Karaoke, it is because you are dead inside.  I hate to break it to you that way but I don’t believe in sugar-coating things.  Put this show on your bucket list.  And then go watch it so you can cross it off.

Then put “watch PowerPoint Karaoke again” on your bucket list.

So, take it from Tim. Put December 27th on your bucket calendar, because that’s when our next show will be.

Also, if you read my blog, you should totally also be reading Tim’s blog. He posts about a lot of similar stuff, and he’s funnier than I am.

New Geek Life: Minecraft Pi

Silent movies! Minecraft on Raspberry Pi! Making noises with iPads! And other stuff! Have a listen to episode 176!