Movies, TV and Finding Your “Strange”

I’m about to go get a good night of sleep before the last day of the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, a weekend seminar at Wesleyan University that has a completely different theme every year, and draws a wide variety of speakers to the campus. This year the theme is “Defining American Culture: How Movies and TV Get Made.”

The conference has given me a lot to think about. Last night, Mark Harris, film and pop culture critic, spoke eloquently about the future of media, art and commerce. Tonight, Joss Whedon addressed his own career trajectory as a guy trying to tell stories by any means necessary. Great words of advice for writers from the very quotable Mr. Whedon: “Find your strange.” and “Finish it.”

Stay tuned, folks! More commentary to come.

Shorts from 48HFP:DC

Two weeks ago, we featured a series of interviews with the team leaders of three films entered in the 48 Hour Film Project in DC. Two of these films were selected for a second screening in the Best Of DC series, but all three are now available online for your viewing pleasure. The perfect distraction for a Friday afternoon. If you don’t see the clips embedded below, click through to our site.

Trent Reznor Adds Value for a Good Cause

Stan Schroeder posted a story on Mashable today about Trent Reznor raising over $850.000 for a fan who needs a heart transplant. Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction set up a site to take donations for Eric De La Cruz and offered special gifts and access to the bands for larger donations.

Trent Reznor by bampop

Trent Reznor by bampop

Schroeder’s insights about NIN’s business model are enlightening:

“Once again, NiN prove that fans are very willing to give money (even significant amounts of money) for CDs or digital downloads, if they come with added value that seems fair to them.”

Likewise, his analysis of the mainstream music industry is biting:

“The music industry, on the other hand, has been doing exactly the opposite for years…they even tried to decrease value by introducing DRM to digital copies, which is now a scorned and widely abandoned tactic. No wonder they’re now complaining about how Internet is bad for the industry.”

Do you agree with Schroeder’s analysis?  Would you consider a similar fundraiser/giveaway?

Introduction to Getting Your Own Website

Several people have asked me recently about setting up their own website, so I though I would consolidate my explanations here.  When you set up a website, there are several different parts to getting it up and running.  We can think of these in terms of their analogs for setting up a physical place of business.

Address

On the web, unlike in real life, your address is not tied to the physical place where you (or your files) reside.  A domain name is your address on the web.  Our domain name is stillindie.com.  You can purchase a domain name from a domain name registrar, like GoDaddy or NetFirms.  Domain names are unique, like addresses.  Only one person can own a given domain.  A domain should cost around $7/year.

There are typically three parts to a URL, the subdomain (e.g. www), the domain name itself (e.g. stillindie), and the TLD, or top-level domain (e.g com).  These three pieces are separated by periods and make up a URL (e.g. www.stillindie.com).  You can think of these as your apartment number, your street address, your city, respectively.  You chose what city to live in, then buy a unique street address, and manage the apartment numbers in your building any way you want.

A TLD is the universe from which you pick your domain name.  The most common three TLDs in the United States are .com, .net, and .org.  Generally these are thought of as commercial, network, and organizations, but there are no rules governing which one you can use.  Generally, if the domain you want is available in the .com TLD, you should pick that one.  There are many other TLDs available, if you want to go exploring, but remember that most internet users assume a website ends in .com unless you tell them otherwise.

Subdomains are governed by the owner of the domain name, so you can create any number of subdomains and point them to different places if you choose.  www.yourdomain.com might point to your website, while mail.yourdomain.com might point to your webmail interface.  Some websites will also give you a subdomain on their domain for free (e.g. http://www.webs.com/).  Be aware however, that having your own domain name is generally viewed as more professional.

To explore what domain names are available, I recommend DomainTyper, where you can see whether a domain name is available as you type it in.

Plot of Land

Just like you need a plot of land to build a house on, the physical space where you store the files that make up your website is your web host.  Some domain registrars also offer web hosting, and while the integration may be appealing, it can make it more difficult to switch if you should have problems with either in the future.  Web hosts come in a variety of flavors, but most small sites just getting started will choose shared hosting.  Shared hosting simply means the web host is using one server to host multiple sites.  This makes it less expensive.

Other options are VPS (virtual private server) or dedicated hosting (your very own private physical server).  If you don’t have a specific reason to need VPS or dedicated hosting, you should stick to shared hosting, as it will be much cheaper, and unlike in the physical world where your house is pretty much tied to its plot of land, it is very easy to move your files from one web host to another, should you decide to switch.

A couple of businesses that offer shared hosting are BlueHost and DreamHost.  Shared hosting for either of these runs about $6/month, and may require a one- or two-year contract.  While both of these companies offer unlimited bandwidth and storage space, you should check these two numbers if you choose to find a different host.  Storage  or hosting space is the equivalent of our square footage, and simply governs the amount of stuff that you can put on your web host.

Bandwidth doesn’t have a direct analog in our physical building analogy, but in talking about web hosts it is a measure of the amount of data transferred to and from your web host in a given month.  A large number of people downloading large files from your website will use a lot of bandwidth.

Once you have both a host and a domain name, you can log into your registrar’s control panel to point your domain to your new host.

Building Architecture

Now that you have an address and a plot of land, the next step is to build the house to hold your belongings.  In web terms, the architecture that holds your information is usually a CMS (content management system).  Just as different types of buildings are suitable for different kinds of businesses, different CMSs are better suited to different types of websites.

Many CMSs are open-source, which means they are free, both in the sense that your don’t pay for them, and in the sense that the way they are built (source code, or blueprints, if you will) is available publically.

There are commercial CMSs available too, but they are not necessarily better than the open-source options.  Some of the largest companies in the world use open-source CMSs to run their websites, so don’t worry about using an inferior product.  Celebrate the fact that some generous programmers volunteered their time to create great free tools for you to use.

For most small sites and blogs, I recommend WordPress.  Some web hosts can automatically install WordPress for you, and if not, it is still a fairly simple process to do in only a few minutes.  In my opinion, WordPress is one of the easiest CMSs to use.  There are numerous free plugins available to add additional functionality and free themes to change the appearance of your site.

Other open-source CMSs you might use include Joomla or Drupal.  Also, the more technically-savvy may build their own CMS using a framework such as Ruby on Rails or Django.

Merchandise

Once your building (CMS) is up and running, the last step is to move in.  Add content to your site through your CMS and check out your new website!  Tell all your friends.  Add links to your website to your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

There are limitless possibilites for what to do next, but this is the extent of this primer.  If you have questions about anything you read here, please leave a comment and we’ll try to answer it or point you to some more comprehensive resources.  I hope you found this introduction helpful and wish you the best of luck in creating your own home on the internet.

Interview with Amanda Hirsch

This is the third and final interview in our series talking with filmmakers who led teams in 48HFP-DC 2009. In our first two interviews we talked with Jasmine Bulin, a first time participant and Ishu Krishna, a long-time veteran. Today we bring you an interview with Amanda Hirsch of CreativeDC, who entered her team for the second time this year.

Amanda Hirsch, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

Amanda Hirsch, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

Still Indie: Amanda, how did you get involved in the 48 Hour Film Project?

Amanda Hirsch: I perform with Washington Improv Theater (WIT), and they’ve been participating in the 48 hour film project for years. The WIT community has gotten so big, though, that it doesn’t make sense for everyone to work on one film anymore, so last year, a bunch of us decided to give it a go on our own, and we had a blast, so we did it again this year.

SI: What genre were you hoping for and which one did your team draw?

AH: We were hoping for anything but “mockumentary”, and we drew “mockumentary” 🙂 As improvisors we just thought that was low hanging fruit (we play with that style of storytelling a lot on stage), and wanted to challenge ourselves to stretch a bit more. So we put it back and ended up with “surprise ending,” which was the only other genre we really didn’t want — so it goes.

SI: What story did you tell?

AH: “Happy Hour” is about a lonely, lonely guy who so longs for friendship that he convinces himself he’s friends with complete strangers, creating elaborate back-stories in his head. The “surprise” is that for the whole movie, you think these people are really his friends, and then you realize they don’t know him from Adam. We tried to play with tone to underscore the element of surprise — you think it’s an upbeat episode of Friends, and then it gets really depressing and creepy really fast (we hope).

Production Still from "Happy Hour"

Production Still from "Happy Hour"

SI: What was the biggest challenge your team faced?

AH: It’s hard to assess how effective a surprise ending is when you’ve been so close to writing, shooting and editing the “surprise.” When we watched the first rough cut, our hearts sank – the surprise didn’t have any impact. We realized it was because there wasn’t enough of a tonal shift, so we redid the voiceover. When we watched again, we all had this moment of, “Ohh, wow, that was CREEPY.” So we were pretty sure it worked. But I’ve seen it 15 or 20 times now and I just have no idea if it works or not – I can’t tell! I need some distance.

SI: What was the best moment of the weekend?

AH: There were a lot of them – having everyone get really excited and on the same page about the story on Friday night was really cool. Then getting to see our editor, Jon Reiling, work his magic – seeing how he wove in b-roll and music to really bring the story to life on-screen. And he and our other director of photography, Bryce Whittaker, got some really cool shots looking in through the window of the bar where we shot, which were pivotal to conveying this notion of a stranger looking in on something he doesn’t have, and coveting it.

SI: Will you be participating again next year?

AH: Abso-fucking-lutely!

That’s the spirit! Thanks for taking time to answer our questions Amanda and keep up the great work!  If you still think DC is just a mainstream city, stop by Amanda’s site at CreativeDC.org and find out what you’ve been missing.  If you missed our first two segments this weekend, check out Jasmine’s perspective as a first-time participant and our interview with 48HFP veteran Ishu Krishna. If you’ve got questions for Amanda’s team, leave them in the comments section below.

Interview with Ishu Krishna

Today is our second in a series of three interviews with team leaders from last weekend’s 48 Hour Film Project in DC.  Yesterday we talked with Jasmine Bulin, a first time 48HFP participant, and today we bring you an interview with a old hand at the 48HFP game, Ishu Krishna.

[Interview edited for clarity.]

Still Indie: Ishu, how did you first get involved in the 48 Hour Film Project?

Ishu Krishna: Five years ago my friend Courtney Davis was in a 48 Hour Film and I went to watch it.  I was so impressed that I decided to do one myself the following year.  I loved the experience so much that I started doing it every year.  The last two years I did both DC and Baltimore.

SI: What genre were you hoping for this year and which one did your team draw?

IK: We were hoping for Thriller, Romance, Mockumentary, or Superhero.  We drew Thriller.

Ishu Krishna, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

Ishu Krishna, 48HFP-DC Team Leader

SI: That’s a fortunate turn of events.  What story did you tell?
IK: A man wakes up after a party and has blacked out of the events from the night before.  Things that people say and things he finds triggers memories of the night before.  He doesn’t remember what the lady he met looks like, so each vignette in the flashback is played by another woman.  Eventually he regains memory of what happened the night before, and the ending is very thrilling.

SI: During filming, what was the biggest challenge your team faced?

IK: An ambitious shoot schedule with 4 locations all over Virginia and DC.  During the export of the edit we started downconverting to Standard-Definition from High-Definition as per regulations listed on the website.  After we finished it ended up being 10gb.  Too big for a DVD.  I quickly tried to burn it onto a dvd and it burned in like 3 minutes. I am pretty sure I burned the wrong thing.

After we got there we found out that 48HFP-DC accepts HD entries.  We would have been able to view the product to see if it output correctly, had we known.  They also said no one was allowed to render in line.  We had rendered hours ago, and were exporting in the Subway a couple of doors down.  Other people were exporting in line.  If only we had done that too, we would have had more time to spare.  If by a miracle, my DVD is good, we’ll be on time.  Just in case it’s wrong, I dropped off a backup with Nicole, the festival editor, to be counted as a late film.   If it is a late entry, we are hoping for the Audience Award and to make it to the “Best-Of”.

SI: What was your favorite part of the weekend?

IK: The final product and the synergy of the group.  Everyone just worked really well together.  The concept came together pretty quickly.  We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about many ideas.  We picked one and went with it.

SI: Will you be participating again next year?

IK: Why yes of course!  It was a very fun experience and I love doing something artsy in DC, since we lack that scene here.  The people are great and the reward is even better: A finished film.  We don’t have to sit around with our friends just talking about making a movie.  We actually get to make one.
 
Thanks Ishu for sharing your experience with our readers and best of luck making it to the “Best-Of”!   Check out videos from Ishu’s team Writing Meeting on YouTube. Please send us your questions for Ishu or her team in the comment section below.

If you missed yesterday’s interview, check out Jasmine’s perspective as a first-time participant. Check back tomorrow to read our interview with a team leader, and local arts-scene maven, who entered her team for the second time this year.

Interview with Jasmine Bulin

Last weekend was the 48 Hour Film Project in DC.  This weekend we’re bringing you interviews from several team leaders who participated last weekend.  Our first interview is with first time 48 Hour participant Jasmine Bulin.

Jasmine Bulin

Jasmine Bulin, 48HFP-DC "Hugs Productions" Team Leader

Still Indie: So, how did you get involved in the 48 Hour Film Project?

Jasmine Bulin: I heard about the project about three years ago and have been pining to do it ever since. Finally this year I signed myself up as a team leader and just hoped I could get my friends to help me out in time.

SI: What genre were you hoping for and which one did your team draw?

JB: I was crossing my fingers for “buddy film” or “mockumentary.”  Since our team’s mission was to have a good time during the 48 hours, not to win, we were hoping for a genre we could easily inject our comedic spirit into. I drew “holiday film” out of the hat as our genre, but we still had some great ideas, and it wasn’t hard to incorporate the 3 common elements; Eve or Ivan Pagoda, Coach (the character), ID Card (prop), and “We’re hoping things will change.” (the line of dialogue).

SI: What story did you tell?

JB: After the Kickoff, where we recieved all the elements, my entire group met to brainstorm and vote on the story we felt the strongest about telling. An obscure holiday, Make a Difference Day, won out, so we told the story of a man at a low point in his life trying to do good on that day while incorporating some slapstick moments where his good intentions go wrong.

SI: What was the biggest challenge your team faced?

JB: The biggest challenge was not time. It was definitely maintaining focus. There was plenty of time for drama in the 48 hours and I learned a lot about how I should do it next time. My advice to any 48hfp newbies out there is to set specific jobs/responsibilities for everyone, maintain a simple schedule, and choose the direction you want for the film.  I heard several comments from other team leaders about how they should have been more involved in the writing process.

SI: What was the best moment of the weekend?

JB: The best moment, hands down, was when we got to film the scene we were all anticipating: rolling one of our characters down a big hill in a wheelchair. I think we did 20 takes just because it was so much fun and after finishing the film I think it is the best scene. I still laugh at it.

SI: Will you be participating again next year?

JB:  When I was turning the film in, I wasn’t sure whether I would ever participate again. I had fun, but the drama… oh the drama! With a new strategy I think I will do it again next year and you may see one of my films in another 48hfp city this year.

Thanks Jasmine for giving us a view into your team’s process!  To see photos of Jasmine’s team at work, check out their Facebook photo album.  Be sure to check back with us tomorrow when we’ll hear from a 48HFP veteran. If you’ve got questions for Jasmine or her team, please submit them in the comments section below.