Interview with Louie Psihoyos

Teague and I met Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, at AFI SILVERDOCS.  Psihoyos talked about how he made The Cove, which documents his team’s mission to expose the destruction of ocean wildlife in a secret cove in Japan.  We really enjoyed his stories about getting footage using both high and low tech spy tools – many of which are featured in the film.  We asked Louie Psihoyos about the role of the web in distributing his film, and about how he ended up making a documentary that feels more like a thriller.  Take a look at our interview below!

Still Indie Interviews Louie Psihoyos from Anna Pinkert on Vimeo.

Turn off your Cell Phone at Patti LuPone’s Gypsy

A marquee featuring Patti LuPone.  Photo by Chris Freeland via Flickr

A marquee featuring Patti LuPone. Photo by Chris Freeland via Flickr

On Tuesday, Patti LuPone voiced her own response to David Itzkoff’s NY Times blog post about an incident in which LuPone stopped her performance to confront an audience member who was using an electronic device.  LuPone defended her actions, and those of artists seeking to preserve the integrity of live performance as audiences grow more and more attached to cell phones and iPods.

It is interesting that many of the comments on LuPone’s letter deal with cell phone use (which is disruptive to both performer and audience member alike), while it seems LuPone is mostly incensed about people trying to capture images, audio or video of her performance (which is primarily disruptive to the performer).

Patti LuPone is an established artist who needs to protect the content of her performance from leaking out onto the internet for free.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – an actress like Patti LuPone has to be an artist and an athlete in one, training her voice and her body to sustain night after night of live performance, every night producing a pitch-perfect electrifying show that is *worth* the $100 (or $60, or $200) price of admission.  Distracting her and her audience is like casually tossing pool toys in after Michael Phelps.  Just not fair.

Because LuPone is a well-known, well-loved performer, she can get away with screaming at an audience member, and people will STILL buy tickets to see her show.  If a chorus member did such a thing (or the star of a very minor play), their actions might not even be acknowledged by the audience – or the audience might just walk out.  LuPone may well be sticking up for the little guy.  But is her stance against mid-performance texting really beneficial to everyone?  At SILVERDOCS, during a presentation on the future of public media, one speaker asked that everyone turn their cell phones ON, so that folks in the room with web-enabled devices might use Twitter to spread the word about the talk.  I could see a scenario in which a new play would benefit from postitive in-performance tweets (and certainly from tweets, cell phone calls and texts at intermission).

When fans text or tweet at a show, is that offensive, or is it free publicity?

Ella Es El Matador – Women v. Machismo in the Bull Ring

This week, many of our posts will feature films and seminars from AFI SILVERDOCS, an 8-day documentary film festival that takes place in Silver Spring, MD.  We have an upcoming interview clip with Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, and a lot more to say about the future of public media.  But for now I want to direct your attention to one of the best films I saw last week:  Ella Es El Matador (She is the Matador).

Gemma Cubero del Barrio and Celeste Carrasco follow two women in their quest to succeed in the machismo world of Spanish bullfighting.  The film itself is beautiful – watching it, I had an incredible sense of the two women not only as devoted athletes and trailblazers, but also as people who are passionate about an art that is significant in Spanish culture.

Maripaz Vega, Celeste Carrasco, Eva Florencia and Gemma Cubero del Barrio.  Photo by Anna Pinkert

Maripaz Vega, Celeste Carrasco, Eva Florencia and Gemma Cubero del Barrio. Photo by Anna Pinkert

Both filmmakers and both of the women bullfighters were on hand at the screening I attended.  The filmmakers said that this movie took 9 years to make.  Initially, they conceived of it as a piece on the history of women bullfighters, but when they met Eva Florencia and Maripaz Vega, they decided to make them the center of the story.  On their part, Eva Florencia and Maripaz Vega said that they loved watching the film, and were proud to be a part of it.  Vega, who is an established matador, hoped that the film would improve the situation for women bullfighters in Spain, but that they have a long way to go.

One of the many things I learned at SILVERDOCS is the value of a good relationship with your subjects.  At a screening of Salesman, legendary director Albert Maysles updated us on the status of his four Bible salesmen subjects, 40 years after the film’s debut.  Being warm, generous, and kind to the people in your film has a better chance of yielding the intimate stories that you want to tell as a filmmaker.

Ella Es El Matador will premiere on PBS on Sept 1 as a part of POV.

Anna and Teague at SILVERDOCS!

AFI Silver Theater, Photo Credit: Agnes Varnum on Flickr

AFI Silver Theater, Photo Credit: Agnes Varnum on Flickr

Anna and Teague, your faithful Still Indie bloggers, will be attending SILVERDOCS this week in Silver Spring, MD. For those of you who don’t know, SILVERDOCS is an 8-day documentary film festival and conference sponsored by the AFI that includes over 100 films and 25,000 attendees. We’re pretty excited.

Say hello if you see us! If the weather report for DC is correct, I’ll be the one in the bright purple umbrella.

Why Artists Need Social Media

Editor’s Note: I’m happy to welcome Devon Hopkins to Still Indie.  He is an undergraduate at a competitive liberal arts university studying social psychology and group dynamics through choreography.  He also manages and promotes an a cappella group and a dance troupe. We hope you will enjoy his insights on collaboration and the use of social media for performing artists.

This is my first blog post.  I’ve shied away from the idea in the past because of something I think all artists have: self-doubt. Because we grow up in a highly competitive atmosphere, we are constantly questioning ourselves: “Why do I deserve to do this?” and “Why should I succeed over that person?”  What I have come to realize is “Who cares?”  You probably aren’t unique, but even if you are, it doesn’t really matter.  The focus should not be on whether or not you deserve to succeed, it should be on how you can succeed with the skills that you have.  That’s where social media comes into play.

Movement (Photo Credit: Oneras on Flickr)

Movement (Photo Credit: Oneras on Flickr)

No one cares how good you are if they don’t know who you are. From a very early age, in any art form (dance in my case), we are taught that the only way to survive in the world of art is to be the best.  “Do you think people will pay to see that pirouette?!” “You think you can fill seats with that documentary?” We are constantly pushed to be the “best”, when in reality, many of the best artists fail. So You Think You Can Dance just started its 5th season and after auditioning thousands of dancers over 5 years, they are still finding exceptional talent, enough so that the show is already auditioning dancers for a 6th season in the fall.  There is an endless pool of talented artists in all fields and your job is not to be better than your peers.  Your job is to get noticed first.

Thousands of people are competing for the same success that you are. Marketing yourself effectively is about making people remember who you are in a crowd of people.  I recently got to work with a choreographer, let’s call her Anya.  After college, Anya knew that she didn’t have the years of technical training necessary to become a well-paid professional dancer, so she decided to try out choreography.  She, like dozens of other dance hopefuls moved to New York, put together a show, and invited critics and members of the dance community to view it.  She, unlike the dozens of other dance hopefuls, fed her audience food and got them drunk on cheap alcohol, convincing them it was “part of her Estonian background.”  Was it illegal?  Probably.  But by marketing herself and turning her art into an event, she enjoyed consistent rave reviews while most of her hopeful dance buddies did not.

Art is not just about creating something.  It is about effectively sharing that something with a larger community. Anya acknowledges that she is not the best dancer now, nor was she ever in high school, college, or in her graduate experience.  Yet now Anya is a very successful professor at one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation.  How?  She knew how to market herself and her works.  What Anya did to make her art look like more than just another post-modern dance piece, you can do using social media.  With all the social media tools (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Blogger, Digg, Flickr, Youtube) freely accessible, it is now your job to distinguish yourself from all the other artists doing what you do.  Independent artists and labels won half of this year’s grammy awards, due in part, no doubt, to their talent, but also to their access to and skilled use of online social resources.  It’s easier now than ever to make a name for yourself, by yourself.

“How?” you might ask. Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you.  Subscribe to Still Indie so you won’t miss my next post.

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Are You Guilty of Media Malpractice?

Last week I attended Making Media Now at Bentley University, where, among other really interesting panels, I saw Andy Carvin talk about crowdsourcing. I was also really glad to hear Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films talk about making media that matters with Lisa Mullins of The World. Greenwald also screened a clip from his upcoming work on the war in Afghanistan.

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

When asked by Lisa Mullins to fill in the sentence, “If you’re not using new media you are. . .” he answered, “. . . guilty of malpractice.” Greenwald described the new media scene as the opposite of Hollywood: “Suddenly the gatekeepers are gone.” With decreasing costs to make media, filmmakers can create quality work with fewer people on board. Greenwald says he takes an “if you build it they will come” approach – starting with a 2-minute version of a film he wants to make, and finding an audience that will support it.

Greenwald insisted that filmmakers think creatively about marketing and distribution – reserve a short simple URL when the idea for the film strikes, distribute short web clips if you can’t get a feature length doc on the air, collaborate with groups that will promote or financially contribute to the film, and, my favorite quote: “Think about it not as a microphone, but as a conversation.”

Favorite Feminists for the Very Young

Oh Jezebel, your editors should know by now that if you post anything that involves a list and the word “feminism” – people are going to get into a flame war mighty fast.  Jezebel’s list of 20 Feminist TV Characters prompted a lot of controversy – including a lot of agita over the lack of women of color on the list. Teresa at the Shameless Blog posted on the controversy, and added her own list of favorite women of color on TV.

I started making my own list of characters, when I realized that many of them were, in fact, from my childhood. Children’s TV has an amazing ability to reach and influence a generation (something pointed out in a very good NPR story from a few weeks ago). So why shouldn’t we acknowledge the fictional women who had an influence (however corny) on our young lives?

Elisa Maza – Gargoyles

All these kick-butt gun-toting cops, and not one mention of Elisa Maza?  Holds her own against the enemies of the Gargoyles, and fights against injustice as a NYPD detective. Elisa is also half African American and half Native American.

Moose – Pepper Ann

Did anybody else ever watch Pepper Ann?  The tales of a quirky redheaded middle schooler who tries to do the right thing. . . often involving her younger sister Moose.  Moose had a low husky voice, short hair, and wore pretty much whatever the guys wore on the show.  Moose might be one of the non-traditional girl cartoons I can think of (even more so than Ashley Spinelli of Recess).

Alex Mack – The Secret World of Alex Mack

Good grief did I love this show. Alex Mack gets covered in chemical ooze, then discovers she has superpowers. Never explicitly feminist, Alex Mack does solve her own problems and deal with the trials of being a teenager without slipping into sad cliches. Also, she can turn into a puddle of goo.

Kate Monday – Mathnet (Square One)

How could I forget Kate Monday? Probably the closest thing that the under 13 set had to a Dana Scully, Kate Monday uses math to solve crimes with her partner, George Frankly. “My name is Monday. I’m a Mathematician.”

The Chief – Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

It’s mighty tempting to list the double-dealing diva with a taste for thievery – but instead I’ll give credit to Lynne Thigpen’s amazing Chief, who managed to educate and entertain while spitting out tongue-twisters at a Sondheim-esque pace. Do it Rockapella!

(thanks to Sarah for all her input!)

Andy Carvin of NPR On Crowdsourcing at Making Media Now

On Friday I attended Making Media Now 2009, a single day conference for media makers (largely attended by documentary film folk from the Boston Area).  MMN09 was a great experience – and I have to recommend that more social media and new media people attend in the future – there were some great filmmakers looking for partnerships with people who know how to get the word out using social media tools.

Photo Credit: Steve Garfield on Flickr

Andy Carvin in Cambridge, Photo Credit: Steve Garfield on Flickr

One of my favorite lectures was by Andy Carvin, head of the NPR Social Media Desk.  Carvin talked to us about crowdsourcing.  He pointed out that crowdsourcing is not new (the Longitude Prize was an early attempt at approaching a large group to solve a single problem).  He also gave some great examples of projects that used crowdsourcing to create something new:  Apps for Democracy, a crowdsourced project using DC government data, spawned several useful applications.  Stumble Safely, one of the apps, uses data about traffic, local bars, and street lights to give people safe routes to walk home along when drunk.  According to Carvin, the DC police actually use Stumble Safely when figuring out which areas to patrol at night.

Carvin works with reporters at NPR to use social media for their benefit – whether that means an entire 2008 election project, or working with a reporter who wants to find sources through Facebook or Twitter.

Carvin also told the story of how NPR got a fan page on Facebook.  Evidently, an undergrad in the UK decided to “help” NPR by making the official fan page himself.  Carvin emailed him, and the undergrad said when he tried to contact NPR about helping them get on facebook, he’d gotten an email thanking him for his support.  He took that as a green light to make the official fan page himself.  He promptly handed over the keys to Carvin, and went on his way.  Carvin said this story shows that when people say they’re afraid of losing control online “You never had control in the first place.”  People love and adore NPR, and sometimes, it’s impossible to hold back the crowd.

Shasha Seminar Part IV: Pitching a Pilot is Really Hard

Photo Credit: Nammer on Flickr

Photo Credit: Nammer on Flickr

Last time on the blog: My take on the panels at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan University. Today, a look at how hard it is to convince people to make your show.

The Pitches

After the panel, everyone broke into either a TV session or a film session. I can’t speak to the film session, as I joined the TV group. Our goal, over the course of a couple hours, was to come up with a pitch that we would take back to be evaluated. In our group, Liz Garcia, David Kendall and Dan Shotz helped us develop a pitch, and Evan Katz (executive producer, 24) and Jeffrey Lane (producer, Mad About You), evaluated.

After a lot of shouting and giddy note-taking and several attempts by the group to create a procedural – only to realize we were coming up with the pitch for Cold Case – we came up with a comedy and a drama. The drama centered around a town on the Mexico border, where a disgraced DEA agent would struggle to keep his town safe while wrestling with moral dilemmas around drug trafficking and immigration. “Bordertown” was well received by our evaluators, who said that several shows around this theme were being discussed in Hollywood right now. The key component, all the professionals agreed, was coming up with a compelling character who would be able to carry the story through from episode to episode.

Our comedy pitch was, well, not as successful. We came up with a premise based around two actors we had in our brainstorming session – twin comedians Stone and Stone. The Stones would star in “Under Cover Models” – a half-hour comedy about hotshot romance novel cover models who, by night, fight crime. Desperate to win their mother’s affection and live up to the rep of their hard-boiled, but deceased, detective dad, the cover models solve cases that no one else can: Counterfeit couture, the theft of the mayor’s dog. They use their modeling “skills” to crack the case, stumbling onto the right answer in the vein of Get Smart and Zoolander.

The premise that we found uproariously funny in our brainstorming session didn’t translate well in front of Evan Katz and Jeffrey Lane. Both said they didn’t “get” it – why would cover models fight crime? Lane thought we had two different ideas that didn’t go together, but that perhaps it just wasn’t his taste in humor. Lane said that he could have made Mad About You about a city couple that ends up on a farm – but instead he just made a show about a city couple, and made it as realistic as possible. Evan Katz didn’t say as much, but I’m guessing he’s accustomed to hearing pitches for things that involve more guns and less hair gel. An idea that we thought had a lot of weight as we were coming up with it didn’t hold together when we had to explain it to people who were deciding whether or not to buy it. It explains why it’s hard to get deep genre pieces on the air – someone has to “get” what the writer is trying to create. And the writer probably needs more than two hours to invent a story that is rich enough to draw in a skeptical executive.