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.

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.”

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.

Joss Whedon and Mark Harris: Getting art and commerce to finally hook up

This weekend at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan University, I was lucky enough to hear from some of the biggest movers and shakers in the entertainment business.

The weekend kicked off with Mark Harris, critic and author, who spoke about the need for both the producers and the consumers of media to raise the bar for pop culture.

To Harris, the relationship between consumers and producers of media is. . . a lot like a regular relationship – that when it works, it’s participatory, fun and meaningful – a lot like sex. As Harris actually put it, “I want better sex.” He observed that “We watch three things at once, and so we watch nothing at all.” The relationship has grown dysfunctional – a product of too many screens (he described getting distracted from writing his own speech by Hulu and Netflix), and and too little quality content on them. Harris challenged media makers to do interesting, edgy, inspiring work – and in return, he promised to pay more attention.

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

On Saturday evening, Joss Whedon also gave us a sex metaphor to describe the current state of the entertainment industry (what is it about Wesleyan University that inspires all this media lust?). Whedon described independent media and studio film as “. . .doing a very awkward mating dance. They’re coming together and they are going to have to have sex.” I’d say that is pretty apt. Some people in traditional media “get” new media (such as the clever webisodes from The Office) – but so far there’s a lot of flirting without anyone making a move. However, Whedon also insisted that “When the industry changes, as it can and will and must, the only thing left standing will be the telling of the story.”

Joss Whedon flew in for his talk after wrapping his film Cabin in the Woods, and before starting to shoot season 2 of Dollhouse on Monday. As he put it, the Dollhouse renewal is “Fine for you, but I had plans this summer.” Thank you, Joss Whedon, for forgoing the beach in favor of giving us something smart and funny to watch in the chilly months. Maybe the Actives can go on assignment in Hawaii?

Next up on the blog:

More from Joss Whedon’s talk: The future of Dollhouse, that pesky Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and the creative process.

More from the Shasha Seminar: Why two esteemed TV producers would not buy a TV show about under cover cover models – aka, pitching is harder than it looks.

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?

Happy Earth Day 2009

In honor of Earth Day, we’d like to point you to a couple of our previous articles about green film.  If you know of other resources for decreasing your environmental impact as a filmmaker, let us know in the comments.

Green Film

Image from Cayusa

Image from Cayusa

Slow Food, Slow Film?
Media-making requires a lot of resources.  What can you can do to reduce your impact?
ABC’s Earth 2100: You, too, can be Al Gore!
ABC News asks you to submit videos about what our planet could look like over the next hundred years if we don’t act now to save it.
Chris Carter’s Green Set for X Files Sequel
A concrete example of how a major film production reduced its impact on the environment.

More Earth Day Resources

For a great collection of Earth Day related videos, head over to the Earth Day collection at the brand new PBS Video Portal.