Promotional Still: Charlie Victor Romeo

Sundance Report: Indie 3D?

on Monday, Jan. 28th

True story: I’ve never in my life seen a 3D movie. They always look terrible. I almost had my first time with Ang Lee, but Life of Pi left theaters before I could get around to it. So I’ve been intrigued by Charlie Victor Romeo, the 3D film that ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25k.

At a party designed to put filmmakers and press people in the same room (i.e. a room with a bar), I ran into one of the producers of Charlie Victor Romeo, who invited me to a screening that had been added to the schedule. I didn’t end up making it, sadly (there’s a lot of that at Sundance), but it looks interesting. (more…)

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Slamdance Review: Terms and Conditions May Apply

on Friday, Jan. 25th

Everyone has an expectation of privacy, right? But for different people that means different things. We all live in varying degrees of public. The Unabomber had a ton of privacy. Brad Pitt does not. The rest of us are in the middle. Naturally, the internet has shifted that profoundly–whereas fifteen years ago it was virtually impossible to know where someone was, you could probably figure out where I am right now within a 50 foot radius, just by looking at my Foursquare checkins and my Twitter feed.

As a result, these companies know a lot about me. I’m ok with that. It’s the trade-off for being able to use services that make my work infinitely easier. But what exactly am I trading?

Cullen Hoback‘s documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply attempts to shed some light on exactly what’s in those Terms and Conditions we click with nary a thought to what’s in them. After all, who has the time? I don’t. Neither does anyone else. (more…)

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The Spot: We Are Legion

on Friday, Mar. 9th

The documentary “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktavists” hits the SXSW film festival this week. Director Brian Knappenberger’s film lays out the origin of the hacker collective Anonymous with insight and wit. We covered the film when it debuted at the Slamdance Film Festival in January, and are sharing with you the full interview with Knappenberger and editor Andy Robertson to mark the film’s second festival bow.

We planned this release for a while, but there is a tinge of timely irony as Anon is back in the news. The FBI has announced this week that the noted Anon/Antisec figure Sabu — real name Hector Xavier Monsegur — has been cooperating with law enforcement for months, leading to a string of arrests.

Music for this episode: “Chased By A Running Chupacabara” by Son of a Bit.  Used under a Creative Commons license and made possible by Free Music Archive.org.

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Bindlestiffs: A Raunchy Teen Comedy Made By Teens

on Wednesday, Feb. 15th

Bindlestiffs has the distinction of being one of the most oversexed, twisted, and just plain messed up comedies in ages, and when you consider that the writer-director team behind the film were only half out of high school during the filmmaking, it’s cause for the comedy factories in Hollywood to be very, very nervous.

Andrew Edison and Luke Loftin were 18 and 19, respectively, when they began shooting Bindlestiffs. Now 20 and 21, the pair look only a little older than their characters in the movie: members of a trio of boys who get suspended from their high school for lewd bathroom graffiti thrown up in protest over the school’s sudden banning of “The Catcher in the Rye.” With their third man John Karna, whose character is cut from the same moral cloth as “South Park’s” Butters, they spend their suspension in a run-down hotel room cooking up ways to get laid.

What sets this work apart from the mass produced teen comedy product is more than the “authenticity” of the creators; it’s their smarts. The cast improvised dialog off a scenario-based script that Edison and Loftin worked on continuously during the two years of production.

“You see movies like Superbad,” said co-writer Loftin, “and all these teen movies where they’re dirty and they’re raunchy–”

“They’re Hollywood dirty,” interjected director Edison.

“They’re close,” said Loftin.

“Not really [expletive deleted] dirty,” said Edison.

“Yeah they’re not there. They’re not really dirty,” said Loftin.

“Not Pink Flamingos dirty,” said Edison.

Case in point: the Bindlestiff, an old term for a hobo, from which the film takes its name. When straight-laced John, reeling from a rejection and pumped full of bad ideas by Luke, runs across an elderly homeless woman at a bus stop, a round of drinking and soul baring turns into public sex.

We never do see the face of the hobo — hidden behind a gray wig that looks more like a filthy mop than hair. She becomes a kind of walking, mumbling physical gag. The hobo is more cartoon than character; but then again so are the three boys. And while there are always going to be those who cry foul at any depiction of a woman as a sex object, the hobo is the least likely sex object in the history of cinema. The twisted nature of that status is also the point.

“They see her as an object, said Edison. “John doesn’t, but they do. They see all women as objects. They use women to impress each other. The only reason that they’re trying to have sex with girls is to impress each other, not that they care about them. It’s that sort of angst-y virgin mentality that we’re trying to recreate. So the best way to personify it is to have this creature, who didn’t have a face, didn’t talk, who was simply an object, this ultimate exaggeration of how they see women in their ignorance. So that was sort of our thinking. If we gave her a face, gave her dialog, she becomes a character.”

While Edison notes that the characters come “from a place of ignorance,” the writer and director are far savvier than their characters. The purity of their hearts as satirists is evidenced in part by their multicultural cast of friends and ex-girlfriends: if the guys behind the movie were as petty and insensitive as the characters they portray, it’s hard to imagine that all of these folks would have gone along with the film.

Also making the case is their skill as storytellers; the picture just screams along, with each scene forming a tight whole, pushing the characters farther along their spiral into utter depravity. It’s the kind of devotion to craft that is missing from most indie cinema, and far too many Hollywood pictures.

Not that the skill came easily. Edison and Loftin had a long distance collaboration: Loftin was at the University of Southern California and Edison, first in high school, and then at NYU. Principle photography on the film took the better part of two years, stretched over five shoots. The pair would edit the film in between the shoots and devise new scenes that shaped the story. Edison vows that they won’t make a film this way again, but acknowledges that they learned a lot from the start-and-stop process, which ultimately led to the pair dropping out of school in order to finish the movie.

“It’s hard to go to class,” said Edison, “when I have a feature film to edit in my dorm.”

He figures that between the two of them, four years worth of film school tuition could be used to make around eight movies instead. With both of the guys so young, I wondered if they entertained the idea of heading back to complete their studies.

“Well, we got agents today, so I don’t think we’re going back,” Edison told me.

The pair currently live in Austin, Texas where they’re finally working in the same room on new scripts. They’ve eschewed writing on computers for a pair of electric typewriters that they say forces them to keep moving the work forward, as opposed to fiddling with what’s already been written.

Yet the Audience Award for Feature Narrative the filmmakers won at the Slamdance Film Festival, which has launched the careers of filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), must have them feeling the lure of Los Angeles.

“We got agents under the condition that we could stay in Austin,” said Edison. “Maybe we’ll have to move up to LA eventually and that’s fine, but I don’t want to make films in LA. If I live there, I live there prepping the movie, I don’t want to live there making the movie.”

With one extremely accomplished feature behind them, the support of their families after they dropped out of school, and agents looking to get them more work, it’s all but inevitable that Andrew Edison and Luke Loftin are going to have a serious career ahead of them.

Their emergence should have Todd Philips’ of the world worried, because if the best that the studios can do is to try to think like teen and 20-something year-old boys, what hope in hell do they have in competing with the real deal?

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An Impossible Mission, Accomplished: the Filmmakers Behind ‘Getting Up’

on Thursday, Feb. 2nd

In our review of the Slamdance audience award-winning documentary Getting Up: The Tempt One Story we summarized the film thusly:

Tony “Tempt One” Quan is one of the legends of the graffiti scene in Los Angeles. His lettering style is admired by fans and fellow artists, and his sense of community make him one of the lynchpins of the graffiti world. So when he was diagnosed as having ALS, the debilitating condition also known as Lou Gerig’s Disease that leaves its victims paralyzed, in 2003, it was a blow to the graffiti world.

Enter Mick Ebeling, entrepreneur, philanthropist and street art fan. When Ebeling hears about Quan’s condition he decides to give some money to the Tempt One ALS Foundation and learn some more about the man. This begins a journey for the two men, with Mick working to recruit technologists and craftsmen for a project that with the goal of getting Tempt back to doing what he does: rock fresh and funky styles on walls.

The result of that journey were two amazing products: the open source EyeWriter device, and the film that documents its creation and Tempt’s return to the art world. Yet as director Caskey Ebeling told us, the film didn’t start out as a feature documentary project.

“We knew we needed to document the process because if we we’re going to do open source/do it yourself we wanted to share the process,” said Caskey. “We figured at some point it would be some sort of proof of concept or some sort of video to help with fundraising. So we just kept shooting and as time went on– and years and years went on– we had so much footage and the story was getting so much hype. Just underground blogs and people interested and Time magazine and all these things just started accumulating.”

The film manages to frame a lot of different information squarely within the human drama of Tempt’s battle to overcome the staggering limitations of ALS. Each element of the story has subtleties that a mainstream audience doesn’t necessarily have an understanding of. Nor is it just a matter of technical complexities.

“A lot people have misconceptions about the graffiti community and art and what a crew is and how they work. And that it’s possible for Tempt to be in two crews and stuff like that,” Caskey told us. An early cut of the film was set at 47 minutes, but once the scale of the story was apparent, that was abandoned in favor of a feature length. “So between graffiti, open source, the technology, ALS, and you know the story of getting the whole thing made, there’s just no way for it to be told in any way that just wouldn’t cram someone through a bunch of the information too quickly.”

Caskey’s husband Mick plays dual roles in the film, both on and off-screen. Behind the scenes he’s the executive producer, a role that we get some sense of with his activity on-screen: as the man who acts as a virtual extension of Tempt’s will, bringing together the resources and talent needed to create the EyeWriter.

Indeed the film demonstrates one of the wonders of the human capacity not just of having the will to survive, but the will to thrive even under the seemingly hopeless conditions.

“Tempt is strong,” said Mick Ebeling. “I am incredibly headstrong person. Once I get something stuck in my head it’s really hard to dissuade me or shake me off track. Tempt kind of refereed to that a little bit in the film. I’ve only had a few people who rival me, and Tempt absolutely blows me away. There’s no rivalry. I’m just a neophyte compared to his will.”

One other result of the creation of the EyeWriter is the founding of the Not Impossible Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to similar explorations. We asked the Ebelings how given their careers as a director (Caskey) and the head of a production company (Mick) they had time to tackle a personal project that took four years and the involvement of both hacker collectives (Graffiti Research Labs) and tech giants (Dell).

“We don’t,” said Mick. “That’s the answer. And I actually think it’s relevant to the question.”

“Nobody has time,” added Caskey.

“Nobody has time to do something like this,” Mick continued, “and nobody has time not to do something like this. If you do the math, and you put it all on paper it doesn’t add up. We don’t have the time, we didn’t have the resources, we didn’t have the technological expertise.”

There’s also more than a touch of irony to the name “Not Impossible” as the couple discovered.

“Caskey and I just went to a party in Park City,” Mick told us, “and we met with these guys who are engineers. After they saw the film we had a thirty minute debate saying that the only reason we were able to get this done is that we had no idea how impossible it was. No engineer or programmer in their right mind would have taken something like this on.”

For more about Getting Up: The Tempt One Story check out our original review, and visit the film’s Facebook page.

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SLAMDANCE INTERVIEW: Welcome to Pine Hill’s Keith Miller

on Wednesday, Jan. 25th

Inspiration can come from the oddest moments. For Keith Miller, the director of Welcome to Pine Hill, a meditative film that follows a reformed drug dealer on an odyssey to shed his past while living under the shadow of a cancer diagnosis, inspiration came in the form of an argument over a dog.

The director ran into Shannon Harper  while walking his dog one night. Harper recognized the dog as the one he had lost weeks earlier, and the encounter spawned an hour and a half argument.

“I didn’t sleep that night,” Miller tells me. The next morning he asked Harper “if he wanted to make a movie about it because of the issues of race and class and love” that were raised in their discussion.

“He was suspicious at first, but we talked for another hour and a half about it.” The fruit of those discussions became the short film Prince/William, which screened as part of New York’s legendary Rooftop film series. It was around that time that the Brooklyn film community was hit with a tragic loss. Miller’s good friend and fellow Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective member René Peñaloza-Galvan died of a rare form of stomach cancer.

Miller combined what he knew about the cancer with what he had learned about Harper’s life and created the story’s arc, with Harper playing a fictionalized version of himself in the film.

Harper is an engaging screen presence, especially for a first time actor (second if you count the short, but since Prince/William has been recut as the opening of Pine Hill it pretty much counts as the same). The diagnosis of cancer becomes the trigger for Harper to revisit old friends and pay off old debts to both family members and loan sharks alike.

While watching the film this progression reminded me of the myth of Inanna, who sheds her garments as she makes her way into the underworld, as a way of shedding her surface identity on the way to confronting a deeper truth about reality. Miller says that he sees the picture in archetypal terms as well, using the phrase “odyssey-like” to describe the story. Harper leaves the city behind on an almost instinctual quest to finding solace out in the rural tranquility of the titular Pine Hill.

“All these things are kind of shedding external conditions that were made by him,” says Miller. “The character’s not an angel, he’s made a number of bad choices. The process… it’s geographic, but it represents a kind of metaphysical move.” Harper’s quest from New York City to the Catskills is “not about the town of Pine Hill but about transcendence.”

Welcome to Pine Hill, directed by Keith Miller. Starring Shannon Harper. An official selection of the 2012 Slamdance Film Festival.

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To Build The VR Education of Tomorrow One Scholar Turns To The Past

There are plenty of folks in the education technology field who are excited about virtual reality as the next great educational tool.

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We’re Closer To Our Photorealistic VR Future Than You’d Think (INTERVIEW)

A look into the virtual world of tomorrow with USC researcher Paul Debevec.

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Prepare Yourselves For The Personal VR Video Revolution

Virtual Reality is rapidly approaching a watershed moment.

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Spoiler Alert: Hollywood Isn’t Taking Cyber Security Seriously (LA Film Fest)

Tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival, squeezed in between movies and red carpet events, a symposium on Cyber Security is being held at the Grammy Museum.

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Rent Video Straight From Social Media Via Gumroad

The people who brought the “Buy Now” button to Twitter are going all-in on film distribution.

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